The "underdog" Eagles are one more victory away from claiming the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy
One month ago, critics felt the Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl hopes snapped right with Carson Wentz's ACL. But after an up-and-down finish with replacement Nick Foles (right), the quarterback caught fire during the playoffs.
Impressive performances against the Falcons and Vikings had the Eagles fighting back as an overlooked top seed. Labeled an underdog for two straight weeks, they proved doubters wrong and will need to do so a third time against the defending Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots.
After seeing Sunday night's performance, I wouldn't bet against them. Here are five reasons why these Eagles can topple the Belichick-Brady dynasty.
5 Reasons Why the Philadelphia Eagles Will Win Super Bowl LII
1. Nick Foles just had the game of his life
Foles has played in three career playoff games. He's now racked up QB ratings of 100-plus in all of them, throwing for five touchdowns and no interceptions. Guess who else has accomplished such a feat? Waiting... waiting... The answer is no one. Not Joe Montana. Not Troy Aikman. Not even the man named Tom Brady, who has five Super Bowl rings and four MVPs on his resume will be on the opposite sideline on Feb. 4.
Peaking when it matters, Sunday night was easily Foles' best postseason performance. He had four completions of 35 yards or more, making the Eagles forget about Wentz in Sunday night's rout of Minnesota. He threw for more than 300 yards for the first time in over three years, ending the night turnover free. Suddenly, a scheme that once looked too daunting for a backup has been reconstructed perfectly around his strengths.
Could Foles be running on borrowed time? Sure. But look at what the Patriots' defense allowed to much-maligned Jaguars starter Blake Bortles Sunday — 293 passing yards, a touchdown, no turnovers and a QB rating hovering around 100.
Outside of that game, Bortles has a career QB rating of around 80.8. Foles? He's at 87.4 and even made the Pro Bowl (2013). So don't count out another monster game against a Patriots defense whose "bend but not break" scheme nearly broke them.
2. The Eagles' defense causes turnovers
The pick-six of Case Keenum was the game-changer that ultimately tilted momentum in Philadelphia's direction for good. The Eagles' 31 takeaways during the regular season ranked fourth in the NFL, and their five defensive TDs trailed only Jacksonville for the league lead.
There's talent up and down the Eagles' 11-man front, from Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox to Sunday's hero Patrick Robinson in the secondary. There's experience, too, from former Patriots Super Bowl defensive end Chris Long and eight-year veteran Brandon Graham. Other than the first drive against the Vikings Sunday, no one flinched. Minneapolis miracle worker Keenum looked like a chump just seven days later.
Certainly, the high-powered Patriots offense could prove a tougher challenge. But the Eagles have the talent on this side of the ball to go punch for punch.
3. It's a true team effort on offense: no one person can bring them down
With the exception of maybe Foles, whose backup Nate Sudfeld hardly inspires confidence, the Eagles are a combination of quality offensive pieces. They're not built like the Patriots, who have struggled through short stretches without star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
This team had zero players with 1,000 rushing yards or receiving during the regular season. But their running game was feared through teamwork: LeGarrette Blount, midseason pickup Jay Ajayi, and young Corey Clement all shared the load. Any one of them is capable of a breakout performance in Super Bowl LII.
There also is a trio of 700-yard receivers, with Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor all making an impact. Sure, there may not be a legendary name in there, but there's such a variety of strong targets it's nearly impossible to stop them all.
It's strength in numbers that means someone will likely be positioned to have their moment to shine.
4. Rob Gronkowski might not even play
The Patriots' star tight end and easily the second-best player on the team got knocked out of the AFC Championship Game with a concussion. There's no telling how the protocol will go over the next two weeks but you have to think Gronk will do anything to get cleared.
However, the injury history of one of the NFL's most fragile stars is well-documented. Would anyone be surprised if Gronk suffered the poor luck of post-concussion syndrome? Or if the injury hampered his ability to be 100 percent? While the Pats made a gutsy comeback, surging back in the second half against the Jags they've also wilted in late-season losses without him. (See: Dolphins game in December).
5. The Eagles have nothing to lose — and they're playing like it
"We've been kicked to the curb since Carson got hurt," head coach Doug Pederson said in comments that were aired on FOX during the NFC Championship Game. Pederson has played up the underdog role with his team and they've bought it hook, line, and sinker.
No one expected this team to be here after Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending injury. Even better yet, they're positioned to be in the big game for years to come with their franchise quarterback on the mend. Reaching the Super Bowl this year with a young, growing team feels like an extra credit bonus.
That means the Eagles will be playing Super Bowl Sunday as a hungry team with little to lose. It sounds a lot like the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game and we know how close they came.
At some point, David will hit Goliath with a slingshot that knocks Brady and Belichick off the top of the mountain. Why can't that moment come with these Eagles?
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.
(Photos courtesy of www.philadelphiaeagles.com)