Posted on February 1, 2018, by Travis Pulver
Five weeks into the season it looked like the Philadelphia Eagles could end up in the Super Bowl. But with a record of 3-2, the New England Patriots looked like they may be the ones with the Super Bowl hangover, not the Atlanta Falcons. Fast forward to Week 16, and the script had flipped.
New England got its defensive issues straightened out, Tom Brady was still Tom Brady, and they overcame their injury issues. Philadelphia, on the other hand, appeared destined for a disappointing end to the season. With potential league MVP Carson Went out for the season and Nick Foles playing quarterback, the Eagles were surely toast.
But then the craziest thing happened. Foles showed the world why the Eagles were not crazy to pay a backup quarterback $7 million. What little he played during the regular season wasn’t pretty. But in the postseason, he’s played more like a guy worth $27 million.
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So, now the Eagles are in the Super Bowl facing the ageless wonder that is Tom Brady. Can Nick Foles remain ‘good Nick’ or will the version the Eagles happily traded to St. Louis show up? Dominant defenses can stop Tom Brady, but is Philly’s defense a dominant unit?
Does nothing matter since the Patriots have Mr. Clutch, Tom Brady, on their side? There are so many variables that could end up impacting this game. So—who’s going to win?
The Debate— the defenses
Philadelphia’s defense has been getting a lot of attention in the media and with good reason. The Eagles D played a major role in getting them to the Super Bowl. It also happens to be the fourth-best scoring defense (18.4 points/game allowed). Their pass defense is a top-five unit (201 yards/game allowed) and their run defense the best (79.2 yards/game allowed).
While everyone likes to talk about their pass rush, it resulted in only 38 sacks during the regular season (tied for 15th). They’ve recorded four in two postseason games. It’s worth noting that the Eagles defense was especially tough at home (12.4 points/game allowed), but not so tough on the road (23.5 points/game allowed).
New England’s defense, on the other hand, doesn’t get the credit that it deserves. Yes, they looked terrible for the first five weeks of the season. They were so bad that despite how well they played over the bulk of the season they still had one of the lowest ranking defenses in the league (pass—30th; run—20th).
However, they did well in the one area that matters the most, scoring (18.5 points/game allowed; 5th). It is worth noting that while they gave up 20.1 points/game at home, they played better on the road (16.1 points/game).
But then there are the offenses that have to be considered.
The Debate— the offenses
Tom Brady and the Patriots don’t have a super-strong running game. But Dion Lewis can be a capable ball carrier when he can find room. James White has a knack for finding the end zone and Rex Burkhead is like a human battering ram.
Then there are his receivers—Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, and Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski is still in the concussion protocol, but they proved against the Jaguars that they could beat a dominant defense without him or a running game.
Philadelphia is a little more committed to running the ball than New England (30 and 32 total carries in the postseason). While they have yet to get a ton out of the running game, they’ve gotten enough to keep defenses honest. What it lacks in production, it makes up for in less pressure being applied on Nick Foles.
As for Foles, he deserves all the praise he has been getting. He has done a masterful job while stepping in for Carson Wentz. He’s done a great job of hitting his receivers downfield. He’s done an even better one of finding them on short to intermediate routes, so he could keep the chains moving.
But can he do it again?
If the Patriots can go out and dictate the flow and pace of the game; if they can play their game, they are going to win. They may need to make another comeback and could be down for most of the game. But as long as they are not blown out, they will have a shot to win right up until the final seconds tick off the clock.
They’ve got Tom Brady. That’s what he does—always.
But if the Eagles can do what they did to Minnesota and what the Jaguars failed to do to New England, they could pull off the upset. It’s nothing revolutionary, but in fact what every coach preaches before every single game.
Play 60 minutes. Jacksonville had the Patriots after the first half, but New England owned the second half. Philadelphia, on the other hand, dominated the Vikings (after their opening drive touchdown) for the duration of the game.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson emphasized the importance of playing a complete game during the Super Bowl’s Opening Night (NFL):
“When the team has the lead, you just got to make sure you continue to play ball, and you’ve got to play for 60 minutes. He’s [Tom Bray] obviously one of the best quarterbacks at bringing teams back, and he’s proven it time and time again. He did it a couple of weeks ago….”
So—who’s going to win?
While it would make for a much better story to see Nick Foles lead the Eagles to victory, the day is going to belong to the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. The Eagles are not going to be able to control Tom Brady who is going to have another masterful game.
New England is favored by four, but they’ll win by seven.