Thirteen years ago the New England Patriots secured their third Super Bowl title in four years with victory against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a win demonstrative of the dynasty that, since 2001, has been forged in Foxborough.
They suit up again, their eighth Super Bowl appearance this century, in Minnesota on Sunday. And, just as they did in February 2005, they again face the Eagles in search of a third Super Bowl win in four seasons.
This time the goal will be ring number six of the Tom Brady – Bill Belichick era. The Eagles outclassed the Minnesota Vikings 38-7 in the NFC Championship game to deny the Vikings the opportunity of playing in a home Super Bowl. New England, by contrast, conjured up a trademark fourth-quarter comeback to recover from a 20-10 deficit, before disposing of the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-20.
The Patriots unsurprisingly enter Super Bowl Sunday as slight favourites in their quest to become the first side to retain a Super Bowl title since they last did it in 2005. But Doug Pederson’s Eagles will be no pushovers.
Most sides would have been flattened by the crushing blow of losing a starting quarterback to a season-ending injury as late as December. Especially when that quarterback happens to be Carson Wentz who had put together an MVP-calibre season with 33 touchdown passes in 13 games.
Little wonder then that the word destiny has already been bandied about in relation to the Eagles. Nick Foles has been nothing short of outstanding in Wentz’s absence. Zero interceptions, a completion percentage of close to 78 per cent and an astonishing passer rating of 122.1 are, quite simply, staggering play-off statistics.
In the backfield, the Eagles also have a useful combination of runners in British-born Jay Ajayi and former Patriot LeGarrette Blount, the workhorse back, who is already a two-time champion.
With a stable of backs though that include the dynamic Dion Lewis, Super Bowl LI hero James White, and red-zone nightmare Rex Burkhead, the Patriots match up well. Against a stingy Eagles run defense, expect plenty of screens and check-down passes if New England fail to establish the run early.
Look out too for the respective tight ends: Zach Ertz for the Eagles and Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots. Both players are mismatches in coverage owing to their size but are also agile enough to provide a deep-ball threat.
And that’s not forgetting Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola. With the ability to make plays from the slot and in the return game, Amendola has developed a reputation for putting in clutch performances in the play-offs.
Philadelphia have quite the array of weapons at their disposal too, and the necessary depth should the Super Bowl descend into a shootout. Along with Ertz, expect wideouts Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffrey to feature heavily.
The play in the trenches, however, will be where this game is won and lost, so watch the line of scrimmage closely. Philadelphia have protected Foles well, but they will need to collapse the pocket and bring the heat on his opposite number Brady if they hope to win this one.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has revived a car-crash defense from the Chip Kelly era and turned them into one of the most formidable units in the league. Operating a 4-3 scheme, they have given up just 17 points in two play-off games and were ranked first against the run and fourth in points and yards conceded in 2017.
Schwartz is not short of playmakers, in interior lineman Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham, either. Should Philadelphia’s defense rein in the Patriots early, and even provide the platform for their offense to play with a lead, then they will have every chance of delivering an upset.
So as the Patriots look to add another footnote to one of sport’s greatest ever dynasties, Philadelphia go in search of a maiden title. A dynasty meets destiny? Whatever the outcome, this is something to relish.
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