Patriots-Eagles matchup figured

Feb 1, 2005 2:11 PM

When the season kicked off back in September, the Patriots and Eagles were the favorites to the win their respective conferences. In August 2003, New England was 17-1 to win the Super Bowl, while the eventual NFC champion Carolina Panthers were 75-1.

No surprises this season.

The Eagles and Pats fulfilled expectations and made it to Jacksonville. Super Bowl 39 has two themes: A potential dynasty against a team finally reaching the mountain top.

The team finally reaching the summit is the Eagles. Philadelphia players, coaches and fans released an enormous sigh of relief after the Eagles rolled over the Falcons in the NFC championship game, 27-10. Not since the Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s had a team made it to the title game four consecutive years. Making things even more dramatic is that the Eagles always found a way to lose the game (twice as a favorite) before finally making their first Super Bowl since 1981.

The Eagles can take a bit of comfort knowing that the underdog has gone 3-0 against the number in the last three Super Bowls, with two winning the game straight up. The Panthers covered in a wild 32-29 loss to New England last season and underdog Tampa Bay pummeled the Raiders 48-21 two years ago. The Patriots shocked the Rams, 20-17, as a 14-point dog before that.

Ahh, the Patriots. Little did we know that that stunning upset of the Rams in 2002 was the beginning of a remarkable run that has many hinting at the latest sports dynasty. The Patriots have had consecutive 14-2 regular seasons and will be trying to win their third Super Bowl in four years, something not seen since the Cowboys in the early 1990s.

The Pats lost their best offensive lineman from last year’s team (Damien Woody) to free agency, along with two veteran stalwarts on the defensive line (Ted Washington and Bobby Hamilton). In addition, they lost their two best defensive players to injuries for this postseason, in All Pros Richard Seymour and CB Ty Law. Yet, it hasn’t mattered under the machine-like direction of Bill Belichick. New England has won 31 of its last 33 games! They will be introduced as a team again, just like their previous two Super Bowl trips.

The Eagles will try to make some history of their own, having last won the NFL title in 1960. Philadelphia has had to listen to all the talk that the AFC is currently the dominant conference, which will no doubt motivate Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb. The Eagles went 2-2 SU against the AFC this season, 0-4 ATS, getting run over by the Steelers, 27-3. In fact, against common opponents, the Eagles went 2-3 SU/0-5 ATS. The Patriots went 5-1 SU/ATS against common opponents, playing an extra game because they met the Steelers twice, gaining a split. New England also went 4-0 SU/ATS against the NFC.

Both teams got here with stout defenses: New England ranks 9th in the NFL in total defense, Philadelphia 10th. The one weak spot is that teams ran on the Eagles at times, as they rank 16th against the run. The Philly run defense has been sharp in the postseason against strong running teams Atlanta and Minnesota.

Both teams got hammered once at Pittsburgh during the regular season. The Eagles allowed 394 yards, including 165 rushing yards, 4.8 ypc, in a 34-31 win in overtime at Cleveland as a 7-point favorite. The Patriots won 42-15 at Cleveland allowing 287 total yards. Philadelphia also survived a 15-10 win over the Ravens, while the Pats beat Baltimore 24-3.

Here’s a look at what to expect this weekend as America’s unofficial national holiday, the Super Bowl, kicks off.

The Eagles want to”¦let Donovan do his thing. QB McNabb is off a terrific season (31 TDs, 8 INTs). He’s smart, has an accurate arm and his mobility is a great edge. With star WR Terrell Owens a long shot to play, Reid would prefer a ball control offense with RB Brian Westbrook (812 yards). Westbrook had two of his best rushing games all season in the playoffs, gaining 70 and 96 yards. The defense will have to do a better job against the run, but has fine pass rushers, led by Jevon Kearse and Corey Simon.

The Patriots want to”¦control the ball. The addition of Corey Dillon (1,635, 4.7 ypc) has significantly upgraded a New England offense (ranked No. 7) that lacked much of a running attack since John Hannah retired in 1986! They have outstanding balance, seventh in rushing, No. 11 in passing. The Eagles need to contain Dillon first, because an effective running game makes the passing attack more deadly under QB Tom Brady and coordinator Charlie Weis. Remember, the Patriots had the No. 27 running game a year ago and still won the Super Bowl. The Patriots would prefer a repeat of the last time these teams met. In Week 2 of the 2003 season, New England won 31-10, getting six turnovers and sacking McNabb eight times.