Super Bowl LII Preview | Sunday 4th February 2018

NFL boffin Tom Selwyn analyses Sunday night’s Super Bowl between Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots.

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots | Sunday 4th February 2018, 23:30 | Sky Sports

So, after 20 weeks of games and 32 teams being whittled down to just two, it’s time for the Super Bowl LII between the Eagles and the Patriots!

It’s being billed as ‘David vs. Goliath’ due to the gulf in post-season experience and the handicap of -4.5 for New England reflects that, but I really don’t see it that way.

Sure, Patriots QB Tom Brady and Eagles QB Nick Foles are solar systems apart in both experience and ability, but Philadelphia’s defence should be the equaliser here – they have the DL to really cause New England some problems, as they proved last week against Minnesota by forcing a bad throw that they returned for a TD, a key strip-sack with the Vikings in scoring position and generally harassing QB Case Keenum all game.

They are led by Fletcher Cox who rightly gets a lot of the media coverage, but there are multiple contributors across the line. Players like Chris Long, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham are all excellent and the Eagles have seven players along the DL with more than 20 pressures of the QB this season – a crazy number.

This allows them to rotate often and keep people fresh. Given how the Patriots generally wear teams down by the fourth quarter, this rotation should play a huge part late on.

They’ll have to keep the pressure on throughout the game as I don’t like the match-up of New England’s bevy of RBs against Philadelphia’s LBs in pass coverage. Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead are all excellent in space and I don’t think the LBs of the Eagles have faced the type of challenge they’ll present on Sunday. It will be a key matchup to watch.

In fact, even though he’ll be going against a very good Eagles defence (fourth in the league) if Brady is kept relatively clean I think he could pick apart Philadelphia’s secondary. It’s not that they’re 17th against the pass as I think this is down to teams giving up trying to run the ball on them, but just because it’s what Brady does.

Last week he had a stat line of 290 yards and two TDs against the best pass defence the league has to offer, doing that without All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski for over half the game to boot.

There really isn’t much more to say about Brady at this point and, despite the Patriots being typically slow-starters in Super Bowls (incredibly, they’ve not scored in the first quarter in the Brady era), I’d be stunned if he had a bad game.

Foles, on the other hand, is still very much an unknown to me at this point. This season he has fluctuated from very bad (vs. Raiders, vs. Falcons) to excellent (@ Giants, vs. Vikings) and it’s tough to know what you’re going to get from him.

I think it will come down to how well the Patriots defence is able to make him uncomfortable. I expect Philadelphia’s coaching staff to have some easy throws to get him in rhythm early, but I’m confident New England will adjust to this (as they are known to do) and at some point I think he’ll have to make a couple of big-time throws.

Of course he’ll have to do this against an underappreciated Patriots defence that since week five onwards has been one of the better units in the league, giving up under 15 points a game. They’re still tending to give up a lot of yards, but don’t allow teams to get in the end zone and over the last two Super Bowls have had a penchant for coming up with big plays that swing the game.

They won’t have LB Dont’a Hightower this year, but they still have players like CB Malcolm Butler of Super Bowl XLIX fame and DE Trey Flowers who made key plays in last year’s game and has being playing brilliantly the last two weeks (more on him later).

A quick note on the ‘run / pass option’ has been talked about at length since Philadelphia’s game against Minnesota; it is true that New England will have to be ready for it and I think their physical CBs Stephon Gilmore and Butler will have a good chance at defending it well.

In terms of overall roster I think the Eagles are better, but at the most important position in the game – QB – the Patriots have a distinct advantage. I think it will be a close game and although New England are rightly favourites, if Philadelphia can pressure Brady for a full 60 minutes (not 45, Atlanta) then they’ll definitely have a chance.

Here’s hoping for a game as good as last year’s!

Player to Watch – Philadelphia

Nelson Agholor – WR: Agholor should be lined up against New England’s third CB (normally Eric Rowe) and I think Philadelphia will look to get him involved early, staying away from Butler and especially Gilmore.

Player to Watch – New England

Trey Flowers – DE: I mentioned him earlier, but Flowers really has been excellent in two playoff games this year. He’s had a sack, five QB hits, six hurries and has played very well against the run too. If he can keep this up, the limited mobility of Foles should show up.