Thirty-two teams kicked the season off back in September with this game as their ultimate goal. Only two teams remain, and only one of them will stand alone as champions of the National Football League. The hype is over, and it’s finally time to play some football.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. The New England Patriots are in the Super Bowl once again and are looking for their sixth championship in franchise history. Even when things looked bleak early in the season, New England did what they do best. They remained calm, played steady, and out-executed their opposition all season. Tom Brady played at an MVP level while the defense eventually got on track after a slow start. And even with a story out that basically wrote their eulogy, the Patriots still rose above it. Once again, it is business as usual for the NFL’s resident dynasty.
The Philadelphia Eagles looked Super Bowl bound halfway through the regular season, but I doubt anyone thought they’d make the big game like this. Injuries to Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, and eventually Carson Wentz could’ve easily derailed their season. Which would’ve been a shame since at one point this looked like the best Eagles team ever. Wentz was the frontrunner for league MVP and their defense looked dominant in some games. Once the playoffs rolled around, the injured Eagles were an underdog as a top seed. This designation and disrespect motivated the Eagles to steamroll their way to the Super Bowl. They still have an elite defense and Nick Foles has proven he’s not completely helpless under center. The league’s underdog will now look to become the top dog and bring home the Super Bowl that Eagles fans have been craving.
Eagles Keys to Victory
1. Minimize Mistakes: One thing the Patriots do well is capitalizing on the mistakes of their opponents. Those mistakes include turnovers, stupid penalties, poor game planning, and lack of knowledge of playing with a lead. If turnovers are detrimental during a normal game, then they must be worth double in a Super Bowl. Turning the ball over means giving the Patriots more chances to go to work on offense. Also, it means more time on the field for the Eagles defense and less time for their offense. Stupid penalties can give new life to a team that would otherwise be dead. And of course, poor game planning leaves the door open for Patriots at all times. The Eagles know this and should do well to play a clean game of football free of avoidable mistakes.
2. Dominate Line of Scrimmage: The only recipe for thwarting Tom Brady is hoping for an off day or punishing him with a relentless pass rush. Fortunately for the Eagles, they have an elite front seven that is up to the task. They should put Brady on his behind as many times as possible within the rules. The game plan here is to make sure Brady is never comfortable and to get them off the field so the offense can get a maximum amount of snaps. On offense, the Eagles would be wise to give Nick Foles a clean pocket. In the NFC Championship Game, Foles went 9-for-23 for 213 yards and a touchdown when there was no pressure. And that was against the league’s best defense. A strong offensive line performance will also lead to better results in the running game.
3. Nick Foles: The Eagles backup quarterback has outplayed Matt Ryan and burned down the Vikings defense. He has played well during the postseason and will have to once again. Best case, I expect Foles to deliver a performance similar to the one against Atlanta. Steady, enough to keep his team alive, and mistake-free. Those are the three things we need to say about Foles the day after if the Eagles are to win the Super Bowl.
4. Ground Control: Assuming the Eagles can control the line of scrimmage, they should be able to run the ball on the Patriots. Philadelphia’s rushing offense averaged 132.2 yards and scored nine touchdowns, giving the Eagles a slight advantage when it comes to gaining yardage. Meanwhile, New England’s rushing defense yielded 114.8 yards per game and stopped just 16 percent of rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage. LeGarrette Blount led the league in yards per carry after contact (3.6) and Jay Ajayi had 12 rushes of 15 or more yards, good for 10th most at the position. A good running game will not only chip away at the Patriots defense but also keeps Brady on the bench.
5. Situational Football: The Patriots are a master of situational football, but the Eagles would be wise to show some mastery of their own. Converting third downs, breaking the Patriots defense instead of settling for field goals, knowing how to play with a lead, and much more will be keys to victory.
Patriots Keys to Victory
1. Keep Brady Clean: The Eagles defensive front is elite and they will be coming for Tom Brady. There are ways to thwart this for sure, but it has to start with finding a way to stop Fletcher Cox. Brady with time to throw is going to beat most teams on most days. Keeping him clean and upright is the first step to success.
2. Bend But Don’t Break: New England will have to channel the old defensive mantra “bend but don’t break”. That means limit the big plays and try to hold the Eagles to more field goals than touchdowns. Their defense has done it all year. While they’re 29th in yards allowed, they also rank fifth in total points allowed.
3. Make Eagles One Dimensional: As mentioned above, the Eagles are very capable of running the ball. In fact, the ground game is the centerpiece of their offensive strategy. Ajayi is the lead back, with a crafty running style that blends finesse with power. He excels at running between the tackles but also flashes enough quickness and acceleration to turn the corner on outside runs. Blount is a hammer with the size, strength, and power to run through contact in the hole. He also boasts enough athleticism to hurdle cut tacklers on the perimeter. Clement is a skilled back that can make plays on the ground or through the air. The Patriots best bet is to remove the aspect before it can hurt them. While Foles has played well, taking the away offensive balance and forcing Foles to win the game will likely be the Patriots plan.
4. Running Backs in the Passing Game: The Patriots always seem to have running backs that specialize in more things than running between the tackles. New England running backs combined for the second-most receptions (126) and receiving yards (957) in the NFL this season, while posting a league-best nine receiving touchdowns. This versatility allows them a way to beat over-aggressive pass rushes and gets the ball out of Brady’s hands quicker.
5. Forcing Mistakes: While New England is known for making fewer mistakes than their opponents, they’ll have to emphasize this against a scrappy Eagles team. The Eagles won’t go quietly. So forcing mistakes and making them pay for it early and often will go a long way to securing a victory.
Prediction: Don’t expect a blowout in this game. The Eagles defense and scrappy nature will keep this close. I believe they’ll also give Brady some trouble by hitting him early and often while running the ball to keep him on the bench. But ultimately, I believe the game will come down to Brady having the ball in his hands. And if that’s the case, I can’t pick against the Patriots. So I’m picking the Patriots to win the game by a score of 24-20.
Super Bowl MVP: Brandin Cooks