HOUSTON -- Want to know who will win Super Bowl XXXVIII?
Here's your quick and easy answer: the team that is more physical.
If you were expecting a bolder prediction than that, well, sorry. But that's what will decide Sunday's NFL championship – plain and simple. This game is about force vs. force and the team that survives that fight will be leaping joyfully amidst a shower of confetti at Reliant Stadium.
This is not like two years ago when the Patriots force met the Rams finesse with force emerging victorious as it typically does. This game features two teams with a similar mentality, two teams used to hitting and liking it.
Carolina will run the football because that's what it does. That's what got it to Houston and what it hopes will lead to victory while in town. The Panthers want to come off the ball and smash you. Defensively, they just want you to know you're going to get hit and hope that affects your play.
The Patriots defense has the same exact mentality and plays that style as well as any team around. Their offense, which may not have the reputation as a physical group, has responded well when asked to play that style against physical defenses. They will be asked to do it again Sunday night.
"We've done it a bunch of times this year," guard Joe Andruzzi said. "There's no walking around telling each other about it. We all know what has to be done and what we have to do when we get out there."
The Patriots will look to get a leg up in that department through their game preparation all week.
"You have to know your opponent," left tackle Matt Light said. "You have to study and be able to look at them on film and understand what you need to worry about. If you don't know what to expect, you can't be as physical. You have to be smart and know your assignments to be a physical player. That's our playing style. That's what we do. But if we don't do much in practice this week and try to go out and play physical, it's not going to look good."
Light's position coach, Dante Scarnecchia, agrees. "If you know what you're doing, it's a lot easier to be more aggressive. Hopefully we'll know what to do. We have to play like we can play and be physical and competitive on every down with these guys," he said.
Damien Woody, who won't play in the game because of a knee injury, believes his line mates can match the needed intensity.
"People get caught up making comparisons on paper," Woody said. "The intangibles come out and show up on film. Against Tennessee, we knew we had to match the intensity. We knew they were a great defense and they were going to bring it. We knew we had to match it and exceed it and we did in both games, which is why we won the games. We won up front on both sides of the ball.
"I remember when we played Tennessee on Monday night down there last year and they were kicking our butts," Woody continued. "They beat us up the whole game. But the time we had a glimpse of success came in the second half when we forgot about the first half and took it a play at time. Carolina runs the ball and stops people. You just have to break it down one play at a time. When you start doing that on consecutive plays, that's when you get on a roll."
Defensively, the plan this week will not focus on being physical with a speedy receiving corps to disrupt a high-powered passing attack, but rather with Stephen Davis and an experienced offensive line more accustomed to constant contact. They deliver as many hits as they take, which presents New England with a different challenge. This game will be more of a street fight than the one played in Foxborough against the Colts two weeks ago when Indy's finesse offense crumbled under the duress applied by the Patriots.
"You have to match or out-physical them to establish that type of play," veteran defender Anthony Pleasant said. "You can't finesse a physical team because you're playing to their strength. It comes down to execution. If you're trying to play physical but you're making mental errors than you allow plays you don't normally allow.
"Bill [Belichick] has always emphasized that. He wants a physical football team and he will likely start emphasizing that more today."
Belichick addressed the subject in his daily press conference at the team's Houston headquarters – the Inter-Continental Hotel.
"Being able to control the line of scrimmage and cause turnovers with contact and jam receivers is very important for controlling the tempo of the game," Belichick said. "Offensively, it's the same thing. They're trying to do that and you have to be able to handle it. That's always a big part of the game – being physical, initiating contact and being aggressive."
"No one gave us a chance against the Colts," safety Rodney Harrison said. "They wondered how we could keep up with their receivers and how would stop Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning. Now you say we're facing a team similar to us. It's not about that. It's about going out and playing our game and doing what we've done for the past 14 weeks. If we do that, we win a ballgame. If we don't do that, we will lose a ballgame."
He's not making any bold predictions either.