As Minnesotans tried to put their best boot forward for the first Super Bowl held at U.S. Bank Stadium, the blast of arctic air that swept into Minneapolis this week did them no favors.
No one, however, is complaining about the Super Bowl LII matchup between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. Well, except for the locals. Their dreams of a home Super Bowl went up in flames during the Vikings’ 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.
That development aside, Sunday’s Super Bowl has a bit of everything. Maybe even something for Green Bay Packers and University of Wisconsin fans.
First of all, Super Bowl LII is a terrific matchup.
This is the third Super Bowl ever and the first since 1978 in which each team ranked in the top five in both points scored and fewest points allowed during the regular season. It is also the fourth Super Bowl in the past five seasons to feature two No. 1 seeds.
But the Super Bowl is a study in contrasts as well.
The defending champion Patriots are the NFL’s longest-running dynasty, the Eagles could become only the fourth team to win the Super Bowl after having a losing record in the previous season. The Patriots have the NFL’s best coach in Bill Belichick, the Eagles have second-year man Doug Pederson, whom former NFL general manager Mike Lombardi said in September was “less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen.” The Patriots have the NFL’s winningest big-game quarterback in Tom Brady, the Eagles have backup Nick Foles, who is starting only his sixth game this season.
As for Packers fans, they’ll gladly root for Philadelphia, mainly because the Eagles prevented the rival Vikings from becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. Instead, Vikings fans were forced to watch Eagles fans parade around their city and possibly celebrate an NFL title, something Minnesota has never won.
UW fans have a rooting interest, too, with four former Badgers on the rosters. Patriots halfback James White should have been the Super Bowl MVP in New England’s 34-28 overtime victory over Atlanta last year. Halfback Corey Clement and nose tackle Beau Allen are rotational fixtures for the Eagles and special teams ace Chris Maragos is on injured reserve.
If you’re trying to pick a winner,, here are a few things to consider:
• As dominant as the Patriots have been in the 17 seasons since Brady and Belichick linked up (winning five Super Bowls and playing in two more), they have never dominated a Super Bowl opponent. Since 2001, they’ve won Super Bowls by 3, 3, 3, 4 and 6 points and lost by 3 and 4 points. Clearly, this one projects as a photo finish.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years at the start of the Brady-Belichick era and would duplicate that feat with a victory Sunday. But their performances in winning their most recent titles didn’t exactly indicate invincibility. New England needed an awful goal-line play call by Seattle to get a game-clinching interception in 2014 and had to rally from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit to beat Atlanta in overtime last year.
That would seem to give the Eagles a fighting chance. On the other hand, the Patriots have Brady, the best quarterback ever at winning close games, something he proved again in the AFC Championship Game when he rallied the Patriots from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Jacksonville. It was the Patriots’ fourth playoff victory when they were trailing at least 10 points in the final quarter.
• Evidence suggests the Eagles will be the best of the Patriots’ eight Super Bowl opponents in the Brady-Belichick era. Philadelphia is the only New England opponent that has a top-five scoring offense, a top-five scoring defense and won its NFC Championship Game by more than 23 points.
Despite losing quarterback Carson Wentz, an MVP candidate, and left tackle Jason Peters to injury, the Eagles have the NFL’s best roster and most well-rounded team. Plus, they’re feeling slighted after having been the underdog on their home field in playoff victories over Atlanta and Minnesota.
But if the Eagles get to play the underdog card, the Patriots are in a spot where they usually thrive — in the eye of the storm — after a recent ESPN expose revealed a less-than-cozy relationship between Brady and Belichick. But controversy is nothing new for the Patriots, whose legendary resilience shows more than ever when they feel the world is against them.
• On paper, this is a coaching mismatch. Belichick has 278 victories, Pederson 22. Belichick has been a part of seven Super Bowl champions — two as Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator with the New York Giants and five with the Patriots. Pederson’s claim to fame is he backed up Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Brett Favre during a journeyman NFL career.
History is not on Pederson’s side today. The past five first- or second-year coaches in the Super Bowl lost to more experienced coaches. Two of them, Carolina’s John Fox in 2004 and Atlanta’s Dan Quinn in 2016, lost to Belichick.
Belichick is considered by many to be the NFL’s greatest coach ever and a sixth Super Bowl victory would end the discussion. His secret has always been his adaptability. Though he’s seldom had overwhelming talent at any position other than quarterback, he finds favorable matchups and exploits them on a week-to-week basis.
But Pederson has also shown an ability to improvise, especially after Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 13th game. Foles was painful to watch in the final two regular-season games, but Pederson finally figured out a way to help him succeed, just in time for the playoffs.
• Even at 40, Brady is at the peak of his powers. The way to beat him is to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, but there’s a caveat: You have to mount a pass rush with only four players and drop seven into coverage. Heavy blitzing plays right into Brady’s hands because it gives him one-on-one matchups and open space to find receivers. With his vast experience and keen mind, he makes teams pay in those situations by working the middle of the field with short pass after short pass.
Anchored by the NFL’s deepest front four, the aggressive Eagles defense ranks first in rushing yards allowed, fourth in total yards allowed and takeaways and ninth in opponents’ passer rating. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles generated pressure on the quarterback on 41 percent of pass plays this season, the NFL’s best mark. They also led the league in generating pressure with a four-man rush. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz hasn’t had to blitz much, but if he resorts to it Sunday, the Eagles are in trouble.
Additionally, the only two Super Bowls that Brady and Belichick lost were to the Giants in 2007 and 2011. The heart of those Giants teams was a four-man line that could pressure the quarterback from every position, not unlike the Eagles.
• When the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years starting in 2001, Belichick was touted as a genius for his complex, ever-changing defenses that succeeded more with scheme than talent. But Belichick has changed course.
The Patriots now play a bend-but-don’t-break defense, one that ranks 29th in the NFL in yards allowed but fifth in points allowed. They gave up 32 points per game in their first four games but only 14.4 points per game in their 14 games since. They don’t get too fancy and only get aggressive when the opponent reaches the red zone.
The strategy has worked as teams have had to settle for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. Needless to say, that’s a recipe for disaster when you’re trying to keep pace with Brady.
Even without Peters, the Eagles have one of the NFL’s top offensive lines and gave up only one sack in each of their two playoff games. Foles struggled against pressure after he took over, but threw for 352 yards, three touchdowns and a 141.4 passer rating against the Vikings’ stellar defense. He’ll have to rein it in Sunday, though. If he tries to force the ball down the field, it will be playing into the Patriots’ hands. If he remains patient and takes what the Patriots give him, the Eagles will have a chance.