By Frank Pingue
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – The defending champion New England Patriots will try to add to what is arguably the NFL’s greatest dynasty when they seek a record-tying sixth Super Bowl title on Sunday.
For Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is already widely considered the greatest quarterback in NFL history, adding a sixth Super Bowl title to his resume would further cement that status and win over even his harshest critics.
Either way, the game will mark the end of a season that some feel could mark the beginning of the end for the Patriots after ESPN reported in January about a rift between Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft.
The trio quickly denied reports of any off-field tension and have since carried on with their usual determination to add to a legacy that includes many championships and a couple of cheating scandals known as “Spygate” and “Deflategate.”
The Patriots, seeking their third title in four years, are favored to beat a Philadelphia Eagles team still looking for their first Super Bowl crown and will bring plenty of firepower into the biggest game of the NFL season.
Brady, who at 40 is having yet another remarkable season in an already illustrious career, is the all-time leader in many Super Bowl passing categories, including yards, touchdowns and completions.
There has been plenty of attention this week paid to Brady’s right throwing hand, which he injured during the week leading up to the AFC Championship Game and kept under a black glove for much of the week in Minneapolis.
But when the Super Bowl begins under the translucent U.S. Bank Stadium roof, Brady is fully expected toss footballs with his usual precision.
With the Patriots expected to have trouble running the ball against the Eagles defense, Brady will likely lean heavily on his receiving options in hopes of building an early lead and forcing Philadelphia into uncomfortable passing situations while in catch-up mode.
Brady will have his biggest weapon at his disposal as tight end Rob Gronkowski was cleared from concussion protocol on Thursday, 11 days after a helmet-to-helmet hit left him visibly shaken.
The NFL has not had a repeat champion since the Brady-led Patriots accomplished the feat in 2004 and 2005, the latter title coming against the Eagles and giving New England their third championship in four seasons.
Should the Patriots prevail in chilly Minneapolis, they would join the Pittsburgh Steelers as the only NFL teams to win six Super Bowl titles.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Rory Carroll)