By Zack Downing, Staff Writer
Another NFL season, another successful playoff run for the New England Patriots. Brady enters his 8th Super Bowl matchup with a team full of offensive weapons, a little different than other years, but nonetheless dominant.
The NFC, the NFL’s picture of parity, brings a new contender into the ring as usual. The NFC has introduced 9 different teams to the Super Bowl in the last 10 years, and this year’s team is as thirsty for a win as any of them come.
The Philadelphia Eagles, who have never tasted Lombardi glory, are traveling to Minneapolis to dethrone the quarterback who has won more Super Bowls than their franchise has reached in more than a half century.
Despite their #1 seed, the Eagles’ journey has been worrisome ever since the end of the regular season. Star QB and prospective MVP Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL in week 13, turning them from the NFC’s powerhouse to a potential open door for other contenders.
Up stepped Nick Foles, a backup quarterback who’s been quiet ever since a fantastic year in 2013. He did what he had to do for the last few weeks of the season, and retained the #1 seed going into the playoffs. However, by no means did they charge in, wings out. Their week 17 matchup was a 6-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. They limped in.
It was the playoff spotlight that turned Nick Foles from survivor to destroyer. They entered their own stadium as underdogs against the #6 seeded Falcons, a scenario that had never happened in the NFL. They outlasted Matt Ryan, watched Sarkisian call 4 pass plays in front of the goal line, and bested Atlanta to move on to the Vikings.
Instead of the close matchup that everyone anticipated, the Eagles curb-stomped the Vikings, with Foles playing an incredible game and the defense making Keenum look like a third string QB (which, in some respects, he is). This is the Philly team that’s meeting Brady in the Super Bowl.
The most unusual part about the Eagles is that, despite a great offense and a deceptively dominant defense, there aren’t really any star players on the team. Agholor, Ertz, Foles, and Ajayi weren’t the top-billed names we expected to see at the Super Bowl. And despite being a pretty devout football fan, I genuinely can’t name a standout player on the defensive squad.
Also worth noting, the last backup QB to play in a Super Bowl? Tom Brady.
Speaking of the GOAT, his squad enters the Super Bowl as favorites, bringing in a matching 13-3 record and a team that has more experience in the big game than any other.
2017 was kind to New England; other than Julian Edelman’s torn ACL, injuries weren’t a big storyline all season, not even for Gronkowski. Despite the concussion sustained in the AFC Championship Game, he’s expected to play on the February 4.
So how do the Eagles stop Brady and the Pats from taking home their 6th ring in the last 18 years?
Two things have to come together for Philly to defeat the dynasty. For one, Foles needs to play his heart out. You can’t beat the Pats with an average QB performance, and while Foles has shown his potential for excellence, he’s underachieved quite a lot as well. If he has a 300+ yard game, New England won’t be able to keep Philly quiet.
Most people would assert that the second key is for the Eagles to play a shutdown defense and keep pressure on Brady from the front 4. This is important, but if the Jaguars game showed anything last week, it’s that pressure and a couple sacks won’t stop the Patriots. Jacksonville played a great game defensively, but they couldn’t keep them off the scoreboard.
Consistently forcing New England to punt is one of the hardest things to do in the NFL. What Philly needs requires a combination of luck and skill: they need to force turnovers.
One of the most important reasons, and I’d argue THE most important reason, New England always finishes with 10+ wins is that Brady rarely throws interceptions and running backs rarely fumble.
Every team has a couple games per season where turnovers were backbreaking, but the Pats almost never experience that.
If the Eagles can force one or two turnovers and capitalize, New England is on their heels immediately. However, if Foles can’t deliver or the defense can’t snatch the ball, Brady’s gonna need one more hand to hold his rings.