I feel good about the Eagles chances on Sunday, and that’s starting to bother me. I wrote last week about how Philadelphia sports fans feel much more comfortable in the role of underdogs, simply because they’re so used to it. And a Philly team is once again the underdog, as the New England Patriots, as of this moment, are favored by four points to beat the Eagles in Super Bowl 52.
And it’s not just the oddsmakers. A recent survey listed the picks of 25 media experts (their word, not mine) from respected outlets like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other major networks and publications, and every one of them – every one! – picked the Patriots. That includes ESPN’s Mike Golic, a former Eagles defensive tackle in the Buddy Ryan era.
So, that’s how the rest of the world sees it. That’s why it’s so amazing that so many people around here – and we’re talking about the most cynical people on the planet – are like me and are confident the Eagles will bring down the mighty Belichick-Brady machine. A lot of Eagles fans are even predicting, smugly, that the game won’t even be close, like the NFC Championship Game, when the underdog (of course) Eagles dominated the Minnesota Vikings 38-7.
Why are we so confident? Philly fans are pretty sharp, and they know their football and they’re not going to feel good about the home team just because it’s the home team. And I certainly didn’t sense this level of confidence the last time the Eagles met the Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2005, even though coach Andy Reid’s team had been real good for a long time.
I think the reason for that confidence among Eagles fans is because they’ve been around the Eagles for the entire ride to Minneapolis and they’ve seen the way this team has played all season and the way it’s reacted to adversity and the way it’s prepared for success. In short, they see what the rest of the world doesn’t, and everybody else is naturally going to predict the Patriots will do what they always do, which is win.
So, how do the Eagles beat the Patriots?
On offense, they have to do what they did against Minnesota. Everybody thought the Eagles would pound at the Vikings with their running game to protect quarterback Nick Foles. Instead, the Eagles let Foles throw on early downs, against base defenses, and that allowed him to get into a groove and gain confidence. Then they were able to open things up and pull away in the second half, and that allowed them to use the running attack to control the game in the fourth quarter. That formula will also work against the Patriots, whose defense isn’t as good as the Vikings’.
As for a key performer, Eagles coach Doug Pederson knows the Patriots will try and take away tight end Zach Ertz and their deep coverage will be focused on wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. And that’s why the Eagles need a big game from slot receiver Nelson Agholor, who has the ability to catch a short pass and turn it into a big gain.
On defense, it’s no secret the key to controlling the Patriots is to put pressure – and hits – on Tom Brady. And that pressure has to come up the middle. Brady isn’t the most mobile QB in the league, but he is a master of moving around in the pocket to buy time. However, he can’t step up if somebody is in his face and, at the same time, obstructing his view of his receivers. And, of course, the Eagles must contend with – and by that we mean double-team – tight end Rob Gronkowski and take their chances with the Patriots wideouts.
That means the Eagles need a dominating performance from defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan and safety Malcolm Jenkins, three veterans who are capable of elevating their games in the biggest game of their careers.
Of course, after all the analysis and comparisons and commentary are finished, Super Bowl 52 will probably be decided like most football games are – a big play and maybe even a fluke play will determine the champion. And, for the first time in the Super Bowl era, that will be the Eagles, who will finally parade down Broad Street after their 27-17 victory on Sunday night.