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Don't expect blowout

NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 30, 2002) -- We're halfway through Super Bowl Week, and I have yet to hear anybody, whether it's out in the French Quarter or on TV, say the Patriots even have a chance to win this game.

NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 30, 2002) -- We're halfway through Super Bowl Week, and I have yet to hear anybody, whether it's out in the French Quarter or on TV, say the Patriots even have a chance to win this game. I haven't heard anyone say they can keep from being blown out before halftime.

Well, who has blown New England out this year? The only game they've lost in the last three months was to the Rams, but that certainly wasn't a blowout. Since that 24-17 loss, they've won eight straight games.

I'm trying to figure out why everyone thinks St. Louis is going to destroy the Patriots. Everybody thought the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to destroy them, yet here we are in New Orleans and the Pats are still going strong. Haven't we seen enough from the players, and from Bill Belichick and his coaching staff, to see that they know how to adjust their gameplan to compete against teams that might have better physical talent?

And what about this: If the Philadelphia Eagles can play St. Louis close in the NFC title game, why can't the New England Patriots? Were the Eagles that much better than the Patriots this season? Was that game not in St. Louis, where the Rams had home field and all those other things going for them?

They are playing at a neutral site. New England did beat Pittsburgh on the road in the AFC title game, and I think everybody agreed Pittsburgh was supposedly one of the top two teams in the league along with the Rams.

The fact that these teams met in the regular season is an edge for New England. It gives the Patriots a good idea of the speed and talent level of the St. Louis Rams, so now they really, really know what they're preparing for physically.

Sometimes you prepare for a team -- and this happened with the Baltimore Ravens many times last year -- you'd prepare for them on film, then the game would start and you'd say, "Oh my god, they're so much bigger and faster than what the film showed."

The Rams' speed often takes teams by surprise. Well, New England does not have to be surprised now. They know.

There are other reasons why New England has a chance to keep this game close or even have a chance to win it. (Oh my God, I can't even believe I said that!)

The Rams offense, particularly the offensive line, is beat up. Orlando Pace was hurt against the Eagles. He's going to be fine, but will he be 100 percent? Kurt Warner has been somewhat beat up during the last part of the season. What if the Patriots blitz him early and beat him up a little?

Trust me, when a quarterback gets hit early, he thinks one thing: He's going to get hit consistently, so he speeds up his reads, maybe, which might throw off his timing.

The one thing I really like about this matchup is the fact that both coaches, both teams, are willing to take chances. When you are in big games against talented skill people who you just can't dominate, and against coaches who you just can't outcoach, you have to be willing to take chances -- maybe run a fake in the kicking game, go for it on fourth down when maybe some of us second-guessers probably wouldn't. And also call plays where there is a risk of turning the ball over. But you've just got to keep pushing it.

I think both of these teams have shown they will definitely do that. We know New England will definitely do it on defense, and of course we all know St. Louis will do it on offense.

It's not that I'm openly rooting for the Patriots, or predicting a New England victory in Super Bowl XXXVI. It's just that I don't need to make a case for the St. Louis Rams. It's being done every single day. Every time I turn on TV and see a sports "expert," it's all St. Louis.

At the very least, this game will be closer than most of those "experts" think.

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