The time has come. Less than 48 hours from now Super Bowl LII will kick off in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIX where the New England Patriots do battle with the Philadelphia Eagles. Both teams entered the postseason with a 13-3 record and home field advantage and both teams triumphed over road foes in route to their collision this Sunday in Minneapolis. Both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are vying for their amazing sixth championship while Eagles Doug Pederson looks to claim his first in just his second year as a head coach.
You’ve all heard all the hype all week-long, the “what if” argument referring to Eagles franchise QB Carson Wentz who went down late in the season with a torn ACL that paved the way for veteran Nick Foles to take the reins. Well, first things first, Foles is playing and we’re all just wasting our breath with the what if argument, because Foles will be under center come Sunday. The Eagles are a very formidable team either way dispatching defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round and throttling everyone’s sexy Super Bowl pick in the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Eagles are playing in this game and have earned that right, many pundits feel we’re in store for a game (as do I for the record) as the line has already shrunk down to -4.
If the Patriots play their game, clean mistake-free football with Tom Brady and a healthy Rob Gronkowski, despite their “shortcomings” on defense, I like New England to win another title. Everyone is healthy and ready to go for this game. Brady will have a full complement of weapons in Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkehead, James White and Dion Lewis on top of the matchup nightmare in Gronk. They’re going to spread the Eagles out and attack the most vulnerable spots on the field. Josh McDaniels isn’t going to Indy just yet, he’s going to have a gameplan ready to roll that can get the ball out quickly for Brady and convert first downs into touchdowns.
The Patriots just have too many weapons, and despite the Eagles elite defenders like Fletcher Cox, Malcolm Jenkins and Brandon Graham, the Patriots have Tom Brady. There’s no one better in the league at outperforming elite players on the football field than the greatest player to ever play the game of football. Jim Schwartz has done a tremendous job with the Eagles defensive unit all season, but he’s just the kind of crazy coach that Brady exploits in big spots. In six career meetings, the Patriots average 361.6 yards and 35.4 points per game against Schwartz’s Titans, Lions and Bills defenses while Brady has thrown for 11 TD’s and just 1 INT with a 103.5 QBR (courtesy CBS Sports). Despite everything you’ve heard and read this week, if the Patriots play their game and win the turnover battle they won’t have any trouble moving the ball and putting up points against the Eagles. Philly has loads of talent on that side of the ball, and it’s the unit that has gotten them to this very game, the Patriots just have more talent and the greatest QB of all-time as their field general to combat the Eagles stout unit.
The Eagles have had success on offense with Nick Foles as well in the postseason. In the win over Atlanta, it was the use of RPO’S (read/pass options) that moved the ball and put the it in the hands of Philly to make the key plays in the football game. The Patriots will be well-versed in RPO’s this week with defensive genius’ Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia coaching up the unit all week to read their keys, focus on their assignment and above all, do their job. The Eagles have some serious weapons on offense in Alshon Jeffrey, Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, Jay Ajayi and Torrey Smith, but the Patriots strongest unit on defense is their secondary which will be tasked in containing the Eagles weapons.
I guarantee you the Patriots won’t get beat on the deep ball like we saw the Vikings fall victim to just two weeks ago. No disrespect to Mike Zimmer, but the Patriots secondary is too well coached and prepared to get burnt time-after-time like in the NFC Championship Game. Devin McCourty has really stepped up after the loss on Dont’a Hightower and been the most vocal leader and the best player on defense for New England. He’s helped bring free agent Stephon Gilmore along, which was evident in the AFC Championship Game on a crucial 4th down pass deflection. Fellow DB’s Malcolm Butler, Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung have stepped up at crucial points this season and gotten the Patriots to this position and playing in this game. They will be ready for Nick Foles and may even jump a few passes from the backup QB if he makes poor decisions when throwing the football. New England has some guys that have proven to be able to get to the passer and disrupt his afternoon in Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and even veteran James Harrison has made plays during his limited time playing for the organization. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Patriots defensive unit, that’s often been discussed as the biggest weakness on the team, make a few big plays and hold the Eagles offense under 17 points in route to victory.
Every Patriots Super Bowl under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has been a hard-fought nail-biting battle all the way through to its conclusion. There’s no reason to venture this one won’t have the same result. Maybe the fact that the Eagles have Nick Foles as their QB could spell an ugly result, but I think the Eagles are too well-coached and play great fundamental defense in order to stop an onslaught. If the Patriots play their game, execute their assignments and control the field position, then it will end with the league MVP hoisting another Lombradi Trophy. The only way the Patriots lose this game is if they come out like last year in the first half not ready to go and turn the football over. If the Eagles get a lead, then Chris Long, Graham and Cox will be in Brady’s face the rest of the game. That’s not what you want, and I don’t see that happening, but the possibility exists if New England doesn’t come ready to go.
I’ve got New England jumping out to an early lead and never really losing control while Foles’ Eagles hang around all game long in a well-played game without ever really giving up. A back-door score by the Eagles makes it a little closer than it really was. Patriots 24, Eagles 20.
Enjoy the great spectacle in store tomorrow and I encourage all Patriots fans to savor the moment. We never truly know how many of these moments we have left. Brady and Belichick are playing in their eighth Super Bowl and I forsee a sixth championship coming home to Foxboro when the confetti rains down on Sunday night.
Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank