Championship weekend has produced the final two teams in the grueling NFL season. Representing the AFC, we have the New England Patriots (shocker). However, the NFC has the underdog Eagles, who dominated in the NFC Championship against a top-notch Minnesota defense. Let’s take a look at how both teams got here, look at some individual matchups, and I’ll tell you the Super Bowl winner.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Offense
Going into the 2017 season, most NFL pundits had either the Giants or Cowboys winning the NFC East. The Eagles were considered a “sleeper team” that had a great young QB in Carson Wentz, but were probably a year away from contention. However, Wentz passed for 33 TDs to 7 interceptions before his ACL injury. If he didn’t go down with that tear, we’d likely be talking about him as the MVP, not Tom Brady. Instead at QB, the Eagles have Nick Foles. If Philadelphia manages to protect Foles, that will be huge. This is the bright lights of the Super Bowl, Foles has never done this. Brady has been here when Foles was 13. If the Patriots pass rush manages to get to Foles, the Pats will likely win this game. As for the rest of the offense, mid-season acquisition Jay Ajayi has been a good compliment to LeGarette Blount, and Corey Clement can get involved in the backfield as well. Alshon Jeffrey had a great NFC Championship game, and has truly helped the Eagles offense. Nelson Agholor shedded his “bust” label, turning in a solid season. Zach Ertz has emerged as one of the league’s best tight ends. Top it off with an o-line that features Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson, and you have quite the offensive attack. Jason Peters may have been injured, but H. Vatai (don’t make me spell out his first name) has done a solid job of replacing him at the crucial left tackle position.
The Eagles defense is the strength of their team. If the Eagles are to pull the upset for the third straight game, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Chris Long, and the other guys up front must have a great game. Calais Campbell didn’t do enough in last week’s game against the Pats. The way to beat Brady in the Super Bowl is get after him. No one knows that better than the Giants, and their formula for beating the Patriots will be cited ad nauseam. While the Eagles secondary played great against Minnesota, their test goes from Case Keenum to Tom Brady. Patrick Robinson and Ronald Darby must play the game of their lives. The Pats likely won’t dominate the first half. However, they might implement a trick play in the second half, much like they did against the Jags. Philadelphia’s linebackers must stop the screen game of the Pats. James White had 14 receptions for 110 yards in last year’s Super Bowl. That’s a little under 8 yards a catch, and that’s how Tom Brady plays his game. You hear the word “surgical” a lot. Tom Brady carves apart defenses, and the Eagles have to be wary of that.
Photo Courtesy: AP Images
Final Thoughts on Philadelphia
Doug Pederson has done an excellent job this year as head coach. His penchant for making gutsy calls has helped the Eagles plenty this year, and he has established a “winning culture” that every coach talks about. It’s only his second year as a head coach, and he’s already in the Super Bowl. That’s impressive. This game could be so close it ultimately comes down to a field goal. Jake Elliott has had a great rookie season, but he’ll obviously be feeling a lot of pressure come Sunday. Overall, the Eagles have embraced the underdog label quite well. Can they carry that against the Patriots though? Well, let’s discuss how New England got here.
New England Patriots: The Offense
Tom Brady’s new series “Tom vs. Time” couldn’t have had a better title. This man is 40 years old, but is playing like he’s in his prime. Now he’s after his 6th ring. If the Patriots do in fact win this, I will consider this two separate dynasties. That’s just the level of domination the Patriots have had over the league. Brady’s backfield includes James White, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead. All three are great pass catchers, and that makes their aforementioned screen game deadly. Brandin Cooks has been a solid target for Brady, but it’s Danny Amendola that captured attention in the AFC Championship. He had an amazing game, and it’s players like him that exemplify “Do your job”. Amendola will never be a super star in the NFL, but when his number was called, he delivered. Rob Gronkowski will play in spite of a head injury, so Brady will have a wide variety of weapons. The o-line doesn’t have superstars on it, but once again, they do their jobs. Brady just has to do Tom Brady things to win this game. The Patriots probably won’t get off to a great start in this game. But we all know the old cliche, it’s not how you start… it’s how you finish. No one finishes games better than TB12.
New England’s defense lost Dont’a Hightower, one of their best players. How did New England respond? They had one of the NFL’s best statistically ranked defense after September. September was a horrible month for New England’s defense, and the way they rebounded was truly incredible. Still, New England had the 29th ranked defense in terms of yards allowed this season. That’s 15 spots below the Browns! However, the Pats had the 5th ranked defense in points allowed per game, at 18.3, compared with Cleveland’s 25.6. That’s what separates the winners from the losers.
Trey Flowers has had a solid year as a pass rusher. David Harris and James Harrison add a veteran presence to the defense. We all know of Super Bowl hero Malcom Butler, and the safety tandem of Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty. Their experience in the big game over Nick Foles could ultimately be the difference in Super Bowl LII.
Final Thoughts on New England
At this point, it’s all about adding to Brady and Belichick’s legacy of success. Most football fans are willing to say Tom Brady is the GOAT, and that’s because he is. He’s competing with other GOATs at this point (Michael Jordan). Brady can tie Jordan’s # of championships this Sunday, and possibly even outdo Jordan and win 7. Who knows? With the way Brady looks, he may actually play into his mid 40s. That is, unless Giselse doesn’t make him retire.
My Prediction: Patriots win 26-24
The Eagles underdog mentality and great defense will make many people pick them, them including Amazon’s Alexa device (feel free to ask her “Who will win the Super Bowl?” if you have one!). However, Alexa picked the Falcons last year. How did that work out? History repeats itself, folks. The Patriots are bound to win 3 out of 4, and complete a double dynasty. To me, this game is won either when Stephen Gotskowski makes a last second field goal, or Jake Elliott misses one.
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