Super Bowl LII Preview: Do the Pats Get Their Sixth, Or Do the Underdogs Come Through?

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It all comes down to today. Both the Patriots and Eagles have given every ounce to get to this point. And here we are, sitting here on Super Bowl Sunday, where the Eagles will look to get their first Super Bowl title, while the Patriots look for number six. This game features a pair of number one seeds who took full advantage of home field.

The “David vs. Goliath” narrative has been used plenty throughout the week, mostly because it’s true. The Patriots have been NFL Goliath for a long time, with an unbelievable coaching staff and one of the game’s greats at quarterback. It doesn’t seem like the dynasty train for them is stalling anytime soon.

While the Eagles are of course the David in all of this, it almost doesn’t completely suit them. This may be one of the strongest Davids we’ve seen. Philly dominated the NFC all season long and still wouldn’t be denied a Super Bowl berth after losing starting quarterback Carson Wentz.

Where does it start? The trenches, of course. The Eagles boast a top offensive line and defensive line. Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce have been at the top of their game this season, and even Halapoulivaati Vaitai has done well filling in for the injured Jason Peters. On defense, the rotation is second to none this season. With Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan leading the push, they will be difficult to block. Don’t forget they can bring rookie Derek Barnett in along with Chris Long to get fresh legs rushing the passer. This will be a tough group to control on both sides.

Also, the narrative of Philly being David because of Nick Foles might not hold much water right now. Foles has a passer rating of over 100 in both playoff games he’s started, including the 141.2 passer rating he put up against a very good Vikings defense. Foles isn’t back away from the spotlight. He wants it.

Philly also has the weapons to give defenses fits. First off, their running game can wear you out early. LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi both are strong, physical runners between the tackles. It sometimes takes a village to bring Blount down, and Ajayi can also break things open in space. They also have Corey Clement, who they feel they can bring in on any down.

Their weapons in the passing game are just as potent. Zach Ertz and Trey Burton are a great duo at tight end. Alshon Jeffery can light you up when he gets cooking. Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor can burn you in space.

You must be thinking by now, he’s going to say they really aren’t David and somehow the Patriots are. Not a chance. There’s a reason the Patriots have five rings and are 60 minutes away from six of them.

It starts from the top. Bill Belichick is the greatest coach I’ve ever seen. He gets his own guys for his system, and gets the absolute best out of them. He can trade away Pro Bowl talents and be just fine with the defense he puts out on the field. His coaching staff, led by coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, do a fantastic job.

What else do the Pats do well? They take away the best option on your offense. The likely candidates today? LeGarrette Blount and Zach Ertz. Ertz can make a mockery of a defense due to his underrated route running and physical nature at the catch point, while Blount, as we discussed above, can wear defensive lines out.

The Patriots will find every little thing on film and expose it on both sides of the ball. The Eagles will need to be ready.

Keys To The Game

Patriots: Gap Integrity and Win in the Middle of the Field

I fully expect the Patriots to do both of these things, but let’s cover them anyway. As far as gap integrity goes, the Patriots need to stay aligned along their front to allow linebackers to come up and make plays. If Blount or Ajayi reach beyond the second level, they will wear this team out. The other part of that resides in staying in rush lanes. Nick Foles isn’t electric on the ground, but he will take off if given the opportunity.

The middle of the field is an area the Patriots will need to take advantage of. The Eagles have a weakness at linebacker, and the Patriots have the personnel to attack them there. Their running backs will create mismatches there with their quickness, and targeting them could result in big third down conversions. Of course, that’s an area we expect Gronk to be roaming as well.

Eagles: Pressure Brady and Control the Clock

The first is obvious. We don’t have to sugar coat that at all. Pressuring Brady is the key to throwing off the rhythm of that offense. The issue is that you can’t bring too much pressure, or you will get carved up. The Pats have too good a group of route runners to beat man coverage. Luckily, the Eagles boast a very talented a deep front to get after Brady with just four rushers.

Controlling the clock will come from an established ground game. Having Blount and Ajayi will help give Nick Foles manageable second and third downs. Running the ball effectively also limits the amount of Patriots possessions. With plenty of running back to go to, the Eagles won’t burn anyone out early and keep legs fresh.

Three Match-ups To Watch

Pats RBs vs. Eagles LBs

We’ve discussed the Eagles have a weakness at the linebacker spot. Their key is to not get overaggressive in coverage, because the smallest slip will lead to a big play. Dion Lewis and James White have that potential.

Zach Ertz vs. Pats Secondary

I don’t know how the Pats will come out in coverage against Zach Ertz, but I know he’s the guy they will key on over Alshon Jeffery. In its entirety, you may see Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung, and Stephon Gilmore all on him in different situations. It could be up to the rest of the cast to help out Foles that much more.

Da Trenches

Whoever wins here wins this game. If the Eagles find a way to consistently pressure Brady quick off the ball, then the Eagles can win this game. If Brady is allowed time to maneuver the pocket, forget it. On the other side, if the Patriots pressure Foles enough, he will throw one or two to them and send the game spiraling. As long as the Eagles stay disciplined up front like they have all year, they should make things difficult for a weaker pass rush.

The Pick

Well, another year, another Patriots Super Bowl. I hope to stop writing previews with the Patriots in them eventually, but it doesn’t show signs of stopping. So, let’s make this short and sweet. The Eagles will come out and surprise many people early. It wouldn’t shock me to see them up 10-0 or 13-3 early in the second quarter. However, we know the Patriots make adjustments and are the best situational football team in the league. They will climb back from the inevitable hole they will put themselves in, and ring number six is in the cards for these guys.

Patriots 27, Eagles 20

I know many will be disappointed with the outcome, but make sure to enjoy the final football game of the year.

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