SPORTS

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February 1, 2002

NFC will again dominate Super Bowls

Remember those good ol' days when the NFC representative won the Super Bowl thirteen straight times? Those days of dominance by the Bears, Giants, Redskins, 49ers, and Cowboys seem long gone, don't they? But it looks like this trend might start anew this year, because there is an unstoppable NFC force, the St. Louis Rams, along with a Cinderella AFC team that shouldn't even be in the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots. Two times already, the underdog Patriots played in the championship game in New Orleans, and they got beaten badly both times: 46-10 by the Bears in 1986, and 35-21 by the Packers in 1997. If there is anybody out there who truly believes that the same scenario will not repeat itself, I have not met them, nor would I want to go visit them in the psychiatric hospital in order to do that.

What do the Rams have? Possibly the best quarterback, running back duo in history, a great offensive line that features possibly the best left tackle in football, and the best receiver combo in the NFL. I also forgot to mention that their defense is statistically one of the best in the league as well. That unit has really stepped up its play this season: standouts include defensive end Grant Wistrom, who made two clutch plays at the end of the NFC championship; the other defensive end, Leonard Little, who is second in the league in sacks and frequently runs down supposedly faster players from behind; middle linebacker London Fletcher, who is also a big playmaker; and cornerback Aeneas Williams, a six-time Pro-Bowler, acquired only this year, who is probably the best cover corner in the NFL right now. In short, if you haven't been following football very closely, you only need the following statistics in order to truly comprehend the superiority of the St. Louis Rams over all competition: they score slightly more than 34 points per game, but allow 17; they average 418 yards on offense, but let up only 279.

Now, let's look at the Patriots. To be honest, almost nothing about that team excites me very much. They do everything well, but nothing better than the Rams. Their running game is solid for the first time since they had Curtis Martin, with former Buffalo Bill Antowain Smith as the primary featured back. They also have two very good quarterbacks, starter Tom Brady and backup Drew Bledsoe. As the majority of you know, Brady got injured near the beginning of the AFC Championship game last week, and Bledsoe came in and saved the day. Combine that with the fact that Bledsoe was New England's starter from practically the day he got drafted in 1993 until the beginning of this year, when he got injured and Brady took over with a 12-3 record: you have a full-blown quarterback controversy. Thankfully, Patriots coach Bill Belichick settled it by firmly naming Brady the starter, which in my opinion was the logical and correct decision if he was deemed healthy enough to play effectively. After all, Bledsoe didn't do anything jaw-dropping last week. He was just as solid as Brady would have been, but nothing more. Brady will be throwing to Troy Brown, an overachieving player who does everything well and is one of the biggest surprises of the year.

So the offense is fine, but the Patriots' defense is what will let them down in the end. They are 19th against the run and only 24th against the pass, and those numbers don't lie, as I haven't witnessed them truly dominating any particular facet of games. Yes, they play like a cohesive unit and they have a "vocal leader" in bad boy Bryan Cox, but there isn't one superstar on that unit to match up with the virtual all-star team that is the Rams offense. One thing the Patriots might have going for them is that their defense was sixth in points allowed in the regular season, meaning that they played much better once opponents got close to their end zone. However, you have to keep in mind who they're facing here. Once the Rams smell the end zone, they will get into it no matter how good your red-zone defense is, which the Eagles found out in the second half of the game last week. By the way, that's the selfsame Eagles team which was best in the NFL in the red zone.

If you go to ESPN.com, you will notice that virtually every column there deals with "What can the Patriots do to make this game interesting?" It seems like these guys have totally stopped being objective and are merely praying for a semi-close game on Sunday. Well, I don't blame them, so I will answer the same question. However, unlike some of them, I will drop the bullshit about what particular schemes will "disrupt" the Rams offense, or how to "confuse" Kurt Warner (neither of which can be done). If I worked for ESPN, I would say that the Rams' run defense is really not nearly as good as it is ranked, because opponents simply don't run on the Rams since they're always behind. But I don't work for ESPN, so I'll say that the Rams' run defense doesn't matter one iota in this game either, which will be no exception The Patriots will be forced to pass the whole time because they'll be down 14-0 in the blink of an eye.

Here is a hint of where I think the Patriots' slim chances lie: name the Patriots' backup quarterback. That should be easy, since I already discussed both of them. Now name the Rams' backup quarterback. Slightly harder, isn't it? I can't name him either. Basically, I think that New England will only have a chance to win if Kurt Warner gets knocked out of the game early on, and if his backup plays incompetently. But even then, it seems like the Rams don't even need an MVP as quarterback: last week, they ran over all the Eagles with Marshall Faulk, and they could probably do that all day in the Super Bowl as well.

I hope you have a nice Super Bowl Sunday. Personally, I will be sleeping through the Super Bowl in preparation for preventing my own suicide on Monday, when I find out that the Rams won by 40.