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Sunday, January 25, 2004
Updated: January 31, 12:57 PM ET
Delhomme remains a question mark

By Eric Allen
ESPN.com

  • Carolina Panthers vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 6:25 p.m. ET)

    Friday, Jan. 30
    Which team has more glaring weaknesses heading into Super Bowl XXXVIII?
    The Panthers.

    The inexperience of quarterback Jake Delhomme is a concern. He's coming into the game with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Delhomme's biggest play of the playoffs was a jump ball pass between Muhsin Muhammad and one of the best safeties (Brian Dawkins) in football. That's definitely not a pass the coaching staff wants him to throw every time. In certain situations, you just don't know what he's going to do because of his inexperience.

    On the other side of the ball, the Patriots can't run the football. The Pats' lack of a running game should give the Panthers a chance to win the game -- although the lack of a running game hasn't hurt the Pats over the past 14 games. Regardless, they need someone, whether it's Antowain Smith, Kevin Faulk, or Mike Cloud, to be successful running the ball in key times and control the clock. The clock will be very important and whenever the clock is important, teams have to run.

    The additional week of preparation could also negatively affect the Panthers because they aren't used to dealing with the media and extra hoopla around the game. The Panthers probably just want to hurry up and get to the game. Conversely, because it's their second time here in two years, the Patriots understand how big the game is, what's going to happen and they'll be calm and able to appreciate it a little more than the first time around. But when the game starts, it's going to be all about football.

    Thursday, Jan. 29
    How much will special teams factor into this contest?
    Special teams will always be a big key in this Super Bowl, and because of field goal kicker Adam Vinatieri, the edge goes to the Patriots. Vinatieri is a perfect, big-game situation kicker. Because of Vinatieri's presence, Tom Brady doesn't need to always drive for a touchdown. Oftentimes, he only needs to put the offense in position to allow his kicker to put three points on the board.

    While the Patriots have the kicking advantage, returners Steve Smith and Rod Smart give Carolina an advantage in the return game. A big special team plays can change the momentum of the game -- remember back to Super Bowl XXXV with the Packers and Patriots when Desmond Howard's kickoff return was the difference. For a few years we've seen just one team dominate both portions of special teams in the Super Bowl, but this year both teams can claim a piece of the pie.


    Wednesday, Jan. 29
    Which unit gives its team the advantage on defense -- Carolina's front four or New England secondary?
    Julius Peppers
    Peppers
    Carolina's front four has one more key player than the Pats secondary and that's where the advantage lies. The Patriots have Ty Law, who is the best corner in the league right now based on his athletic ability and the way he approaches the game, but when you run out Julius Peppers, Brentson Buckner, Kris Jenkins and Mike Rucker -- any of those four guys can take over a football game. Right now, Peppers is the poster boy, but Buckner and Jenkins get the job done by shutting down the run. If the Patriots are weak on the offensive line and are unable to protect Brady, they'll lose.

    John Fox has a mix of youth and experience to work with. And Fox, a defensive-minded coach, understand that no matter how good your cover guy is, and how solid the linebacker play is, games are won and lost by the front four. The Panthers have four physical guys who can rush the passer and stop the run. They're in the midst of becoming a dominant force like the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s or the Eagles of the '90s. The only way to really achieve that greatness is to win a Super Bowl.

    Tuesday, Jan. 28
    Which quarterback will have the bigger impact on Sunday?
    There's no doubt about it -- Tom Brady will have the bigger impact. Just look at what he's done. He's the NFL's most winningest quarterback, undefeated in the playoffs, and he's able to throw the quick, short passes as well as the downfield ball. The Patriots win and lose based on how Brady performs, and they've won 14 in a row. Win or lose, Brady will have the biggest impact on this game.

    I was there when Jake Delhomme was just a young pup back in 1997 when he started his career with the New Orleans Saints. He's a very smart, competitive, fiery player, who had to wait for his opportunities. Listening to him comment about a quarterback's maturity and getting his opportunities shows you he's going to make the right, sound decisions to help his team win the Super Bowl.

    Monday, Jan. 27
    Who has had the bigger impact on his team this season -- Davis or Harrison?
    Harrison
    Harrison
    Davis
    Davis
    Rodney Harrison has had a bigger impact on the Patriots. Since Week 1, he's come in and established the Pats as an aggressive defense. The Pats can roll him down in the box or he can be physical and make 10 tackles a game. He does whatever they need him to do. Remember back in Week 1, people couldn't believe the Pats let popular safety Lawyer Milloy go, but only a strong personality like Harrison would be able to overcome that and be one of their most productive football players.

    For the Panthers, the ability to establish a running game and a dominant personality with Stephen Davis is what got them to the Super Bowl. After not being re-signed by the Redskins during the offseason, Davis is getting ready for the biggest game of his life. The Panthers know they can run the ball against anyone.

    Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.