Super Bowl Preview – Pats vs Birds

Philadelphia Analysis

Even without starter Jordan Hicks, even without Pro-Bowler Darren Sproles, even without All-Pro Jason Peters, and even without MVP candidate Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles put forth one of their best efforts of the year by demolishing the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field. When MVP favorite Carson Wentz came off the field in Los Angeles with a torn ACL in week 14, the football world counted out the Birds. However fast forward one month, a 38-7 thrashing over Minnesota are now sending the Eagles to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2005. Outside of the opening drive for the Vikings, which resulted in a touchdown from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph, everything went right for the Eagles. The following Vikings’ drive resulted in a pick-6 from Patrick Robinson and the rout ensued. In the Super Bowl, the Eagles will be facing a similar foe: Brady and Belichick, the duo that defeated them in 2005, 24-21. Instead of the combination of Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and Terrell Owens, this Eagles team will be led by backup quarterback Nick Foles and one of the stingiest defense in the league.

Even though Foles is a backup, he played anything like that against the Vikings. Against the Vikings defense, which was cited as one of the most daunting in the league, Foles had a stellar game by throwing for 352 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 turnovers. Foles will be surrounded by one of the most underrated receiving units, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey, and Nelson Agholor. Ertz has established himself as one of the three best tight ends in the league as he recorded 74 catches, 824 yards, and 8 touchdowns in only 13 games. Ertz has been especially effective because of his ability to excel in the red zone. Along with Ertz, Agholor has become one of the most improved players in the league. During Agholor’s first two seasons in the league, he was one of the fans least favorites players because he was the team’s first round pick in 2015 yet had one of the worst set of hands in the league. This season we have seen a totally different player. Coach Doug Pederson has been able to utilize the USC’s product impressive speed in order to line him up in different sets. At the end of the year, Agholor posted impressive stats, 62 receptions, 768 yards, and 8 touchdowns. The last main option for Foles is Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles signed Jeffery away from the Bears this offseason and he has been everything that the franchise hoped he would bring to the team. Jeffery’s large body allows him to become a terror against opposing defensive backs, especially on the outside. Like Ertz, Jeffery has become a safety valve for Foles and previously Wentz.

The Eagles will have a great opportunity to excel against the Patriots’ offense because they do not have one singular main option. Belichick has been a master at defending teams because he is extremely effective at removing a team’s best option from the game. However, with this Philadelphia team, it is impossible to deny all of their options, which makes them a scary matchup. In addition, the combination of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement allows for the team to not become one dimensional.

The Eagles’ offense may be impressive, but the defense is the best aspect of the team. The team ranked top five in yards allowed per game and points allowed per game. Over the past four games, including two postseason games, the defense has allowed on average 8 points per game. The Birds have talent throughout the defense. The front four of the Eagles is incredible because they can rush the passer effectively and rank as the best rushing defense in the league. In the secondary, the Eagles like to refer to themselves as the “No Fly Zone”. During the regular season, they ranked fourth in the league in interceptions. Although the group has talent, they have the tendency to have break downs in coverage and allow big plays. It will be imperative that they keep big play receiver, Brandin Cooks, in front of them and do not score.

New England Analysis

While the Eagles contest was never in doubt after the first ten minutes, the Patriots needed a classic Tom Brady comeback to overcome the Jacksonville Jaguars and their ferocious defense. Although ESPN statcast had the Jaguars chances of winning the game at over 80% when they were up 10 points with under 9 minutes to go and the Patriots did not have Gronkowski, nearly every football fan watching knew that Brady was somehow going to pull a rabbit out of his hat and escape with another AFC Championship.The Patriots are a 6.5 point favorite in the game and history will dictate that they will win a close contest. The defending champions are in the middle of one of the greatest stretches in NFL history. Since 2001, the team has won 5 Super Bowl Champions, claimed 8 Conference Championships, and been to every postseason but two.

The biggest question of the game will be the health of Rob Gronkowski. During the second quarter, Gronk was forced to exit after a head to head collision with Barry Church. Gronkowski is not even the most dominant player in the NFL today, but he is likely the most physically impaling and best tight end in NFL history. His combination of talent and size makes him impossible to defend. Currently, the Patriots believe that Gronk will be able to recover from his concussion due to the extra week in between contests. Although the Patriots won the title last season without Gronkowski, the Eagles have a much better defense than the Falcons and this team does not have Julian Edelman. Without Gronk and Edelman in the lineup, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks stepped up and became the go to targets for Brady down the field. In addition, like the Jacksonville game, the Patriots will need to rely on the passing game because their rushing attack will likely be negated by the Eagles stout front four. Outside of Dion Lewis’s big first down run to ice the game, the Pats rushed the ball 18 times for 28 yards. Due to the aggressive nature of the Eagles’ secondary, expect the Patriots to run a lot of double moves and move the ball deep down the field.

While the Patriots have put forth a constant offensive attack throughout the season, the defense has been the story of New England’s season. Through the first quarter of the season, the Patriots had serious concerns as the defense allowed 32 points per game. Outside of Houston, although this was with Watson before he went down with a torn ACL, each of these teams made the playoffs. However, as the season extended, the defense began to develop and new stars arose. The front four, which could not create a pass rush during the first half of the season, now has capability to put frequent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Trey Flowers has grown into a stud pass rusher, while the addition of former Steeler James Harrison has given the Patriots an extra third down edge rusher. Although the front four does not have many known stars, the secondary has the talent to play at a Super Bowl level. Malcom Butler, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, and Stephon Gilmore are all high profile players that have impressive resumes and have each played in big games. Gilmore made the play of the game against Jacksonville when he somehow came out of nowhere to deflect Bortles deep pass on 4th and 10.

Prediction

Of the seven previous Super Bowls that Tom Brady competed, each of the contests were decided by 4 points or less. Due to the fact that neither team is significantly better than the other and past history, it is likely that this game will be very close. The Eagles seem like a team of destiny with a chip on their shoulder. In a close back and forth game, I predict the Eagles to come on top and win their first Super Bowl in team history.

Eagles over Patriots 21-17

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