By Jason Keidel
Super Bowl LII
Philadelphia Eagles (15-3) vs. New England Patriots (15-3)
Sunday, February 4, 6:30 pm ET
One more game, the game, four quarters to distill six months and decide the winner of the NFL for the 2017 season. Super Bowl LII features the New England Patriots, the classic chalk and talk of football for the last 17 years, making a league-record 10th trip to the Super Bowl, and the eighth since Bill Belichick and Tom formed the most famous and successful HC-QB tandem in history.
The Pats play the Philadelphia Eagles, the ultimate upstart, faces covered with German Shepherd masks to remind us how long they’ve been overlooked and underdogs. They’ve long been a forlorn franchise, making its third trip to the Super Bowl, looking for their first Lombardi Trophy, and first NFL title since they beat Vince Lombardi, himself, in 1960.
First, the bad news for the underdog Eagles. The Pats under Brady and Belichick are 4-1 against the Eagles. The Pats have a combined 73 Super Bowls played among their players. The Eagles have eight. Tom Brady has thrown more playoff touchdowns (68) than Nick Foles has tossed in his entire career (61). The Pats have beaten every team not from the Meadowlands, and every QB not named Eli Manning.
>>MORE: NFL Playoffs: Super Bowl Picks
The good news for the Eagles is the NFL’s leading passer is 0-5 when he reaches the Super Bowl. Brady led the league in passing yards in 2017. The other good news is of the Pats’ prior seven Super Bowls this century, they opened none with a TD drive. In fact, Brady has yet to lead the Pats on a scoring drive of any kind in the first quarter of any of his Super Bowls. It belies their regular season efficiency, as the Patriots have scored a FG or TD in nine opening drives during the 2017 season, going 7-2 in those games. Just further proof the Super Bowl is exalted and accelerated, even for a veteran-hardened team like New England.
The bad news for the Eagles is the Patriots have scored 77 points combined in the fourth quarter and overtime during those games, which is why they’ve won five of seven, including that biblical comeback last year against Atlanta. The Pats have also toppled the Eagles in the Super Bowl, 13 years ago, a game the Eagles could have won but ran out of gas in the fourth quarter, which fueled some ugly postgame backbiting, led by Terrell Owens, who called out QB Donovan McNabb for coming up lame and sick, heaving and vomiting over the last few minutes of the game.
So as soon as the Eagles soothe their Super Bowl jitters — a very real thing, any player will tell you — the sooner they can get to putting it on the Pats, much the way Atlanta did last year, before forgetting they had the lead, the clock, and Devonta Freeman running the ball. The Eagles are aggressive on both sides of the ball. By any objective measure, they have a deeper and more talented roster, a better offensive and defensive line, and a better overall defense.
The Patriots are five-point favorites for two reasons — Brady and Belichick — and their combined wisdom, experience, talent and temerity. On paper, the Eagles seem to have the edge. Of course, the Super Bowl is played on a football field, albeit and neutral field, not in theory or with computerized algorithms. Another level of New England’s gridiron genius is their perseverance, patience, and absolute allergy to making big mistakes. Many times the Patriots win games just by making fewer errors. We’ve often heard that teams lose games more than win them, which has been the ultimate science behind the Patriots’ playoff success.
If we look at the playoffs, no one can doubt that the Eagles have looked exponentially better. Philadelphia has put forward record-setting defense in January, top five all-time in average playoff points per game against a team in the Super Bowl era. The Eagles D has yielded 17 points so far in the postseason, averaging 8.5 points per game. Only the 2000 Giants and 2000 Ravens have been more stingy to this point than the 2017 Eagles.
Of course, the Pats are harder to kill than Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger combined. Even when you have the symbolic boot on their throat, you’d better grind until life leaves their eyes, there’s no breathing, and no pulse. Just ask Atlanta. If the Eagles jump out front, they have the defense to make it stick, and Foles has proved he’s got enough talent and temerity to avoid the big gaffe that felled the Seahawks and Falcons before them.
This iteration of the Eagles may be more beloved than any in history. More than the Dick Vermeil squads, more than the Reggie White club, led by the ornery Buddy Ryan. This is not just the most cherished team, but also the best in franchise history. How many premature postmortems must we write about these Eagles before we finally realize they refuse to die?
Prediction: Eagles win, 26-24
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.