Pats Preview: Super Bowl LII
As the New England Patriots prepare for their appearance in Super Bowl LII, against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, here are some pregame storylines to keep in mind.
Battle Of Top Seeds- Super Bowl LII will be a battle of top seeds, as the Patriots and Eagles both entered the postseason as the top team in their respective conferences. Both New England and Philadelphia ended the regular season with a 13-3 record and each team has won two home playoff games to get to this point.
Deja Vu?- The game has a chance to give the Pats a strong feeling of deja vu. For starters, it is the second time in the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era that New England has a chance to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. Even more coincidental is the fact that, the last time the Pats found themselves in this position, they beat none other than the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Now, 13 years later, the Pats have a chance to relive the past and put together a similar streak against a similar foe.
Looking To Go Back-To-Back- The Pats are looking to go back-to-back as world champions for the only the ninth time in league history. They are also looking to become the first repeat champions since they did it back in 2003 and 2004.
Gronk Will Play- It took until the Thursday before the big game, but after nearly two weeks of waiting, Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski has been officially cleared to play in Super Bowl LII. The All-Pro pass catcher, who left the team's AFC Championship game win over the Jacksonville Jaguars late in the second quarter after taking a shot to the head by safety Barry Church, was removed from the league's concussion protocol just three days before the game. Gronkowski had been back to practice earlier in the week, in a limited capacity, but was a full participant on Thursday. Knowing that the dominant tight end will be available for the game definitely gives the Pats a boost and should inject fear into the Eagles.
Stingy Defenses- Both teams boast defenses that are stingy when it comes to allowing their opponent to score. Through the regular season, the Eagles ranked fourth in the league, allowing 18.4 points per game. New England's defense was the slightest margin behind that, allowing 18.5 points per game. Through two postseason games apiece, both defenses have continued their solid play. Philadelphia has given up 8.5 points per game, while the Pats have given up 17 points on average. Both teams will need to keep up their stingy ways, to help their chances at claiming a title.
Moving Quickly- One of the ways the Pats will likely be able to enjoy success Sunday will be if they can move quickly on offense. New England's offensive unit, led by Tom Brady, is adept at utilizing the hurry-up offense. With Philadelphia's depth along the defensive line, it would seem smart for the Pats to try and run a fast-paced offense to keep the Eagles from being able to continuously rotate their personnel.
Bird Flu- While both teams have dealt with some injuries and illnesses, in the two weeks leading to the Super Bowl, the Eagles seem to have been hit hard by the flu, over the final days of preparation. While it is likely that all players will suit up and give it a go for the game, it will be worth keeping an eye on whether or not those players will be able to contribute in their typical way.
Keeping Brady Clean- The Patriot offensive line will have their hands full on Sunday, as they'll have to battle one of the top and deepest defensive lines in the league. Philly's line, which is eight deep has done a solid job this season stopping opponent's rushing game and bring heat to opposing quarterbacks both from the interior and along the edge. New England's front five will need to play some of their best football of the season to keep Tom Brady clean and out of harm's way. Brady will also need to continue his ability to get the ball out quickly, as well.
Backs & Slants- Look for the Pats to attack the Philadelphia defense by targeting their backs out of the backfield and using quick crossing routes to beat both the front seven pressure and strong secondary play. The Patriots have had success over the years with both schemes and could really open up the field and other areas to attack, by going early and often with quick-hitting plays to slot receivers and backs.
Exposing Foles- The Patriot defense, which has struggled to force turnovers this season, will need to expose Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles on Sunday. Foles, who took over for injured starter Carson Wentz late in the season, has had moments of strong success in the league, including lighting up the Minnesota Vikings in Philly's 38-7 NFC Championship win two weeks ago. The veteran has also had his fair share of struggles, as well. The Pats will need to try and force him into troublesome situations throughout the game and will likely work hard to take away Philly's run game, thus putting Foles in a make or break spot. It remains to be seen if the journeyman quarterback can perform in a pressure-packed game, away from home, on the game's biggest stage.
Prediction- No matter how much anyone might try to convince themselves that the Eagles could win the game, the tandem of Pederson and Foles will never match up to the two Goliath on the other end of the field; Belichick and Brady. With so much championship experience and pedigree on their side, the Pats have a clear advantage over Philadelphia heading into the game. Provided that they don't make multiple uncharacteristic mistakes, the Patriots should be hoisting their sixth Lombardi Trophy by the end of the night. For the first time in eight opportunities, New England should be able to do so in convincing fashion, as well.
Pats 30, Eagles 21