A year ago this weekend, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in the National Football League led the most impressive comeback in Super Bowl history, overcoming a 28-3 deficit in just seventeen minutes to secure the unlikeliest of his five Super Bowl rings. Now, a year later, Tom Brady finds himself in a familiar position: playing in his eighth career Super Bowl. Facing off against resurgent backup quarterback Nick Foles, this game seems like it should be New England’s to lose.
It won’t be.
The Philadelphia Eagles will finally hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
The 2017 season was marred with discord within the New England organization, as head coach Bill Belichick repeatedly butted heads with Brady and franchise owner Robert Kraft over the future of the team. The unrest among the three Foxborough powerhouses led to the trades of backup quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts and Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers. Kraft put his full faith in Brady to be the face of the franchise moving forward, and in doing so, left the team without its quarterback of the future.
As the 2017 regular season began, the defending-champion Patriots were in a remarkable position: oddsmakers favored them to win every game of the regular season, a feat they last achieved in their 2007 season, which culminated in a loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. A perfect 2017 season wasn’t to be, however, as the Patriots lost at home to the Kansas City Chiefs in a season-opening upset by a score of 42-27. Following a mediocre 2-2 start to the season, it seemed as if the Patriots’ dynasty might be nearing its close.
Brady entered the league’s most valuable player conversation, however, leading the team to a roaring 11-1 finish over its last twelve regular season games. He took his game to another level as the playoffs began, as the Patriots beat up on the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the postseason, picking apart Tennessee’s defense to the tune of a 35-14 victory in Foxborough. The following weekend, Brady led a remarkable fourth-quarter comeback against the Jacksonville Jaguars, securing his eighth AFC championship with a 24-20 come-from-behind win at home.
Now, the Patriots will travel to another of the NFL’s cold-weather stadiums in Minnesota, where they’ll be greeted by the underdog Eagles.
The Eagles have had a rather surprising run to the Super Bowl after a mediocre 7-9 performance in 2016, as second-year quarterback Carson Wentz etched his name among the NFL’s elite QBs with an 11-2 record over 13 games as the team’s starter before being forced to the team’s injured reserve list with a torn ACL, ending his season. Wentz threw 33 touchdowns (an Eagles franchise record) over 13 games in 2017 before yielding to Nick Foles in the third quarter of Philadelphia’s Week 14 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.
Foles took the team and ran, starting with the fourth quarter of that same game in Los Angeles, in which he led the team to a twelve-point quarter that proved to be decisive in the 43-35 victory. The Eagles would finish the regular season with an identical record to that of the Patriots, 13-3. Foles carried the Eagles over the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in Philadelphia in the divisional round, 15-10, then put on a clinic against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game a week later, taking down the Super Bowl host-hopefuls 38-7. Both games, due to Foles’ presence under center, were considered upset victories for the top-seeded Eagles as they secured their first Super Bowl berth since 2004.
We will not see a repeat of Super Bowl XXXIX, in which the Patriots eked out a 24-21 victory over the Eagles in Jacksonville. While injury-prone tight end Rob Gronkowski says he is ‘ready to roll’ for Super Bowl LII, he is recovering from a concussion suffered in the AFC Championship Game. While the Patriots’ biggest offensive weapon should be ready to go on Sunday, it’ll be interesting to watch how Belichick and Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels handle the Gronkowski situation. Foles might not be the elite quarterback Wentz is, and certainly doesn’t have the pedigree of Brady, but his knowledge of the game, offensive weaponry, and continuous status as an underdog will give him the upper hand against the Patriots.
The X-factor in this game will undoubtedly be running back LeGarrette Blount. After winning a pair of Super Bowls with New England after the 2014 and 2016 seasons, Blount jumped ship to the Eagles last offseason, and put up a stellar season in which he averaged his highest yards-per-carry since 2013. The 6’0”, 250-pound RB has the capability to come up huge for his team and a championship pedigree, and head coach Doug Pederson will be wise to use this back early and often to give his team the edge against Matt Patricia’s defense.
After being considered the little guy against Atlanta and Minnesota the last two rounds, Philadelphia should take pride in its underdog status against New England when the two teams descend upon U.S. Bank Stadium this Sunday.
While this game will remain close as Justin Timberlake takes the stage for this year’s halftime show performance, the Eagles will gain the upper hand in the second half and ultimately hand Brady his first Super Bowl loss by more than one possession. Here’s to the underdogs of the world.
Prediction: 31-20, Philadelphia over New England