Super Bowl LII: Foles, Eagles in tough putting Patriots dynasty to bed
Philadelphia will rely on its backup QB to topple Brady, Belichick
No one will believe the New England Patriots are done ever again.
That's what their remarkable fourth-quarter/overtime comeback against Atlanta in Super Bowl LI a year ago made certain.
When the confetti landed, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had won more titles than any other quarterback or head coach in league history.
The effect of that victory still lingers. We saw it in the AFC Championship against Jacksonville. Brady faced third and 18, down 10 points in the fourth quarter, against a defence that had carried the Jaguars to the Foxborough.
But as Brady took the snap, the conversation wasn't about whether he would convert for a first down. It was about whether the Patriots were going to win in regulation or overtime.
They have nothing left to prove. Another Super Bowl win would just be padding the stats. They're a dynasty – perhaps the greatest of all time.
And the run to what seems an inevitable sixth Super Bowl win will have gone through Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles and Nick Foles. Hardly a quarterback Mount Rushmore.
Sometimes, you have to be lucky to be good.
Is Nick Foles good enough?
Foles could use some of that luck if he's going to prevent another Patriots coronation.
The Philadelphia Eagles QB stepped in for Carson Wentz in Week 14 after the MVP candidate tore an ACL. Foles, though, sputtered to the end of the regular season, to the point where the Eagles became the first No. 1 seed to be underdogs in the divisional playoff.
But Foles led them to victory over the Atlanta Falcons. He was just okay in that game, but that's all the Eagles needed considering their defence. Foles didn't lose a fumble, and he didn't throw an interception, and 15 points sufficed.
And then they had to face the Minnesota Vikings, fresh off their miracle win against the New Orleans Saints. In that game, Foles decided he was the best QB on Earth, throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns, with just seven incompletions in his 33 pass attempts.
Foles established he can be good. But can he be good enough?
Can the Eagles D withstand the force of Brady?
That's where the Eagles defence flies in, a unit that has allowed just 17 points in two playoff games. It gave up just six in the Eagles' regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, and 10 the week prior against Oakland.
In the regular season the Eagles allowed the fourth-fewest yards and fourth-fewest points per game. But there's a rub.
The two best quarterbacks they faced in the regular season were Seattle's Russell Wilson and the Rams' Jared Goff. The rest of their schedule was kind, to put it politely.
In the games against Wilson and Goff, the Eagles allowed 24 and 35 points, respectively. Brady, the league's leading passer, is better than both of them. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, expected to be available despite undergoing concussion protocol, is better than any receiver on the Seahawks or Rams.
Toward the end of the season, the Eagles pass defence was exposed for its aggressive man coverage, with opposing offences using rub routes and crossing patterns to beat the Eagles secondary. Belichick knows this, and will run his offence in a way the Falcons and Vikings couldn't.
Does experience matter?
If the Patriots can score in the mid-20s, a pretty safe bet, then Foles will need to lead at least four scoring drives.
It's a good thing he's playing the Patriots' defence, then, because it wasn't impressive in the regular season and hasn't stood out in the playoffs. It allowed the fourth-most yards per game, though it ranked fifth in points allowed per game. Foles will need to force this bend-but-don't-break defence to break.
Off the field, the Patriots hold the edge in experience. Brady alone has participated in as many Super Bowls (seven) as the entire Eagles roster. And three of the Eagles' appearances came with the Patriots (Chris Long in 2017, LeGarrette Blount in 2015 and 2017).
Though the Patriots have won five of seven Super Bowls they've appeared in, every one has been close. The biggest margin of victory was six points – and that was in last year's overtime. Every other time, the Patriots have either won or lost by three or four points, including a 24-21 win over the Eagles in 2005.
That should give the Eagles confidence to keep the game close. It should also give the Patriots confidence to win a close game.
Each argument for the Eagles requires something going right, or someone performing better than expected, be it a defensive touchdown or another ridiculous game from Foles.
The formula is much simpler for the Patriots. They just need to play to their strengths, and all things being equal, they should win.
Super Bowl LII boils down to whether Nick Foles can topple one of the NFL's greatest dynasties.
Here's betting he can't.