A tumultuous season of football shall come to an end this Sunday, as the inexorable New England Patriots face off against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. Like the last NFL season in general, what was supposed to be a highly-anticipated slugfest may peter out into a one-sided dud.
The Patriots are the Death Star, whose only apparent weakness in the Super Bowl, Eli Manning, missed the postseason by approximately 10 games. They relentlessly churn through players and teams towards their yearly championship runs. Showing the flexibility of the NFL concussion protocol, depending how high the stakes are, Patriots star tight-end Rob Gronkowski has healed from his concussion remarkably quickly and is expected to play. With that man-child Gronk, and the dynamic wideout Brandin Cooks, the Patriots are in perfect shape to put up points in U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday.
On defense, the Patriots front office continues to aggressively target undervalued players, picking up former Steeler legend and athletic freak James Harrison. He joins a motley assembly of pass rushers complemented by a stringent secondary. The New England defense has always been a “bend but not break” unit, and it would be absolutely shocking to see them blown out like the Vikings were to these same Eagles.
The Eagles are an unusual Super Bowl team, and difficult to pin down. Going into the playoffs, they were a recognizable and understandable juggernaut. They were led by a dominant young quarterback in Carson Wentz, the tide that raised all boats, and dominated their usually competitive division. However, a devastating late-season ACL tear to Wentz forced backup quarterback Nick Foles into the starting role. The Eagles were suddenly a team with a dominant record belied by an uncertain offensive system.
Foles is an interesting figure to match up with Tom Brady. In 2013, he had one of the most dominant stretches of any quarterback in NFL history, throwing an astonishing 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions, a ratio that far exceeds anything Tom Brady has ever done. However, since then he has been closer to mediocre than transcendental, bouncing around as a backup for a handful of teams before returning to Philadelphia. Indeed, in his first playoff game against the moribund Falcons, he was serviceable at best, as they squeaked out a 15-10 victory. But last week, against the formidable Vikings, he returned to past glory, annihilating the Norsemen in a 38-7 rout. If the latter Foles turns up in the Super Bowl, the Eagles have a very legitimate shot at victory as he is accompanied by a very strong offensive line and top-5 defense.
Despite my absolute hatred for New England, compared to my mild disgust for Philadelphia, my prediction is that the Patriots will win. My greatest fear, other than Brady winning a sixth ring, is yet another uninteresting NFL game. Occam’s Razor suggests that facing the greatest coach, on the biggest stage, against the greatest quarterback of all time, Foles will play like the backup he essentially is, and the Patriots will emerge victorious.