With Super Bowl XXXIX only six days away, the recurring theme seems be dynasty versus destiny. Will this be the year Philadelphia makes the leap from good team to great team, or will the Patriots become the first NFL dynasty since the Dallas Cowboys of the early ?90s? Can Donovan McNabb continue to fight off the demons that haunted him in three straight conference title games, or will Tom Brady?s nearly unprecedented playoff win streak reach nine games? A closer look at key position matchups could hold the answers to these questions.
Quarterback: As far as statistics go, McNabb has the clear edge in every category, throwing for more yards, more touchdowns, and fewer interceptions, and running for almost ten times as many yards as Brady. However, Brady is the guy with two Super Bowl MVP honors and is looking more and more like the Joe Montana of his generation. McNabb will bring a new aspect to the Eagles offense if he has success scrambling and wearing down the Patriots? defensive line. However, in a situation like this, go with the guy who already has two rings. Edge: New England, but not by much.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: This matchup is completely contingent on whether Terrell Owens can play and be effective. He has proven himself in big games in San Francisco and will give the Eagles a huge edge over the Pats if he is healthy. Without Owens, the trio of Freddie Mitchell, Todd Pinkston, and Greg Lewis is equal to New England?s combination of Deion Branch, David Givens, and Troy Brown. With three-time Pro Bowl tight end Chad Lewis out with an injury for Philadelphia, the Patriots? receiving/blocking duo of Daniel Graham and Christian Fauria is much stronger than the Eagles? L.J. Smith and Jeff Thomason (who is fresh out of a two year retirement) at the end position.
Edge: New England.
Running Backs: New England?s Corey Dillon had more than
double Eagle Brian Westbrook?s yardage this season, 1,635 to 811. Though Westbrook has been effective, Dillon has been waiting for this moment after wasting away for seven years in the football purgatory that is Cincinnati, so don?t expect him to let this chance
go to waste. Edge: New England.
Offensive Line: Left tackle and part-time mountain (6'7", 350 lbs.) Tra Thomas and effective veteran Jon Runyan anchor a potent offensive front for the Eagles. More importantly, the guys on this line have been playing together in big games for the past two years, learning the tendencies of the mobile McNabb. The Patriots have no big names on their line
other than Matt Light, but still cleared the way for Corey Dillon to gain a personal best 1,635 yards
this year.?Edge: Philadelphia.
Defensive Line: Even if Richard Seymour comes back and plays effectively, the Eagles will still have the advantage after their defensive line shut down Atlanta?s Mike Vick last week. They signed Jevon Kearse in the off season to create a championship-caliber defense, and he has carried the front four through games at times. Don?t be surprised if Kearse, better known as ?The Freak? when he was with Tennessee, harasses Tom Brady all game, forcing him to get rid of the ball early and often. For the Patriots, the young line of Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, and Vince Wilfork had trouble stuffing the rush in the regular season, but has tightened up considerably in the postseason. It?ll be interesting to see what the
Philadelphia offensive line does to these guys. Edge: Philadelphia.
Linebackers: For the Pats, Tedy Bruschi has been playing the game with a controlled insanity since the late ?90s, and is now getting recognized for his ability. Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin, and Roman Phifer are all versatile veterans who can play the run or drop back into coverage. Philadelphia has Pro Bowler Jeremiah Trotter and Dhani Jones, who lead a strong core of underrated guys who allowed an NFC-low 16 points per game. Tough call, but you can?t ignore the depth for the Pats. Edge: New England.
Secondary: This one is probably the easiest decision. The Eagles have had a strong secondary since the late ?90s, primarily because of Brian Dawkins? leadership from the safety position. This year, the class of ?02 ? Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, and Michael Lewis, all drafted in the first two rounds of the 2002 NFL draft ? have made this unit the best in the playoffs, shutting down the Vikings and Randy Moss in the Divisional round. The Pats, on the other hand, are without their starting cornerbacks and have one of the most makeshift secondaries in Super Bowl history. Though
they?ve played well, McNabb will be able to exploit their weaknesses. Edge: Philadelphia.
Special Teams: Adam Vinatieri could punch his ticket to the NFL Hall of Fame with another big Super Bowl performance. David Akers has been one of the most solid kickers in the league over the past few years. However, the key here may go way back to the
preseason, when the Eagles cut
special teams MVP Sean Morey, who eventually signed with the Steelers. Morey is a hard-nosed player in the Tedy Bruschi mold, and his absence with the Patriots? attention to special teams could make a big difference in this game. This could be a blocked punt or a kick return for a touchdown, or even just a missed block that costs the Eagles some yardage and keeps them out of field goal range. Edge: New England.
Coaching: Andy Reid is a good coach, but Bill Belichick has taken a team torn apart by injuries and stormed through the best teams in the AFC with them. If the Eagles were facing anyone else, Reid would get the nod, but they?re up against the man who influences how the rest of the league signs free agents and veterans. Edge: New England.
Final Prediction: A few big plays will shape a physical
battle between two defenses. Two great coaches call two great game plans, but in the end the Patriots? defense will wear down McNabb. The Patriots win 23?17. Dynasty.