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Take the Patriots and the under

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Joe Ellison

Eight-hundred million people from 220 countries using 24 different languages will be centered on Houston Sunday for Super Bowl XXXVIII. The slow two-week period between the championships and Super Bowl was like torture for many of those fans, but the bye week was good because it allowed the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers to be healthy and have no excuses coming into their game.

In the NFC Championship, Carolina efficiently ran the ball 40 times for 155 yards against a weak Philadelphia rush defense, and completed only nine passes in a 14-3 victory. Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb sustained a painful rib injury while his inept wide receivers dropped six throws.

Carolina was one of the six NFL teams that liked running the ball more often than passing this year, and the Panthers relied on a formidable defense that includes the best defensive line in the league. The Cats have turned things up a few notches during the playoffs, increasing their time of possession and intercepting eight balls. By averaging 159 yards a game rushing, opportunities have opened up for quarterback Jake Delhomme, whose 9.6 yards per passing attempt is the best in the postseason since 1990.

In the AFC Championship New England’s excellent defense had a great day while stuffing Indianapolis and NFL co-Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning. During the playoffs, Manning had passed for eight touchdowns and no interceptions before throwing four INTs and only three completions to All-Pro Marvin Harrison in the Patriots’ 24-14 win. The Pat offense did struggle a bit, however, scoring just one touchdown and five field goals in seven trips inside the red zone.

New England enters the Super Bowl riding a 14-game winning streak mainly because of a defense that led the league in fewest points allowed. But never underestimate intelligent quarterback Tom Brady whose won-loss record is the NFL’s best in more than 30 years.

When one looks at the match-ups, it seems that New England has the formula to defeat Carolina. The Patriots’ D was fourth against the run, which should force the inexperienced Delhomme into trying to win the game for the Panthers. Brady is the better quarterback and is always cool under pressure.

The coaching advantage also goes to New England. The Pats’ Bill Belichick is participating in his fifth Super Bowl, he is 5-0 as a head coach in the playoffs including a Super Bowl with New England, and his coordinators are the best in the business. Carolina’s John Fox has never been a head coach in a Super Bowl, and his only experience was a loss while defensive coordinator with the New York Giants in 2000.

Player experience doesn’t always win the Super Bowl, but again the edge goes to New England. Twenty-three players were on the 2001 Super Bowl Championship squad, and nearly half of the roster is 30 years or older. Carolina has only six members with previous Super Bowl experience, and 35 Panthers had never even tasted the playoffs before this season.

As far as the Super Bowl intangibles go, personally I always lean toward the quieter and more professional team, which again is New England. Carolina staged a pep rally where lineman Kevin Donnalley talked smack about Philadelphia, Dallas and St. Louis fans, Coach Fox was paranoid thinking his Super Bowl practices were being secretly observed, players were talking about “going to Disneyland” and “haters” being “at home eating popcorn,” and Rod “He Hate Me” Smart put on a Media Day show complete with a touchdown dance. New England players have shown focus and professionalism while everyone is building up a Carolina club that is acting like it is just happy to be there.

The last three teams like New England to win 12 consecutive games in a season went on to win the Super Bowl. Teams with No. 1 points defenses like the Patriots are 4-0 in Super Bowls and 10-2 overall. Bye teams like New England win 85 percent of Super Bowls and conference championship games.

The Patriots are the better team, they are better than their Super Bowl winning team of two years ago, they get no respect, they come from the stronger AFC, they hold a 9-1 to 6-4 advantage in games involving common opponents, they deserve to be champions, and they haven’t even trailed in a game since Thanksgiving. Carolina will fail to run well and break tackles against New England’s defense, and the Panthers won’t get many interceptions and sacks against Tom Brady.

Before the season I picked New England to win the Super Bowl, and now is not the time to change my mind.

Prediction: New England -7 and Under 38.

Final score: New England 23-13.

Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.