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Super Sunday Primer

Patriots Prepared to Ground Eagles in Jacksonville

Super Sunday is just around the corner, but before we begin to break down the game at hand, let's take a brief trip through history, pondering all the momentous events that took place on the date of, oh, say, Sept. 14.

1814: Francis Scott Key composes the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner," to be performed prior to this year's Super Bowl by the Air Force Academy Cadet Chorale.

1901: William McKinley becomes the third U.S. president to die of gunshot wounds inflicted by an assassin; Vice President Theodore Roosevelt succeeds him. Little more than a century later, star linebacker Roosevelt Colvin signs with the Patriots. Coincidence? You decide.

1947: Actor Sam Neill, who starred in The Hunt for Red October, is born. The title of the film, an adaptation of the famous Tom Clancy novel, is borrowed and reprinted on a series of best-selling t-shirts for the Boston Red Sox. On Oct. 27, 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years. (Just in case you forgot.)

2003: The New England Patriots, on the strength of three touchdown passes by quarterback Tom Brady and six forced turnovers, defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in the City of Brotherly Love, 31-10.

All of which brings us to this weekend's showdown at ALLTEL Stadium, where the Bill Belichick-led Patriots will again take aim at the Eagles, hoping to secure their third Lombardi Trophy in the last four seasons. And though Philadelphia has revamped its run defense and enlisted All-Pro wideout Terrell Owens since their last encounter with the Brady Bunch, their chances of dethroning the reigning champs are slim at best.

For the moment, let's throw out any discussion of T.O.'s ankle and Belichick's reputation as some sort of mystical gridiron guru. A quick glance at how the Super Bowl combatants fared against common opponents during the 2004 campaign suggests a clear advantage for New England:

Patriots
Opp. Result

@ Pittsburgh: L, 34-20
@ St. Louis: W, 40-22
Baltimore: W, 24-3
@ Cleveland: W, 42-15
Cincinnati: W, 35-28

Record 4-1

Eagles
Opp. Result

@ Pittsburgh: L, 27-3
St. Louis: L, 20-7
Baltimore: W, 15-10
@ Cleveland: W, 34-31*
Cincinnati: L, 38-10

Record: 2-3

* Overtime

If you're inclined to dismiss regular-season statistics in the all-important postseason, so be it. Forget that Belichick is the NFL's most successful coach since 2001 (56-16), with Philadelphia's Andy Reid (54-19) nipping at his heels. Ignore the fact that Reid is a perfect 9-0 with two weeks of preparation, while Belichick, during his stint in New England, is 6-2 after the extra week -- including two Super Bowl victories. (Reid has never led a team to the Big Game, his Eagles having dropped three consecutive NFL Championships before dismantling the Atlanta Falcons in a 27-10 win on Jan. 23.) But make no mistake: The Patriots know Donovan McNabb's game, just as they know that he can be pulled out of his rhythm with an effective pass rush, as he was that fateful Sept. 14, when he threw two INTs, lost two fumbles and endured seven punishing sacks in the supposedly friendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field.

(Mr. McNabb, you remember Mr. McGinest and Mr. Seymour, don't you?)

This Sunday, look for more of the same. The New England defense, bolstered by the return of a healthy Richard Seymour and led by a trio of hard-hitting veterans in Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest, will hassle McNabb and his receivers -- even a hobbled T.O., who will almost certainly be a step slow against one of the most fearsome secondaries in the league. When the armor begins to crack, expect the Super-Bowl savvy Patriots to create the turnovers that will keep Philadelphia's defenders on the field for Tom Brady (8-0 in the postseason) and dynamic tailback Corey Dillon to pick apart.

Will Philly's vaunted defense put up a fight? You bet. The Eagles didn't have the best defense in the NFL this season -- that honor belonged to the Pittsburgh Steelers, against whom the Patriots posted 41 points in the AFC Championship -- but their secondary remains one of the stingiest around. Even so, it's Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's befuddling defense that will keep that Philadelphia secondary on the field for too long, giving Brady and his sure-handed receiving corps too many opportunities to break the game open with a Big Play. If history is any indication, they won't fail.

Final score: New England 28, Philadelphia 17