Even at age 40, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has shown no signs of slowing down. With a resume that outshines every quarterback in NFL history, Brady is the strongest candidate for being the greatest quarterback of all time. Seeking his sixth Super Bowl victory in his 18th professional season, Brady is rightfully presented as a Goliath-like figure when compared to any of his opponents. Brady has exhibited no signs of regression this season, coming off clinical performances against the Titans and Jaguars, totaling 627 yards, five touchdowns and zero turnovers in those two games. The Jaguars showed some ability to disrupt New England’s offensive rhythm, but the game always felt within Brady’s control.
Leading a game-winning drive in the game’s final minutes was just one example of what Brady has demonstrated throughout his career: he delivers for his team when it matters. There are only three quarterbacks who have managed to defeat the Patriots in postseason play during the Brady era: Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco. In order for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles to add his name to this exclusive list on Sunday, many variables — most of which are out of his control — must go in favor of the Eagles. Here’s why that won’t happen.
Philadelphia’s defense consists of an analytically driven, intelligent group of large, physical and rangy behemoths, posing a daunting matchup for any opponent. The Eagles’ defense was a buzzsaw in its two previous games, allowing only 17 total points and making 2016 MVP Matt Ryan and 2017 revelation Case Keenum look like shells of themselves in the process. A ball-hawking secondary and omnipresent linebacking core have proven their dominance throughout this season, but the most important section of the Eagles’ defense is its defensive line. All of Brady’s postseason losses, especially his two Super Bowl defeats, stemmed from a strong four-man pass rush.
An Eagles pass rush, led by defensive linemen Vinny Curry and Fletcher Cox, is tasked with the burden of creating pressure on Brady. Sending extra rushes would create openings for Brady to exploit with quick routes out to his shifty receivers. The Eagles’ aggressive cornerback tandem of Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills will also be tested by New England wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks’ ability to change gears quickly gives the Patriots an advantage against a swarming defense like the Eagles. Philadelphia’s best hope defensively lies in rushing its front four and leaving the rest of its defenders in a zone, ideally providing enough time for its talented rushers to reach Brady before he finds one of his many talented weapons.
On the other side of the ball, Foles has experienced some serendipity in his second stint with the Eagles. After an improbably impressive sophomore campaign that featured Foles throwing for 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, the Texas native slowly regressed into a backup role, jumping to St. Louis and Kansas City before returning to Philadelphia as a backup. After a season-ending injury to MVP candidate Carson Wentz, many wrote the Eagles off due to the improbability of Foles recreating the magic he displayed four years ago. To this point, Foles has silenced his critics, throwing for 598 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions during the Eagles’ playoff run. After shredding an elite Vikings defense, Foles has reason for sky-high confidence heading into the game of his life.
The Patriots’ defense has not been dominant this season, but it has proven capable of forcing timely stops to enable Brady for greatness. New England’s secondary matches well with Philadelphia’s dynamic group of playmakers. Physical corners Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore are tasked with defending the Eagles’ top wide receivers: Alshon Jeffery, one of the league’s tallest receivers, and Nelson Agholor, a shifty wide out who does damage after the catch. The true X-factor in Philadelphia’s offensive execution is the play of running back LeGarrette Blount. Since the Eagles acquired Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins, Blount has only been featured in a limited role. Ajayi was always held in check when playing his former division rival, but Blount presents the physical presence needed to sustain long drives and dominate time of possession. If Blount gets plenty of carries, the Eagles would be in a better position to dictate the tempo of the game.
Ultimately, the Eagles have a roster that should be able to rival the Patriots for most of the game. Philadelphia’s effectiveness in zone defense and willingness to give Blount carries will determine its fate. The chess match between Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Brady, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz should see plenty of twists and turns. Eventually, New England will find a hole in the Eagles’ defense and the Patriots will pull away late after a tightly contested first half dominated by both defenses, with exception to the dominant play of matchup nightmare tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Zach Ertz. Foles will have a chance to tie the game late, but his Cinderella story will strike midnight. I predict the Patriots will earn their sixth Super Bowl victory of the Belichick-Brady era by a score of 24-16.