Super Bowl LII is less than a week away and the hype is mounting. The New England Patriots, in their third Super Bowl in the last four years, are aiming to become the first repeat champions since the 2003-04 New England Patriots, while the Eagles believe they can pull off a monumental upset behind backup-turned-hero Nick Foles. Today, NFL Updates Express writer Christian Clark and I give our predictions on some of the most interesting storylines for the Big Game.
Which backup running back will have the biggest impact? LeGarrette Blount/Corey Clement (Eagles) or James White/Rex Burkhead (Patriots).
Christian: I would have to say White/Burkhead just because of the balance of McDaniel’s well-crafted offense. Burkhead is the typical blue-collar player for New England. He can run up the gut, play slot receiver, or take a screen to the house. James White’s Super Bowl pedigree is well-known as his three touchdown performance in Super Bowl LI put himself on the map. The bulk of Philadelphia’s carries will go to Jay Ajayi with Clement and Blount being change-of-pace backs depending on the situation.
John: LeGarrette Blount is no stranger to the big stage, with playoff experience with both New England and Philadelphia. Now with the Eagles, Blount is Philly’s best red zone threat and is a viable threat to score a couple touchdowns in next Sunday’s game.
Who is the biggest X-Factor in Super Bowl LII?
Christian: Danny Amendola, WR, NE. There is something special about Danny Amendola in the playoffs for the Patriots. He isn’t a high-volume player statistically but he seems to have a knack for big receptions in the big moments. He has two career Super Bowl touchdowns and I expect Amendola to snag another one in Super Bowl 52. He plays the majority of his snaps as a slot receiver so he will be matched up against Eagles cornerback Patrick Robinson, who has been one of the Eagles key contributors on defense from the offseason.
John: Nick Foles, QB, PHI. Brady is the much more heralded quarterback in this Super Bowl matchup, but the Eagles’ ability to compete with the Patriots depends primarily on Foles’ performance. The journeyman quarterback was electric in the NFC Championship and his lack of recent experience could give the Eagles the element of surprise, but trusting Foles to beat Brady under the big lights is a huge leap of faith. His performance will determine whether this game comes down to the final minutes or is over at halftime.
Will this be the last Super Bowl game that Tom Brady ever played in?
Christian: It is senseless to bet against the G.O.A.T., Tom Brady. However, the AFC is on the rise as Jacksonville, Tennessee, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh will all be formidable in 2018. With Peyton Manning out of the fold, no AFC team has been able to beat Tommy Terrific in the playoffs. So while Brady will be forty-one by the time Super Bowl 53 rolls around, expect Beantown to see their Patriots in at least one more Super Bowl before the Brady-Belichick era concludes.
John: Tom Terrific has shown no signs of slowing down, and with his team’s convincing domination of the AFC, it’s hard to imagine another team taking up the mantle of best team from the Patriots. Four Super Bowls in five years is unheard of, but Brady is still one of the games best quarterbacks and the Pats are head and shoulders above their AFC competition, especially with the likely returns of injured stars Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Super Bowl LII could be Brady’s last Big One, but I would not be surprised if he returns next year.
What is your boldest/strangest prediction?
Christian: Yes, I actually researched this. In this history of the Super Bowl, there has never been two tight ends from the same team to score a touchdown each in the game. In Super Bowl LII, a pair of Eagles tight ends, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton, will reach paydirt to end that strange, but true stat.
John: Tom Brady has the most career Super Bowl passing touchdowns with 15, unsurprising for a player who has played in seven Super Bowls and won five. But this will be the game that he adds another touchdown to his resume- his first Super Bowl rushing touchdown. Don’t expect a Kaepernick-esque scamper to the end zone from the 40-year-old Brady, but a goal line sneak isn’t out of the question.
Does Defense really win Championships?
Christian: In one word, yes. In eight Super Bowls where the number one defense plays the number one offense in the league, the defense wins 88% of the time. The only previous loss by a number one defense was the Broncos losing big to the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV. Now this year, we won’t have that matchup but the Patriots and Eagles have been near the top of the NFL rankings in offense and defense respectively. For the Eagles to win the Super Bowl, they will need to get to Tom Brady in the pocket. It’s no secret that when Brady has underperformed on Super Sunday, it has been because of the pass rush from opposing defenses. I have always believed in the old adage that “defense wins championships.” The Patriots have never fielded an elite defense. They have been an opportunistic bunch though (see Butler, Malcolm). In addition, they have allowed an NFL best 14.4 PPG since Week 5. On the other hand, the Eagles haven’t allowed more than ten points in five games. Tom Brady will certainly end that streak but Philly should be able to provide enough pressure to force Brady into a mistake or two.
John: Sometimes, we’re treated to a dominant defense that rules the NFL, like the 2000 Ravens, the 1985 Bears, or 1975 Steelers. Even more recently, the 2015 Broncos and 2013 Seahawks rode their defenses to blowout wins in the Super Bowl against teams that were viewed as offensive powerhouses. But I don’t buy Philadelphia’s defense as one of these units. Yes, the Eagles are stacked on defense and are better on that side of the ball than the Patriots, but they are hardly a historic unit and won’t even be as tough a task as New England’s AFC title game opponent, Jacksonville.
What will be the most memorable moment in the game?
Christian: David Tyree. Mario Manningham. Jermaine Kearse. Julio Jones. Julian Edelman. What do these receivers have in common? If you haven’t guessed it by now, these receivers have all made jaw-dropping catches in a crucial moment in the Fourth Quarter. In what should be a close contest, look for an unheralded receiver to make another miracle reception, per usual in a Patriots Super Bowl. Mack Hollins and Trey Burton are good candidates for Philly. On the Patriots side, maybe Rex Burkhead gets free or wide receiver Phillip Dorsett finally comes alive.
John: Every Tom Brady Super Bowl has been decided by six points or less, but I think this one will break the trend. While the most memorable Super Bowl plays usually come in close, down-to-the-wire games, even the blowouts have one signature play. In the first quarter of Super Bowl LII, Stephon Gilmore, the hero from the AFC title game, will return a Nick Foles interception to the house to open the floodgates for New England. Will it be a better play than his fourth down pass deflection against Jacksonville? Probably not, but this play will embed itself in Patriots lore nevertheless.
When it’s all said and done, who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy?
Christian: Overall, Super Bowl LII will come down to the defensive side of the ball. New England has struggled but has been an opportunistic bunch though (see Butler, Malcolm). Not only that but they have allowed an NFL best 14.4 PPG since Week 5. On the other hand, the Eagles haven’t allowed more than ten points in five consecutive games. Tom Brady will certainly end that streak but Philly should be able to provide enough pressure to force Brady into a mistake or two. The Patriots have more experience and a will to win in their “Blitz For Six” campaign. Philadelphia has been doubted ever since Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14 vs Los Angeles. New England has been in a few classic Super Bowls such as the Falcons, Panthers, Seahawks, and the 07’ Giants game. Expect this one to join this list. 99 times out of 100, the Patriots would walk off victorious. On this one occasion however, the underdog will have his day. The Eagles will ride the momentum of Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick Foles redemption story and a tenacious defense to stun the Patriots on a last minute touchdown drive and give Philadelphia their first Super Bowl win in franchise history. Fly Eagles Fly!
Final Score: Eagles 23, Patriots 19.
John: It’s been a good season for Philadelphia. They emerged from under the shadow of the Cowboys and Giants to become a contender for not only the NFC but the Super Bowl. They found a quarterback of the future in Carson Wentz and showcased a deep roster that will make them a power for years to come. But without Wentz, it’s tough to imagine a storybook ending for Philadelphia. One year off a 25-point Super Bowl comeback, Tom Brady will accomplish the one thing he has yet to achieve in the Big Game- a blowout win. A couple late scores by Philly will make the score a bit more respectable, but I foresee a Patriot victory and sixth Super Bowl ring for arguably the greatest quarterback to step on a field.
Final Score: Patriots 30, Eagles 17