PITTSBURGH – The Super Bowl (search) matchup is as it should be: the best team in the AFC against the best team in the NFC. The problem for the Philadelphia Eagles (search) is that the AFC club looks like it might be a team for the ages.
That, of course, would be the New England Patriots (search), who have won two of the last three NFL championships and are favored over the Eagles by 7 points, a spread that is likely to go up. Three hours after New England took apart Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh 41-24 Sunday evening, enough money had come in on the Patriots that the line jumped a half point.
That is as it should be as the attention of the sporting world turns to Jacksonville for the game on Feb. 6.
Officials in north Florida already are on high security alert, rerouting traffic, beefing up Coast Guard patrols, even inspecting manholes at they prepare for the attention the Patriots and Eagles will receive.
Especially the Patriots, who are trying for their third Super Bowl victory in four years — a feat accomplished only by Dallas from 1992-95.
"Dynasty" probably isn't the right word for what they might accomplish — four years is a short dynasty.
But after Sunday's game, more than a few people were comparing Bill Belichick's Patriots to the Joe Montana/Steve Young/Jerry Rice/Ronnie Lott San Francisco teams that won five Super Bowls between 1981 and 1994. The 49ers might have had a few more had the NFC not been loaded with almost equally good Redskins, Giants, Bears and Cowboys teams during that period.
This is not to slight the Eagles, by far the best team in the NFC in a season in which that conference was as down as any has been in a long time.
They were 13-1 and dominating when Terrell Owens went out with a knee injury on Dec. 19. Philadelphia rested regulars and lost two games, but came back without Owens and easily beat Minnesota and Atlanta in its two playoff games. That finally got the Eagles past the conference championship game they lost for three straight seasons and sent them on to Jacksonville, a relief perhaps more to their hypercritical and terminally insecure fans than to the players.
The Eagles are certainly worthy — getting to a championship game four straight years is an accomplishment, even if you lose the first three.
In Donovan McNabb (search), Philadelphia has a quarterback who has been in the running for the NFL's MVP award every year since 2000 but this one. And that was only because Peyton Manning broke Dan Marino's record for touchdown passes in a season and was a nearly unanimous choice.
In coach Andy Reid and his staff, especially coordinators Jim Johnson (defense) and Brad Childress (offense) they have a trio that compares favorably with Belichick and his two chief lieutenants: Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis.
So they have some reason to be optimistic.
But the Patriots demonstrated in beating a Pittsburgh team, that had won 15 straight, that they are special, most notably because they are a team in the truest sense.
"Nobody cares about individual stats, just about winning, including our quarterback." said Adam Vinatieri, who stays in the background until — as he has done twice — he kicks the winning field goal as time is expiring in the Super Bowl.
So while that quarterback, Tom Brady (search), has become a major star and Vinatieri, Richard Seymour, Corey Dillon, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Willie McGinest are lesser luminaries, there is always someone with little name recognition making a big play. Brady and Harrison made them Sunday, Harrison's an 87-yard interception return in the second quarter that gave New England a 24-3 lead at intermission.
But there were others, too, like Deion Branch, who caught a 60-yard touchdown pass and ran 23 yards for another score. And Jarvis Green, who filled in so well that no one noticed that Seymour, a Pro Bowler in three of his four seasons, was out again with a knee injury; and Rosevelt Colvin, a major free-agent acquisition relegated to spot duty after missing most of last season with a hip injury; and Eugene Wilson, a second-year safety who had two interceptions.
The Patriots coaches, in fact, are bigger names than their players: Belichick tied Vince Lombardi on Sunday for the best winning percentage in playoff history (.900); Weis has already been hired as head coach at Notre Dame; and Crennel will almost surely be hired as Cleveland's head coach after the Super Bowl.
Wilson suggested after Sunday's win that maybe some of his teammates should get more individual recognition.
"I think we've got a lot of players that are overlooked because people think of us as such a team," he said, naming Harrison, Bruschi and Brady.
That's borne out by the Pro Bowl selections: Philadelphia has nine, led by McNabb and Owens. New England has four: Brady, Seymour, Vinatieri and special teamer Larry Izzo.
But the betting public clearly thinks otherwise.
In fact, the line probably wouldn't be much different if Owens was healthy. The Eagles' star receiver strutted on the sideline and postured for the television cameras during Sunday's game and Reid said afterward that he could be ready for the Super Bowl.
He actually acknowledged that his team had played well, something he does rarely.
"There's a lot of blood and sweat that's put out there and I'm happy that they have this kind of achievement to show for it," he said. "I've never been around a harder working bunch. They're a special group of guys."
They'll probably be even more special in a couple of weeks.