The Vince Lombardi Trophy sits with helmets from the New England Patriots, left, and Philadelphia Eagles, right. Photo: Tannen Maury/BackpagePix

LONDON – Every great drama needs a hero and a villain and on Sunday the New England Patriots will assume their role as the NFL's most hated team when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl.

For the Patriots it is type-casting. On the NFL stage they play no other role. Fans criticise them for being just too successful in a league designed to not have dynasties, while they also cannot forgive the franchise for two rule-bending scandals in the last decade.

The Eagles, however, are far from angels. 

Their fans, after all, once booed Santa and pelted him with snow balls. But such behaviour can be overlooked alongside what has become known as the New England Evil Empire, a championship machine that operates with ultimate efficiency.

They have reached the Super Bowl for the eighth time since 2002, hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy five times, including twice in the past three seasons.

The Patriots, however, have also twisted the rules to their advantage - including videotaping opposition coaches in 2007 and deliberately under-inflating balls in a playoff game in 2015 - which have left a tarnish on their legacy.

In the Super Bowl setting it is hard to see what anyone could dislike about quarterback Tom Brady. But there is the win-at-all-costs Brady who was suspended for four games for his part in deflating balls.

Coach Bill Belichick, on the other hand, emanates a “keep your distance” vibe and appears to endure media conferences rather than enjoy them and rarely gives anything away. Only owner Robert Kraft is willing to offer a hint about the deeper philosophy.

“I think it’s good (that there is a team like the Patriots) but there are 31 other cities that don’t agree,” said Kraft. “I understand everyone wants their team to win.

“Someone out there will work hard and take us down, but I hope it’s not this Sunday.”