Posted: Friday February 01, 2002 5:02 PM|
New England beats St. Louis if ... The Patriots can stay aggressive the whole game. They've been aggressive both offensively and defensively this year, and I think that's the key to their success. They attack. They attack on offense and defense. That must be a Bill Belichick coaching trait, because that's what they do and it's a credit to them. I also like the preparation level I've seen from New England. They've had the ability to consistently come up with the key play at the key moment.
As far as key matchups, I think the Patriots secondary matches up well with the Rams receivers. Those guys are really good back there. They've got three really good players in Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law and Otis Smith. Smith has always been underrated in my book. The Patriots secondary is going to play the Rams tight. I think they'll compete really well the whole game. They have a lot of veterans who know what they're doing in the secondary. That's not going to be a mismatch.
I was expecting Tom Brady to get the start at quarterback, if he was well enough to play at all. He was the guy who took them there, and he made the Pro Bowl, so he has the resume to be your guy in a game like this. But I think with both starting quarterbacks having an injury to deal with, the backup situation is clearly in New England's favor. If something happens to Kurt Warner (ribs), Jamie Martin goes in there. But if something happens to Brady's ankle, a quality guy in Drew Bledsoe comes in. To me that edge goes to New England.
People are talking about it being another Super Bowl blowout. I hope it's exciting, but it'll depend on how New England comes out of the box. I don't think the Patriots though will be in awe and fold early. I think they've got too many veteran players to let that happen. But we'll see.
St. Louis beats New England if ... The Rams play their game of indoor football, which they play better than anyone else. I'm one who doesn't think the Rams have as many weapons as everybody says they have. But what they do have is the ideal indoor football team, in terms of speed and skill players. But I don't think they're a better team than what Minnesota had in 1998, when they lost to Atlanta in the NFC title game.
Now, they have a tremendous back in Marshall Faulk, and he makes a huge difference. But those Rams receivers aren't as good as those three guys that the Vikings ran out there in 1998. But the Rams will probably win if they just keep playing their fast-track game and their offensive line holds up.
I think you'd have to favor the Rams defense with the way it's playing this year. For the Patriots to pull the upset, New England's offense has to clearly outplay the Rams defense. That's what has to happen. That's what almost happened last week, with the Eagles offense. But the Eagles fumbled the ball early, the Rams got six points out of that, and that was the difference. The Rams won by five.
I would think the Patriots offense might have a problem with (left tackle) Matt Light versus (Rams right defensive end) Grant Wistrom. I think that's a matchup that the Rams will win. I know one thing, you give the Rams a lead and that defense is going to sit back there in that Cover 2 and make you throw checkthroughs. New England can't do that. The Patriots have been more aggressive than that and they can't win throwing checkdowns.