Super Bowl XXXIX, Pats at Eagles.
These are my keys to the game, for those interested.
The First is Last
The Eagles and the Pats already played this year, in the first preseason game following the Patriots victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Eagles and the Patriots both set records for longest win streaks to start a season this year. Before the late-season garbage-time games, each team only lost one game. They both lost to the Steelers in close games. The Eagles were at full strength, while the Pats were playing without two of their highest-profile stars: Dillon and Ty Law.
The Pats go here by beating the number one defense and the number one offense. The Eagles beat good NFC teams. Statistically, the Patriots have a slightly better offense and defense. They score more points and they do it in a much tougher league. For the past few years, the AFC, often seen as the junior conference for years following the merger of the NFL and the AFL, has dominated the NFC. So, the Pats and Eagles have similar records and similar stats. But the Pats come out of the crucible of the AFC, playing against tougher competition.
[I ran out of time to do a statistical analysis of the competition the Eagles and Pats defeated this year. My guess is that the Eagles beat lessor teams, but often by larger margins. To me this means: the Pats are better tested: better able to win close games and always rises to the opponent's skill level.]
More than any other play, turnovers can upset the emotional fulcrum of a team. In the Super Bowl, that effect can be magnified. Ty Law's pick of Ram's QB Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXVI had such an effect. It gave the Pats the lead for the first time in the game, but it also meant the 11 point underdogs had more than a little hope for victory. In today's game, I believe each team has a budget for big turnovers. The Patriots can afford to turn the ball over twice. The Eagles can afford to do it just once. The team that goes over budget first is likely to lose the game.
If Owens plays, he's likely to get catches early. Expect the Eagles to try and get psychological control of the game with big plays involving number 81. I believe his injury will prevent him from playing anywhere near a full game, so they might as well use him before game conditions restrict their play calling options. For this reason, the Patriots secondary must immediately slow him down or aggravates his injury. They'll likely try to do both. If Owens is not central to the Eagles passing game, McNabb will be likely to look for Freddy Mitchell down field and running back Brian Westbrook coming out of the backfield and into the flats.
Roll up McNabb
McNabb's debut in the league was as a rushing quarterback, able to evade sacks and tuck the ball and pick up first downs frequently. As he has matured, he has rewritten his reputation into a solid pocket passer who comfortably rolls out, right or left to allows his receivers time to get open. Tonight, McNabb will be in position several times to make big plays. The Patriots linebackers will need to blitz creatively to prevent a flushed McNabb from rolling out and hitting a receiver deep. Usually defenses try to contain or pressure a QB. I think the return of Richard Seymour will mean that Pats won't have to choose. They'll just do both. McNabb is very much like Brady in that he plays with emotion, but never to excess. He stays very cool. If the Pats secondary can take away his targets and the line can keep him contained, they can take away his cool.
I've cited him before, but Dillon still has something to prove. A Super Bowl win goes a long way to cementing his reputation, one he clearly felt was fading during his tenure on the Bengals. I don't think there is a more motivated single player on either team today and he can be a one-man clock killer if he can play late in the game with a lead.
Posted February 7, 2005.