They are on the verge of establishing themselves as a dynasty. The New England Patriots will have that opportunity in Jacksonville on Feb. 6, when they clash with the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX at Alltel Stadium.
The Patriots beat the Steelers, 41-27, and the Eagles soared over the Falcons, 27-10, in Sunday's AFC and NFC title games. Both teams left no doubt Jacksonville will be hosting the two best teams in football.
"There's no relief for me," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said after having ended a three-year NFL championship game losing streak with the win in Philadelphia Sunday. "We'll have relief after the Super Bowl. We set a goal of winning the Super Bowl, not just the NFC. So that's where I'm going. We're excited, but we're not done."
"We want to go to Jacksonville and get some closure and finish this up," wide receiver Freddie Mitchell said.
The Eagles will be trying to claim the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl title. The Patriots, however, have already won two Super Bowl titles in this decade. With a third Super Bowl title in four years, the Patriots would establish themselves as a dynasty team to be regarded with the 1960s Packers, '70s Steelers, '80s 49ers and '90s Cowboys.
"We've created a culture of winning," Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson said. "It starts from our owner and it just permeates throughout the whole organization. You just can't put enough emphasis on character of guys. Our guys believe in each other, they believe in their abilities, and they're willing to sacrifice for the greater good."
All of a sudden, coach Bill Belichick is drawing comparison to Vince Lombardi. All of a sudden, Tom Brady is being mentioned in the same breath with Terry Bradshaw.
"It's very flattering to be mentioned in the same breath with Vince Lombardi," Belichick said following the Patriots' easier-than-expected win at Heinz Field. "That's why the trophy has his name on it."
Should Belichick claim his third Lombardi Trophy, he would trail only Chuck Noll in Super Bowl wins. Noll won four in six years with Pittsburgh. Bill Walsh won three Super Bowls in eight years as 49ers coach and Joe Gibbs won three in nine years as Redskins coach.
"There's no quarterback I would rather have," Belichick said of Brady, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 130.5 passer rating in beating the Steelers. Simply put, Brady was sensational, just as he was a week earlier in defeating Peyton Manning and the Colts.
In beating the Steelers, Brady overwhelmed Pittsburgh rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who struggled early and rallied late, but faded into the cold night. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. A second-half rally by "Big Ben" made his stats respectable – 14 of 24, 226 yards, two touchdowns and a 78.1 passer rating – but he was clearly no match for Brady.
"We saw a lot of things from them," Roethlisberger said of the Patriots' defensive strategy, which mixed coverages and blitzes that left the rookie quarterback hesitant and confused-looking. "They did a little bit of everything. They threw the book at us."
Belichick, of course, is the architect of the Patriots' defensive strategy and he is being hailed as a football genius. A win in Jacksonville would only further cement that title.
"He said he had the most confidence in this team. I think that was huge for us to hear from our leader, from our coach," Johnson said of Belichick's pregame address. "I don't think I've ever heard him say that. He just has it, whatever it is. He just finds a way."
The Eagles won't be a pushover for the Patriots. In coach Andy Reid, the Eagles have an offensive mind capable of matching wits with Belichick. In McNabb, the Eagles have a quarterback capable of standing toe-to-toe with Brady.
"This team has great personality," Reid said. "Everybody here in Philadelphia loves 'em."
Following the win over Atlanta, Reid said he was hopeful star wide receiver Terrell Owens will be recovered from his late-season ankle injury and will be able to play against the Patriots.
"I have a feeling he will," Reid said.
It is the best of matchups the league would have to offer: Top strategists, top quarterbacks and, should Owens play, a demonstrative star wide receiver against a proud, tough defense.
Will the Eagles break through to the ranks of Super Bowl champions, or will the Patriots join the ranks of pro football's greatest all-time teams?