New England Patriots QB Tom Patriots
New England Patriots QB Tom Patriots
MVP Nick Foles
MINNEAPOLIS – No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the New England Patriots held off the Philadelphia Eagles in February 2005 — the franchise’s third championship in four seasons. Thirteen years later, the Super Bowl script is unchanged: The Patriots are vying to win consecutive titles and the Eagles are trying to prevent Tom Brady and Bill Belichick from hoisting a third Lombardi Trophy in four years.
Making its eighth Super Bowl appearance in 17 seasons behind the most successful coach-quarterback combination in NFL history, New England has won five championships in that span, including last season’s dramatic 34-28 overtime victory over Atlanta that featured the greatest comeback on the NFL’s grandest stage. “It’s just been an unbelievable run and I think everyone should be really proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said four-time Super Bowl MVP Brady, who is hoping star tight end Rob Gronkowski will be available. “I’m proud of our team. It’s been a great year and it would be really great if we can take care of business in the next game.” Top-seeded Philadelphia is on quite a run of its own, embracing its underdog status following a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Carson Wentz and rallying behind backup Nick Foles to stomp No. 2 seed Minnesota 38-7 and earn its first trip to the Super Bowl since that 24-21 loss to the Patriots. “We know what we’re faced against, we know the opponent we’re going against,” Eagles second-year coach Doug Pederson said. “Lot of respect for them obviously and what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished. It’s about what we do. How our players handle this week and eliminate distractions and eliminate the noise and how well they prepare and get themselves ready to go.”
TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Patriots -4.5. O/U: 48
ABOUT THE EAGLES (15-3): With Foles no longer looking like a weak link following a superb performance against Minnesota, in which he threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, Philadelphia presents a balanced offense the likes of which New England hasn’t faced since Week 15 at Pittsburgh. Foles has multiple weapons in wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, who combined for 10 catches and three touchdowns in the NFC title game, along with tight end Zach Ertz (11 receptions in both playoff games). Jay Ajayi has rushed for 127 yards in the two postseason games and is complemented by sledgehammer back LeGarrette Blount, who has 10 career playoff touchdowns and won a Super Bowl last season with the Patriots. Philadelphia’s defense ranked No. 1 against the run (79.2 yards per game) and also tied for fourth with 19 interceptions.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (15-3): Brady has been spectacular in the past two Super Bowl victories, rallying New England from 25 points down last season and erasing a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Seattle three years ago. The Patriots also had to come from 10 points down in the AFC Championship Game despite the absence of Gronkowski, who was limited in practice Wednesday and remains in the league’s concussion protocol. Danny Amendola caught a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes versus Jacksonville and has 18 receptions in the two playoff games while speedster Brandin Cooks has nine. Ex-Eagle Dion Lewis has carried the running game over the second half of the season but all three backs are threats in the passing game, particularly James White. New England’s defense looked vulnerable against Jacksonville but has 11 sacks in the postseason.
1. The Patriots are looking to join the Steelers as the only team with six Super Bowl championships.
2. Foles is the only QB to post a passer rating of at least 100 in his first three postseason games.
3. Gronkowski has 10 postseason touchdowns, including seven in his last seven playoff games.
If Brady can establish Gronkowski early, it will open up the running game, short “West Coast” style screens for the running backs and allow the NE wide-receivers some room with single coverage on Cooks, Amendola and Chris Hogan.
New England needs to control the ball, keep the Philly defense on the field, then let experience and history show in the fourth quarter.
Can Patriots Coach Bill Belichick devise his schemes to keep the ball away from former NE RB LaGarrete Blount and the newly acquired Jay Ajayi?
Will James Harrison and the pass rush on Foles be a major factor?
Can New England’s defense and secondary force Foles to turn the ball over, or fold under the pressure of a close game in the fourth quarter?
New England 24, Philadelphia 21 — Rob Gronkowski (MVP)
Rob Gronkowski (87)