Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Super Bowl prediction 

Went 9-1 in my playoff predictions so far (damn you, Chiefs), and since I'm a Patriots fan you know who I'm going to pick ...

Patriots 24, Panthers 13
I think this is the first time ever that I'm picking a local team to win it all. Two years ago, I picked the Patriots to lose against the Steelers, then picked against them again in the Super Bowl against the Rams. Not that I'm complaining, of course. Also, I haven't thought that the Red Sox were better than the Yankees in any of the last ten years. And the Celtics and Bruins? Ugh.

Anyway, onward to the analysis.

On offense, the Patriots can move the ball against the Panthers. The strength of the Panthers defense is in their front seven. The Patriots offense, however, is well-equipped to neutralize the pass rush. They pass on a three-step drop as often as any team, as Tom Brady will often take three steps back then immediately fire to a receiver before the pass rush can get to him, relying on the receivers to break tackles and turn a 1-yard pass into a 15-yard play. Also, while they haven't used the screen pass much this year, they will use it to slow the pass rush, and the Patriots have two good running backs who can catch the ball in Kevin Faulk and Larry Centers. When Brady does have time to go downfield, the Panthers' weak secondary will have trouble covering the four Patriots receivers. They're mostly unknown and they don't put up gaudy numbers individually because Brady spreads the ball around, but as a group they're probably above average compared to the rest of the league. When they're all on the field at the same time, the Panthers simply doesn't have the personnel in their secondary to cover all of them. The only hope the Panthers have is to generate a constant pass rush, but the Patriots offensive line have held up surprisingly well.

The Panthers will try to run the ball, but the Patriots are the best in the league in stopping the rush. They have given up only one 100-yard rushing game this year, and that was against Clinton Portis in Denver when neither Richard Seymour nor Ted Washington played. Except for that one game, they have not allowed another runner to get 100 yards, despite facing Ricky Williams, Travis Henry, Curtis Martin, and Edgerrin James each twice, and also Tiki Barber, Dominack Davis, and Fred Taylor. With Muhsin Muhammad becoming mostly a blocking wide receiver, Steve Smith is the only threat among the receivers, and anyone who saw last week's game can tell you how the Patriots secondary completely took Marvin Harrison out of the game (3 catches, 19 yards, 1 fumble). Jake Delhomme might have more comeback victories than anyone this year, but if his team needs him to make plays to win the game, they're in trouble.
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