Patriots on
a mission

Feb 1, 2005 1:38 PM

By DAVID STRATTON

All the experts, even the wise guys, seem to be saying beware of laying the points with New England. This is Philadelphia’s year, they say. The Eagles finally broke through in the NFC Championship game after three straight failures and now their momentum will carry them to victory in the Super Bowl.

It’s a nice scenario for a melodrama, but the Super Bowl is about reality. And the Eagles will get a heavy dose when the Patriots systematically dismantle them on Sunday.

Before getting into the reasons New England is a superior team, let’s review how Philadelphia made it to this point. It’s probably true the Eagles are the NFC’s best team. They were the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and they had the best record.

But you can’t downplay how bad the NFC was this year. Only one NFC team on the Eagles’ regular season schedule, Green Bay, had a winning record (10-6). And we saw what happened to the Pack in the first round.

Every team in Philly’s division ended the year 6-10; and the Eagles got to play these losers twice. They also played two more NFC losers, Detroit (6-10) and Chicago (5-11), from the old black-and-blue division.

When Philly went up against the AFC, they stumbled to a 2-2 SU record, and 0-4 ATS. One of those losses was a pathetic 27-3 drubbing by Pittsburgh, a team New England beat handily two weeks ago.

Finally, Philly caught Atlanta in the title game. And the Falcons are burdened with the worst quarterback in pro football, Michael Vick. All the Eagles had to do was stop Vick’s running game to stop the Falcons and their defense was up to the task. With a passing game reminiscent of high school junior varsity, the Falcons couldn’t mount any semblance of an offensive attack.

The Patriots, conversely, had to beat some tough teams to once again reach the Super Bowl. They beat the Colts and Steelers back to back in the playoffs and, during the regular season, the Pats was perfect against the NFC: 4-0 SU and ATS.

Against common opponents, the Patriots were 5-1 SU and ATS, while the Eagles were 2-3 SU and 0-5 ATS (the Patriots had an extra game vs. the Steelers).

But it’s probably the intangibles that make New England the better team. The Patriots have the ability to turn up the pressure on defense in a big game. And that defense can be stifling.

In their playoff game against the Colts, the Patriots completely shut down Peyton Manning’s high-octane attack in a dominant 20-3 win. In a critical game with the Jets at the end of the season, the Pats smothered New York, 23-7. In fact, in three of its last four games, the Patriots have held their opponents to single-digit scores.

Quarterback Tom Brady is looking more and more like the next Joe Montana. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have Rice and Taylor on the outside with Dwight Clark over the middle. Yet, he is deadly accurate and is making fewer mistakes as he gains experience. Gaining Corey Dillon and his 1,600 rushing yards this season has been a huge plus for New England. Remember, last year the Pats won the Super Bowl with the league’s 27th ranked rushing game.

Finally, the Patriots have the right coach for their players. There are no pro bowlers on this squad, and they like to be introduced at the start of the game as a group. When you have a team that embodies what pro athletics used to be and should be about, it’s hard to root against them. Bet against them at your own peril.

PICK: PATRIOTS, 38-17.