Super Bowl LII Preview: #6 for Tom Brady?
The single biggest game in sports is just about ready for kick off. Who will win? Gary Jordan looks at the Pats’ and Eagles’ strengths and weaknesses
Minnesota, always cold this time of year, is ready to heat up this coming Sunday night. The single biggest game in sports is just about ready for kick off. A week-long hype machine rolled into the frozen city, and the party won’t stop until the winners and losers leave for home.
The Super Bowl isn’t just another game, no matter how much the players try to talk it down to being so. They cannot escape the media spotlight and the circus it brings, although it must be noted that during the first player attended open event this week, there did seem to be less craziness amongst the worlds media than usual. For some it’s a very familiar scene, for others they will be experiencing the mayhem that surrounds the game for the first time.
The New England Patriots are the team that has been there, done that, and quite literally worn the Champions tee-shirt. They are about as home in the big game as they are when playing at Foxboro. They arrived in confident mood, but not complacent. Can you imagine Coach Bill Belichick being complacent??
On the opposite side of the field will be the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that has been to the big game before, way back in 1981 (a loss to Oakland) and in 2005 (a loss to Sunday’s opponent, 24-21). Philadelphia teams have been starved of success, you need to go back to 1991 when the Phillies won Baseballs World Series. The football team hasn’t won a championship since 1960.
With the time for talk, and analysing almost over, although to be fair it doesn’t really stop even after the game starts, we can now look at the keys to the game, and who has the edge and where.
The Patriots haven’t bullied their way to the AFC Championship, at least not like other seasons when it looked a foregone conclusion they would end up in the title game. Instead their progress has been steady and sure, losing key players in the off season meant some adjustments, especially on defense. They do have the best coach in the business, and that could be marked down as best in history, and he has that uncanny knack on turning other teams cast offs into top calibre starters. They will all of course tell you that they are but individual pieces in the grand scheme of the team game. This came to the fore in the AFC title match when the seasons surprise package, Jacksonville Jaguars, raced into a healthy lead only to see the Patriots chip away at them. A game that was the most watched on television of any all season, once again proved that you can never count this team out. That will be one key to the game this Sunday. Should the Eagles roll up big early on, they will have to be on guard against any change of momentum. It happens so quickly and easily that if the Patriots get a sniff of a comeback they will pounce on it.
The Eagles were the best team in football for a long time this season. 9-1 at their bye week, they tailed off to finish the season 13-3. Enough to earn them top seed in the NFC, which was just the advantage they needed as only one home team lost in the NFC playoffs this year. There’s no doubt that the hostile Lincoln Financial Field fans gave their team an edge in defeating Atlanta (15-10) in the divisional round, and then jumping all over the Vikings (38-7) to spoil any chance of a first ever home team in a Super Bowl. The early part of the season QB Carson Wentz was having a league-MVP year, this was his team and he was taking them all the way. Then in Week 14 he left the game injured against the Rams. The next day it was revealed that he had a torn ACL and his season was over. Many thought the Eagles were over too. They had won games with defense before but to ride their coat tails through a postseason run would be nothing short of a miracle against some high-octane NFC offenses. When Nick Foles took over at QB, it was a case of damage limitations. His play though has exceeded most expectations, and where he is nowhere near Tom Brady level, he has finished the job that Wentz started.
Where will the game be won?
As always, the two key players will be the quarterbacks. Both have had completely different paths to this point, and both will have equal amount of pressure on them to perform, but for differing reasons. One thing we learnt from this seasons Conference title games is that you need to play a complete game on defense to keep Brady on his toes, if you can keep pressure on him for 60 minutes he may, just may, crack. On the flip side. Foles is coming off arguably his best game in his professional career. He played very well against the Vikings and will be riding high off that. Has he peaked a game too soon?
If it comes down to a run game, the Patriots will look to an ever-improving Dion Lewis. He started his career with the Eagles, but after a good second half to this season he will be out to hurt his former employers. Born in Britain, Jay Ajayi has had a mixed season. Starting in Miami he was traded to the Eagles and now hopes to make the most of his opportunity. Zach Ertz is a reliable tight end, but when you stack him up against Rob Gronkowski, he has a large gap to make up. Gronk will run you over, reach high and low. His all-round ability is scary, and this X-factor can be enough to win games on its own. He has struggled with injury and was knocked out of the game against the Jags, time will tell if this will have an effect this weekend. At WR the Patriots aren’t blessed with superstar talent, but the tandem of Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola would fit nicely into half of the leagues teams. Philly’s wideouts are similar, Alshon Jeffrey has great speed, and if the right Nelson Agholor turns up he could have a big impact.
On defense the Patriots have had to play patched up. Not an outstanding pass rush could prove fatal, but Trey Flowers can be a game changer. They’ve added veteran James Harrison from Pittsburgh and his very presence could be enough to rattle the Eagles late in the game. Patrick Chung, Malcolm Butler, and Stephen Gilmore are names to look out for. Philadelphia is a much better unit on defense and this could be where their hoped lay. Led by Vinny Curry and Fletcher Cox, they are quick and sack-hungry. As mentioned before, they will need to be on their A-game for the entirety. Where their line is strong, the parts around it could be exposed, and if they are on the field for long periods of time this could be their undoing.
All pointers and predictions lead to a Patriots win. They have set a standard that has never been seen before in the NFL. They have the best QB and Coach tandem in history. They just always find a way to win. Why should this one be any different? Well, it’s the Super Bowl, and as much as history will tell you that the favourites almost always win, there are the upsets. For the Eagles to win they will need to play error free football, mix up their offensive play to keep the Patriots D honest, and more importantly, score when they have the chance, The Red Zone needs to be their friend. If they come up short too many times they can have no complaints when the experienced Brady will pick them off. This will be close through the middle part of the third period, then momentum will swing with a turnover, and the New England offense clicks into a higher gear.
Patriots to win by 14, and another MVP for the peerless Tom Brady.