Led by head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the New England Patriots have already won three Super Bowls in four years once, capping the feat with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. They can do it again on Sunday with a win — over the Eagles, again — in Super Bowl LII.
If they already aren’t considered the best ever at what they do, Belichick and Brady can make another convincing argument if they win three out of four titles for a second time when literally everything else has changed. The first time around, the Patriots were considered a bunch of overachievers carried by Belichick’s defensive genius. Brady was just along for the ride, never having thrown for 4,000 yards in any season and averaging 13 interceptions per year.
Now Brady is the biggest star in the game, and Belichick’s defense just has to slow down opponents enough for him to work his magic. In 12 full seasons since 2004, Brady has thrown for 4,000 yards nine times and averaged 32 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions. He’s been dominating for so long that a guy who caught one of his touchdown passes against the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, Mike Vrabel, was just named head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
But the Eagles are capable of stopping New England from making history. While the quarterback comparison is a mismatch — Nick Foles took over for the Eagles only in December when Carson Wentz was injured — the Patriots scored only one more point during the regular season, while the Eagles allowed one fewer. Both teams got here with one blowout and one nail-biting victory in the playoffs. This will not be a easy run to history for New England.
Super Bowl LII: Philadelphia vs. New England
Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Patriots -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The red zone rules
OK, so it’s always important to score when you have the chance and to stop the other team from scoring when they get close. Why would it be any more important in this game? Because these teams do not allow many points. The Eagles ranked fourth in scoring defense during the regular season, while the Patriots ranked fifth. In fact, despite ranking 29th in yards allowed, New England actually allowed one fewer touchdown than Philadelphia, which ranked fourth in yards allowed.
This is especially important for the Eagles. New England has allowed only one touchdown of more than 20 yards since October and finished eighth in opponent Red Zone TD percentage (48.1 percent) — three spots better than Philadelphia. So the Eagles can’t count on hitting three long touchdown passes like they did in the NFC title game. If this game goes more like their Divisional Playoff game against the Falcons — when they settled for field goals three times and had to survive four late Atlanta shots at the end zone from inside the 10 — the result may not go the Eagles’ way. Field goals will not beat Tom Brady.
2. Will Gronk be himself?
Rob Gronkowski is nearly unstoppable when he is on the field, but the Patriots tight end was last seen escorted off of it with a concussion during the AFC title game. While he wasn’t at Super Bowl “Opening Night” on Monday because he technically still hadn’t been cleared of the league’s concussion protocol, he reportedly practiced over the weekend and was his usual gregarious self at a rally before the team left for Minnesota. As dominant as he can be, Gronkowski’s physical style of play exposes him to injury at times, and he has played in only 12 of a possible 18 postseason games since joining the Patriots.
As New England proved in the AFC title game after Gronkowski left, it is capable of moving the ball and even coming from behind without him. But if he is himself and avoids getting knocked out again — always a concern for players coming back from a concussion — Gronk becomes the Eagles’ biggest concern.
3. Experience matters
New England has 32 players with Super Bowl experience, including 31 who played in the game just last season against Atlanta. The Eagles have seven. The Patriots, following the lead of their head coach, go out of their way to say experience doesn’t matter in games, that execution is all that matters. And while the second half of that statement is indisputable, it’s hard to believe having been through the whole Super Bowl buildup and unique game day atmosphere doesn’t bring with it some edge over someone happy to be there for the first time. Given that this is the third Super Bowl in four years for many Patriots, one would think nothing would surprise them. Even Brady, always willing to repeat the company line, has admitted to feeling more comfortable with the rhythm of a Super Bowl day and not getting too hyped early and crashing during the unusually long halftime.
There’s also just the overall experience factor, never mind the Super Bowl. Brady has started 36 postseason games to Foles’ three; Belichick has coached 38 postseason games to Doug Pederson’s two. That experience showed up two weeks ago when the playoff neophytes from Jacksonville didn’t exactly put on a clock management clinic in coughing up a 20–10 fourth-quarter lead to New England.
It’s easy to dismiss the idea of a backup quarterback beating Tom Brady in a Super Bowl. But a good case can be made that these were the league’s two best teams all season, and Nick Foles (right) has done a pretty good Carson Wentz imitation in the postseason.
In seven Super Bowls under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have one win by more than four points — and even that was on an overtime touchdown. This will not be a cakewalk for the Patriots.
Athlon Editors' Super Bowl LII Predictions
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