Philadelphia Eagles (15-3 SU, 12-6 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (15-3 SU, 12-6 ATS)
Super Bowl LII
Date/Time: Sunday February 4th, 6:30 PM EST
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: PHI +4.5 / NE -4.5
Over/Under Total: 48
Former Super Bowl foes will fight it out again for the Vince Lombardi when the Patriots and Eagles meet in Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII. They had previously met thirteen seasons ago in Super Bowl XXXIX, a game the Patriots went on to win 24-21. The score makes it seem a lot closer than it actually was, as New England had a ten-point lead late in the game and had little chance of losing as Philadelphias quarterback Donovan McNabb was literally throwing up on the field as the pressure got to him in the final quarter. A game which if gone on to overtime would apparently have been unchartered territory for the former Eagles quarterback as he admitted afterwards he didnt know what the rules were for an extended game.
The spread for The Big Game opened at 5.5, which was the largest starting line since 2009. The opening odds for the Super Bowl have seen a drop in recent years, with 0 of the last 8 games seeing a point spread greater than 6.5, which is a stark contrast to what happened between 1989-2009 when eighteen of the twenty-one games had a line of 6.5 or more.
Underdogs have certainly had the upper hand of late, going 7-2-1 against the spread over the past decade with the only teams to cover being Green Bay against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV and New England last year versus Atlanta (the lone push was when the Patriots and Seahawks matchup in XLIX closed as a pick em). Even more impressive is the fact that dogs have actually gone on to win outright in six of the last nine NFL season finales, with the upset list including; Giants vs Patriots twice, Saints vs. Colts, Ravens vs. 49ers, Seahawks vs Broncos, and Broncos vs. Panthers.
The Eagles were able to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl by throttling Minnesota in the NFC Championship game 34-7, a win that made Philly a perfect 2-0 all time in conference titles games not coached by Andy Reid after going 1-4 in such contests under the command of the mustachioed walrus. This years Super Bowl run has been especially important for the Eagles as they attempt to turn the page on what has been a difficult recent history in regards to their postseason performances as they had previously gone 12-18 in the last 30 playoff games since the 1980 season. Philly fans will be desperately hoping that their football team can end a massive championship run of inferiority by their beloved pigskin and hockey teams, as the Eagles (58) and Flyers (42) having gone a combined 100 years in a row without taking home a title. This has to hurt even more knowing that their interstate rival Pittsburgh has had an opposite experience, with the Steelers having won six championships and the Penguins five of their own in that same time span.
What makes the Eagles run to the Super Bowl that much more meaningful is that they have been managed to do so without star quarterback Carson Wentz, who was one of the three players considered a strong league-wide MVP candidate before being lost to the season in week 14 to an ACL injury. With Wentz hurt he was replaced at the position by Nick Foles, who had previously fared well in Philly back in 2013 when he put up career numbers including a 27/2 TD-INT ratio. An unfortunate performance against Oakland on Christmas had many souring on the chances of the Eagles being able to overcome the loss of Wentz, but Foles has stepped up his game especially in the postseason where has found significantly more success with down the field passing (threw two touchdowns of over 15 yards against the Vikings after not throwing any during the regular season) while also completing passes at a higher rate on third downs. Since escaping from the clutches of Jeff Fishers mustache in 2015, Foles has only lost one game as a starter, which came on the last week of the 2017 regular season when the Eagles had nothing to play for with their seed already clinched, and the now starter will also have a bit of a coaching advantage as he has never started against Patriots coach Bill Belichick in his career, which is certainty of a good sign considering the hooded ones historic success when going up against an opposing quarterback for a second time.
Foles has plenty of talent surrounding him on the offense, with receiving threats including Alshon Jeffrey, Nelson Agholor and tight end Zack Ertz, all of which each individually scored at least eight touchdowns while also catching no less than 57 passes for a minimum of 768 yards during the regular season. Ertzs season was especially prolific as he was able to get into the end zone eight times in 16 games this year after it took him 44 games previously to put up the same amount of touchdowns. Along with Jeffrey, their scoring success had a direct effect on that of the teams, with the Eagles 7-0 this season when Ertz scored while also having won their last eight games in a row when Alshon does.
Another benefit Foles has is playing behind an offensive line containing two players that both earned NFL 1st Team All Pro honors, right tackle Lane Johnson and center Jason Kelce. What makes their play even more impressive is the fact they lost star left tackle Jason Peters during the season to injury, and despite the additional pressure on the line with his unforeseen departure they were still able to play at an elite level and were a big part of the teams rushing attack ranking 3rd in the NFL in the yards per game. The team will most assuredly continue with their Jay Ajayi / LeGarrette Blount combination, with Ajayi a faster/better receiving threat and likely still elated to have escaped playing for the Dolphins, and the former Patriot Blount a bruising pack who has scored in both of their postseason games this season and in doing so become the seventh NFL player of all time to rush for ten touchdowns in the playoffs. Blount is now tied with Corey Clement for the team lead in rushing touchdowns on the season with four, though Clement appears to have been phased out of the teams game plan of late with just 19 carries of his past seven games.
The Eagles are not alone in having to strategize around missing key players, as the Patriots have run into similar issues throughout the year, including the losses for the season to stars Julien Edelman and Donta Hightower. New England fans are now holding their breath regarding their availability of star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was knocked out of their AFC Championship victory against the Jaguars with a concussion and was listed as questionable on the first injury report released by the team. The effect that having Gronk on the field cannot be understated, as the Patriots are 56-8 over his career when he gets into the end zone and a whopping 17-1 when he scores multiple touchdowns in a game.
Gronkowskis injury was nearly overshadowed by an upset loss in the AFC Championship game, but the Patriots were able to again overcome being down by double-digits in the 4th quarter of a playoff game and eventually put away the Jaguars 24-20 to gain entry into the Super Bowl. They were able to make their comeback under the on the field leadership of quarterback Tom Brady, but it was also the defense that finally managed to solve the unexpected Blake Bortles conundrum and were able to shutdown the Jacksonville quarterback in the games final frame by allowing zero third down conversions and holding Bortles to just 5 of 13 passing after he was able to complete 18 of 23 passes through the first three quarters. A lunging pass breakup by Stephon Gilmore on fourth down was essentially the game clinching play, and also helped overshadow a tough afternoon for multiple Patriots defensive backs (Patrick Chung, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe) who never seemed to find much consistency in being able to do anything to stop their opponents lackluster group of receivers.
The AFC clinching victory for the Patriots came on the 24th anniversary of Robert Krafts purchase of the team, and they have now made the playoffs 19 times since he arrived to save the team from moving to Connecticut, the lone state in New England that doesnt actually root for the Patriots and logically should be demoted out of the geographical grouping since most root for New York teams across most sports anyways. Ninety percent the of the teams Super Bowl appearance have been under Krafts watch, with their lone trip without him having been back in 1986 when they got mauled by the Bears 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. The win also extended New Englands record to 10-4 in conference championship games, including a 6-0 record when they are the top seed.
One of the biggest keys for the Patriots will be how Tom Brady and his offensive line contend with a Philadelphia defense that ranked in the top four in the league in total yards allowed per game, points allowed and rushing defense. The Eagles have ample talent throughout the defensive side of the ball, including sack leaders Brandon Graham, Chris Long and Fletcher Cox along with ball hawking defensive backs Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson, with the latter making the biggest play of the NFC Championship game when he intercepted a Case Keenum pass at midfield and returned it 50 yards for a pick six that swung momentum permanently in Phillys favor.
Brady and the rest of the team will have to deal again with a similar situation that they had back when the last played the Eagles in the Super Bowl, which is that both coordinators have one foot on the door with OC Josh McDaniels off to Indianapolis and DC Matt Patricia already lined up to take over in Detroit. They had little issue dealing with this the last time around, when Romeo Crennel was leaving to take over in Cleveland and Charlie Weis off to destroy multiple college football programs and an infinite amount of buffets in the process. This time though they seem to be having some hiccups, especially considering the unimaginative game plan that McDaniels devised against Jacksonville that saw the team flounder through first half with repeated plays that essentially took the ball out of Tom Bradys hands, whether it be clearly obvious runs on first downs or repeated poorly set up screen passes that didnt allow their quarterback to attempt to exploit the Jaguars anywhere past the line of scrimmage. It was no surprise that the Patriots first touchdown came on the last drive of the half when the team was running a no huddle offense and Brady directing the offense rather than having to deal with McDaniels predictability that the Jaguars were clearly expecting.
The Patriots and Eagles have plenty of similarities heading into Super Bowl LII, including posting the exact same record both straight up (15-3) and against the spread (12-6), having offenses and defenses that rank in the top ten in scoring while also ending their respective seasons with the exact same point differential total of 162. One area though that I think will give the Patriots a true upper hand is experience, of which they have plenty when it comes to championship games, with an easy example the fact that quarterback Tom Brady will now have started in 15% of all Super Bowls (8 of 52) and Bill Belichick having coached in 21% of them (11 total). The difference between the quarterbacks alone is near monumental, as Brady has started 36 postseason games in his career compared to Eagles quarterback Nick Foles having just started 42 games TOTAL in his. I do expect the Eagles to keep it close for a while with their defensive prowess, but at games end you can expect the Patriots to get the win and cover in Super Bowl LII and further cement their legacy as one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.
Mike Ms Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -4.5 - Bet this game for FREE by taking advantage of a 50% bonus up to $250 at one of the web’s oldest and most trusted betting sites: BOVADA