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Philadelphia Eagles - Hunter Martin

Super Bowl LII Breakdown And Prediction


BREAKDOWN

 

Quarterback

Despite contemplating retirement in the offseason and being considered a liability by talking heads at the end of the regular season, Nick Foles has been sensational in the playoffs so far. He’s thrown for 598 yards with a 3:0 touchdown-interception ratio in two wins, and the ball has barely touched the ground with a completion percentage of at least 76.7% in both contests, including a torching of Minnesota’s elite secondary in the NFC Championship. Foles is as confident as ever—which is saying a lot for a guy that threw seven touchdown passes in a game—and he’s making the right decisions and throwing accurately and on-time.

 

That said, it’d be flat-out silly to consider Philadelphia to have the advantage at quarterback with arguably the greatest player of all time on the other side of the field. At age-40, Tom Brady is certainly giving Father Time a run for his money, and he’s always at his best when the lights are brightest. The third-and-18 conversion in the AFC Championship against Jacksonville perfectly encapsulates why it takes a nearly-flawless performance to beat New England, and no matter what the score or circumstances on Sunday, it wouldn’t be wise to count out New England with Brady at the controls.

 

Advantage: New England Patriots

 

 

Running back

Since he joined the team in 2015, the Patriots are 32-3 with Dion Lewis in the lineup and 23-0 when he starts (including a 10-0 record this season), which is almost unfathomable. Without him, they are 13-7 over the past three years, and I don’t think it’s merely a coincidence. Lewis has been able to do it all for New England, and even in a five-foot-eight frame, he consistently finds a way to pickup yards after contact by diving, tumbling, spinning, or doing something else on his way down. It’s very similar to someone like bruising Hall-of-Famer Jerome Bettis falling forward when he’s tackled, but in a unique way, and it makes a huge difference over a 60-minute game.

 

Of course, like most teams, the Pats utilize a running-back-by-committee, and James White—a hero of Super Bowl LI—and Rex Burkhead are great as versatile, change-of-pace options. The Eagles also use a RBBC with Jay Ajayi, former-Patriot LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement, and like New England’s group, all three can do a little bit of everything. For the most part, Doug Pederson will continue to use Blount in a short-yardage and early-down role, while Clement should provide a spark off the bench. The team needs a big game from Ajayi to keep Tom Brady off the field, though.

Ajayi has had his two highest carry totals in midnight green when it’s mattered most, as last month, he handled 15 carries against the Falcons and 18 carries against the Vikings. He also caught three passes in both playoff wins, so it’s clear that Philadelphia will want to feature Ajayi against the Patriots. The British back is a violent runner that will shed tacklers if they don’t wrap him up, and he will pick up chunk yardage if given some room to run. These teams are very evenly matched, especially at running back, so I’m not sure either side has an edge.

 

Advantage: Push

 

 

Receivers

Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl LI probably wouldn’t have been won by New England if not for two all-time great plays by Julian Edelman over the middle, and while one of the most clutch players in recent memory obviously hasn’t been on the field at all this year, the Patriots still have top-end weapons for Tom Brady to throw to. None are bigger and better than tight end Rob Gronkowski, and the Eagles simply don’t have anyone on their roster that will be able to defend him. Gronk was out of the Big Game last year, but he was key in the comeback win over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. Outside of Brady, he’s going to be the best player on the field this Sunday.

 

New England also has Brandin Cooks, Danny Amenola, and Chris Hogan, all of whom could make a huge play in a key moment. We’ve seen that out of Amendola time and time again in a Patriots uniform, and the team seems to keep him in bubble wrap from September to December before unleashing him in January. It will be a tall task to defend all three (plus Gronk), but the Eagles have a lot of options of their own.

 

2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor was labeled a “bust” by ignorant fans after two seasons, but he’s turned into perhaps the most dangerous player on the roster this year. Agholor can score from anywhere on the field with crisp routes and all-world acceleration combined with newfound confidence, and even during the overblown catch issues last season, it was always apparent that Agholor had elite potential. I’d love for him to go off with the whole world watching this weekend.

 

Zach Ertz probably has the best matchup for the receiving corps against New England, as Alshon Jeffery is sure to draw Stephon Gilmore’s coverage, and Agholor will see either Malcolm Butler or Eric Rowe. Ertz will probably have defenders shaded towards him, but he will be a tough cover, especially on play-action passes and manageable third downs. Torrey Smith has been by-and-large a disappointment this season, but maybe he will keep it up after his 5/69/1 line in the NFC Championship to give Bill Belichick’s defense something else to think about. And it’s worth mentioning Trey Burton could play a big role, too. Still, the proven clutch play of New England’s receivers is the difference.

 

Advantage: New England Patriots

 

 

Offensive line

The loss of Jason Peters might be brought up more, but New England is also without a starting offensive lineman in right tackle Marcus Cannon. However, Cameron Fleming has been really good in his place, and he will try to keep left defensive end Brandon Graham from causing too much havoc this weekend. Overall, the Patriots line up front left to right: Solider-Thuney-Andrews-Mason-Fleming; and they are playing their best football right now, as Tennessee and Jacksonville combined for just three sacks last month.

 

As for Philadelphia, I think if they are going to win on Sunday, it’s going to be by keeping Tom Brady off the field, and they have the offensive line to do it. Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson were first-team All-Pro at center and guard, respectively, and they sandwich one of the top guards in the league in Brandon Brooks. Also, Stefan Wisniewski has been solid at the other guard spot, so the only weakness is really at left tackle with Halapoulivaati Vaitai. As a whole, there probably isn’t a better unit in Super Bowl LII than the Eagles offensive line.

 

Advantage: Philadelphia Eagles

 

 

Defensive front

If there’s a group in Super Bowl LII that’s better than Philly’s offensive line, it’s probably Philly’s defensive line, which is bad news for New England. With Fletcher Cox leading a crew that goes eight deep, the Eagles will look to get pressure up the middle, which is seemingly the only way to beat Tom Brady. They should be fresh all game, too, as Chris Long and first-round pick Derek Barnett will come off the bench and rotate pretty evenly with the starters, so unlike the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, Philadelphia is unlikely to tire out by the fourth quarter.

 

Opposing them, New England could have a difficult time generating pressure without some creative stunts and blitzes, as Alan Branch has taken a step back this season, and overall, their front-four is mostly a nondescript unit. If there’s a positive, it’s that Trey Flowers has shown flashes, and he will mostly line up against Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Perhaps he or someone else is going to step up like Kony Ealy (who had a brief stint in New England) did in Super Bowl 50 for Carolina, although that happened to be in a losing effort. It’s probably more likely that an Eagles defender takes over.

 

Advantage: Philadelphia Eagles

 

 

Linebackers

The Patriots have used their linebackers, particularly Kyle Van Noy, in a variety of ways based on their opponent, but they will have a difficult time both playing the run and defending Zach Ertz and other targets on short and intermediate routes, especially because Pederson is so versatile in his play-calling. New England did get some “help” from an AFC rival earlier this year, though, as former Steeler James Harrison has given the defense meaningful snaps, and if Trey Flowers can’t get going, I think they will give the veteran a chance to make some plays against Vaitai at left tackle, which would I would be concerned about as an Eagles fan.

 

Even without superstar Jordan Hicks at the center of the defense, Philadelphia’s linebackers create yet another really strong unit. Thankfully for them, Mychal Kendricks wasn’t traded in the offseason, so he and Nigel Bradham have paired up to pickup the slack in Hicks’ absence. Both Bradham and Kendricks are fast, but their ability to cover underneath will certainly be tested against James White, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead. There’s a chance they struggle, but Philadelphia’s linebackers have a pretty clear edge over New England’s.

 

Advantage: Philadelphia Eagles

 

 

Defensive backs

I’ve already discussed the matchups between the Philly receivers and New England corners a bit, but I’m expecting Stephon Gilmore to shadow Alshon Jeffery with Eric Rowe and Malcolm Butler handling Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith, respectively. I could also see them putting Rowe on Zach Ertz when the Eagles don’t have Agholor on the field, as he has length and is no stranger to covering the opposing team’s top option after going toe-to-toe against Julio Jones last February. At safety, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon are probably the best trio in the league, and they need to do their jobs against Ertz, Trey Burton, and the running backs.

 

Philadelphia doesn’t have the biggest, fastest, or strongest guys in the secondary, but they might have the most confident group in the NFL. I think Ronald Darby will see a lot of Brandin Cooks, while Patrick Robinson will mostly get Danny Amendola, and Jalen Mills will mostly lineup across from Chris Hogan. However, New England could also switch things up and mostly put Cooks on the right side in an attempt to get deep against Mills, and Rob Gronkowski will undoubtedly be split out wide and targeted in single-coverage. On the back end, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod can’t allow Gronk to get vertical or Cooks/Hogan to get behind them. Overall, the group will need to be opportunistic like they were in a win over the Patriots in 2015.

 

Advantage: New England Patriots

 

 

Special teams

The third phase of football cannot be overlooked, and you can be sure that neither coaching staff is doing that. The units are both very good in kicking, coverage, and returning, but I think New England has the advantage. Jake Elliott has been great, but Stephen Gostkowski hasn’t missed a field goal since October, Dion Lewis has made a postseason impact on kick returns, and specialists like Matthew Slater are probably slightly better for the Pats in a game that has plenty of them on both sides.

 

Advtange: New England Patriots

 

 

Coaching

As had been alluded to in the positional breakdowns, Doug Pederson has done a tremendous job in being unpredictable on all downs as a play-caller, and his script to start things off will probably be very successful. There’s no way he’s going to outdo Bill Belichick from a preparation standpoint, but his aggressiveness could really be advantageous and keep the defense off balance. On the flip side, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is going to be similarly aggressive, as he won’t just sit back and let Brady pick them apart all game if the defensive line isn’t getting to him. Also, I think they probably preached a lot about batting down balls to offset quick passes if they can’t get to #12.

 

But even with his offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator both leaving for head coaching jobs after the Super Bowl, it’s impossible to give the advantage to anyone but Bill Belichick. I would be beyond surprised if he didn’t train Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia well enough to know they need to do their jobs, and right now, that means beating the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

Advantage: New England Patriots

 

 

PREDICTION

 

The clear advantage for Philadelphia in the trenches will be difficult to overcome, and if you need proof, just look at what happened to Atlanta and Minnesota. The Eagles held their playoff opponents to a combined 17 points on their way to Super Bowl LII, and offensively, Nick Foles and the entire offense really got rolling in the NFC Championship Game. The only losses for the Eagles this season came at Kansas City, at Seattle, and at home to Dallas when they rested their starters in Week 17, so the underdog storyline is great and fits with the city, but even without Carson Wentz, Philly really has a loaded roster from top to bottom—probably more so than New England.

 

However, to be the best, you have to beat the best. The defending Super Bowl champions still have the best player on the planet and the best coach in the history of the sport, and they have proven time and time again on the field that no one is better in bigger moments. Also, the team has absolutely no distractions heading into Sunday, and while the game will be played on a neutral field, the Eagles have allowed 23.5 points per game away from home, compared to 13.4 points per game on the road. And in the postseason, Brady has been pressured just 17% of the time.

 

I expect nothing less than a thriller that will be decided in the final seconds, and I think Brady and Belichick will hoist their sixth Lombardi Trophy… *Philly crowd booes* *signals for them to quiet down* … I think Brady and Belichick will hoist their sixth Lombardi Trophy, but it might have to wait until next year.

 

Final score: Eagles 27, Patriots 26

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