Super Bowl LII, or Super Bowl 52 for those less fond of Roman numerals, is finally upon us. After a memorable NFL season that included a 0-16 Cleveland Browns, more injured stars than anyone would have imagined, the emergence of several young players, and a playoff run from the dumpster fire that is the Jacksonville Jaguars, the final game is upon us. As the saying goes, all good things come to an end. Minneapolis will play host to the best from the NFC and the AFC, as the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots march into Minnesota following excellent 13-3 regular season campaigns and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Let’s look at season narratives and the matchup itself.
Imagine how you would’ve felt as an Eagles fan if you’d heard this in the preseason. Carson Wentz finishes as an MVP finalist. Nelson Agholor shows everyone why he was a first-round pick in 2014, doubling his previous career high in receiving yardage and catching eight touchdowns. Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz prove to be the premier players at their positions, as the organization thought they were, both hauling in over 50 receptions and 9 touchdowns each. The team trades for 1,000-yard rusher Jay Ajayi to create a two-headed monster in the backfield with LeGarrette Blount. Defensively, Malcolm Jenkins and Fletcher Cox put together Pro Bowl campaigns, leading Philadelphia to boast the fourth best defense statistically in the NFL.
The results? The Eagles dominated the NFC, finishing 13-3 and boasting a league-best point differential of +162. Most Eagles fans would’ve traded their left hand for this outcome. Yet, New England enters as a 4-point favorite against the Eagles… what’s the caveat? Starting inside linebacker Jordan Hicks and left tackle Jason Peters have been lost for the season due to Achilles and ACL injuries, respectively. Even worse, Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14.
These events have thrust the 2013 Eagles phenomenon, Nick Foles, back into the spotlight and the starting gig. Doug Pederson’s faith in Foles has been rewarded thus far: he has played lights out; guiding them through the NFC playoffs and to the Super Bowl. This is the perfect narrative for the Eagles to travel into Minneapolis and take on the reigning champ.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are back, and few are surprised. For a team that many predicted to go 16-0, New England fans were treated to a far bumpier campaign. After opening with a disappointing loss to Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs, distractions ranging from backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo to Tom Brady’s personal trainer, many wondered if New England would implode.
Considering this article exists, it’s needless to say Bill Belichick did it again. The ageless Tom Brady put together one of the best campaigns of his career, passing for 4500 yards and 32 touchdowns on his way to being named first-team All-Pro. Receivers Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Cooks, and Danny Amendola more than compensated for the loss of Julian Edelman, bringing in over 60 receptions each, including Gronk and Cooks combining for 15 touchdowns. On the ground, it didn’t matter who was running the ball. Whether it be Dion Lewis, James White, Mike Gillislee or Rex Burkhead, the Patriots exerted their will.
On the opposite spectrum of the offensive dream, this was probably the worst defense we’ve seen during the Patriots dynasty. The unit finished 30th (out of 32) in total yardage allowed, with the secondary consistently burned week in and week out, even by mediocre passers. However, the “bend don’t break” defense, combined with another historic Tom Brady campaign, once again overwhelmed the league. New England finished 13-3, good for first in the AFC, with a point differential tied with, you guessed it, the Eagles at +162.
After marching their way through the AFC, trampling Tennessee and surviving a tough challenge from Jacksonville, the Patriots enter as heavy favorites to win their 6th super bowl and to further cement Tom Brady as the greatest to ever play the game.
The New England Patriots enter as favorites in this contest and, truthfully, for good reason. The Patriots host the best coaching staff in football, the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, and we’ve seen them perform in the spotlight time and time again. Meanwhile, the Eagles roll into Minneapolis with a backup QB in a playoff stretch where they’ve been underdogs in every single game.
However, these games aren’t played on paper, meaning several matchups must be looked at. The first, and easily the largest one, is how Nick Foles will play in the biggest game of his life. For someone who was considering retirement just two years ago, he’s in a huge spot against the greatest coach in NFL history and the dynasty of the decade. Foles operates at his best when he has time to sit in the pocket and read the field. He’s capable of making every throw in the Eagles offense, but he can’t extend plays the way Carson Wentz could.
I imagine Bill Belichick will try and force Foles to win the Eagles the game by committing to stopping the run and creating third and long situations where Foles’ reads won’t appear near as quickly as he’d want. However, despite any amount of genius from Belichick, the Eagles weapons could potentially give the defense fits. Agholor and Torrey Smith are threats to go all the way to the house anytime they touch the ball, Ertz and Jeffrey are huge targets with reliable hands, and the Ajayi / Blount combination is tough to stop on the ground. If Foles can settle into the moment and play his game, there’s more than enough talent for Philadelphia to put up the points needed to win this one.
When New England has the ball, it should be a different story. They’re fully capable of scoring on any defense in the league, as shown two weeks ago against the stout Jaguars defense. Traditionally, New England comes out very tentative on offense during Super Bowls: they’ve never scored in the first quarter. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if Belichick lets Brady come out swinging against a weaker secondary and a depleted linebacking corps to try and seize control early. Philly has no obvious answers for Gronk, and Darby could have a long night against the speed of Brandon Cooks.
Additionally, unlike any player before him, very little is on the line for Brady in this Super Bowl. He is already the consensus greatest QB to ever play the game, and he has nothing to lose. The greatest ever will be playing with zero reservations. Philly should hope that kind of confidence plays to their advantage. New England might warn them they should be afraid.
Prediction: Patriots 27 – Eagles 24