All the countless hours we’ve spent towards watching football these past few months has led up to this final game: Super Bowl 52. While the Patriots were huge favorites entering the season, the Eagles flew to new heights in 2017 and with the players/coaching staff in place, could be perennial contenders for the long haul. This game like every recent Super Bowl involving the Patriots, should be pretty even. If you want any chance to beat Tom Brady in these games, you’ll need to be able to get pressure on him using only four rushers. The Eagles have talent and plenty of depth along their line which could make things intriguing.With that, here is my x-factor for each team followed by my game prediction.
Eagles x-factor: Dannell Ellerbe, Linebacker: In Jordan Hicks, the Eagles had one of the premier inside linebackers in terms of pass coverage. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles earlier this season. Then when his backup Joe Walker was placed on injured reserve, Ellerbe got the call. Ellerbe traditionally only plays in the base defense, but this is where the Patriots take advantage of matchups.
When playing against no huddle offenses, the Eagles are allowing almost three yards per pass attempt more than opposed to when teams huddle against their defense. The Patriots playing fast would make it harder for Ellerbe to get off the field which could create mismatches for the numerous pass catchers out of the backfield. There’s no doubt players like James White or Dion Lewis will be involved as receivers, but it will be interesting to see how much of that production comes with Ellerbe in the game.
Patriots x-factor: Defending the run pass option: When you think of the run pass option (RPO), the first thing that may come to mind are quarterbacks with rushing ability. Despite that, Nick Foles is a quarterback who has excelled when they’re incorporated into his offenses. They were used heavily in his magical 2013 season under Chip Kelly, and were used in the most recent NFC title game. Per Pro Football Focus, no team ran more RPOs in the regular season than the Eagles this year, while nobody faced it less than the Patriots. The RPO was also a heavy component of the Chiefs offense when they went in to beat the Patriots in week one.
Now here is where coaching plays a role. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have had two weeks to prepare the defense for these situations if called upon. The longer Super Bowl halftime could also play a role in the event the Eagles have success with it early. If any coaching staff is capable of making necessary adjustments, it’s the Patriots, so their performance against RPOs in the second half could very well determine this game.
Prediction: While the Eagles’ strong play on both the defensive and offensive line gives them the ability to beat the Patriots, I’m having a hard time picking against Brady and Belichick. What also worries me about the Eagles is their secondary has had some shaky moments, and Brady over the years has not only performed well against Jim Schwartz defenses, but has limited turnovers in the process. Assuming the Patriots do go with the up-tempo attack, I just think their arsenal of pass catchers could be too much to overcome. Eagles 21 Patriots (-5.5) 26