Compelling arguments can already be made that Tom Brady is the greatest player in NFL history, and Bill Belichick is the greatest coach. A sixth Super Bowl championship will only strengthen and solidify those sentiments.
That’s what’s at stake for the New England Patriots – securing their place in history.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s about making history. It’s about becoming the first team to win a Super Bowl title for an organization that has seen more heartbreak than joy over the years.
Those are the storylines, at least between the lines. There’ll be plenty of talk about commercials and Justin Timberlake and Pink and whatever else might happen during the big game.
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For the game, though, look no further than the Star-Telegram. Here’s an in-depth look at the two teams and how they stack up going into Super Bowl LII.
New England: Tom Brady has become an ageless wonder. At 40, Brady shows no signs of slowing down. He threw for 4,577 yards, completing 66.3 percent of his passes with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Brady has been more impressive in the postseason, throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions in victories over the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. Brady is on the cusp of history, going for a remarkable sixth Super Bowl title.
Philadelphia: Give Nick Foles, the pride of Austin Westlake, credit. Few expected the Eagles to make a Super Bowl run after Carson Wentz went down in Week 14, but Foles has proven capable of leading the Eagles’ offense. And he’s shown a knack for the big stage, posting a 100.1 passer rating against the Falcons in the divisional round and a 141.4 mark against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship. Foles has taken care of the ball and that’ll be key once again Sunday.
Edge: New England. How can you bet against Brady? Plus, isn’t Foles due for a letdown at some point?
New England: With Brady, the Patriots are more known for their passing game, but the rushing attack gets the job done. Dion Lewis is the lead back and averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored six times on the ground during the regular season. He’s a threat to catch it out of the backfield, too, scoring three receiving touchdowns. James White is the team’s short-yardage option.
Philadelphia: Frisco Liberty’s Jay Ajayi has proven worth the fourth-round pick the Eagles gave up to acquire him mid-season. Ajayi provides the Eagles a home-run threat and has played particularly well in the postseason. Former Patriot back LeGarrette Blount has shined, too, scoring a rushing touchdown in each game. The Eagles had the third-best rushing attack in the NFL during the regular-season.
Edge: Philadelphia. The Eagles had the third-best rushing attack in the NFL during the regular-season, averaging 132.2 yards on the ground.
New England: The Patriots had the second-best passing attack in the league. Tight end Rob Gronkowski (1,084) and wide receiver Brandin Cooks (1,082) each topped the 1,000-yard mark. But Danny Amendola has been the star of the playoffs so far, topping the 100-yard mark in the divisional round and scoring twice in the AFC Championship game. Gronkowski is expected to play in the Super Bowl despite exiting the championship game with a concussion.
Philadelphia: Tight end Zach Ertz led the Eagles in receiving with 824 yards on 74 receptions, and veteran receiver Alshon Jeffery had a team-leading nine touchdown receptions. Jeffery scored twice in the NFC Championship game, while Ertz led the team with 93 receiving yards. But the Eagles like to spread the ball around as Foles found eight different receivers in the divisional round and seven in the championship game.
Edge: New England. Gronkowski and Cooks are among the top play-makers in the game, and Brady has other solid fallback options such as Amendola and Chris Hogan.
New England: The Patriots had the top-ranked total offense in the league. That doesn’t happen if the blocking in the run game or passing game is subpar. Nate Solder isn’t regarded as one of the top left tackles in the game, but he’s a proven veteran. The interior guys – center David Andrews and guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney – have played together multiple seasons too. The biggest question mark is right tackle Cameron Fleming, a third-stringer who will have to contain a top rusher in the Eagles’ Brandon Graham.
Philadelphia: The Eagles lost one of the best left tackles in the game, Jason Peters, but Haltom High and TCU product Halapoulivaati Vaitai has filled in nicely. Outside of that, the Eagles have one of the top lines in the league. Center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson earned first-team All-Pro honors. Right guard Brandon Brooks earned a Pro Bowl nod, too, and left guard Stefen Wisniewski is a veteran who has started 94 games in the league.
Edge: Philadelphia. The Eagles boast some of the top linemen in the game, something the Patriots can’t say.
New England: The Patriots don’t have any household names among their defensive line. Defensive end Trey Flowers led the team with 6.5 sacks, although they found ways to put pressure on the quarterback by ranking seventh with 42 sacks. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy ranked second with 5.5 sacks. The run defense left much to be desired, ranking 20th in the league. But the playoffs have been a positive. They limited Jaguars’ rookie sensation Leonard Fournette to 76 rushing yards in the AFC Championship, and reserve defensive tackle Adam Butler has a sack in each game.
Philadelphia: The Eagles had the top-ranked run defense in the league last season, and have standouts throughout. Fletcher Cox is regarded as one of the top defensive tackles in the game, and will be a disruptive force inside. Brandon Graham had a team-leading 9.5 sacks, and Chris Long and Derek Barnett are guys who can also get home off the edge. The defense is playing well in the playoffs, too, as the Falcons and Vikings struggled to establish their running games.
Edge: Philadelphia. Fletcher Cox is a beast inside, and the Eagles have a stable of more proven pass rushers than the Patriots.
New England: The Patriots struggled containing passing attacks throughout the season. They ranked 30th in the league in pass defense, allowing 251.2 yards per game through the air. They also didn’t show much ball-hawking skills, tying for 18th with just 12 interceptions. The Patriots don’t have an interception this postseason, but nobody can forget this is an organization known for no-namers making a name in the big game. Cornerback Malcolm Butler did that in Super Bowl XLIX with a game-sealing, goal-line interception against Seattle.
Philadelphia: Safety Malcolm Jenkins is one of the top safeties in the game, and cornerback Patrick Robinson had one of the best seasons of his career at age 30. Robinson had a pick-6 in the NFC Championship game. This is a unit that seems to make plays at the right time. They didn’t have the best year statistically speaking – ranking 17th in pass defense (227.3 yards per game) – but tied for fourth in the league with 19 interceptions. They’ll need to be on their ‘A’ game against Brady.
Edge: Philadelphia. Neither secondary is elite, but the Eagles have been prone to make more plays than the Patriots throughout the season.
New England: Stephen Gostkowski is one of the top kickers in the league and had a good season in 2017, connecting on 92.5 percent of his field goals (including four of four from 50-plus yards). Punter Ryan Allen is solid, averaging 43.5 yards a punt with no blocks. Dion Lewis is a solid kickoff return man, taking one back earlier this season against Denver, and Danny Amendola is a sure-handed guy handling punts. The coverage units are above-average, too.
Philadelphia: Rookie kicker Jake Elliott had an OK season, connecting on 83.9 percent (26-of-31) of his field goals. Punter Donnie Jones is solid, averaging 45.3 yards a punt, although he did have one blocked this season. Kenjon Barner is the primary returner, averaging 8.9 yards on punt returns and 19.4 yards on kick returns. The coverage units were solid this season, too, not allowing a touchdown return.
Edge: New England. The Patriots have the more veteran kicker in Gostkowski and are a little more dangerous in the return game.
New England: Bill Belichick is making a case as being arguably the greatest coach in football history. He has won five Super Bowl titles and is 278-128 in 406 NFL games coached. You don’t want to give the man known as “The Hoodie” an extra week to prepare, either.
Oh, and his assistants are considered among the brightest minds in the game today. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is expected to fill the Indianapolis head coaching vacancy, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is set to become the head coach in Detroit.
Philadelphia: Doug Pederson has turned the Eagles into a contender in two seasons, and appears to have what it takes to succeed in the league. Philadelphia has been hit with just as many injuries as any other team, but Pederson has managed to find a way to keep the Eagles afloat at every setback.
His assistants are highly-regarded too. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the game and the Eagles had the fourth-best defense in the league in 2017. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is well-respected, too, getting his first NFL coaching opportunity under Hall of Famer Tony Dungy in 2008.
Edge: New England. How can bet against Belichick? Pederson has the makings of being a successful coach, but he’s got to knock off the best before anyone ranks him ahead.
New England: The Patriots are known for delivering in clutch situations. This is a team that never seems out of it no matter how big the deficit. They overcame a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Jaguars in the AFC Championship. Amazingly, the Patriots don’t rely on takeaways to get it done. In fact, they had just 18 in the regular season and have none so far in the playoffs. But the offense has been solid on third down, converting 40.6 percent in the regular season and 48.3 percent in the playoffs.
Philadelphia: There weren’t many better teams at forcing takeaways than the Eagles. They ranked fourth in the league with 31 (19 interceptions, 12 fumbles). There also weren’t many better defenses on third-down as they ranked third in the league with opponents converting just 32.2 percent (66 of 205) of the time. The Eagles have kept it up in the playoffs, too. The Falcons and Vikings combined to convert just 10 of 26 third downs in the playoffs. Offensively, the Eagles were solid on third downs, converting 41.7 percent of the time in the regular season and a stunning 59.3 percent in the playoffs.
Edge: Philadelphia. On paper, the Eagles should win the turnover battle against the Patriots. If they do that, they’ll be in position to pull off the upset.
Final prediction: New England 26, Philadelphia 24. The Eagles make it entertaining, but it comes down to quarterback play. Tom Brady over Nick Foles any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.
Super Bowl LII
New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles
When: Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
Live stream: fuboTV
Odds (opening line): Patriots -6; over/under 47