The Real T.O. Or Not?
With a healthy Terrell Owens, the Eagles could create matchup problems for New England's defense and probably could stay with the Patriots step for step. The question is, how close will the WR be to full speed on his bad ankle? If he's not able to be a factor, the Eagles could have a tough time staying competitive.
What Will the Patriots Do To Stop Westbrook?
Eagles RB Brian Westbrook has succeeded Marshall Faulk as the game's most dangerous receiver coming out of the backfield. With Owens ailing, shutting him down will be the defensive key for the Patriots. Westbrook generally embarrasses LBs who attempt to cover him, but Patriots LB Don Davis is so athletic that he has played safety this season and might be able to pull if off.
Can Belichick and Brady Be Beaten When It Really Matters?
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady are playing for even loftier places in history. They're 8-0 in postseason play in tandem, including 2-0 in Super Bowls.
Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Eagles QB Donovan McNabb
They're two of the best in the sport, and either is capable of carrying his team to victory. Brady is trying to win his third Super Bowl MVP award at age 27. The Eagles probably need an MVP performance from McNabb to win. Brady gets the nod only because he's done it before on the Super Bowl stage.
Patriots WRs Deion Branch and David Givens vs. Eagles CBs Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown
The Patriots' wideouts are not celebrated but, aided by Brady's accuracy, they get the job done. Sheppard and Brown were question marks entering the season after the Eagles allowed veteran CBs Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor to depart as free agents, but they were solid all season.
Patriots RB Corey Dillon vs. Eagles' run defense
Philadelphia got nastier and tougher against the run after the in-season lineup reshuffling in which Jeremiah Trotter took over at middle linebacker. But the Eagles will have to prove they can shut down a runner as good as Dillon, who can get to the outside and break off long runs as well as grind out the tough yards between the tackles.
Patriots' offensive Lline vs. Eagles' defensive line
The Patriots probably will use some maximum-protection schemes to counteract the Eagles' frequent blitzes. That could put the onus on Philadelphia DEs Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess to generate a pass rush on Brady themselves by winning their individual matchups with Patriots Ts Matt Light and Brandon Gorin, which they're fully capable of doing. Eagles DT Corey Simon also could be a factor as he goes against Patriots RG Stephen Neal, the former NCAA champion wrestler.
Eagles WRs Terrell Owens and Todd Pinkston vs. Patriots CBs Asante Samuel and Randall Gay
No offense has found a way to exploit the Patriots' young CBs, who were forced into action because of season-ending injuries to starters Ty Law and Tyrone Poole. With a healthy Owens, the Eagles might be the team to pull that off. Without Owens as a contributor, Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell probably will not.
Eagles RBs Brian Westbrook and Dorsey Levens vs. Patriots' run defense
The Eagles don't look to win via their running game. And they wouldn't be able to do so anyway against this defense.
Eagles' offensive line vs. Patriots' defensive line
The Philadelphia offense has a solid front five and should be able to hold its own at the line of scrimmage, especially if Patriots Pro Bowl DE Richard Seymour is at less than full strength as he returns from a knee injury. The problem for the Eagles' blockers is dealing with versatile New England LBs Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest and Ted Johnson.
Each club will feel good about its chances if it sends its kicker out for a game-winning field goal. The Eagles' David Akers is about as good as they come, but he is matched up against the top clutch kicker in league history, with the Patriots' Adam Vinatieri having connected on two Super Bowl-winning kicks. If the Eagles pull out all the stops, they'll use Westbrook to return some punts.
The Eagles are solid, with Coach Andy Reid being supported by offensive coordinator Brad Childress and one of the league's top defensive bosses, Jim Johnson. But no one out-schemes the Patriots' brain trust of Coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel when the spotlight is the brightest.
Patriots: The Patriots' confidence is supreme in this type of game, and coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel don't want to lose their farewell game under Coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots' season becomes a success only by winning today.
Eagles: The Eagles finally broke through this season after losing three straight NFC title games. But the scrutiny and intensity have gone up a few notches, and Owens's vow to return as a contributor rather than a decoy sets his club up for an emotional letdown if he is unable to pull if off. The Eagles have had a successful season just by taking the next step and reaching the Super Bowl.
-- Mark Maske