When the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will enter the field for their Super Bowl meeting on Sunday, some core players on both sides will not be part of the action. The AFC champions and their NFC counterparts have dealt with major injuries throughout the course of the season and as a result are missing starters in all three phases of the game.
The biggest name on the list of injury-related inactives is probably Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. The second-year pro was in the middle of an MVP-discussion-caliber year when he tore his ACL in week 14 and was subsequently placed on season-ending injured reserve. His replacement, Nick Foles, has certainly been competent but there is little question he is a downgrade from Wentz.
The same has to be said about offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Like Foles, the 24-year old started the season as a backup before being elevated into a starting role: When Jason Peters tore his ACL in October, Vaitai had to fill in for the Eagles' long-time top option at left tackle. While it has not always been pretty, the second-year pro has steadily improved and is coming off his best game of the year.
Wentz and Peters are just two of Philadelphia's starters or top rotational players that saw their season end prematurely because of injury: Kicker Caleb Strugis and running back Darren Sproles were both lost for the year in September. Special teams ace Chris Maragos tore his ACL one month later. Also in October, the Eagles saw starting linebacker Jordan Hicks go down with an achilles injury.
Although Philadelphia suffered some devastating losses along the way, the team was able to make it to the Super Bowl. There, two days from now, the Eagles will face another team that has lost important players for the year because of injury.
The Patriots' first major injuries happened before the season even started: Defensive end Derek Rivers and cornerback Cyrus Jones both tore their ACLs. Furthermore, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and linebacker Shea McClellin were placed on injured reserve with an option to return. Despite being designated as a returnee, neither of the two was able come back to join the active roster.
Arguably the biggest preseason loss was Julian Edelman. New England's number one wideout tore his ACL during his team's third preseason game. With Edelman out for the year, the Patriots were forced to play without Tom Brady's go-to-guy. As a result, the team incorporated Danny Amendola more into the mix. While his style is a bit different than Edelman's, the 32-year old has had a terrific season thus far.
New England's losses continued to pile up during the season, with the biggest probably being defensive captain Dont'a Hightower. The veteran tore a pectoral muscle in early November and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. Hightower has been replaced as the defensive signal caller by Kyle Van Noy, with Van Noy and Marquis Flowers playing his role as jack-of-all-trades at the linebacker position.
Two weeks after Hightower was shut down, core special teamer Nate Ebner suffered an ACL-tear on a fake punt. Two weeks after that, the team placed starting right tackle Marcus Cannon on injured reserve with an ankle injury. All while other players like wide receiver Chris Hogan were nursing non-season-ending injuries.
Super Bowl LII will not only be a battle of the two best teams in the NFL, but also of the two that have been able to best adapt to injury losses. Hopefully, neither the Patriots nor the Eagles will have to adapt any further for the remainder of the season.