The New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl, and for a lot of fans, Patriots fatigue is becoming a real thing.
That said, when the Patriots are in the Super Bowl, we’re usually destined for a great game. New England is playing in its eighth Super Bowl since 2002, and each of those games has been decided by one score or less.
In fact, the most “lopsided” Patriots Super Bowl win came last year, when New England won the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. It’s up to the Philadelphia Eagles to ensure that string of close contests continues this Sunday.
By now, everyone knows Philadelphia’s story. Many predicted an Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl at the season’s midway point, but the Carson Wentz injury seemed to derail those forecasts. Yet Philly found a way and now will have another chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian have made against-the-spread picks all season, and the Super Bowl is no different.
Before their picks, here’s how they fared in the AFC and NFC Championship Games.
Mike Cole: 1-1
Ricky Doyle: 0-2
Andre Khatchaturian: 1-1
Now, here are their Super Bowl LII picks.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. (-4.5) New England Patriots, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET
I’m taking the points, but I still lean toward the Patriots winning. When New England wins the Super Bowl, it’s usually a close game, as the Patriots’ five wins have come by a combined 19 points. The way you keep the game close against the Patriots is to pressure Tom Brady and do so without having to blitz. Philly can do that. Pro Football Focus went pretty deep in detailing Philadelphia’s ability to get after the quarterback, noting the Eagles led the league in quarterback pressures. And it wasn’t really close. They had seven players in the top 20 in pressures, and they did so with the 10th-lowest blitz rate in the NFL (while also generating pressure on 38 percent of rushes with no blitz, which was tops in the NFL).
On the offensive side of the ball, I think the Eagles can look at the Chiefs game from Week 1, when Doug Pederson’s old boss, Andy Reid, devised a great scheme to keep the Patriots’ defense on its heels. I’m not ready to sit here and say Nick Foles can beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, but I think the supporting cast is good enough to keep the game close.
I typically don’t put too much stock into experience — even Bill Belichick said this week, “We didn’t have any experience in 2001. It didn’t seem to bother us.” — but if there’s one exception in American team sports, it’s the Patriots, who’ve been in every situation imaginable during their run of dominance, all but guaranteeing they’ll be prepared for whatever’s thrown their way this Sunday. New England has 32 players with a combined 60 games of Super Bowl experience, while Philadelphia has six players with seven games of Super Bowl experience, including ex-Patriots LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long. That disparity could rear its head if things start going against the Eagles. (Don’t you remember Shane Falco’s “quicksand” speech in “The Replacements”?)
Now, I do think the Patriots hold some distinct advantages between the lines, too, and those ultimately will be the difference in this game. The Eagles’ secondary is exploitable, so expect Brady to take some shots down the field with Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan. And also expect the Patriots to rely heavily on their running backs in the passing game, where they’re more likely to succeed in open space against the Eagles’ linebackers than they are running into the teeth of Philadelphia’s defensive line.
The Eagles’ resiliency has been impressive. And hats off to Foles for guiding Philadelphia this far following Wentz’s injury. But without the benefit of home-field advantage, against the greatest quarterback and greatest coach of all time? Good luck.
At the end of the day, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and the talent gap between the quarterbacks in this game is wider than the Mississippi River. Foles will be making his first career appearance against the Patriots, and quarterbacks in their first game against Bill Belichick since 2014 are pretty terrible, as the graphic below illustrates. The only guys to beat the Patriots in their first try since 2014 are Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith and Brock Osweiler. Rodgers and Smith are miles ahead of Foles in terms of talent and Osweiler had one of the best defenses of our generation in his win a few years ago when he was with the Denver Broncos.
On the other side, Brady has been shredding elite defenses this year. While the Eagles do have a top 10 defense in terms of yards allowed per play, Brady is 6-0 against defenses ranked in the top 14 in yards allowed per play this year (Jaguars, Broncos, Titans, Falcons and Bills twice). In those games, he threw 12 touchdowns and two interceptions and completed more than 70 percent of his passes.
Finally, it’s hard to imagine Philadelphia scoring at ease the way it did against Minnesota. In that game, the Eagles had three touchdowns that were 40 yards or longer. Since Week 2, the Patriots have allowed just one touchdown longer than 35 yards. They don’t allow big plays and the Eagles will have to rely on long, sustained drives. That might prove to be an arduous task with Foles under center going up against a New England defense that’s allowed the second-fewest yards per play since Week 11.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images
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