It all comes down to this. The NFL is known for its parity, but Super Bowl 52 will be a matchup between the top overall seeds in each conference. The New England Patriots will be seeking their 6th Super Bowl title, while the Eagles are looking to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia for the first time ever.
While the Eagles were the top seed in the NFC, they have gone into both of their previous playoff games as Vegas underdogs against the Falcons and Vikings. Quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL in Week 14 against the L.A. Rams, and most figured that was the end of Philly’s title hopes.
While Wentz was in the midst of an MVP-caliber season, backup Nick Foles has taken the reins and the team hasn’t missed a beat. Foles was particularly electrifying in the Eagles’ blowout win over the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Arizona product completed 26 of his 33 throws for 352 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions in the 38-7 shellacking.
Considering the Vikings boasted the NFL’s top defense this season, Foles’ dismantling of them raised plenty of eyebrows. The Patriots’ defense isn’t as renowned, but their unit did come up with some massive plays in New England’s close win over the Jaguars in the AFC title game. The most notable play was the pass breakup by Stephon Gilmore on a crucial fourth down that effectively put the game on ice.
Jay Ajayi has essentially been the lead back for Philly since coming over in a trade from Miami, but LeGarrette Blount figures to get some chances at revenge against his former team. Blount has only picked up 15 carries in the postseason to this point, but he has cashed in a pair of touchdowns.
The Patriots will also have their hands full with the Eagles’ talented group of pass-catchers. The Philadelphia front office made a point this past offseason of upgrading the receiving corps by adding the likes of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Nelson Agholor has also enjoyed a breakout season, while Zach Ertz is emerging as one of the game’s premier pass-catching tight ends.
Those 4 eat up the vast majority of Foles’ targets. Against Minnesota, that quartet combined to haul in 21 passes for 306 yards and 3 touchdowns. In terms of sheer talent, the Eagles’ group of pass-catchers looks superior to that of the Patriots.
That said, Tom Brady has made the most of his weaponry for the better part of 2 decades now. The Patriots have rarely fielded an all-star team around their franchise quarterback, but that hasn’t kept him from continuing to dominate. Just look at what happened in the AFC Championship Game. Brady’s favorite weapon, Rob Gronkowski, left the game early with a concussion. It looked like it would be a huge loss, but then the likes of Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis stepped in to fill the void nicely. Those 3 caught a total of 20 passes for 216 yards with a couple of touchdowns against Jacksonville. Fortunately for New England, Gronkowski is expected to be back on the field this week in Minneapolis.
This is the Patriots’ 8th Super Bowl appearance with the Brady-Bill Belichick tandem. Every single one of the games has been close. In their previous 7 appearances in this era, the games have been decided by a combined total of 26 points. Ironically, the game that finished with the biggest margin was last year’s 6 point win, which is the only game among them to have gone into overtime.
While historical trends like that are certainly not predictive, these teams look fairly evenly-matched on paper. The Eagles appear to be peaking at the right time, while the Patriots will be hungry to match the Steelers with their 6th Super Bowl title. Brady is already widely considered to be the greatest quarterback that ever lived, but he can seal his legacy by winning what would be his sixth ring. No other player in league history has more than 5. This has the makings of yet another close matchup.
The Eagles look like a very interesting bet here as underdogs. One would imagine most of the money will be coming in on the Patriots’ side, which could cause the line to rise as we get closer to kickoff. Keep an eye on that moving forward. In the meantime, Philadelphia has all the makings of a team capable of toppling New England here. Take the Eagles to cover the 4.5-point spread, and they also make for an excellent value to win outright at +155 on the moneyline.
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