Lolley: Super Bowl Prediction

OK, OK, spare me the quarterback is the most important position in sports stuff already. <br><br> Sure it is. <br><br> But football is also a team game, perhaps the ultimate team game. You're only as good as your weakest link, and these New England Patriots have plenty of them.

Consider:
  • New England's leader in total yards from scrimmage this season, running back Kevin Faulk, ranked 17th in the AFC. And, despite gaining 1,052 yards rushing and receiving this season, he failed to score a single touchdown. That's not a misprint.

  • The Patriots' two leading touchdown producers this season, wide receiver David Givens and running back Mike Cloud, scored just six and five times each. And Cloud and his five touchdowns likely won't be a factor in the Super Bowl, given he's the team's third running back.

  • Punter Ken Walter was 15th in the AFC with a 37.7-yard average.

  • Placekicker Adam Vinatieri missed nine field goal attempts.

Those aren't the kind of numbers that cause you to jump up and down and say that the Patriots are unbeatable.

That's why the Carolina Panthers are going to pull off the upset in this game.

New England has made its living by forcing turnovers this season, forcing 41 this season while making just 24 itself.

But the Panthers will go with their ball-control offense to keep quarterback Jake Delhomme from having to solve Patriots coach Bill Belichick's multiple defensive looks.

Against the Eagles in the NFC Championship game, Delhomme threw just 14 passes. Look for a similar type effort against the Patriots, as the Panthers will pound away at the New England front seven to force safety Rodney Harrison up into the box.

When that happens, the Panthers will look to get Mushin Muhammad matched up down the field against smallish corner Tyrone Poole, while Ty Law will get locked up with Steve Smith.

This isn't going to be a high-scoring affair, as Carolina's defense is every bit as stout as New England's. So the team that can hit a couple of big plays will hold the advantage.

And the Panthers, with Smith, Muhammad and running backs Stephen Davis and Deshaun Foster have more offensive playmakers than the Patriots.

That's why Carolina will pull out a 17-16 victory.


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