Print and Go Back NFL Playoffs 2004 [Print without images]

Sunday, January 16, 2005
Brady has experience edge over McNabb

By John Clayton

Here are five things to look for in the upcoming Super Bowl:

• New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles
(Sunday, Feb. 6, 6:30 p.m.)

A closer look
EaglesPatriots• X-factor: Terrell Owens is the X-factor because nobody knows what he'll be able to do. When he broke his leg, the injury was similar to the one Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers suffered in Week 1. At the seven week mark, the Panthers decided to place him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Owens is hard at work in rehab. He wants to play and he wants to win. During the victory over the Falcons, Owens did a celebration dance that inspired the crowd. He's off the crutches. He may not be 100 percent. He may not be able to be a starter. But he has a chance to be a threat. The Owens factor has been huge for the Eagles. His presence as a threat allowed Donovan McNabb to become a 64 percent thrower. McNabb has carried over that confidence even without Owens in the lineup.

• X-and-O factor: Bill Belichick will have two weeks to prepare for the Eagles. That's a lot and it's significant. He beat the Eagles 31-10 last season. He knows how to beat the Eagles. Even though McNabb is improved, he won't have Owens for the entire game and may not have him at all. Belichick's mastery is taking one thing away from an offense. Against the Steelers, he took away the running game. Against the Eagles, he will try to take away the three- and five-step drops, which probably means more physical play from his cornerbacks.

• Rx factor (health): The Eagles will have two weeks to rush the return of Owens from a broken leg. The Patriots, meanwhile, have a decent chance of having defensive end Richard Seymour back on the field. Bet on Seymour more than Owens. Owens is coming off a broken leg. Seymour is coming off a knee injury that didn't require surgery. Both players are Pro Bowlers and both are significant. The advantage goes to the Patriots if they are able to get their best defensive player back on the field.

• Numbers cruncher: Even though it's a passing league, receivers probably won't be a big factor in this Super Bowl. Owens, at best, could be a role player coming off a broken leg. So who is the biggest receiving threat in the Super Bowl? There isn't one. David Givens is the most accomplished with a mere 56 catches for 874 yards and just three touchdowns. After Owens' 77 catches and Brian Westbrook' 73 receptions, Todd Pinkston is the next best threat for the Eagles with 36 receptions for 676 yards. Without a true big-play 70-catch receiver, there is no go-to guy. Expect the Super Bowl MVP to be a running back or a quarterback, not a receiver.

• The Eagles will win if: McNabb passes for 270 yards and Westbrook rushes for at least 75. That's going to be tough. The Patriots defense under Belichick is usually successful taking away one strength of an opponent's offense. It should take away some of aspect of the Eagles passing game and the Eagles aren't built to win on the ground. That's why the Patriots are favored to win by a touchdown.

• The Patriots will win if: Tom Brady runs an efficient offense, passing for 250 yards and throwing two or three touchdown passes. With the new emphasis on illegal contact, those type of numbers should be expected.
-- John Clayton
1. Donovan McNabb finally matured into a championship caliber quarterback during playoff victories over the Vikings and Falcons. But Tom Brady didn't need to mature and has the big edge in this game. While the win Sunday improved McNabb's record to 1-3 in NFC championship games, Brady is already 3-0 in AFC title games and 2-0 in the Super Bowl. That puts the pressure on McNabb. While he expects that, the problem is he has now entered the biggest, most overblown forum in sports. For two weeks, he'll be asked if he can win THE BIG GAME. While McNabb comes up with different ways to answer that question, Brady can just ease through the press conferences. He's won two Super Bowl rings and will be getting questions about dynasties, not how he'll deal with the pressure of the Super Bowl. McNabb is well equipped to match up against the two-time Super Bowl MVP. He completed 38 of 59 passes for 466 yards and four touchdowns in two playoff games this year and is playing well. McNabb held back tears after advancing past the NFC championship. This was an emotional triumph for him. But Brady has been here before and is ready for what it takes. Advantage: Brady.

2. The Eagles have the big name secondary. They have three Pro Bowlers in cornerback Lito Sheppard and safeties Michael Lewis and Brian Dawkins. The Patriots just have smart players. What will be interesting to see is how physical the Patriots cornerbacks will be. Even though Asante Samuel and Randall Gay are relative unknowns, they will be physical with the Eagles receivers. Todd Pinkston and Greg Lewis, who's developing into a dangerous deep threat, are skinny and struggle against physical corners. Terrell Owens could be available but he probably won't be much of a factor coming off his leg injury. He won't go the whole game and at best will be a spot player. Even though the Eagles have the athletic edge because their secondary is filled with stars, the Patriots just win with their scheme. Disguise is their forte. They have an amazing ability to fake blitzes and drop into eight-man coverages. Call this matchup a wash. The Patriots had a defensive quarterback rating of 75.3, allowing only 18 regular season touchdown passes and a 58.6 completion percentage. The Eagles allowed opponents a 75.8 rating and 60.7 completion percentage. No quarterback likes going against either secondary.

3. Talk about different running philosophies. The Patriots clearly have the best pure running back in Corey Dillon. The Eagles use the versatility of Brian Westbrook to try to trick defenses. The advantage goes to the Patriots, who used to be the team that had to resort to trickery to run the ball. What a difference a year makes. In their first two Super Bowl wins the Patriots got by with Antowain Smith. He was lucky to get 16 carries a game. They ran with Smith just enough to keep the other team honest. Now, they run with Dillon to win. He's the type of physical runner who can dominate a Super Bowl. Not only could he rush for 100 yards, he could get 150. He's that good. Westbrook is vital in the Eagles offense, but they are more finesse. He rushed for 96 yards on 16 carries in the NFC championship game, but he's not the type of back to get 25 carries and wear down teams during the second half if the Eagles have the lead. He creates matchup problems for defenses. Dillon creates fatigue problems for defenses. The more Dillon runs, the better the Patriots' running game gets. Dillon runs and overpowers defenses.

4. This game features great coaching. Bill Belichick and Andy Reid are clearly among the best at what they do, but look at the assistants. Jim Johnson and Brad Childress of the Eagles and Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis of the Patriots should all have head coaching jobs in the NFL. Only Crennel, who is the leading candidate for a patient Browns franchise, is going to get an NFL head-coaching job. Childress and Johnson have been to four NFC championship games. Weis is off to Notre Dame. For Crennel and Weis, this is their final shot with the Patriots in a big game. Weis can use the Super Bowl to help sell Notre Dame to recruits in the future. This Super Bowl will be one of the smartest in memory. Weis is a master of quick passes and play-action passes. Crennel may be the best in NFL history in terms of disguising basic Cover 2 schemes. Johnson terrifies opponents with all of the blitzes that he runs and is also a master of the fake blitz. Childress is just sound. He makes the West Coast offense work.

5. The Patriots linebacking corps is amazing to watch. Inside linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson make plays against the run and against the pass. Outside linebacker Willie McGinest might not be an every-down player anymore, but he consistently makes big plays. He led the team with 9½ sacks. Many of his sacks come late in games. Mike Vrabel is a former defensive end who can make plays in coverage or along the line of scrimmage. It's hard to figure out from play to play how the Patriots will use their linebackers. Bill Belichick can remove two defensive linemen and go to a scheme that features a combination of nine linebackers or defensive backs. The Eagles aren't as deep. Jeremiah Trotter started as a backup middle linebacker, finished the season as a run-stopper who shaved 50 yards off the team's rushing yards allowed per game, and is going to the Pro Bowl. The Patriots' linebackers might not have the greatest stats, but they do what's necessary to win big games.

• Vote: Who will win?

John Clayton is a senior writer for