The New England Patriots opened as 6-point favorites to win Super Bowl LII last Monday. That number is down to 4.5 and could go even lower before Sunday.
So, should the Patriots really be concerned about a team quarterbacked by Nick Foles? Yes, but for a reason that doesn’t concern Foles.
The Philadelphia Eagles boast arguably the strongest and deepest defensive line New England will see this season. Just ask Philly’s playoff opponents: The Eagles’ disruptive front combined for four sacks, 19 quarterback hits and 13 passes deflected in wins over the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are incredibly adaptable on offense, but they can be slowed by a fierce opposing pass rush. Exhibits A and B: The 2007 and 2011 New York Giants teams that shocked the Pats twice on the world’s biggest stage, relying on elite defensive line play to throw Brady off his rhythm and pull off two monumental Super Bowl upsets.
Plenty has changed in New England since then, obviously. But the parallels between those Giants defenses and this Eagles unit are a big reason why many bettors are high on Philly.
“This game is a mirror image of the Giants-Patriots Super Bowls,” longtime professional handicapper Brandon Lang, who has correctly picked 22 of the last 27 Super Bowls against the spread, told NESN.com. “Philadelphia rotates eight D-linemen throughout the entire game. It’s why they’re so hard to score on in the second half, because they’re fresh.”
Defensive ends Brandon Graham (team-high 9 1/2 sacks this season) and Chris Long and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (five sacks apiece) headline Philly’s front, but the unit’s X-factor is its depth: seven Eagles defensive linemen played 40 percent or more of all snaps during the regular season.
That means a wave of constant pressure on the quarterback — the same pressure that gave Brady fits in Super Bowls XLII and XVLI. In XLII, seven different Giants combined for nine QB hits on Brady, six of which came in the second half. Four years later, New York recorded all of its three sacks and six QB hits after halftime.
If you’re looking for a more recent example: Brady was sacked multiple times in all three of the Patriots’ losses this season and took an especially hard beating from the Miami Dolphins in a Week 14 defeat.
“In two games against the Miami Dolphins, who have a similar defensive line, the Patriots could not hold up,” Lang added. “They couldn’t protect Brady. So, that’s the key.”
Of course, New England is favored for a reason. Its offensive line just stymied a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that finished second in the NFL in sacks this season. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have rebounded from those Giants defeats to win two of the last three Super Bowls, and the Eagles must play a perfect game to pull off the upset at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
But the blueprint is there.
“(Rob Gronkowski), Brady, Foles: Throw it out the window,” Lang added. “It’s the offensive line of the Patriots versus the defensive line of the Eagles. If they hold up, the Pats will win their sixth Super Bowl. If they don’t, the Pats have no shot at winning this game.”
Thumbnail photo via Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Images