The Philadelphia Eagles will look to complete the fairytale season by winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl this Sunday. But to do that they must answer the ultimate NFL question: how do you stop Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in a Super Bowl?
That is one of many questions this unlikely contest has thrown up, and it is only unlikely because the Eagles were never in the conversation at the start of the season when talking about who might win the NFC Championship and go on to Super Bowl LII.
The Pats are always in the mix for the Vince Lombardi trophy with Brady and Belichick still together, and even in this age of salary caps and the draft, it has not surprised anyone that No.12 will be lining up in his eighth Super Bowl.
Brady already has five winners’ rings with the only team to deny him the opportunity to cover both hands with jewellery being the New York Giants. They twice thwarted the Pats and now their NFC East rivals Eagles are looking to do the same.
There are comparisons to be made between those Giants teams and this Philadelphia side, the standout one being that both could boast having nasty defences. Doug Pederson’s men had the fourth-ranked defence overall during the regular season, while they were No.1 when it came to stopping the run.
Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Graham and the rest have made mincemeat of most offensive lines they have come up against this season and will fancy their chances of putting Brady under some pressure come Sunday.
The Jacksonville Jaguars had the 40-year-old in trouble for three quarters in the AFC Championship game before he turned that match-up on its head in the fourth quarter. Plenty of credit has to go to Brady for the turnaround but the Jags stopped bringing the heat, giving the Pats QB time to go through his progressions and pull Jacksonville’s excellent defence apart.
The Eagles therefore cannot afford not to be in Brady’s face on nearly every down, especially as they don’t have as good a secondary as the Jags.
A good defence wins championship, or so the old saying goes, but that defence has to play well for the entire 60 minutes. The Atlanta Falcons had New England in the palm of their hand last year but their offence couldn’t stay on the field to give the defence a break and eventually they were worn down.
That is a lesson Pederson, coaching in his first Super Bowl, and his offence will need to have heeded because while the Pats have the G.O.A.T. as their quarterback, the Eagles are relying on a back-up in Nick Foles.
Foles, who considered retirement in 2016 after being cut by the LA Rams, is trying to become the first back-up quarter-back since Brady in 2001 to win a Super Bowl having been thrust back in to the limelight when Carson Wentz went down with an injury in Week 14.
The Eagles season appeared done without Wentz and the early days of Foles as a starter were hardly inspiring. However, he has surprised everyone by guiding Philly through the play-offs, playing the game of his life to down Minnesota in the NFC Championship game.
The question now is whether he can string together two near perfect games. He has the offensive line needed to give him the necessary protection, that won’t be the issue, it is whether when the chips are down can he make the big throws.
Foles is 20/23 to throw for over 242.5 yards in the Super Bowl and that looks like it might be tough to achieve because Belichick will have a plan for the 29-year-old QB.
The Patriots have improved vastly on defence since their early season struggles and lead the NFL from Week 5 onwards, through to the AFC Championship, in the fewest points allowed per game. They have put plenty of pressure on opposing QBs as well, recording the most sacks in that same time period, so watch out Foles.
Should Foles not be getting it done then Philly do have a dependable group of running backs to lean on, including former Patriot LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, who is looking to become the fourth British-born player to win the Super Bowl.
The Eagles backs are averaging nearly five yards a touch, while New England have not always been solid against the run this season.
It is always going to look like a mismatch on paper when you stack up Foles against Brady, who holds nearly every major Super Bowl passing record.
Brady normally enjoys going up against the Eagles as well, averaging over 300 yards passing and two touchdowns per game, including in Super Bowl XXXIX when the Pats beat Philadelphia 24-21.
Given Brady’s record, he might be worth looking at to throw for over 286.5 yards at 20/23, even with the Eagles top-notch defence. Brady also has the boost of having his main target, tight-end Rob Gronkowski available after he cleared concussion protocol. Gronk is 5/6 to score a touchdown at anytime.
Never has a Super Bowl posed as many questions as this year’s edition but there is only one that really matters. Who is going to win?
Stacking up the Eagles against the Patriots man-for-man you’d say the NFC representatives have the better team. However, New England have the experience and have not been sidetracked by all the hoopla that comes with the build up to a Super Bowl. Can Philadelphia say the same thing?
My head is telling me it will be another Patriots win but the heart says Eagles and so I’ll be taking Philadelphia at 25/28 to cover the spread at plus 4.5 to offer that little bit of security for what should be another thrilling finale to the NFL season.
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