The New England Patriots will battle the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday, February 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
As the game approaches, here is what you need to know about the NFC Champions:
Divisional Round Result: Defeated Atlanta Falcons 15-10
Championship Round Result: Defeated Minnesota Vikings 38-7
Offense Rank: 3rd in points per game (28.6 per game); 7th in yards per game (365.8 per game);
3rd in rush yards per game (132.2 per game); 13th in pass yards per game (233.6 per game)
Defense Rank: 4th in points allowed (18.4 per game); 4th in yards allowed (306.5 yards per game); 1st in rush defense (79.2 per game); 17th in pass yards per game (227.3 per game)
Key Offensive Players: Nick Foles QB, Jay Ajayi RB, Alshon Jeffery WR, Nelson Agholor WR, Zach Ertz TE, Jason Kelce C, Brandon Brooks G, Lane Johnson RT
Key Defensive Players: Fletcher Cox DT, Brandon Graham DE, Timmy Jernigan DT, Vinny Curry DT, Chris Long DE, Mychal Kendricks LB, Ronald Darby CB, Malcolm Jenkins S
Key Injuries: QB Carson Wentz, LT Jason Peters, LB Jordan Hicks, K Caleb Sturgis, RB Darren Sproles
Although the Carson Wentz injury and play of Nick Foles in his absence has rightfully gotten a lot of the attention on this run for the Eagles, the key positional group is actually the Eagles offensive line, which was graded by PFF as the top-ranked unit in the NFL this year. Throw in the fact they lost their left tackle, Jason Peters, in week 7 against the Raiders and it is that much more impressive. The line really is elite when looking at the right side though from center on down. Jason Kelce had the best run blocking grade of any lineman in the NFL, and Brandon Brooks still hasn’t given up a sack while coming in as the third-ranked guard. Lane Johnson is also a very good right tackle with great athleticism and was named an All-Pro.
Why This is a Good Matchup for the Patriots:
The Patriots are once again in the Super Bowl and not unlike the Jaguars from the last round; the Eagles have a great defense. However, there are some questions about Nick Foles despite his all-world performance in the championship round against Minnesota. Foles has proven in limited sample size that he is very careful with the ball and can manage an offense, but with Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia getting two weeks to prepare it will be interesting to see how he fares.
Although the defense for Philadelphia has been very good this year, there is plenty the Patriots can do against them. The Eagles possess the number one rush defense in the league and have a very formidable front four (more on them later), but their pass defense has been a middle of the pack defense coming in at 17th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, while the Patriots rank second in pass yards per game. Throw in the fact the Eagles are a strict zone coverage team and this should allow the Patriots to move the ball pretty well through the air against them. The corners are not nearly as strong as the Jaguars corps and the Patriots have a solid cast of zone beaters on their team led by Danny Amendola, who once again should show up with another big game on the horizon.
It should be noted that without Rob Gronkowski the Patriots game plan will change (duh), but even if they do not have him they will have more than enough weapons to keep the chains moving. However with him, and provided the offensive line plays as well as they have been playing, Tom Brady and company should be able to put up points in the high 20s or low 30s.
Why This is a Bad Matchup for the Patriots:
As mentioned above the Eagles front four is dynamic and they have six able-bodied players they can rotate in who can play the run and the pass. Their best two players are Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, both of whom rarely leave the field and are extremely disruptive. The Eagles are extremely tough on the run as they do a great job maintaining their gaps and controlling the opposing offensive line, stringing out the play and allowing linebackers and corners on the outside to make the play without a big gain.
On passing downs, however, is really where they are a nightmare. When obvious passing situations present themselves they can rush Graham, Cox, rookie Derek Barnett and former Patriot Chris Long. Those four are all very strong rushers and allow the Eagles to drop the other seven into coverage, yet still get pressure on the opposing quarterback.
In addition to a ferocious front four that will definitely be winning their fair share of matchups, the Eagles multiple offense and ability to adjust to any situation, defense, or injury is what makes them so successful. If Nick Foles can play half as well as he did against Minnesota, you can bet Doug Pederson will have a number of things in store for the Patriots that will make moving the ball easier on Foles.
Furthermore, for a Patriots defensive line that has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback this year, the Eagles (as mentioned above) possess the top-ranked offensive line in the game according to PFF. The lone weakness is the left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who performed well below average bit had a good game against Everson Griffen in the championship round. If the Patriots can’t find ways to beat Vaitai and Stefen Wisniewski, the left guard, they are going to be hard pressed to pressure Foles, which will make it difficult to get the Eagles offense off the field.
Key Matchup: Patriots Offensive Line vs Eagles Defensive Line
Although the Eagles have a very solid and multi-faceted offense, the key matchup to me is if the Patriots offensive line can give Tom Brady enough time for his targets to work the zone and find the weak spots on at least 75 percent of the snaps. If they can keep him clean and do that, Brady and McDaniels should be able to give the Patriots an edge and make the Eagles have to keep pace with them, something that should make things a little tougher for Nick Foles, someone who has always been within striking distance in the playoffs and has not had to battle back against a team that has a highly-efficient and effective offense on the other side.
Patriots fans may be excited that they don’t have to face the Vikings considering they would have been the “home team” playing in their own building and because they have a very good defense, but the Eagles present a tougher challenge as a better overall team.
Look for the Patriots to come out firing and try to get Cooks involved in the game early, something that may pay dividends later in the game. The Patriots have enough weapons that it should be a game with multiple targets going to each person and Brady spreading the wealth.
The Eagles will no doubt keep it close with their aggressive defense, solid coaching, good game plan, and diverse weaponry on offense, but look for the Patriots to make just one more play than them given their big advantage at the most important position, quarterback.
Patriots 30 Eagles 24
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani