So here we go, the

So here we go, the countdown to the Super Bowl is on. Bob Ryan says this focused football team truly takes things just one step at a time. Kevin Mannix looks back and gives his report card for the AFC Championship game. The Receivers and Special Teams get C’s, the rest are all A’s and B’s. Tom Curran says that Bill Belichick is finally being embraced as a local son here in New England. With the exception of a couple holdout sportswriters, that’s true.

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Ron Borges says the Patriots will be in the unusual position of being a favorite coming into this Super Bowl. I’m sure this isn’t easy on Ron considering how much he hates seeing the Patriots succeed. His premise that he needs to be negative to be “objective” is tired. He manages to get through his article today without venom, though he’s probably saving it for his TV and Radio appearances, which is where he does the majority of his blustering these days. With the advent of this pesky Internet invention, the things you write can be looked back on in the future. It’s easier to just throw things out on the air instead. Like that Tony Dungy is just as good a coach as Bill Belichick. (From Channel 7 last week.) Alan Greenberg says there will be no looking back from this team, either to the AFC title game nor to previous Super Bowl appearances. Mike Reiss says that flexibility is the key to the Belichick philosophy. Karen Guregian gives us a glimpse of the lighter side of Bill Belichick as revealed in a question about playing football with this kids from yesterday’s press conference. Michael Parente says that the Patriots will have plenty of time to prepare for the Panthers with the two week gap between games. Ian M. Clark says the Patriots are just focused on getting one more win for this season. Michael Smith has a look at the offensive line and their season-long game of “Survivor”. Jim Donaldson also has a look at the offensive line.

Rich Thompson says that Bill Belichick does not care who Vegas installs as favorites and underdogs in this game. Bill Reynolds also takes a look at Belichick and the side of him that came out in the press conference yesterday. Rick Gossellin of the Dallas Morning News tells us this will be one of the most hard-hitting Super Bowls in history. Frank Dell’Apa has a look at the astonishing development of David Givens. Buddy Thomas admits his team got bested on Sunday afternoon. Smith’s notebook looks at similarities between Belichick and John Fox. Felger’s notebook tries to get us an update on Tedy Bruschi. Reiss’ notebook has some on Bruschi, and a lot of other stuff.

So just who are these Panthers, anyway? Michael Felger gives us a primer on the Panthers, and who to look for on their roster. Nick Cafardo looks at the rise of Carolina from a 1-15 team to the Super Bowl in just three years. Lenny Megliola says the Panthers are not made for prime time, but worries that they’ve got some of the Patriots vibe of two years ago going on. Steve Buckley has a pay column saying the Panthers are just like the 2001 Patriots. Should’ve known Buckley would be the one to pen that obvious angle. You can get more on the Panthers, as well as what they think of the Patriots down at the Charlotte Observer. (Free registration required to read stories.) They’ve got an article on the Patriots bouncing back from the Lawyer Milloy release and a look at the Patriots players that Carolina fans need to know about.

Steve Conroy and Nancy Marrapese-Burrell report on the Bruins 5-2 win over the Rangers yesterday. Gus Martins looks at Brian Rolston and Glen Murray ending their scoring slumps yesterday. Andy Nesbitt looks at the addition of Jiri Slegr to the blue line. Joe Gordon looks at another strong game for Andrew Raycroft. Marrapese-Burrell’s notebook looks at a punch from Eric Lindros that fractured the cheekbone of Joe Thornton and will keep the Bruins Captain out of tonight’s game. Conroy’s notebook says that the B’s could be without Dan McGillis as well, after the defenseman received a match penalty yesterday.

Celtics links are over at Fox Sports New New England.

Tony Massarotti says that the Sox hope to avoid arbitration with Trot Nixon, David Ortiz and Byung-Hyun Kim by signing each to a multi-year contract.

NESN has Bruins/Rangers at 7:00. FSNNE has Celtics/Heat at 7:30. WBZ4 has a special Patriots program each night this week at 7:00.