WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Unlike in their previous two Super Bowl wins this decade, the Patriots have a stud running back, Corey Dillon (28). Although the Eagles easily handled Atlanta's top-ranked rushing attack in the NFC title game, they'll be hard-pressed to hold Dillon in check because of what QB Tom Brady (12) can do as a complement.
Not that Brady, the MVP of the last two Super Bowls and 8-0 in the postseason, can be considered anything but a star. But New England will seek to minimize Philadelphia's superb secondary by regularly shoving Dillon at the defense. If Dillon forces All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins (20) and the other DBs to crowd the line, then Brady will turn to the deepest receiving corps in the league: Troy Brown (80), Deion Branch (83), David Givens (87), David Patten (86) and speedster Bethel Johnson (81).
As they proved against Pittsburgh for the AFC championship, the Pats can dismantle even the best defenses. Philadelphia needs the kind of brilliant performance from middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter (54) that it got the last two weeks, plus a steady pass rush. Jevon Kearse (93) has been dominant in spurts and must be more consistent. Hollis Thomas (78), Derrick Burgess (56) and Corey Simon (90) all have taken turns being the main guy up front.
Philly had 47 sacks in the regular season, but the Patriots yielded only 26. If there is no pressure on Brady, thanks to that unheralded offensive line, New England should score plenty of points.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Unless All-Pro WR Terrell Owens (81) makes a miraculous recovery from his ankle and leg injuries, his role in the game will be mostly cheerleading. That hasn't put a crimp in Philadelphia's offense so far in the playoffs -- but they haven't played the Patriots yet.
Donovan McNabb (5) has matured into one of the league's best quarterbacks and leaders. He hurt the Eagles with some bad decisions in big games in the past, but not this season. McNabb has been dynamic in every facet.
Now, though, he faces the mysteries of the New England defense, where anyone can pop up anywhere at any time. Just ask Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
While All-Pro DT Richard Seymour (93) might not be a factor, he's hardly been missed. LBs Tedy Bruschi (54), Ted Johnson (58), Mike Vrabel (50) and Rosevelt Colvin (59), linemen Willie McGinest (55) and Ty Warren (94), and safeties Rodney Harrison (37) and Eugene Wilson (26) lead the big-play defense that has more looks than even a veteran like McNabb can imagine.
Unlike against NFC opponents, RB Brian Westbrook (36) will not be a matchup problem as a receiver. He should, however, find some running room behind OT Tra Thomas (72) and center Hank Fraley (63).
Philadelphia's ordinary group of supporting receivers for T.O. has played well in the postseason, particularly Freddie Mitchell (84) and the emerging Greg Lewis (83), a deep threat. The loss of TE Chad Lewis (89) will hurt, meaning second-year player L.J. Smith (82) must step in.
The biggest edge is at PK, but only because Adam Vinatieri (4) has made so many pressure-packed kicks, including two to win Super Bowls. His range is not much longer than David Akers (2) for Philadelphia, but All-Pro Vinatieri simply doesn't miss important kicks.
New England's Josh Miller (8) and Philly's Dirk Johnson (8) are middle-of-the-road punters.
The Eagles did not score on a punt runback, nor did they allow a punt return TD. Their coverage teams are excellent and held Atlanta's dangerous Allen Rossum in check in the conference championship game.