It looked like another close-but-not-close-enough year for the Eagles when Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending injury in early December. Fast forward two months and Philadelphia is competing for its first Super Bowl victory.
Only one team stands between the Eagles and glory. Unfortunately for Philly, the proverbial dynasty of the New England Patriots happen to be that team.
Tom Brady is appearing in his eighth Super Bowl, a feat that never seemed possible in the league. It may not have been a 16-0 season like the media predicted, but a 13-win regular season and strong performances in the playoffs got the Pats to the big game once again.
Bill Belichick’s team has crushed the Eagles’ dreams once before in Super Bowl XXXIX with a 24-21 victory over Philly.
It’s the biggest game of the year for football fans (or a Justin Timberlake concert with pre- and post-show entertainment for those who don’t care about football) and the contrast of styles guarantees a show for fans.
Let’s take at some of Super Bowl LII’s biggest talking points.
WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE WHY
Super Bowl LII
Sunday, Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. on NBC
U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
Halftime Performance: Justin Timberlake
Patriots -4.5 odds
Over/under: 48.5 points
Rob Gronkowski remains in concussion protocol as of 6:51 on January 31, 2018. The Patriots tight end sat for most of the AFC Championship game on January 21 after a big hit sent him to concussion protocol.
Gronk seems to think he will be cleared before Sunday according to an interview after practice Wednesday.
Tom Brady is still sporting tape on his throwing hand as of Wednesday. The injury of unknown origin didn’t seem to inhibit the veteran’s ability in the AFC Championship, throwing for 290 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Danny Amendola.
Brady was listed as questionable for the Jacksonville game and still delivered, so I would say it’s almost a guarantee things will be normal for Brady come game time.
Patriots defensive edge Deatrich Wise Jr. also suffered a concussion in the AFC Championship game, but has already returned to practice.
Eagles running back Jay Ajayi was limited on January 25 and 26 practice but has since returned to normal. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was also listed as having a hamstring injury but practiced this week.
DE-FENSE (clap clap)
Stashed away in the back of every Patriots fan’s mind is the haunting image of Eli Manning handing a pair of Super Bowl losses to Tom Brady and friends.
A strong defense was present on both the 2007 and 2011 Giants that defeated New England in the Super Bowl. This proves beating the Pats is possible. It’s certainly not easy, but it is possible.
The Eagles defense allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in the regular season. The experienced defensive line of Philly is one of the league’s best at pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
The Eagles hurried opposing QBs on 41 percent of dropbacks and led the league with 271 pressures.
Debatably the two biggest assets for Philadelphia are defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham. Graham is a versatile DE that can step up on passing downs as well while Cox’s ability to push the pocket inside limits Brady’s throwing room.
Depth on the defensive line allows Philadelphia to send a number of options at Brady for a sack or wild throw for Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills to snatch.
The Patriots’ defense is generally out-shined by the league’s top-ranked offense. Trey Flowers is the best pass rusher for the Pats, which is bad news for Nick Foles who holds a league-worst 7.6 QBR when pressured.
Led by Flowers and Kyle Van Noy, New England was seventh in the league with 42 sacks.
Malcolm Butler looks to grab Nick Foles’ first interception of the postseason. Butler is no stranger to strong performances in the Super Bowl and already two picks on the season.
STOPPING THE JUGGERNAUT
With the key to a Philadelphia victory being defense, their success will directly correlate with the Patriots’ best asset: Tom Brady.
Brady’s offense leads the league with 27.94 points per game and 394.2 yards per game. The 40-year-old connected on more than 66 percent of his passes and attempted a league-high 581.
Philly’s defense hasn’t faced another team like New England. With Gronk possibly returning, Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola hitting their stride, and a slew of pass-catching running backs, Brady has more than enough tools for another ring.
An intriguing match-up that could decide the game doesn’t deal with the Pats’ offense, but rather the Eagles.
Nick Foles threw for 352 yards and three TDs in the NFC Championship against the Vikings. In only his sixth start of the season, Foles carved up the league’s top defense.
If Foles is able to replicate his success two weeks ago AND the Philly defense plays up to its normal standards, the Super Bowl may not be as close as people think.
However, the Patriots bend-don’t-break philosophy may be the perfect game plan for containing Foles’ offense. New England ranks second to last in yards per snap but also rank fifth in points allowed.
The Pats get stops when they need to. Forcing red zone turnovers has been a tradition of the Patriots (see: Super Bowl XLIX). New England only gave up touchdowns on 44 percent of opponent’s red zone possessions and are the second-best at points per red zone possession.
Whether throwing to Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz or letting Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount run, the Eagles have to move the ball consistently against the Pats’ D. Keeping Brady off the field is their best shot to win a franchise-first Super Bowl.
Not everything about a preview has to deal with the game itself. Here’s some random factoids about the Super Bowl this year.
The Patriots chose to wear white despite being the home team. New England is 3-0 in Super Bowls when wearing white under Bill Belichick. 12 of the past 13 teams to wear white in the Super Bowl won.
Quarterbacks who led the league in passing, which Brady did, are 0-5 in the big game.
Two former Patriots that were members of the 2017 championship team are now members of the Eagles.
The Eagles are the first of the Patriots’ Super Bowl opponents in the Belichick era with a top-five scoring offense and defense.
A game of Madden 18 between my friend Tanner and I had the Patriots winning 24-18.
The Patriots have never lost in the Super Bowl to a team with a bird mascot.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith