The entire country expects the New England Patriots to win Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vegas line opened with the Patriots as 5.5 point favorites, seven out of eight Sporting News analysts predicted a Pats victory and even the official Madden simulation went New England’s way. It makes sense — how could the Patriots not be Super Bowl champions once again? With quarterback Tom Brady facing Nick Foles as his opposition, it is hard at first glance to deduce that the Eagles are anything but outmatched. After all, Foles may have been terrific two weeks ago against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, but he is the same player who threw 20 touchdowns over his last two NFL seasons as a starter — 12 fewer than Brady threw in this year alone.
Nevertheless, even though Foles is a wildcard at best and a disaster at worst, the Eagles have a solid chance at winning a championship because of their strengths at every other position. The defense is this team’s calling card, but Philadelphia has a strong offense too — their running backs and receivers are notably impressive.
Looking at the defense first, it is evident that the Eagles have an advantage over New England on paper. The Pats allowed 366 yards per game this season, fourth worst in the league. The Eagles, on the other hand, surrendered just 306 ypg — fourth-best. Philadelphia secured 19 interceptions to New England’s 12 and scored five defensive touchdowns to New England’s zero. Defensive ends Chris Long and Brandon Graham have been nothing short of dominant up front — star talents above what New England brings to the table.
Yet in the end, the Eagles are still up against Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski (who will be back for the Super Bowl after suffering a concussion). Two weeks ago, with an injured hand and facing the AFC’s best defense, Brady torched the Jacksonville Jaguars for 290 yards and two touchdowns, looking his strongest in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia may have an impressive defense, but can Brady be stopped when it matters most? The Eagles held Matt Ryan to 210 yards and a touchdown in the Divisional Round — and even though Brady is by far the superior QB, if Philadelphia can keep him remotely in check, they will have a fair shot at Super Bowl victory.
How would the Eagles win with Foles at quarterback? On the strength of their running game, which sets up Foles for success beyond what his talent would signal. Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount each provide different skillsets that complement each other perfectly. Ajayi is elusive and slippery — he glides through holes and is difficult to catch. He averaged 5.8 yards per running attempt with the Eagles this season. Blount, on the other hand, is simply hard to bring down. Standing at six feet, 250 pounds, Blount can run through defenders and makes for an ideal third-down and goal line back. He has a touchdown in each of Philadelphia’s two playoff games. It is almost impossible to hold Blount to less than a yard in these important situations — the momentum and force he creates is overpowering.
Then, once the running game starts gaining chunks of yardage, the Eagles can allow Foles to chuck up deep balls and catch the defense off-guard. The Vikings loaded up against the run and underneath passes, and so were wholly unprepared to defend throws downfield to Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith. Foles has a tendency to overthink during games and grow hesitant and unsure of himself, which has resulted in a lot of struggle. But when he takes a long shot downfield without having to think, he can place the ball in the perfect spot.
Helping Foles will be Philly’s strong group of receivers. The Eagles spread out targets throughout this group. No one receiver is the focus of the offense, but everyone is involved in the game plan. Tight end Zach Ertz will see a bunch of passes up the middle — he has dependable hands and has been a mainstay in Philly over the past few seasons. Jeffrey has settled into a complementary role after his time spent starring for the Chicago Bears. Nelson Agholor is one of this season’s biggest surprises, more than doubling his receiving yards total from last year. Smith is way past his prime, but he can still make important, game-changing plays — he is someone used to big moments.
All this is not to say that the Eagles will definitely win the Super Bowl. That would be a foolish statement considering New England’s track record. But the Eagles, once again, are underrated. Even with Carson Wentz out, they are still the best team in the NFC, and have the potential to overpower any team. The Eagles were underdogs at home against the Falcons. Then again against the Vikings. Now they are significant underdogs in the Super Bowl. It should not be a surprise if they overcome the odds one more time. New England is better, but Pats fans would be best advised not to be cocky heading into Sunday. They could be setting themselves up for a massive Monday disappointment.
George Klein ’20 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.