The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots are set to play each other Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. In order to preview the Eagles’ Super Bowl game, I reached out to our friends over at Pats Pulpit. The wonderful Rich Hill kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at the answers. (Also don’t forget to check out my Q&A exchange over at PP.)
1 - Some have said this Patriots team isn’t one of the best versions that have made the Super Bowl. To what extent do you think that’s true? How do they compare to other Patriots Super Bowl teams?
The 2017 Patriots are definitely one of the least impressive New England Super Bowl teams and they’re fairly skewed to one side of the football. Only the 2007 and 2011 offenses were better than the 2017 Patriots offense, while only the 2011 defense was worse. It should be noted those are the Patriots Super Bowl teams that lost in the big game.
Overall, this team is probably just as good as the 2014 team that defeated the Seattle Seahawks. They’re not an overwhelmingly dominant team, but they’ve improved over the course of the season and they’re good enough on both sides of the ball to win.
2 - Is there any level of fatigue from the Patriots winning so much?
I wouldn’t say there’s any real “fatigue” in the overall fan base, but the Eagles fans on the ground in Minnesota are probably a little more energetic due to it being a unique experience. It never gets old winning and we’ve reached the stage of both Bill Belichick’s and Tom Brady’s careers where everyone knows the end is coming in the next five years and wants to savor these moments.
I will say that while losing always sucks, this is also the “gravy” point of their careers where it’s fun to see them reach this stage regardless of the final outcome- and that there’s a good chance they’ll be back next year.
3 - Is it fair to suggest the Patriots should have to vacate all their titles if they lose to Nick Foles? Alright, just kidding, but for real: does losing this game make a huge difference for the Patriots and their legacy?
I believe this is the NFL’s first “Winner Take All” Super Bowl where the winning team gets to claim rights on all the achievements and accolades of the losing team- so that would mean Brian Dawkins would be considered a Patriots great until the end of time.
I don’t think losing would really change much. It would definitely be a surprise because New England is favored, but it’s not like this Super Bowl makes or breaks any legacy. The Eagles are a good team and were favored to win the Super Bowl as late as December before Carson Wentz was injured and were the #1 seed, so it’s not as earth-shattering as losing to the say, 5th seed New York Giants with an undefeated season on the line.
[BLG Note: Rich really pushing things here with that line about Dawk.]
4 - Is there a common thread in games lost by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? What’s the best way to beat them?
There are three important factors in games where the other team wins outright and a fourth point for games that the Patriots give away the game. Teams can beat the Patriots if they:
1) Pressure Tom Brady with just four players while also playing tight press man coverage to force him to hold on to the football and allow the pressure to get home.
2) Lead time-consuming 8+ play drives by taking what the Patriots defense gives and not forcing plays that aren’t there and scoring touchdowns.
3) Don’t overthink the game just because Bill Belichick is on the other sideline and just play their own game, while keeping the game script in mind.
If the Eagles can do all three, they should be able to win.
The bonus fourth point is that the Patriots can also lose the game if they just play a terrible game where Tom Brady is simply inaccurate or hurt and Rob Gronkowski isn’t available and the defense misses a lot of tackles. It’s rare, but it usually happens once per season, like how they played the Miami Dolphins late in the regular season. The Eagles shouldn’t count on this to happen.
5 - What is the Patriots’ biggest strength as it relates to facing the Eagles? Which matchups do you think they’ll be looking to exploit?
On offense, the Patriots have been able to incorporate quick passes to neutralize pass rushes against other opponents and the combination of Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead creates an incredibly difficult match-up for opposing lineups. New England can rely on winning these match-ups in the flat and that will eventually soften the pass rush or the tight coverage and force the Eagles to play more zone to slow the backs, which opens the flood gates for the rest of the passing offense.
On defense, the Patriots will have to decide whether or not they want to test the Eagles deep ball by Nick Foles, or if they want him to lead extended drives on short passes to challenge his accuracy. I would expect the Patriots to dedicate defensive resources to stopping the Philadelphia rushing attack and to put the game on Nick Foles. Foles likes to throw much shorter than Carson Wentz did, so I wouldn’t be surprised if New England challenged Foles to replicate his NFC Championship Game performance against the Minnesota Vikings.
6 - What is the Patriots’ biggest weakness? What concerns you the most about the Eagles?
The Patriots linebackers struggle in space and are vulnerable on the edge of the formation. I would expect the Eagles to either isolate the linebackers in coverage or use stretch runs and misdirection plays to really challenge how the New England linebackers diagnose the play. The run/play option will also be a huge factor in testing these linebackers and since the Eagles utilize the RPO more than any other team in the NFL they are built perfectly to attack the biggest weakness in the New England defense.
BONUS: What percentage would you give the Pats of winning this game and why? Score prediction?
I would expect the Patriots to win this game 60% of the time. I think Doug Pederson has a bright future, but I’m taking the team led by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on the biggest stage. I would expect the Patriots to win a close game that comes down to the final possession (as is tradition) 27-23.