PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (13-3)
at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-3)
US Bank Stadium – Minneapolis, MN
Kickoff: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET
Line: New England -5.5, Total: 48
It's Tom Brady's eighth Super Bowl and Nick Foles' first.
In February 2009, the Arizona Cardinals were seven-point underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. Nine years later, the Philadelphia Eagles are the largest Super Bowl underdogs as they head to Minneapolis to face the 5.5-point-favorite New England Patriots on Sunday, February 4. The Eagles were also underdogs in the two home playoff games they won to get to this point, as few believed Philly could get this far after star QB Carson Wentz went down with an injury near the end of the regular season. And yet here they are, thanks to a grit-and-grind 15-10 win over Atlanta in the Divisional Round and a 38-7 teardown of the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots faced a much easier road to get to US Bank Stadium, at least on paper. They wiped away Tennessee 35-14 in the Divisional Round before squeaking by Jacksonville 24-20 thanks to a fourth quarter comeback in the AFC Championship Game. Bill Belichick and company will be playing for their second straight Super Bowl title and their third in four years, mirroring the early days of their dynasty in New England. The Eagles, who have never won the Super Bowl, are playing in their first Big Game since losing to the Patriots 24-21 in 2005's Super Bowl XXXIX. Since 1983, games involving a team averaging 27-plus points per game that has allowed no more than 14 points in two straight games (PHI) are 69-36 Over against totals between 42.5 and 49. Over the last two seasons, New England is 11-1 ATS against teams averaging at least 5.65 yards per play (PHI). Over the last five seasons, the Patriots are 9-4 ATS in playoff games. The biggest injury question entering the game is the status of Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, who left the AFC Championship Game after appearing to suffer a concussion late in the first half.
If the Nick Foles who shows up for the Super Bowl is the same Nick Foles who dismantled Minnesota at Lincoln Financial in the conference championship, it is perhaps Philadelphia who should be favored by five-and-a-half points. The backup was nearly flawless throwing the ball, completing 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards and three interceptions. He looked great doing it, too, stepping up into and around the pocket as he waited for his receivers to find gaps in a formidable Vikings defense. That version of Foles appeared completely out of nowhere, however, and it's impossible to know if that's what we'll see against the Patriots. More often this season, he's looked exactly like what he is: a backup. But the Patriots have let some mediocre QBs—most recently Blake Bortles—have strong games against them this season, so if Foles can play with that same confidence he could potentially dominate once again. Wentz made touchdown machines out of WR Nelson Agholor, WR Alshon Jeffery and TE Zach Ertz this season, and Foles let them shine again against Minnesota. WR Torrey Smith got in on the action too, catching a beautiful ball in the corner of the end zone for a 41-yard score in the third quarter. It's a group that could make plenty of headway against the New England secondary. The backfield situation in Philadelphia is a little less reliable. RB LeGarrette Blount, who was with the Patriots for each of their last two Super Bowl victories, is the goal line back and had an 11-yard TD run in the NFC title game. RB Jay Ajayi, who was acquired midseason, is the lead back, although he's yet to hit 80 rushing yards in a game with the Eagles.
Never count out Touchdown Tom, no matter how great the odds. Leading a fourth-quarter comeback from 10 down with an injured thumb against a ravenous Jaguars defense, and doing so without Gronk (not to mention Julian Edelman), Brady looked untouchable in the final act of the AFC Championship Game. He finished the game 26-of-38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns, with all the meaningful damage coming in the fourth quarter. It helped that the two guys who needed to step up most—WRs Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola—absolutely did. After a 112-yard game in the divisional round, Amendola made a series of spectacular catches, including both of Brady's touchdowns, to keep the Pats' hopes alive and carry them to the win. Acquired in the offseason to be a No. 1 outside receiver, Cooks was just that against the Jags, putting up 100 receiving yards and drawing a critical (if questionable) pass interference penalty that let the Patriots score a touchdown at the end of the first half. WR Chris Hogan has been quiet since returning against Tennessee from a fairly serious shoulder injury, but he had 332 yards in the postseason across the Patriots' three playoff games last year and could be an x-factor in the Super Bowl. Gronkowski's availability for the game is of the utmost importance, given that he's one of the toughest receivers to cover in the history of the league. The fact that Brady has been able to win so many big games without him—including last year's Super Bowl–goes a little underappreciated (inasmuch as anything about Tom Brady can be underappreciated). It's anyone's guess how the Patriots will use the backfield trio of RBs Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead, but expect them all to see action. Lewis has had a fantastic season, and Belichick gave him key touches even after he let go of a crucial fumble against Jacksonville. White had an all-time-great Super Bowl performance against Atlanta last season, and Burkhead is the preferred short-distance back if he's fully healthy.