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Archive for Friday, January 16, 2004

Expect Pats, Eagles to reach Super Bowl

January 16, 2004

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— New England already beat the Colts once this season, 38-34 at Indianapolis, when Willie McGinest stopped Edgerrin James on fourth down at the 1.

One guarantee: There won't be 72 points scored when the Patriots play host to the Colts in Sunday's AFC championship game. Not in Foxboro's swirling winds, though the temperatures could be relatively balmy after a week near zero; the forecast calls for highs in the 20s or low 30s.

The Patriots are favored by just three points. That's primarily because Peyton Manning has been sizzling, throwing for 681 yards and eight touchdowns and no interceptions in victories against Denver and Kansas City. He has a near-perfect passer rating of 156.9.

But the first game was indoors at Indianapolis and the second was in comfortable, 50-degree weather in Kansas City.

"It's not the cold that gets you here as much as the wind," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says. "But the wind will be the same for both of us."

Maybe. Brady's used to it, although Colts coach Tony Dungy points out that while his team doesn't play in the cold, the climate in Indiana isn't exactly tropical.

Manning probably won't be perfect this week. Indy's no-huddle offense can be confusing to opponents, but the Patriots rarely surrender touchdowns at home -- just one in their final six regular-season games at Foxboro.

PATRIOTS, 21-17.

Carolina (plus 4 1/2) at Philadelphia

The unheralded Panthers have a shot against the Eagles.

Philadelphia might not be in the NFC championship game if Green Bay coach Mike Sherman hadn't made a couple of questionable calls and if Donovan McNabb and Freddie Mitchell hadn't converted a fourth-and-26 pass that led to a tying field goal at the end of regulation.

This is another rematch: The Eagles won, 25-16, Nov. 30 in Carolina, the same day the Patriots beat the Colts. But there were extenuating circumstances in that one -- John Kasay, Carolina's otherwise outstanding kicker, missed three field goals and an extra point, 10 points that could have been the difference.

McNabb against Jake Delhomme at quarterback would seem to give the Eagles the edge. But Carolina's front four is one of the best units in the NFL, and DeShaun Foster showed last week that the Panthers can overcome an injury to Stephen Davis.

One factor is Philadelphia's mental state after losing two straight conference title games.

The Eagles are due.

EAGLES, 17-15

LAST WEEK: 2-2 (spread); 3-1 (straight up)

PLAYOFFS: 4-4 (spread); 6-2 (straight up)

REGULAR SEASON: 143-108-5 (spread); 162-94 (straight up)

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