Pats still Super

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

On principle alone, you want to pick against them.

You want to take someone other than the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl because no team has ever won three in a row.

You want to pick against the Patriots because they have become the anti-cliche, a team that can, at times, be so dry in its persona that the players talk a boring game.

You want to believe there is another team out there ready to prove that dynasties don't exist.

Then again, you probably believe the tooth fairy could rush for 1,500 yards.

UPHEAVAL

Despite an upheaval on both the defensive roster and the sideline, the Patriots once again are favoured to win, and with loads of justification.

Bookies in Las Vegas concur, making the two-time defending champs the 7-2 choice in most casinos. And good luck finding a team to upset them. As part of the recent NFL tradition, the defending champs will kick off the season at home against the Oakland Raiders tonight.

As much as the NFL has become about surprise teams stepping up in the past decade, the Patriots have messed with that new order, bringing predictability to an otherwise unpredictable league.

Can the Patriots threepeat? As long as Tom Brady is at quarterback and the defence has leaders such as Rodney Harrison and Willie McGinest, of course they can. They are the modern benchmark and have not been shy about juggling personnel to change with the times and fit their system.

In fact, a better question may be not whether the Patriots can match up to their 2004 output, but can the teams identified as the logical pursuers do the same?

In no particular order, start with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Can they equal a 15-1 record of a year ago? Not a chance. Not with Ben Roethlisberger, who was heralded for the most successful rookie campaign by a quarterback. Unfortunately, as Big Ben has shown this pre-season, he may also be the most overrated and one could argue that the Steelers may struggle to get to 10 wins.

Then there is the Indianapolis Colts, a team which has upgraded its defence to better compete with the Pats and still has the Peyton Manning-led offence. But ask yourself this: Can Manning match his 49 touchdown passes from last season? Not likely.

Expect some regression from the San Diego Chargers (12-4), who won't catch anyone by surprise this time around and have a much tougher schedule.

You can expect improvement from teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens and even the Buffalo Bills, though it's hard to fathom enough from any of those to seriously threaten the Patriots.

Over in the NFC, it's easy to surmise that the Philadelphia Eagles started a long run toward success by making it to the Super Bowl last year.

GET BETTER

Again, not so fast. The Atlanta Falcons only figure to get better under Mike Vick, who seems to be getting better by the game at throwing the football.

Then there are the Carolina Panthers, who nearly won the Super Bowl two seasons ago but were decimated by injuries in too many key spots early last season.

Recognizing that predictions can be for losers, we offer up a pair.

Take the Patriots over the Panthers in a Super Bowl rematch from two seasons ago.

And for something a little more bold (crazy?): Try the Colts over the Dallas Cowboys in the battle at Ford Field.

On second thought, save your money.


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