Super Bowl 52 Preview

Super Bowl 52 is set for the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 4. The New England Patriots will be defending their title against the Philadelphia Eagles. This year is much different than last year’s Super Bowl, including the regular and postseason setup that got these teams here. Both teams are different versions of their former selves, for better and worse, though they have shown toughness and resilience throughout the year. The sportsbooks where you can legally bet on the Super Bowl have the Patriots as the favorites with a spread of 5 points. The estimated total score is set at 48 ½, meaning most analysts think this will be a high-scoring game.

The New England Patriots suffered a major loss in the preseason with star WR Julian Edelman going out with a torn ACL. Edelman was instrumental in their Super Bowl LI comeback victory. The Pats replaced Edelman with promising receiver Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints. Cooks has proven himself to be a solid addition, despite patches of ineffectiveness. He has found his stride in the Playoffs and will be a main target in the Super Bowl. TE Rob Gronkowski has regained his form after suffering an injury last year, though he sustained a concussion in the AFC Championship against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gronk is expected to play in the Super Bowl. WR Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan have been very active, with the former shouldering the weight of the offense down the stretch in the AFC Championship. Without Amendola, it is unlikely they would’ve come back and won. RBs Dion Lewis and James White have been effective, but they face tough competition in the Eagles’ defense.

You can’t discuss the Patriots without mentioning QB Tom Brady. At 40 years old, Brady seems to only be improving year after year. This trip to the Super Bowl marks his eighth with coach Bill Belichick. If he wins, it’ll be his sixth ring. In the AFC Championship, Brady went 26/38 for 290 yards and 2 touchdowns. These are not his most effective numbers, but it is worth noting that most of them came in the fourth quarter. Fourth-quarter Brady is a different animal.

The Patriots do not fall behind often, but they have in 2 recent occasions on large stages. The first came in Super Bowl LI, when they were down 28-3 at halftime. The second came in this year’s AFC Championship, where they were down 20-10 in the fourth quarter. On both of these occasions, the Pats fought back to win. If they want to win Super Bowl LII and become the first back-to-back champions in 13 years, they need to avoid this situation. It seems that they thrive under these circumstances, but you can be sure coach Belichick would rather his team be ahead the entire time.

One glaring issue in the AFC Championship was the third-down conversions. The Jaguars’ defense was relentless in the first half and forced multiple 3-and-outs. Brady was clearly frustrated and the Patriots were unable to get their offense going. Brady does not often throw interceptions, but with enough pressure and tight coverage on the receivers, the Eagles could replicate their defensive performance and capitalize on their turnovers. Part of this responsibility falls on the offensive line to block out the Eagles’ blitz, so if they can remain stout and give Brady the time he needs, he can get the offense going.

As part of that offense, the run game needs to be stronger. Dion Lewis and James White had 38 rushing yards between them. Yes, Tom Brady can make clutch throws, but you can’t rely on that for the whole game. In any case, banking on a Patriots miracle should not be the game plan for them. Amendola, Hogan, Cooks and Gronk will have their chances, but a strong offense mixes running and passing.

The Eagles made it through the very tough NFC this year. There were multiple teams touted as potential Super Bowl contenders, though the Eagles emerged the strongest. Second-year QB Carson Wentz was electric all season long, up until he tore his ACL in a game against the Rams. Backup QB Nick Foles took over and has been flying high ever since. In the NFC Championship blowout against the Vikings, Foles was 26/33 for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns. WR Alshon Jeffery caught 2 of those touchdown passes, including a long-bomb off a trick play.

Another lethal component of the Eagles is their run-game. RBs Jay Ajayi and former Patriot LeGarrette Blount have been dominant in the postseason. They had 94 yards and a touchdown between them. The Pats had trouble stopping RB Leonard Fournette in the AFC Championship, so these 2 could cause some major disruptions. Their receiving corps is legitimate with Zach Ertz, Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor.

If the Eagles have any chance of beating the Pats, it will come down to defense. The Eagles have had a strong defense all season long and completely shut down the Vikings. If they can maintain constant pressure on Brady while snuffing the run, they can keep the game on their terms. Many defenses seem to back off and give Brady time and space once a lead is established. As history has shown us, this can lead to trouble.

What’s on the line? Brady will cement his legacy as the best player ever with 6 Super Bowl rings. The Patriots dynasty will have achieved greatness in what will likely be its last year with this coaching staff and roster. On the other hand, the Eagles are playing for their first Super Bowl and to prove everyone who has slated them as underdogs throughout the postseason. On paper, the Patriots are the safer bet. However, the Eagles have proven the doubters wrong thus far and have the tools to do so again.

Post Game Recap

Well, we saw breakout performances from all the players (minus Brandin Cooks) highlighted in our preview, and even though Super Bowl 52 had a record combined offensive yardage of over 1,000, the game came down to defense. Let’s take a look back at how things played out.

New England needed to get their run game going, but it was ultimately snuffed. There were several break out runs from each RB, but if you look at the actual stat sheet, it wasn’t where it needed to be. The running scheme of Dion Lewis getting the most carries with James White the end-zone option held true for the Super Bowl. Lewis finished with 39 yards on 9 carries with an average of 4.3 per carry. White had the only rushing touchdown and 7 carries for 45 yards. Rex Burkhead had a promising run to continue a drive in the second half, but he finished 3 for 18. He also was part of the botched trick play punt return at the end of the game that left New England stranded inside their own 10.

On the receiving end, it was business as usual—and then some. WR Brandin Cooks had 1 catch for 23 yards right before getting laid out. He left the game with a head injury and never returned. And thus, the Patriots lost 1 of their primary targets. The other 3 receivers stepped up in a big way. Danny Amendola had 152 yards on 8 receptions. Chris Hogan finished with 128 yards on 6 catches and a touchdown. Rob Gronkowski had 9 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns. On the passing front, Brady had the game of his life. He went 28/48 for 503 yards and 3 touchdowns. With numbers like these, it is insane how the Patriots lost, but that just goes to show how much of an impact the defense has. It is also impressive how Brady got those numbers with the fierce pass rush he faced. Brady looked frustrated in the first half due to the Eagles’ pressure and only seemed to look settled when they backed off a bit—which is the #1 thing you don’t do against New England.

New England’s defense gave up 41 points. They let the Eagles convert on fourth down multiple times, one of which resulting in a touchdown and other helping to keep an eventual touchdown-scoring drive alive. The defense has a knack for being toughest in the red zone and this was evident on several occasions in the Super Bowl. They also forced a turnover via an interception from a tipped pass. The defense was just unable to keep up with the multiple threats possessed by Philadelphia’s offense. They couldn’t pressure Foles enough while keeping his targets in check. They also had to account for x-factors like RB Corey Clement, who had an incredible game.

Philadelphia came to play. QB Nick Foles, who won the Super Bowl MVP, went 28/43 for 373 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. The pick was off a good throw but was bobbled by the receiver. Clement, the normal third down back, was his leading receiver with 100 yards on 4 catches (1 of which a touchdown). WR Nelson Agholor had 9 catches for 84 yards, Alshon Jeffery had 3 for 73 with a touchdown and Zach Ertz had 7 for 67 with a touchdown as well. Torrey Smith finished with 5 catches for 49 yards. Foles even had a receiving touchdown off a nicely executed trick play on fourth and goal.

The Eagles’ rush, which has been a strong point of their offense, looked good again. New England had a tough time containing former teammate RB LeGarrette Blount, who had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown. RB Jay Ajayi had 57 yards on 9 carries. Clement was utilized more on the reception front, but the Eagles didn’t need him rushing because Blount and Ajayi were having so much success.

Philly’s defense really shined in this game. From the beginning, they were aggressive in pressuring Brady. He had open looks down the field but no time to get the ball there. The defense had plenty to do with the numerous NE offensive threats, so it was inevitable they would give up some plays. Gronkowski is a mismatch with any defender. Amendola and Hogan kept finding ways to get open. Still, Philly’s defense broke up multiple passes to keep things in check. They did a good job of stopping the run too.

The Eagles were guilty of something every team does in the second half—changing up the strategy. Instead of throwing 5 pass rushers at Brady, they would drop to 4 or sometimes even 3 in order to shift to man-to-man. However, New England’s receivers are too good for man-to-man, and thus New England was able to get back in the game and eventually take a lead. The Eagles migrated back to their aggressive rushing and forced a sack-fumble late in the fourth to effectively seal the game. The Pats got the ball back with just over a minute, but even Brady couldn’t pull this one off between the tight coverage and pass rush flurries.

The Pats didn’t get their 6th ring. Brady and Belichick didn’t double their Playoff win record. Brady didn’t become the first regular season passing yards leader to win a Super Bowl. However, Carson Wentz did become the only backup QB to lead his team to a Super Bowl since Brady. He received his first Super Bowl MVP and the Eagles clinched their first championship. All the players we predicted to go off did (Cooks would have had several more catches) and the underdogs proved to everyone why they were there. Both teams played well, but it came down to play calling and defense and the Eagles had the advantage.