The Top Dogs vs. The Underdogs

Noah Poser, Managing Editor

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“Belichick and Brady are the best quarterback/coach combo in the history of football, so there’s no doubt they’ll win it again.” This quote by New England Patriots fan Jon Porter states what is believed by many throughout America. On Feb, 4, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Patriots will take center stage at U.S. Bank Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time for Super Bowl Lll as they battle it out for the Lombardi Trophy. The Patriots are looking for their sixth Super Bowl title in their 10th appearance. The Eagles, however, are looking for their first ever Super Bowl title in their third appearance in the big game. A sixth Super Bowl victory for the Patriots would tie them with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most in NFL history, and they are 4.5 point favorites to capture that sixth Lombardi trophy.

However, this game is not going to be a cakewalk for New England as the Eagles come in as the number one seed out of the NFC, and have a pretty solid quarterback/coach combo themselves. Despite this, the Eagles have been underdogs in both of their previous playoff games, despite being at home each time. Eagles fan Andrew Hinman is perfectly okay with his team being the underdog.

“I think they’ll (the Eagles) win because they have been the underdog in all of their playoff games, and they have won them all,” said Hinman.

So, let’s dive into the stats, shall we? On offense, the Patriots have a clear cut advantage with an all-time great leading the charge at QB in Tom Brady, along with a Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver Brandin Cooks and All-Pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski. In the regular season, the Patriots were tied for second in scoring offense with 28.6 points per game. They also ranked first in yards with 394.2 yards per game. They used a balanced attack to accomplish these numbers as they ranked second in the NFL in passing yards and tenth in rushing.

The Eagles offense was not that much behind the Patriots in terms of numbers, averaging 28.6 points per game and 365.8 yards per game, but these numbers are skewed due to the fact that Carson Wentz was leading the offense until his injury in Week 14 against the Rams. In the four games that Nick Foles has played completely since taking over in Week 15, the Eagles have averaged 26.5 points per game, a number that’s inflated by scoring 34 points against the lowly New York Giants defense and 38 against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game. But Brian Gorny, a Lions fan watching this game with the hope the Lions will someday crash the Super Bowl party, believes Nick Foles is going to continue to put up big numbers. “Nick Foles is going to be the (Super Bowl) MVP,” said Gorny. I think he will go out there and surprise a lot of people.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles have a enormous advantage, thanks in large part, to the ferocious defensive line led by Fletcher Cox, one of the best Defensive Lineman in the NFL. They ranked fourth in the NFL in average yards per game, allowing a measly 306.5 yards per contest. This was due to the fact that they led the league in rushing defense, allowing just 79.2 rushing yards per game. If the Patriots want to attack this defense, they’ll have to do it through the air, which they’ll gladly do with Brady. This still comes with a risk, as the Eagles rank fourth in interceptions forced and were in the top half of the league in sacks.

For the Patriots, they live and die by the “bend don’t break” mantra, which means they’re fine with allowing plenty of yards, as long as they don’t allow a bunch of points. They’ve done a good job of this throughout the season as they ranked 29th in total yards per game allowed, made up of ranking 30th in pass defense and 20th in rush defense. However, they were fifth in the league in points allowed per game, allowing just 18.5 points per game, one spot below the Eagles who ranked fourth in the NFL, allowing just 18.4 points per game. The Patriots also ranked seventh in the league in sacks, so Nick Foles should be in for quite the beating behind his somewhat makeshift of an offensive line.

The biggest areas of the game however, might end up being special teams. On special teams, the punting game is a wash as the Eagles ranked 18th in net punting average and the Patriots ranked 20th. On the kicking side, the Patriots hold the edge as their kicker, Stephen Gostkowski made 37 out of 40 field goal attempts in the regular season, which at 92%, puts him fifth among kickers with 20 or more attempts in the regular season. He also has made 96% of his extra points. For the Eagles, Jake Elliott has made 26 out of 31 field goals, which at 84%, puts him 17th among kicker with 20 or more attempts. He also made 93% of his extra points.

In the return game, the Patriots Dion Lewis ranked 10th among players with at least ten kick returns with an average of 24.8 yards per return to go along with one touchdown. For the Eagles, Kenjon Barner ranked 34th with a 19.4 yard average. On punt returns, New England’s Danny Amendola ranks 15th among returners with at least 10 punt returns with 8.6 yards per return on 27 returns. For Philadelphia, Kenjon Barner ranks 12th with an average return of 8.9 yards. Advantage New England.

Finally the most important job in all of football is to not turn the ball over. This season, the Patriots had eight interceptions and lost just four fumbles during the regular season. They recovered six fumbles and forced 12 interceptions. The Eagles threw nine interceptions and lost eleven fumbles. They forced 19 interceptions and recovered 12 fumbles on defense. In terms of turnover margin, the Patriots turnover margin was +6, good for 11th in the NFL. The Patriots turnover margin was +11, good for fourth in the league. The advantage here goes to the Eagles.

Okay, so defense and turnovers go to the Eagles, while offense and special teams go to the Patriots. In this game, which I think is going to be very low scoring, I think that turnover margin will determine the game. I expect the Eagles to be conservative and protect the ball, while managing to force the Pats into a pair of turnovers, one a pick-six returned by Malcolm Jenkins.  Nick Foles will do just enough to carry the Eagles. Brady will have the ball late with a chance to win, but comes up short. Final Score: 17-13 Eagles. MVP: Malcolm Jenkins.

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The Top Dogs vs. The Underdogs