Solid foundations have NFL's final 2 teams built for success

THE BALTIMORE SUN

THE COMMON denominator in this year's Super Bowl matchup is not the elite quarterbacks or the withering defensive pressure either team can bring.

It's not the secretive nature of the two head coaches or the fact these are two cold-weather teams.

No, the biggest parallel in this year's matchup is the big picture. The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will rendezvous in Jacksonville, Fla., for the Super Bowl in two weeks because they have what are widely considered to be the two best organizations in the NFL.

Model franchises both, the Patriots and Eagles are unique in their own right under respective owners Robert Kraft and Jeffrey Lurie.

The Patriots are best at procuring and utilizing players who fit in coach/architect Bill Belichick's master plan. The Eagles are best in their ability to keep the core of the team together and hold the bottom line well under the league's salary cap.

The Patriots (16-2) have a chance to win their third Super Bowl in four years, an unfathomable accomplishment in the free-agent era. They are 48-16 in the past four regular seasons under Belichick.

The Eagles (15-3) have gone to the playoffs five straight years, have won four straight division titles and are 59-21 in the past five years under coach/architect Andy Reid.

These are the two most well-rounded, best-grounded teams in the league.

Philadelphia's 27-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in yesterday's NFC championship game served as the validation of Reid's system. New England's 41-27 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game was still more evidence that Belichick is not merely the best coach of his era, but one of the best of all time.

There will be one striking dissimilarity when the two teams arrive in Jacksonville next week, though. And that is their playoff past. While the Patriots have dominated the league over the past four years, the Eagles haven't been to a Super Bowl in 24 years and haven't won an NFL championship in 44 seasons.

In fact, as strong as the organizations that owner Jeffrey Lurie and Reid have built are, there could have been serious repercussions had the Eagles lost a fourth consecutive NFC championship game. Both Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb faced unremitting pressure last week, such was the weight of their three-year losing streak.

Yet, in the end, both were able to shake the criticisms that accompanied their previous failures. Reid, notorious as a conservative play-caller, opened his game plan in the frigid temperatures of Philadelphia and was rewarded handsomely.

McNabb, who had thrown for just one touchdown and five interceptions in three championship game losses, threw for 180 yards and two touchdown passes. He had no turnovers and no ghastly mistakes this time.

Minus his star receiver, Terrell Owens, McNabb found little-known Greg Lewis for two big pass plays that covered 65 yards. He found his favorite tight end, Chad Lewis, for both touchdown passes.

McNabb will be matched up with two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for an efficient 207 yards and two touchdowns yesterday.

For the second time in four years, the second-seeded Patriots upset the top-seeded Steelers in Pittsburgh. The first time it happened, the Patriots went on to upset the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl and launch their historic run.

After winning a physical brawl with the Steelers, the Patriots will now prepare for the finesse passing game of the Eagles and the possible return of Owens to the lineup.

Now that McNabb has gotten past his own personal chamber of horrors, he will confront another: the prospect of beating a Belichick-coached defense.

It is a matchup worthy of the setting.

SUPER BOWL

Philadelphia (15-3) vs. New England (16-2)

When: Feb. 6., 6 p.m.

Site: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Line: Patriots by 6 1/2

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