Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Slow Those Wagons, REO

The NFL can be a little simple-minded. Sit down Kordell Stewart, we're not talking about you. The Colts came into the playoffs having demolished their recent mediocre opponents and were given a great chance to throw over the Patriots, despite the rich and expansive history to the contrary. Then the Steelers, considered the best team in the league, were picked by many to blast past New England to the Bowl that is Super even though they were a terrible matchup for the occasion. And now, because the Pats have had an admittedly dominant run the last two games, they are being lauded as a sure-fire gaurantee for back to back championships. Because I guess the Eagles aren't planning on coming on Sunday. Or maybe they'll show up but have trouble seeing the ball with all the weeping, bruises, and eye blood. New England is a very good team, the best going in fact, but they're not automatic. And right behind them, nipping at their minute men boots, are the Eagles, the second best team going. Are we to believe, simply because the pundits insist it, that there is a Rich Garces-sized gap between the two clubs? As they're basing their opinion on an overreaction to the most recent 120 minutes of football, I will continue the alarmingly sardonic tone of this column and say nay nay. That means no. Look, The Ninth has spent the last two weeks encouraging readers to accept the Patriots as the tippy tops, and I'm not backing off that. But the Eagles are capital G Good. And if Terrell Owens finds his way onto the field 50% of the time, they're a lot better. And better in a way that I don't believe you can scheme out of.

In week 10 against Dallas, TO caught a 5 yard slant over the middle. The play had no other purpose than to make second and third down more manageable, but no one told Owens that. Well, they probably did, but his listening skills lack excellence. So Terrell caught the ball, and instead of being brought down by the two adjacent linebackers like every other receiver in football, he stiff armed, turned on the jets, and was off for a 59 yard touchdown. And this wasn't a pure speed job either, Owens got hit. Several times -- and he won each event. After which he just kept running. It was a display of such miraculous strength, speed, and skill that it should be played in every Patriot locker for the next five days. Because honestly, I have no idea what Belichick can do about it. You can try to keep the ball out of TO's hands, hit him when he comes off the line, pressure McNabb so he doesn't have time to find him, but there will be times when that doesn't work. There always are. And this player can make you pay for that more than any other. If Owens gets the ball in the right, or wrong - depending on your perspective, position a couple of times this Sunday and someone misses a tackle, the field could open up a certain way, and points will go on the board. That makes it hard to win. Granted, it's somewhat of a perfect storm scenario, but Owens is that potent an ingredient, and against all others teams a type of weather pattern that isn't playing. That's what makes the Eagles dangerous. If he's there in the Super Bowl, there could be a problem. And all the brains in the world can't stop it. Is this likely? Not terrifically. But it makes the game interesting, and somewhat hard to predict. New England will not run away with it, unless they're facing just McNabb and Westbrook. Unless a pundit knows that be so, we should not be convinced by their ultra-certain swagger. It will be a close one, but one that ultimately Corey Dillon against a mediocre d-line should be able to control. And it would hardly be the playoffs if Brady wasn't driving and Vinatieri wasn't kicking. So expect there to be more than just commercials on Sunday, and don't get too comfortable with that spread. Like always, it's Pats by 3.

Patriots 20, Philadelphia 17.