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 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.