If you’re like me, this is the exact Super Bowl matchup you weren’t rooting for. In the NFC Championship battle of the feel-good stories I was rooting for the Vikings. A team playing a home game for the Super Bowl would have been awesome, the Vikings getting to the Super Bowl with arguably their third-string quarterback would have made an already remarkable season even more impressive, and they’re a team in the NFC North not named the Packers.
Meanwhile, if you have a soul you were rooting for the Jaguars to beat football’s equivalent of the Galactic Empire in Foxboro, which for a while seemed possible. It was as if the Jaguars got to the fourth quarter and were just hoping the Patriots didn’t have enough time for a comeback. As everyone, in particular the Atlanta Falcons, knows, that’s a bad strategy against New England.
So instead, we get the Eagles who have reached the Super Bowl despite the fact that they’re MVP candidate QB has been out for weeks, against the Patriots who have replaced the Yankees as sports’ go-to team to hate.
I’ll be taking a look briefly at how the two offenses and defenses will square up with each other and then give some predictions on how I think the game will go.
Eagles Offense vs Patriots Defense
There’s been talk all season about how bad the Patriots defense is (to which I frequently contributed) and it’s certainly their weak point as a team. However, in the playoffs and particularly in the Super Bowl you have to throw out a lot of the numbers. No, this isn’t the most talented defensive squad the Patriots have had in the Brady/Belichick era. But you can bet Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will have these guys as ready as they possibly can be for this game. If you’re the Patriots, I think you make Nick Foles beat you. You make the bet that there’s no way he can repeat his performance from two weeks ago. It’s for this reason that the Eagles running game is so important for them on Sunday. They’ve averaged 103 yards in their two playoff games, down from the 132 yards per game they averaged in the regular season, the third best mark in the league. The Eagles as a team may well rush for 100 yards tomorrow, but if they do I think it will be a result of quantity over quality.
However, if the Eagles do manage to run effectively I think it gives them a tremendous advantage in this matchup and would take a lot of pressure of Nick Foles. Jay Ajayi will be a key player tomorrow.
If the Patriots are making a concerted effort to stop the run it will be up to Foles to take advantage of the opportunities this presents in the passing game. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a quarterback who’s so accurate on throws where he appears to be throwing it as hard as he can. Those deep shots will be there, it’s a question of whether he can complete them.
Patriots Offense vs Eagles Defense
When it comes to the Patriots offense you largely know what you’re getting. They’ve got a bunch of short running backs who are phenomenal at catching the ball out of the backfield, a short white guy in the slot with seemingly limitless athleticism and a couple good outside receivers who Tom Brady can turn into great receivers. Then they have Gronk, who when he’s healthy is more or less unguardable and is the closest thing you’ll ever see in real life to a video game cheat code. The question is, is he healthy? Gronk completed the concussion protocol on Friday, having been under supervision after a hit from the Jaguars’ Barry Church. Whether this is relevant is debatable for two reasons: one, even if he’s not 100% the concussion protocol is not robust enough to prevent the Patriots from having him play, and two, how different is a concussed Gronk from normal Gronk? He’s going to play and he’s going to be the most important and most difficult assignment for the Eagles’ linebackers and secondary all night.
The biggest key for the Eagles: pressure Tom Brady. If Brady regularly has a clean pocket, time to throw and doesn’t have to escape pressure, the Eagles will lose this game.
In terms of yards allowed per game, the Eagles have been the second best defense this postseason after posting the fourth best numbers in the regular season. The Eagles were middle of the pack in terms of sacks this season, and the Patriots O-Line was by no means dominant. If they can force Brady off his spot they’ll be able to keep the scoring down.
I think the Eagles come out hot. They’ve really embraced the underdog mentality (maybe a little too much) and I think they’ll have more energy than the Patriots early in this game. Look for Foles to have license to air it out on the first couple drives. However, I think rushing yards will be at a premium for Philly. On the other side of things I think the Eagles defense puts up a really good fight, being physical with Gronk and Amendola and forcing lots of check-downs to the running backs. I think at halftime the game will be close, leaning toward a lead for the Eagles. Then in the second half we will see the same story play out that we’ve become so familiar with. The Patriots will adjust, the Eagles will not and by the time they’ve figured it out it will be too late. Tom Brady will go into GOAT mode and repeatedly, methodically move his men down the field. The Eagles will find life late but it won’t be enough.
The Patriots will win a third Super Bowl in four years for the second time and the superstition of the white jersey will live on.
Patriots 31 Eagles 20
QB Carousel Update
Within 24 hours of my posting of my predictions for who each team would have at quarterback next season, Alex Smith was traded to the Redskins. The price Washington paid for making sure they got Smith? A third round pick and quarterback Kendall Fuller (who hilariously trolled himself), along with a four-year contract for Smith. The only reason this makes me feel a little better is it guarantees Cousins is going somewhere. Alex Smith is a solid quarterback, but this feels like a very status-quo move by Washington. I predicted they would start over and build for the future, but instead they’re just swapping out one veteran for another. Kirk Cousins said he found the trade “surprising,” which come on. It’s pretty easy to figure out the Redskins don’t believe long-term in Cousins (see his lack of a contract), and while Dan Snyder may be a lousy owner he’s smart enough to know Kirk Cousins isn’t worth the $34 million he would have been owed under another franchise tag. Also, if you’re Cousins, you should be ecstatic about this. Get the hell out of DC and try to go somewhere who’s at least trying to win.
Meanwhile, it’s being treated as if Smith to Washington means that Blake Bortles is definitely going to stay as the Jaguars starter. These two events don’t strike me as particularly related. The Jaguars could still get Cousins. They could sign a different quarterback. They could trade Bortles. I will believe Blake Bortles is going to be the Jags’ QB next year when he either signs a contract extension or when he takes a snap for them Week 1. If he stays, the only winners are Bortles himself and the defenses he’ll be throwing interceptions to.
Otherwise there hasn’t been much movement yet. I will continue to update the accuracy of that blog as necessary.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading all the blogs this week; hope you enjoyed. Part of the reason I did this this week was as a springboard to get back into writing every week, so stay tuned!