Let’s get this straight. A second-year head coach and a second-string quarterback are not going to keep the New England Patriots from winning a second-consecutive Super Bowl.
Not. Going. To. Happen.
I mean, it could happen.
But it won’t.
I will give props to the Philadelphia Eagles. They were dominant enough in the regular season with Carson Wentz at quarterback that it allowed backup-turned-starter Nick Foles to use the final stretch of regular season after Wentz went down with an injury as a preseason of sorts. The defense was stout — and underrated, in my opinion — throughout the season, and all the new skill position players on offense have figured out their roles.
Yet the Eagles are underdogs — dog masks and all — for a reason. These Patriots are a better, if not perfect, team.
Their biggest advantages are the obvious ones. Bill Belichick is a better coach than Doug Pederson. While Pederson has shown in his short tenure that he has better clock management than his mentor, former Eagles coach and current Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, he is going up against arguably the greatest coach in the NFL history. Look at last year’s Super Bowl, the one against the Seahawks two years ago, and just look at two weeks ago against the Jaguars. Part of the reason the Patriots were able to come back in those games was Belichick’s knowledge of how much time he had left to rally and what it would take to do so.
That he had Tom Brady leading the charge on offense helps too.
Brady over Foles is another obvious advantage. Brady has been here before, and he’s won here before. While Foles looked good in the NFC Championship game, his track record is spotty. He was able to be successful on the deep ball, which is something that Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia usually game plan to prevent.
I won’t call the Patriots defense an advantage, because it isn’t. The Eagles have better personnel, specifically along the front. But the gap between the two units might not be as big as some fans think. This Patriots defense is unheralded, and doesn’t have a lot of big names. But it makes you work for every first down and every point. It will stymie your run game, and when you become one-dimensional and stick to passing the pressure of the pass rush will start to get to you.
Foles, please meet Trey Flowers, former Steeler James Harrison, and “I didn’t even know that guy was on the roster.”
While we’re talking about advantages, Stephen Gostkowski may give Patriots fans gray hairs with his kicking, but this will be his fifth Super Bowl, while the Eagles’ Jake Elliott is a rookie. And Patriots punter Ryan Allen might not have the biggest booming leg, but he’s been consistent and his punts rarely end in touchbacks. His Philly counterpart, Donnie Jones, is a career journeyman, and his best days were almost a decade ago.
The Patriots conceivably get the checkmarks in many categories when put head-to-head with what the Eagles have to offer. The biggest, and most obvious, checkmark in the Patriots’ favor is Super Bowl experience. The Eagles have just six active players who have played in the big game, including LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long with the Patriots last year. Blount also played in Super Bowl XLIX with the Patriots. New England, meanwhile, has 35 players with Super Bowl experience, which comes with the back-to-back and three-in-four-years trips.
Dealing with the emotions, the pressure and the distractions in and around the game can play a big role in winning it. Nobody has more experience in successfully “ignoring the noise” than Belichick and Brady, and the rest of the been-there, done-that Patriots fall in line behind them.
Belichick will make sure his team is as prepared for anything the Eagles will throw at it as possible, and the Patriots will be efficient in their preparation. They’ll plan for everything, be it playing from 25 points behind or having to make a goal-line stand at the end. If that plan has to be blown up at halftime, Belichick and staff can make whatever adjustments are necessary to make the last 30 (or more minutes) better than the first 30 of the game.
If the Patriots need any extra motivation to win another Super Bowl, there’s this: It could be the last chance to win a Super Bowl in the long and illustrious careers of Brady and Belichick, and the end of what might be the best dynasty the NFL has ever seen. The Patriots can’t think “oh, we’ll just be back next year.” And they won’t think that way.
Belichick, Brady, Bob — er, Rob — Rob Gronkowski and all the players the most casual fans can’t name will be going all in on this game. And they’re not about to let what might be their last chance at a win end in a loss.