Well, this was unlikely. Nick Foles played the game of his life against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game to propel the Eagles into the Super Bowl.
Their reward is a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIV against the New England Patriots. All Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson has to do is come up with a plan to derail perhaps the best coach and player in NFL history.
So, what are the keys for the Eagles to defeat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady? The answers to these five burning questions will prove the difference between Philadelphia losing their third Super Bowl or bringing home their first Lombardi Trophy.
Which Nick Foles will show up?
There’s a reason why Foles hasn’t stuck as a starting quarterback in the NFL. He’s capable of being the player who authored a 27 touchdown, 2 interception season in 2013. He’s also every bit the player who was pulled for Case Keenum by the Rams in 2015. In Philadelphia, it’s known as Good Nick vs. Bad Nick.
Since Carson Wentz‘s injury, Foles has been both. Against the Giants, he was good. Against the Raiders he was bad. Against the Cowboys, he was basically non-existent.
Starting with the second half of the Eagles first playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons, though, Foles has been channeling his 2013 Pro Bowl self. He doesn’t need to duplicate his flawless performance from the NFC Championship Game for Philadelphia to beat the Patriots. They just need to have him avoid morphing back into Bad Nick.
Can Fletcher Cox & Co. get to Tom Brady?
It isn’t often that Philadelphia looks to New York for inspiration, but that’s what’s happening now. The defensive strategy that the Giants used to hand Brady and Belichick their two Super Bowl losses — using a dominant defensive front to make life difficult for the quarterback — is what is giving Eagles fans (and, apparently, a number of bettors as well) some hope.
Philly’s D-line doesn’t have someone with the press clippings of Michael Strahan, but what they lack in sexiness, they make up for in sheer numbers. As Belichick pointed out in his press conference, “It’s a lot more than four. I wish it was four. It’s about eight, nine. It’s a very disruptive group.”
New England’s resident genius was quick to point out that Fletcher Cox is the linchpin to what the Eagles defense does. The Pro Bowl tackle collapses the interior of opposing offensive lines with regularity.
The attention that Cox receives, though, typically means that teams have to help on Philly’s edge rushers with a back or tight end. Coupled with Jim Schwartz’s habit of rotating D-lineman like they’re a hockey line, that is typically enough for the Eagles to get consistent pressure without blitzing.
Philadelphia’s best bet for besting Brady relies on making him uncomfortable. The Eagles might be the one team this year that can enact those Giants’ game plans.
Will the Patriots try to run?
When you have Brady under center, running the ball isn’t a necessity. It is still useful, however.
Philadelphia’s defense, of course, led the NFL by giving up just 79.2 yards per game. That has held in the playoffs, where they’ve allowed 78 yards per game in their two games.
In Super Bowl LI, New England pieced together 104 yards against Atlanta. Their leading rusher in that game,LeGarrette Blount, will be on the opposite sideline wearing midnight green this year. James White, who scored two touchdowns in that comeback win, is still around as part of the Pats running back committee.
Belichick is famous for zigging when you think he’ll zag, and the Eagles defense has shown that if you can get to the outside, they can be vulnerable to giving up a few chunk plays. Expect the Pats to test that by trying to get Lewis the ball early in a variety of ways.
Can anyone cover Danny Amendola?
Were you any NFL defensive coordinator besides Matt Patricia, Danny Amendola would drive you bananas. He’s 32, 5-foot-11 and under 200 lbs. He also ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash coming out of college and hasn’t gotten faster since. Unlike teammates Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks, there is nothing special about what Amendola does.
Like Wes Welker before him, what he does is finds a hole in a defense and parks himself where Brady can find him — seemingly every time that the Patriots need a first down. Say his catch on the 3rd-and-18 play that sparked New England’s comeback against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game.
Assuming Gronkowski is cleared to play, he will rightfully be the focus for the Eagles linebackers and safeties. Letting Amendola bail Brady out continually, though, is far more soul-crushing than anything Gronk might do.
How much will the Eagles lack of experience matter?
This is the eighth Super Bowl appearance for Belichick and Brady. For the rest of the team, this is their second consecutive Roman numeral appearance. So, yeah, the Patriots have a whole lot of experience in this setting.
By comparison, the Eagles have next to none. Blount has a pair of rings from his time in New England. Chris Long was along for the Pats ride last year. Malcolm Jenkins won a ring in New Orleans. Torrey Smith got one in Baltimore. And, that’s about it.
The main advantage that experience provides in this situation is knowing how to deal with all of the ancillary demands. Ticket demands, media day, events every night, longer pregame and halftime festivities — it all adds up to a different routine.
While there’s no way to prepare a person for that beyond going through it, at least one member of the Eagles staff has plenty of first-hand experience with navigating Super Bowl week. Offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, after all, was Jim Kelly‘s backup for the Buffalo Bills in their four consecutive losses.
Bonus question: Who wins?
The Eagles are in the Super Bowl despite season-ending injuries to special teams captain Chris Maragos, kicker Caleb Sturgis, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, in addition to Wentz. If you could’ve put a prop bet on that one before the season, the odds would’ve been astronomical.
It’s a great story, especially with the Foles redemption angle. But, they’re about to face the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
When the Pats defeated the Eagles back in 2005, it marked their third title in four years. If they win this year, it will also be their third Lombardi Trophy in four seasons.
Unfortunately for Philly fans, it says here that history is about to repeat.