Super Bowl 52: Match-up Evaluation and Predictions
Super Bowl 52 is now just a few days away, as the big game kicks off in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Sunday, February 4th, 2018. The conference #1 seeds will square off once again, as the NFC is represented by the Philadelphia Eagles and the AFC presents the New England Patriots. Each team rode home field advantage throughout the playoffs to this point, but they saw opposite paths to get this far. The Eagles needed a Julio Jones slip and drop to win vs. Atlanta in the Divisional round 15-10, and then coasted at home against the Vikings 38-7. The Pats manhandled the Titans in the Divisional round 35-14, and then needed a 4th quarter comeback and some miscues from the Jaguars to win 24-20 in the Conference championship game.
But now were almost 2 weeks removed from either teams previous games, all momentum has subsided, and we are left with settled dust until Sunday night. So, lets delve deeper into these two teams, look at the key positional matchups, and determine who we see winning it all in 2018.
Running Backs vs. Linebackers
The Eagles boast a rotation of effective runners that all have distinct talents. LeGarrette Blount is the power, short yardage specialist who is all but unstoppable in goal-to-go situations; Jay Ajayi is the Miami transfer who boasts a little power, a little elusiveness and great field vision. And finally, Corey Clement is an exceptionally strong 3rd down back, who is a dangerous receiver with elite speed and elusiveness. Look for the Eagles to exploit speed mismatches with their backs and mix in the power of Blount to tire out the front 7 of New England.
Likewise, the Patriots sprinkle a heavy dose of mixing and matching with their runners. Dion Lewis is the bell cow back as an extremely effective runner with elusiveness and a high motor who also is a constant threat through the air (as every NE RB is). James White is more of a pure runner with more than respectable receiving talent, and Mike Gillislee is the most powerful back in the arsenal. The Eagles linebackers have speed, but Jerick McKinnon was able to produce big yardage (126 yds from scrimmage) against them. Expect Bill Belichick to have watched that tape more than once.
Advantage: Eagles RBs vs. NE LBs
Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line
This one is relatively simple. The Patriots defensive line boasts new addition James Harrison to get after the passer, along with talented defensive ends in Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise. Alan Branch mans the middle with Malcolm Brown effectively. But the Eagles offensive line, headlined by Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks, is a stout group who should be able to stand up to Matt Patricia’s tricks.
The Eagles defensive line may well hold the game in its hands. The deepest, and arguably the most talented, group of D-linemen will have to force Brady into uncomfortable situations for 4 quarters. Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Vinny Curry and rookie Derek Barnett are all part of an effective rotation of linemen that keeps everyone fresh. The group is exceptionally skilled at getting to the quarterback, and I expect no less in this game.
Advantage: Eagles DL vs. NE OL
Quarterback/Receivers vs. Secondary
This matchup is headlined by quite possibly the greatest QB in NFL history: Tom Brady. Hes been here before (including last year, and 2 years before that) and is no stranger to being pressured. He has a very talented group of pass catchers in All-Pro Rob Gronkowski at TE, along with Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Kenny Britt. His RBs are just as lethal out of the backfield, too. The Philly secondary is headlined by Malcolm Jenkins at safety, along with young CBs in Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Patrick Robinson. The group has been very good this season, but dont expect miracles this weekend.
Backup QB Nick Foles has been the Cinderella of the Playoffs, of sorts. TE Zach Ertz is going to cause NE problems, and Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery do pose issues to the NE secondary. Torrey Smith, along with Phillys running backs, can do damage if the Patriots focus too much on Ertz or Jeffery. Foles has never started in a Super Bowl and cant quite be relied on to be consistent despite his performance against the NFL’s #1 defense 2 weeks ago. Even if Nick Foles can continue his improbable, near flawless level of play, this matchup goes to NE.
Advantage: NE QB/Receivers vs. Eagles CB/S
In 2 of our 3 categories, the Eagles took the advantage over the Patriots. But the largest disparity comes in the category that Tom Brady wins for the Pats, which all but evens out our race. As I mentioned above, the Eagles defensive line really holds the key to this game. If that group can consistently pressure Tom Brady, force quick throws, and possibly force a mistake or two the Eagles will be in this game. Giving Foles a chance to play his game comfortably will be important, and if the Eagles defense fails early, he wont be allowed to do so.
I see this game being extremely close the entire 60 minutes. I think both teams come out with gut punches in the first quarter, which ends in a 0-0 or 3-3 tie. I think the Pats take a halftime lead after a stronger 2nd quarter from Brady by a 10-6 score. The 3rd quarter gives way to some Doug Pederson adjustments, and Nick Foles and co. score their first touchdown of the game, and nots things at 13 heading into the 4th. This is where depth and experience come into play, and each team holds one advantage. Brady’s experience vs. the depth of the Eagles’ defensive front 7 determines the 4th quarter. I don’t see the Eagles defense making any mistakes or giving up anything big to the Patriots late. I think Nick Foles can hold off the jitters, and the motley crew of Philly RBs will be able to kill a lot of clock.
Final Prediction: Eagles 20, Patriots 16