I had the privilege to touch base on Super Bowl 52 on Wednesday evening, and how both the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles compare to one another. On one hand, the Patriots have undergone one of the most successful (and hated) dynasties in the history of sports. Regardless of your opinion, we should all be able to agree upon the fact that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the greatest quarterback and head coach duo in NFL history.
On the other hand, there’s the Philadelphia Eagles. This was a team that many, including myself, wrote off as soon as Carson Wentz went down for the year. With easily the most consistent roster through the 2017 regular season, the Eagles went on to defy the odds in order to defeat the Atlanta Falcons and the red-hot Minnesota Vikings.
In case you missed my mid-week take, check it out with the link above! If you’re more of a visual learner, let’s break down each category of Super Bowl 52:
Battle of the Quarterbacks:
Tom Brady: As mentioned previously, I give Brady all the credit in the world for his accomplishments. Where he’s struggled in the regular season, he’s made up for it in the 2018 postseason. In fact, Brady holds a 3:1 TD:INT ratio within Super Bowl games. With that sort of statistic, the Eagles need to be prepared for Brady to throw for at least two or three touchdowns Sunday night.
The flip side of Brady within the Super Bowl is that defenses tend to force Brady to drop in the pocket. In Super Bowl games, Brady has averaged over 44 pass attempts per game. At the age of 40, is this a player Patriots fans feel comfortable dropping back 40+ times against a prominent Philadelphia pass-rush?
The last point I want to make in regards to Brady involves his team as a whole. Under Brady, all of the Patriots Super Bowl finishes have winded up with a six-point differential or less. I fully expect for the Eagle’s defense to force this game to be competitive, and you should see the trend continue after the weekend concludes.
Nick Foles: After Carson Wentz dropped down, it looked like the beginning of the end for Philadelphia. After some digging, I came upon an interesting factoid: In a career-versus-career format, Nick Foles has one more win, three more touchdowns, three less interceptions, and a higher QBR of 1.0 than Carson Wentz.
Am I comparing the on-field skills of Foles and Wentz? Absolutely not. The potential of Wentz will always be held to higher standards than Foles, but the numbers don’t lie.
If the Eagles do go on to lose this game, I don’t believe the blame will be on Foles. The Patriots defense holds a lot of gaps currently, and regardless to their play in the later stages, I admire Minnesota as a far superior defensive opponent.
Advantage: New England
Battle of the Running Game:
New England: The best part about the run game in New England is how Belichick utilizes his weapons. Not only can Dion Lewis be used as a workhorse, but any of the running backs can be viewed as reliable receiving options.
During the regular season, excluding Gillislee, the Patriots backfield combined for 118 receptions, which was only 16 less than the combination of Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks. This is a team that often doesn’t view themselves as a run-first offense, but these running backs are valuable in their own ways. If New England secures yet another Super Bowl, expect this backfield to have played a significant role.
Philadelphia: On the flip side, Philadelphia has a much different method of running the football. Investing in Jay Ajayi during the regular season allowed for the Eagles to use one running back for a set amount of time, and then switch to another option. This eventually tires out defensive lines, and allows Philadelphia to secure at least three points per possession.
Granted, this is a running back core that all averaged 4.3+ yards per carry in the regular season, but have witnessed a decline during the postseason. Establishing the run game will be key for the Eagles, as it will eventually allow Foles to let loose in the passing game.
Battle of the Wide Receivers:
New England: Say what you want, but when healthy, Rob Gronkowski is the most destructive player on the offensive side of the football in the entire league. The numbers and pure film will justify that argument, although many have different perspectives on what “destructive” truly means.
With that, Gronkowski hasn’t even been one of the best weapons for Brady this postseason. It has been to the credit of Danny Amendola (18 receptions for 196 yards and 2 TDs) and Brandin Cooks (9 receptions for 132 yards). Add that onto the already-dangerous group of pass-catching running backs, and the Patriots have a very good chance at outscoring Philadelphia on paper.
Philadelphia: The Eagles may appear inferior, which they are in the end, but the race is a lot closer than it seems. The offense for Philadelphia actually converts at a 10.9% higher rate than New England on third down plays, and Foles does a great job of spreading his targets around the field.
If I’m Philadelphia, I continue to spread the targets, because that exact strategy allowed the Eagles to toss up 38 points against Minnesota a few weeks ago. Trying to outsmart the Patriots won’t work by any means, so let’s see if Philly sticks to what they know best.
Advantage: New England
Battle of the Defenses:
New England: This is by far New England’s weakest spot on the roster, but they’ve held their own when it matters most. On the bright side, New England has reeled in 11 sacks in two postseason games, which only goes to show that the addition of James Harrison could very well lead the franchise to a Super Bowl title.
In almost every other defensive category though, Philadelphia outmatches New England. Which Philadelphia squad shows up? If it’s the one from the NFC Championship round…watch out.
Philadelphia: On the flip side, the Philadelphia defense has been striving for the most part. This is a defensive unit that has forced three turnovers in two postseason games, and have showed no signs of slowing down. In all honesty, Brady isn’t known for making mistakes, but perhaps the Eagles can pressure Brady into throwing 40+ times and make a mistake or two.
In the bigger picture, look at how each team got here. The Patriots allowed a whopping 34 points to the Titans and Jaguars, while the Eagles have only let up 17 total points to the Falcons and Vikings. While the Falcons may not be the same dominant offense as they were in the previous season, they still contained an above-average roster.
By the end, expect Brady to throw for 35+ attempts, three touchdowns, and possibly one interception. On the other side, I fully expect Foles to toss for 250+ yards, but I don’t see him converting as often in the red zone.
The Patriots will go on to win by a score of 31-27, marking what could be the end of the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
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