It’s finally here. All the drama of the NFL season boils down to one last game In Minneapolis, Minnesota — Super Bowl LII.
Whether you’re a diehard football fan whose been watching all year, or you’re more in it for the seven-layer dip but you still want to impress your friends; the Commuter has you covered on what to expect when the Patriots and the Eagles take the field on Sunday and how both teams could hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the night.
How the Patriots Win:
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looks undaunted by time, as the now 40-year-old quarterback put forth another MVP-caliber season and led the league in passing yards with 4,577.
The Eagles are the number-one ranked rush defense and 17th-ranked pass defense so… Look for the Patriots to take advantage of the Eagles inconsistent cornerback play, and attack through the air. Deep shots will be hard to come by with Pro-Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins patrolling the back line of the Eagles secondary. So watch the Patriots move the ball through short and intermediate passes and wear out the Eagles defense.
Tight end and matchup nightmare Rob Gronkowski should prove to be a big factor in this game. Crafty receivers Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan, as well as deep threat Brandin Cooks, also highlight the Patriots’ receiving corps.
What makes the Patriots offense really difficult to cover, however, is the versatile stable of running backs led by Dion Lewis and James White. The two can beat you in between the tackles but also give defensive coordinators a headache when they’re utilized as receivers. White had a Super Bowl record 14 receptions and led the game in receiving yards with 110 in last year’s dramatic Super Bowl comeback against the Falcons.
The Patriots bottom-dwelling defense has to control the line of scrimmage on early downs and stop the Eagles run game (which ranks third in the NFL) from getting the offense into third-and-short situations. Defensive tackle Alan Branch, who is returning from injury, should be a huge factor in slowing down the run game.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has a collection of talented receivers at his disposal as well. Tight end Zach Ertz and wide receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor are just a few. So the Patriots usual strategy of ‘take away the best receiver’ will be difficult to pull off. Though they’ve struggled against the pass all year, the Pats have improved and currently boast the fifth-best defense in the NFL in terms of points allowed.
The Patriots secondary is also composed of several versatile players who could present problems for the Eagles’ pass attack. Safety Patrick Chung has been solid in man-to-man coverage against tight ends. Cornerback Stephon Gillmore has the size and speed to play well against Jeffery. Cornerback Malcolm Butler is one of the best recovery corners in the league and can play with the quick Agholor. Free safety Devin McCourty is as good as anyone at protecting against the deep ball.
Future hall-of-fame coach Bill Belichick is also one of the best defensive game planners of all time and has two weeks to figure out how to slow down the Eagles’ offense. Look for the Patriots’ defense to give the Eagles a lot of different looks and formations to confuse and disorient the inexperienced Foles, who is playing in just his fourth playoff game.
If the Patriots can string together long scoring drives using short and intermediate passes on offense and get the Eagles into third-and-long situations consistently on defense then we could have the first back-to-back Super Bowl champion in 13 years.
How the Eagles Win:
The Eagles season has been defined by overcoming adversity. They have proven time and time against that they are an elite team despite the injuries that have plagued them this season. They lost Pro-Bowl tackle Jason Peters, top pass rusher Jordan Hicks, and worst of all, second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, who was having an MVP-worthy season himself before tearing his ACL in a week 14 win against the Rams.
Despite the injuries, the Eagles have found ways to win. You can chalk this up to their coaching staff led by second-year head coach Doug Pederson. His offensive design has been impeccable all season, giving the Eagles the third-best scoring offense. Nick Foles will lead the offense after a lights-out performance against the league’s best defense in the NFC championship game.
The secret to beating the Patriots isn’t very secret. To beat them you have to have consistent pressure generated from the interior of the line of scrimmage. This is to collapse the pocket and prevent Brady from stepping up and making throws down the field.
It worked for the Giants in Super Bowls 42 and 46 and we nearly saw it work for the Jaguars in the AFC title game. The problem is, late in the game, the defense is usually worn out so it becomes increasingly difficult to get a consistent pass rush.
With star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox leading the front four and a myriad of pass rushers who can fill in for one another, the Eagles not only have one of the most talented pass rushes in the league, they have one of the deepest as well.
“It’s a lot more than four. I wish it was four. It’s about eight, nine,” said Belichick in a press conference.
Watch the front four give Brady plenty of trouble as well as lock up the Pats’ running game on Sunday.
On offense, the Eagles have to keep the ball out of Brady’s hands and keep their defense off of the field. In order to do this they have to utilize their run offense, spearheaded by bruising ex-Patriot Legarrette Blount and explosive midseason acquisition Jay Ajayi. The two will be running behind one of the more dominant offensive lines in the league. They were recently ranked number one on Pro Football Focus’ best offensive lines in the league.
A consistent run game can keep the Pats defense guessing and can open up the passing attack as well. Though this is Foles’ first Super Bowl start, he has demonstrated he can deliver in big moments.
So if the Eagles can control the line of scrimmage, win time of possession, and consistently hound Brady when he drops back to pass, they could be holding their first Lombardi trophy on Sunday.
This Super Bowl doesn’t have an underdog. While New England has been here before, Philadelphia is poised and hungry to win it’s first title. Expect a good one and enjoy the game (and the dip). Kickoff is at 3:30 PST so don’t be late.