Pats on verge of another crown
When the smoke clears, the Patriots will hoist the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champs on Feb. 1.
Which of these four teams will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 1?
The Patriots offense isn't the flashiest or most exciting in the NFL, but it seems that quarterback Tom Brady leads the team to victory every week. He does a marvelous job marshalling the weapons on his offense and using them to his advantage. Brady manages the clock well with the short-passing game, but will throw deep when the opportunity presents itself. The only weakness this team has offensively is the lack of a powerful running game, but the Pats short-passing game more than makes up for it.
Defensively, there are almost no flaws for opposing teams to latch on to. The Pats are a smart, veteran team that's coached by one of the best defensive coaching staffs in the NFL. Coach Bill Belichick's staff does a great job imparting the knowledge learned from film to the team and changing their defensive scheme to frustrate opposing offenses. I can't remember a defense that had the ability to switch up schemes and formations so easily during the week before a game. It's a testament to the greatness of the defense and the staff.
This Patriots may not be a team of destiny, but they will be holding the Lombardi Trophy again at the end of the season.
Friday, Jan. 16
What do the Colts have to accomplish that they didn't in Week 13 against the Pats?
Also, the Colts have to maintain pressure on Tom Brady. He is a surgeon on opposing defenses when given time and will walk his team down the field in a 15 play drive that keeps Peyton Manning off the field. To stop this from happening, the Colts front four has to stay in his face. I'd also mix things up a little bit by sending a blitz up the middle to force Brady outside of the pocket. He's not a fast runner and can be caught by the speedy Colts defensive linemen.
Thursday, Jan. 15
Does McNabb have to repeat his outstanding performance from Sunday for the Eagles to win?
McNabb needs as much time as possible to throw the ball because his wide receivers lack breakaway speed. Receivers Freddie Mitchell, Todd Pinkston and James Thrash don't have the separation speed necessary to take over games. They need time to run their routes and make the catch. If McNabb can get the time to make those plays, then the Eagles will be in excellent shape.
Wednesday, Jan. 14
How do the Patriots go about cooling off Manning and the Colts offense?
Also, the Patriots have to keep pressure in Manning's face. I don't believe it's possible with just the defensive line, so I'd blitz as much as possible. I'd mix up the blitz packages by occasionally sending corners, but mostly I'd blitz with linebackers. The key to blitzing Manning is to come up the middle to force him out of the pocket. He loves staying in the pocket and surveying the defense, so blitzes have to keep him moving side to side to be effective. If he's blitzed from the edges, he'll just step up in the pocket and take advantage.
Linebacker Tedy Bruschi is probably the best fit on the Pats to be the blitzer. He's fast and capable of hitting the right gap to get to the quarterback unfettered. He also is smart enough to occasionally confuse Manning by dropping back into coverage and disrupting the timing of Manning's receivers.
Tuesday, Jan. 13
What do the Panthers have to achieve that they couldn't in Week 13 against the Eagles?
This is a more confident offensive team now. I believe the way they've won the past few weeks has helped a great deal because they realize they can win any type of game. They can win blowouts, overtime games and win on the road.
Also, the Panthers have found their passing game. After a season in which quarterback Jake Delhomme and his receiving corps struggled, they've played masterfully in the playoffs. Through two games, Delhomme has thrown for 563 yards and two touchdowns with only one interception. That success is due in large part to his receiver's excellent play of late. Wide receivers Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad are keeping the pressure off the running game with their play. Right now, Smith and Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison are in a different category as far as receivers go. But unlike Harrison, Smith needs a Muhammad to play well for him to be great.
If the Panthers are able to play with that renewed confidence and keep some sense of offensive balance then they will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
A game analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Football, former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann won a Super Bowl and a league MVP award. He contributes regularly to ESPN.com.