Super Bowl LII Champion Game Recaps, Preview, and Prediction

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RECAP

The stadium was silent.  Just four minutes and forty-six seconds into the NFC Championship Game, the Minnesota Vikings marched down the field to take an early 7-0 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles.  After a miscommunication in the Eagles’ secondary, Vikings Quarterback Case Keenum found tight end Kyle Rudolph wide open in front of the endzone to cap off a dominant opening drive by the Vikings.

 

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As for the Eagles, their opening drive went much differently.  After a twelve yard completion to breakout third-year receiver Nelson Agholor, the Philadelphia offense stalled after a Torrey Smith drop and another incompletion on third down.  The ensuing Minnesota drive started off with another quick first down before the Vikings faced a 3rd and 8 from their own 43 yard line. Then, emerging Philadelphia folk-hero and Eagles’ backup defensive end Chris Long clipped the arm of Case Keenum, allowing for the ball to fall well short of the intended target (Adam Thielen) and right into the hands of cornerback Patrick Robinson, who returned the ball fifty yards for a touchdown.

 

From that point on, it was all Eagles. All Nick Foles, to be exact. The sixth-year veteran and Eagles backup quarterback followed up his solid performance in the divisional round against Atlanta with a 2013-esque performance on Sunday night. Foles shocked Philadelphia (and the world) by going 26-33 with 352 yards and 3 touchdowns and converting an astonishing 10 of 14 third downs against the league’s top-ranked defense. Foles’ play provided Eagles fans with more than enough highlights to last until Super Bowl LII kicks off.  

 

In the end, the Philadelphia defense forced three turnovers and held Case Keenum to 271 yards on 48 pass attempts.  On the other side of the ball, the Eagles racked up 456 total yards and won the time of possession battle 34:04 to 25:56.  As a result of dominating on both sides of the ball, the Eagles went on to score 38 unanswered points and won in a 38-7 route.

While the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia ended in a 38-7 demolition, the AFC Championship game that took place 300 miles up I-95 could not have gone more differently.  On a surprisingly mild Foxboro day, the Patriots needed a Tom Brady miracle (it feels like there’s a theme) to survive an upset-minded Jacksonville team that came into the game feeling disrespected.  

After a New England field to kick off the game, the Jaguars reeled off 14 straight points to take a stunning 11 point lead on the heavily favored New England Patriots.  In the first half, the Jacksonville offense featured star running back, Leonard Fournette, and mixed in a healthy dose of play-action to help simplify the offense for quarterback Blake Bortles.

 

However, in true Patriot fashion, New England would not go away.  The Patriots offense marched down the field and scored a touchdown to make it a four-point game heading into halftime.  Both offenses looked shaky in the third quarter, but Jacksonville cobbled together two drives that ended in field goals, and took a 10 point lead eight seconds into the 4th quarter.  Then, with thirteen minutes remaining in the game, the Patriots ran a brilliant trick play that got the ball into Jacksonville territory.  Or so they thought.

Myles Jack, the Jaguars’ star linebacker, ripped the ball away from Patriots running back Dion Lewis and scampered to midfield with the football.  After the play was reviewed, it was determined that the football had in fact been fumbled, and that Jacksonville had possession of the ball.  At that point, even the most die-hard of New England fans would have admitted that a another extraordinary comeback was unlikely.  

That was where they (and everybody else) turned out to be wrong.  After a quick Jacksonville three-and-out, the New England offense took the field with a little over 12 minutes to go.  Facing a 3rd and 18 from his own 25 yard-line, Tom Brady delivered a strike to slot receiver Danny Amendola for a New England first down.  Just a few minutes later, Brady connected with Amendola again to cut the Jacksonville lead to three with 8:45 to go in the 4th quarter.  Then, after a series of punts, the Patriots got the ball back in Jacksonville territory with a chance to tie the game or take the lead.  That’s when Tom Brady struck again.

 

Brady once again connected with Amendola for the duo’s second touchdown of the day and the score that gave New England a 24-20 lead with a little under three minutes remaining.  Jacksonville got the ball back with a chance to win the game with a touchdown, and actually moved the ball into New England territory after a Bortles strike to rookie receiver Dede Westbrook.  However, the Jaguars failed to convert on a 4th and 14 and the Patriots got the ball back with a chance to end the game.  Then, on 3rd and 9, the Patriots dialed up a run play that would send the franchise to their eighth Super Bowl since 2001 and the tenth in franchise history.

Just after the conclusion of the NFC Championship game, the Patriots’ twitter account began to hype up the upcoming Super Bowl matchup with the Eagles.

 

MATCHUP

While the Patriots’ enter the game as 4.5 point favorites, many expect the game to be much closer than that.  Professional bettors have overwhelmingly taken the Eagles at + 4.5, due to New England’s largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl being only six points.  Nonetheless, a large majority of the prognosticators have picked New England to win the game outright, due to the combined experience and excellence of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.  However, the Eagles have a better defense than the Patriots, and the overall advantage in terms of position groups.  

QB: Patriots

RB: Eagles

WR: Tie

TE: Patriots

OL: Eagles

DL: Eagles

LB: Eagles

CB: Patriots

S: Eagles

ST: Eagles

Coaching: Patriots

 

While the Eagles have the more talented team as a whole, the Patriots possess the two biggest advantages in having the superior quarterback and coaching staff.  The skill position players each team have are of a similar calibre, but the Eagles will have the advantage on both the offensive and defensive lines.  The Patriots have recently confirmed that star tight end Rob Gronkowski will be able to suit up for the game after suffering a concussion against Jacksonville His presence will no doubt have a huge effect on the outcome of the game.  Super Bowl LII will be played at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, so neither team will have the home-field advantage that they have had at their backs for the duration of the playoffs.  

PREDICTION

Although most of the picks are coming in for the Patriots, the Eagles should be able to pressure Tom Brady without blitzing and leaving the young cornerbacks on an island.  As for the Philadelphia offense, it is unlikely that Nick Foles recreates his stellar NFC Championship Game performance, but he is certainly capable of putting up points against a vulnerable New England defense.  The Eagles ball-control offense will also help, as their extended drives will keep Tom Brady off of the field.  In the end, the Philadelphia offense will muster enough points to prevent another Tom Brady comeback, and the Eagles will capture the first Super Bowl title in franchise history

 

Prediction: Eagles – 24 Patriots- 23     

 

All Tweets via @NFL and @Patriots on Twitter

Photo: via ESPN.com  

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