Philadelphia Eagles (15-3) vs. New England Patriots (15-3)
Sunday, February 4 th , 6:30 PM EST.
US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
To start, a few interesting things about this year’s Super Bowl matchup. Both teams rank in the top five league wide in both scoring offense and scoring defense. That’s only the third time in Super Bowl history that this has happened. It speaks to these teams being balanced and exceptional on both sides of the ball. These are the two best squads in the NFL by the only metric that really matters, points. Speaking of points, the Patriots and Eagles were tied at the end of the regular season with the best point differential in the league at +162. The Patriots both scored and allowed one more point than the Eagles. They also had identical conference and divisional records. It’s not all that uncommon to see two number one seeds face off in a championship game, after all, that’s what being a number one seed means. But it is somewhat rare to see two teams this similar come head to head. Tom Brady (7) has more Super Bowl appearances than the entire Eagles roster combined (6). And that includes two players from the Patriots Super Bowl winning roster last year, Chris Long and LaGarrette Blount. The Belichick-era Patriots are a staggering 15-0 in the playoffs against teams that they didn’t face during the regular season, which should be very scary to Eagles fans. The Patriots nine playoff losses since 2001 were all rematches of regular season games. They have also won twelve such games, just in case you thought you had found Belichick Kryptonite. Nick Foles will be only the third quarterback to start a Super Bowl after starting three or fewer games in the regular season. The previous two both won the big game.
Keys to victory – Philadelphia
There are several keys to victory for the Eagles. If they can’t do all of these things, it’s going to be advantage New England. First, the Eagles must not turn the ball over. The Patriots are far too good at making opponents pay for mistakes. A lost fumble, or an interception will likely become points in Tom Brady’s
hands. It seems simple and fundamental, but any advantage given to the defending champs will probably be too much. Second, the Eagles secondary must play man coverage and contain both Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan. If either of the tandem can get behind defenders along the sidelines, Brady will not miss often. The Eagles must slow down these two without double coverage. That will be need to be reserved for tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Eagles secondary isn’t a lock-down unit like the Patriots faced against Jacksonville, so they’ll need to step up to make some stops. Third, they must pressure Brady without blitzing. New England’s offense is designed to be deadly against the blitz. Everyone knows that, but some teams will still try to catch Brady off guard. It rarely works. The teams that create pressure by rushing only four men are best suited to disrupt the Patriots offense. The Eagles have just such a unit this season. If Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jennings can get to Brady early and often, the Eagles odds look much better. Lastly, the Eagles will need to get some big plays in the receiving game. The Patriots clamp down in the red zone, so some riskier, longer strikes from Nick Foles to the Eagles receivers will be necessary to get into the end zone frequently enough. Look for the occasional shot to veteran receiver Torrey Smith to attack the Patriots secondary.
Keys to victory – New England
The Patriots have a checklist too, and executing in these areas will tilt the odds back in favor of a repeat.
First, limit yards after contact. Both Jay Ajayi and LaGarrette Blount have made hay this season gaining extra ground after being hit. The Patriot defense must not miss tackles. If the Eagles rushing duo isn’t contained from primary contact, it will be very hard for the Patriot defense to get off the field. Second, the offensive line must give Brady a little room. The Eagles defensive line is among the top units in the league at creating quarterback pressure. If the offensive line can hold back the bull rush, even for a moment, Brady will be able to take advantage with the short and intermediate throws that pick defenses apart. Third, the Patriot running backs must be effective in the passing game. The Eagles run defense has been tremendous this year, allowing the second fewest rushing yards per game. The Patriots will have to adapt and get Dion Lewis and James White involved with check downs and short screen passes. These lighting fast pass plays will disrupt the Eagles defensive rhythm and provide much needed space in the flats. Lastly, the Patriots will want to leverage their experience advantage. Staying within the game plan and executing in all three phases has made the Patriots the best team in the league for almost twenty years. If they can stay focused and do their jobs, a sixth Lombardi trophy is within their grasp.
Running back Jay Ajayi. Ajayi’s an elusive runner with deceptive power. If the Patriots can’t clamp down on him early, the Eagles can turn this thing into a grind that will exhaust the Patriots defense.
X-Factor- New England
Wide Receiver Danny Amendola. Even with Rob Gronkowski back from the concussion protocol, Amendola will be the receiver Brady looks for in the biggest moments. His ability to make defenders miss and catch balls in small windows will be a major key to sustaining drives.
I don’t see many scenarios where this game isn’t a close one. These teams are just too well matched as the season long similarities show. In a tight game, you’ve got to go with the greatest coach-QB combo in the history of the NFL and the team with experience. Brady and Belichick further cement their legacy with a 27-24 win.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.