BACKING A WINNER: Super duo makes Pats handicapper’s favorite

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By now, the tale of how Tom Brady overcame long odds just to become a starting quarterback in the NFL, then lead the New England Patriots to dominance, has been told countless times.

Still, no matter how many times the Patriots win and reinforce their super stature, there will be those who doubt Brady can do it again.

But handicapper Buzz Daly has seen enough to be convinced. Daly is in line to bet on New England as a 7-point favorite over the Philadelphia Eagles in today’s Super Bowl at Jacksonville, Fla.

The past two years, behind the leadership of Brady and coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots are 33-4 straight up and 27-8-2 against the spread. So it’s no wonder the odds are long against the Eagles.

As recently as November, the AFC was a 3-point favorite over the NFC in the Super Bowl. It’s too late to jump on that line, but Daly said the cost of inflation isn’t too high.

“Not getting the best number shouldn’t stop New England bettors from cashing tickets,” Daly said. “The Patriots’ combo of Belichick and Brady trumps whatever the Eagles counter with, and in what appears to be a close matchup, there are too many factors in favor of New England.”

The first factor is Brady’s history in big games. He is 8-0 in the playoffs and a two-time Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl.

Brady has more help in the backfield now, too. Corey Dillon was the league’s third-leading rusher with 1,635 yards and has added 217 yards rushing in two playoff games.

“The Patriots’ superior offensive capabilities will wear down the Eagles’ defense,” said Daly, editor of the former Players Choice magazine (buzzdaly.com).

“Dillon is an instinctive downhill runner who can slip through the slightest crack of daylight. His ability to chew up real estate draws in the defensive backs just enough to give a blue-collar group of receivers room to operate for Brady.”

Just as important is a New England defense led by intimidating strong safety Rodney Harrison. The Patriots overwhelmed Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and the league’s highest-scoring offense in a 20-3 divisional-round victory three weeks ago.

Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel use Harrison as the glue that holds together an injury-depleted secondary. Harrison will be counted on to contain Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook.

“Belichick and Crennel are masterful in designing defensive schemes. Generally, they like to take away a key component, and I think that would be reducing Westbrook’s effectiveness as dual-threat playmaker,” Daly said.

“The Eagles’ pedestrian receiving corps will not do much business against a patchwork bunch of defensive backs who were resourceful enough to stop Manning.”

McNabb has passed for 35 touchdowns against eight interceptions including the postseason. New England’s defense thrives off turnovers, but the Eagles have not had a turnover in the playoffs.

McNabb’s top target, Terrell Owens, is back after suffering a severe right ankle injury in December. Daly doubts that Owens will show the breakaway speed that produced 14 TD receptions.

“A lot of ink has been used detailing the return of Owens and how effective he might be, but his getting into situs poker online terpercaya shape and being a factor in a victory is a long shot. If T.O. does run some patterns, they will be possession plays, not game breakers,” Daly said.

“McNabb, for all his talent and abilities as a passer and runner, still makes some bad decisions and has periods of missing his targets. Look for a combination of simultaneous man and zone coverage to confuse McNabb.”

When the teams last met on Sept. 14, 2003, at Philadelphia, the Patriots rolled to a 31-10 victory. Daly predicts the score of today’s rematch to be 31-13, slightly under the posted total of 48.

The AFC owned the NFC this year, going 44-20 straight up and 41-21-2 against the spread, and Daly sees that lopsided trend continuing.

“Philadelphia’s two-man tandem of McNabb and Westbrook will not be able to compensate for the absence of Owens as a defense-busting weapon,” Daly said.

“Once things start going south for the Eagles, I expect their discipline to start collapsing, and the game will be over.”