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Pickin' and Grinnin' - Super Bowl
Bob Cunningham
February 3, 2005

Straight-Up: 160-106 (60%)
Against-The-Spread: 130-129-7 (50%)

Straight-Up: 2-0
Against-The-Spread: 2-0

Comment: Okay, I'm just glad I didn't play the unders on the Patriots-Steelers... because otherwise we had things nailed. Dome teams playing outdoors... rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs... some prognosticating formulas are quite reliable, as it turns out. As for my preseason prognostications, the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl as I forecasted but Indianapolis failed once again to beat New England. My pick originally was the Eagles to beat the Colts in Super Bowl XXXIX, but you'll have to read on if you want to find out whether I'm sticking with the Eagles-will-fly-to-a-championship prediction.

Philadelphia Eagles (15-3, NFC No. 1 seed) vs. New England Patriots (16-2, AFC No. 2 seed)

Line: Patriots favored by 7. ATS Records: Eagles 11-7, Patriots 12-3-3.

Eagles Status Report: Philadelphia snapped a three-game losing streak in conference title games by whipping the Atlanta Falcons, 27-10, to capture their first NFC championship and Super Bowl berth since 1980.

Patriots Status Report: New England is returning to the Super Bowl seeking its third championship in four years after handily defeating host Pittsburgh, 41-27, in the AFC Championship Game.

The Series: New England won the last meeting, 31-10, at Philadelphia in September of 2003. Prior to that contest, the Eagles had won five in a row in the series. But only two of the meetings have been played since 1990 - the Eagles prevailed, 24-9, at home in 1999. Also, the Patriots won a preseason game this season, 24-6. It was the opening preseason game of the 2004 season for both clubs.

Eagles Super Bowl History: Philadelphia made its only appearance title game appearance in Super Bowl XV, losing to the Oakland Raiders, 27-10. Current Kansas City head coach Dick Vermeil was the Eagles' coach, ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski was the quarterback, and current New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards was in the Philadelphia secondary. Raiders QB Jim Plunkett was the Most Valuable Player, although linebacker Rod Martin may have had the biggest impact in the game, snaring a Super Bowl-record three interceptions.

Patriots Super Bowl History: This will be New England's fifth Super Bowl appearance. The Patriots were routed by Chicago, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX and were beaten by Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXI, 35-21. New England claimed its first Super Bowl victory three years ago, when Adam Vinatieri last-second field goal lifted the Pats to a 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots claimed its second title last year, outlasting the Carolina Panthers, 32-29, on another late Vinatieri field goal. QB Tom Brady was the MVP in both wins. If New England prevails this year, its third Super Bowl triumph will be surpassed by only Dallas (five victories), San Francisco (five), and Pittsburgh (four).

Stats Worth Noting: Patriots QB Tom Brady is 8-0 as a starter in the postseason, including two Super Bowl victories... Both of New England's Super Bowl triumphs were by three points... The AFC has won three of the last four Super Bowls.

Game Summary: Plenty of pundits and television analysts are considering this game a slam dunk for the defending champion Patriots, and while I have a hard time seeing it as anything resembling automatic, I do believe the experience factor will have a bearing. Philadelphia cleared a major hurdle in making it to Jacksonville, averting the stigma that would have dogged them interminably had a fourth straight NFC Title Game been lost. For the Eagles, there's no questioning their desire to bring the City of Brotherly Love its first major sports championship since the Villanova men's basketball team shocked Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA Final. Coach Bill Belichick has the Patriots calm and confident... a team that clearly understands the intangibles required for success in the postseason. One of the potential mismatches in this game is at QB... yes, that's right. I believe the reliability, intelligence and passing accuracy of two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady is an advantage over the multi-talented, play-making but more erratic Donovan McNabb. Statistically, McNabb has been superb this season. And he doesn't do dumb things with the ball. But rarely has he faced a defense with the combination of complex schemes and the unyielding ability to execute like New England. With that said, however, I actually believe the difference in the game will be Corey Dillon. The Patriots running back has finally made it to The Big Dance, after all those frustrating losing seasons in Cincinnati, and he will make the most of the opportunity against a Philadelphia defense that can be exploited on the ground. It's true that the Eagles run defense has been better of late - it did a nice job shutting down Atlanta in the NFC championship - but New England is more creative with its ground game, and the Brady-guided passing attack commands a lot more respect from the talented Philadelphia secondary than the Falcons' Michael Vick and his mediocre receiving corps did last week, so you won't see members of the Eagles secondary pushing forward in run support the same way. I consider the coaching clash heavily favoring Belichick as well... not because the Eagles' Andy Reid isn't a quality guy, but simply because Reid hasn't gotten this far before, and because his team's record in title-deciding games is still lagging. To summarize, New England will move the ball more efficiently, most likely win the turnover battle, and convert enough big plays to capture its third championship in four years.

Prediction: PATRIOTS 33, EAGLES 20