Super Bowl LII preview: The Patriots and Eagles will meet in a matchup of dynasty vs. dark horse
The connections run rampant — 15 years ago the New England Patriots faced off against the Philadelphia Eagles to decide who would be the champion of the National Football League. The location? EverBank Field, home of the Patriots’ opponent in the American Football Conference Champion game, the Jacksonville Jaguars. This year’s Super Bowl is hosted by the Minnesota Vikings who the Eagles beat in the title game. For two of the Northeast’s most storied franchises, a chance at validation. The Eagles have the most regular season wins without a Super Bowl title of any NFL team. This rabid fanbase has been starved of a title, and the most unlikely of situations has led to a glimpse at salvation. Quarterback Carson Wentz, the long awaited savior of Philadelphia football, ran roughshod over the rest of the NFL until a torn ACL in week 13 sent his season, and the collective hopes of Philadelphia, crashing down. Enter backup quarterback Nick Foles, the pro bowl and single game passing touchdown record holder was thrust into leading this team and a city. After his fantastic 2013 season in Philadelphia, Foles’ career had hit a standstill and he was later traded. Two weeks after Foles reascended to the starting role, a disastrous performance against the Dallas Cowboys ensued, culminating in Foles’ benching. Even with the one seed in tow, hope had run out before the divisional round game against last year’s runner up, the Atlanta Falcons. In a defensive battle, Foles played turnover free football and led the Eagles to a berth in the National Football Conference title game. On Sunday evening, the only obstacle standing in the Eagles’ way of a long awaited Super Bowl appearance was the Minnesota Vikings, who had overcome their own quarterback injury nightmare in the semifinals. Experts’ predictions of a defensive grudge match could not have been proven more incorrect. The Eagles launched an assault on the Vikings to the tune of 38 points, especially impressive against this Vikings team that led the NFL in scoring defense at a measly 15.8 points allowed per game. Foles was superb, and the defense was outstanding, especially considering the Goliath awaiting them in Minnesota. Never before in the history of the NFL has Super Bowl appearances become such a regularity for a team than these New England Patriots, appearing in eight championship games in the last 17 years. No other team has more than three in that timeframe. Head coach Bill Belichick is going for his eighth Super Bowl title as a coach and quarterback Tom Brady his sixth as a player, both unprecedented feats. Validation is hard to come by for a team like this, and nobody beats father time, yet Belichick and Brady have their team in position to do just that. As for the game at hand, the Eagles proved their mettle with the domination dealt to the Vikings. Foles’ ability to beat zone coverage and tough man to man coverage will be imperative in order to open up the run game against the Patriots. Early on, the Patriots sold out to stop the Jaguars powerful running attack, putting the game squarely on quarterback Blake Bortles’ shoulder. The Patriots are known for making teams uncomfortable by taking away their top option, but with the Eagles that top option is not clear. The passing game has worked wonders recently, but Foles is still inexperienced and not far from his days playing turnover prone football. On the flip side, the Patriots came out flat against the Jaguars defense, getting back to their core of quick passes, screens, and occasional shots down the field will be important in order to quickly find their rhythm. If the Patriots come out flat and don’t hit their stride until late again, they may not have enough time to recover. But if anyone knows what works in the big game, it’s the guy on the sideline with the ragged, cut-off hoodie.