Once again the Patriots will embark on a quest to win three Super Bowls in the span of four seasons. They last accomplished the feat thirteen years ago when they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX. In the Patriots’ second run of three out of four, the Eagles are the Patriots final obstacle towards achieving that goal. The Patriots will need to bring their A game in order to beat the Eagles.
- Patriots need to avoid falling behind multiple scores: Even though Brady is a veteran at the amazing Super Bowl comebacks, the Eagles are the most difficult opponent to try to mount a big time comeback against. The Patriots will face an uphill battle againt a very good defensive front, especially on the offense’s right with DT Fletcher Cox and ED Brandon Graham. This could be another Brady 50+ pass game, although I’d prefer passes because of the game plan over passing to get back into the game.
- Run to the left with success: As I mentioned earlier, the Eagles DL will be tough to run against to the right if Cox and Graham play their normal spots. Also, their best run blocker is LT Nate Solder and their best puller is RG Shaq Mason so they’ll naturally want to run to their left. It’s important for the Patriots to establish some form of a run game even though I see this as a Brady throws 50+ type game, the threat of a run game should open up play-action into the intermediate areas of the field behind the linebackers for TE Rob Gronkowski and slot receiver Danny Amendola.
- 80 Needs a Vintage 80 Performance: It’s the playoffs which means a slot receiver wearing #80 is expected to have a monster performance. Amendola has been a monster this postseason with 18 catches for 194 yards and 2 TD. His 4th quarter performance against the Jaguars two weeks ago was legendary, and against the Eagles he will need to do more of the same. In the Patriots’ last two Super Bowls, Amendola played a key role in the comeback, scoring in the 4th quarter of each game. Brady will most likely look for Amendola on critical downs, so if he has a big day it bodes well for the Patriots offense.
- Protect the G.O.A.T.: If Brady has time to scan the field, he will find someone open. Brady is no stranger to big comebacks with comebacks from down 10 and 25 in his last two Super Bowl victories. The Eagles front is very good at getting to the QB, so the Patriots offensive line needs to continue to provide good pass protection, especially on the interior. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles tried to isolate Joe Thuney and/or David Andrews in a 1-on-1 situation to create pressure up the middle.
- Win situational downs: Red Zone and 3rd Downs will be absolutely critical for the Patriots on both sides of the ball. I’m expecting a 1-score game where a stop could determine the outcome. The Patriots offense is a well-oiled machine and their defense is more situational than they are good overall. The Eagles should be able to move the ball against the Patriots defense, although they’re going to likely try to force Nick Foles to have to beat them on 10+ play drives against tight man-to-man coverage. The 4-point plays (Red Zone 3rd Downs) will be ultimately where I think the game gets decided.
- Coaching Staff must stay sharp: We’ve watched other teams fail in crunch time when playing the Patriots in big games. The Eagles coaching staff has shown no signs of that happening this year, which makes them a formidable opponent. Bill Belichick always ensures that his coaching staff is well-prepared going into these games. I expect the Eagles to try to throw wrinkles into their game plan after the Patriots have 18 games of film to look at to find tendencies to exploit, and vice versa for the Eagles on the Patriots. As I’m expecting a 1-score game, adjustments will be absolutely critical for the Patriots in case the Eagles do throw out something they haven’t seen before. This area is where the Patriots experience from last year’s Super Bowl gives them a slight advantage over the Eagles’ coaching staff.
- The pass rush must disrupt Nick Foles: I’ve watched Foles in college and if he gets into an early rhythm, he can be a very tough customer for the Patriots. At the same time, when Foles isn’t able to get into that rhythm early, that can create some opportunities for the defense to take the ball away. It comes down to the Patriots being able to disrupt Foles in the pocket. Foles isn’t exceptionally mobile or good at extending plays, so attacking the spot is the primary concern for the pass rush. We may see some Flowers at 0-tech and blitzes up the middle to move Foles off the spot in the pocket. Other players like Deatrich Wise and James Harrison will be critical in generating pressure off the edge as well.
Score Prediction: Patriots 28, Eagles 25. I expect a back-and-forth battle between the two best teams in the NFL. The Patriots should have opportunities to move the ball against the Eagles secondary, as I see this turning into a Brady throws it 50+ times type of game. Defensively, I think the Patriots will be able to force enough Red Zone stops on the Eagles to narrowly escape with a win. My prediction for Super Bowl MVP is Tom Brady gets his 5th, but I’m really hoping Dion Lewis (revenge game) or Rob Gronkowski (good publicity for my alma mater’s football program) gets it.