Panthers and Pats both have hope for win

Argument: New England Win

Can we say 14 straight wins and counting? The New England Patriots have won 14 straight games heading into Super Bowl XXXVIII.

The last time the Patriots were in the Super Bowl, no one expected them to get there. But this year, it’s no shock.

Belicheck’s defensive schemes have been outstanding, along with Charlie Weiss’ offensive game plans. I think it is time to give Tom Brady some respect. He deserves to be put in the elite class of NFL quarterbacks. His play has been exceptional.

The Patriots offense is very balanced. Sometimes it runs four to five wide receiver sets, mixing up the run every now and then. If there is a weakness, it comes from the running game. Starting running back Antowain Smith has had an up and down season. He runs hard, but just doesn’t have speed to break the big one. I think the Panthers won’t focus on him too much , but they should be wary – Belicheck loves surprises.

The Patriots have a good core of wide receivers who all know how to create separation from a defender. They have speed, and they run good routes. The offensive line held up against a very aggressive Colts defensive line. They will have to play flawlessly in this game when facing the best defensive line in the league. The Panthers front four can disrupt any team’s offense: just ask Donovan McNabb.

No one can seem to figure out Belicheck’s defense. This team loves to blitz, and very seldom gets burned.

Look for the Patriots to put 8 in the box to stop Stephen Davis. Their goal is to put the pressure on Jake Delhomme and make him beat them. The match up of the day will be Panther’s wide receiver Steve Smith versus all-pro cornerback Ty Law. Law completely shut down all-pro receiver Marvin Harrison in the AFC championship game.. I think Law will have another solid performance, but don’t be surprised if Smith gets some big catches. It’s scary to see Belicheck get an extra week to prepare for a game.

His defensive schemes are creative and disruptive. The Patriots defense is a physical defense: just ask the Rams about Super Bowl XXXVI. I like the Patriots in this defensive game. I think their experience will play a factor in this game. I think Brady will have a big game throwing. He will try to avoid Panthers corner Ricky Manning, who was defensive MVP against the Eagles.

The Patriots game plan will be to stop the run, control the clock, force turnovers, and play a mistake-free game. This team is disciplined and hungry. Foxboro, get ready to celebrate. Your team will get its second title in three years.

Argument: Carolina Win

Think back a few years ago. The St. Louis Rams tore through the regular season and had home field advantage. Most experts picked them to win the Super Bowl in a blowout. The Rams would be upset by the underdog New England Patriots, who escaped a tough challenge in the playoffs (with a little help from the referees), defeating the heavily favored Oakland Raiders in blizzard conditions with a last-second field goal.

This year, the New England Patriots are the team that tore through the regular season. They’ve also been the trendy choice for the Super Bowl victors. The underdog is the Carolina Panthers, a tough team that won seven regular season games by three points or less, including a double-overtime playoff win.

The Panthers started the season with a comeback victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Led by quarterback Jake Delhomme, who replaced the struggling Rodney Peete, the Panthers overcame a 17-0 halftime deficit to win 24-23. Delhomme hasn’t lost the starting job since, throwing more than 3,000 yards this season and making a name for himself.

Stephen Davis is the workhorse running back who, despite an injury in the divisional playoff, carried the ball 19 times for 76 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC Championship. Should Davis re-injure his leg, backup DeShaun Foster proved he could carry the load as well by rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown in the win over Philadelphia.

The Panthers have the 9th ranked passing defense and 11th ranked rushing defense. Julius Peppers anchors a defensive line that hopes to disrupt quarterback Tom Brady and the New England offense. Cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. won’t intercept three passes like he did against the Eagles, but he’ll cause fits in the passing game.

Head Coach John Fox has turned the franchise around from a 1-15 team two years ago, to NFC champions. Look for Fox to pull out all the stops against the favored Patriots. If the team runs the ball effectively, controls the clock and forces turnovers, the Panthers have an opportunity to stun the Patriots and the entire NFL.

In the end, the Panthers have lady luck on their side, just as the Patriots did a few years ago. This team is 7-0 in games decided by three points or less, including four overtime victories. If the game stays close, the Panthers will find a way to win.