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A wise man puts his football IQ on line with Pats

January 22, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

As a wise man once predicted, the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet in Super Bowl XXXVIII on Feb. 1. ...

What? The Seahawks lost in the Wild Card round? The Steelers didn't even make the playoffs?

Oh.

Well, that's OK. Even wise men get mulligans.

(So do stupid idiots, but I'd rather not dwell on that ...)

In a "dream" matchup for CBS (note the sarcasm), it's the Patriots and Panthers playing for the title.

While the Pats weren't the fashionable pick in the AFC (that would have been the Colts), they were probably the smart-money pick, as New England has been playing the league's best football for more than three months (and, some would argue, for the past three seasons).

As for the Panthers, aside from Carolina's diehard fans and ESPN's Stuart Scott, whose ties to the University of North Carolina surely didn't have anything to do with his picking the Panthers as a Super Bowl team in the preseason (note the sarcasm), there weren't many on their bandwagon when the playoffs started.

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Carolina has been a solid team because they run the ball, ask quarterback Jake Delhomme to make only 10 to 15 plays a game and play good defense. But the Panthers also lost to both Houston and Atlanta during the regular season.

As for New England, the more I watch them, the more Tom Brady jumps out at me. In my opinion, he's the best in the league at converting third downs in the 4- to 7-yard range, and there's something to be said for a guy who keeps making plays to keep drives alive.

The Patriots don't have to score a lot of points because Bill Belichick is the best defensive game-planner in the league, and it's not even close. Look at what his schemes did to a red-hot Peyton Manning (who's now 0-6 against Belichick).

Maybe I'm wrong - that would be a first (note the ... you got it) - but I simply don't think this Super Bowl will be close. If the Panthers stay within two touchdowns of the Patriots, I'll be surprised.

Why?

First of all, New England won't let Carolina run up the middle. Belichick will keep eight men in or near the line of scrimmage at the snap, knowing the key to beating the Panthers is stuffing Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster (you can't overlook Foster, and Belichick won't).

Second, Belichick will let Brady do what he does best ... use three- or five-step drops and quick, 5- to 10-yard throws to dissect Carolina's secondary. New England hasn't run the ball well all season and the Panthers stuff the run about as well as the Patriots, so Belichick won't hesitate to put the game in Brady's very capable hands.

Third, Belichick will mix up his blitz and coverage schemes to try to confuse the still-inexperienced Delhomme. If Belichick's schemes worked so well against Manning, how can one expect Delhomme to fare better? And he'd have to fare significantly better than Manning for Carolina to win.

The Panthers have two real hopes. One is that Brady has an un-Bradylike day and throws a couple interceptions in his own territory, giving Carolina a short field and momentum. The other is for Panthers wideout Steve Smith to make plays on deep throws when New England comes with the blitz.

If one or the other happens, Carolina has a chance. If both happen, the Panthers probably win. If neither happens, it's going to be a long, disappointing day.

This wise (or stupid) man sees disappointment.

PATRIOTS, 24-7.




Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com

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