The Spread and Total
Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots (-5.5, 48 O/U), courtesy of Bovada. [Read our full analysis of Bovada’s sportsbook.]
The line opened at New England -6, and bettors jumped on the early points. Time will tell if that was actually a vote of confidence in the Eagles, or simply sharps jumping on a line they didn’t think would last in order to middle down the road.
Philadelphia Eagles: 15-3 (12-6 ATS); 1st NFC East
New England Patriots 15-3 (12-6 ATS); 1st AFC East
The following “Key Injuries” list will be updated closer to Feb. 4th.
LB Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring), questionable; CB Sidney Jones (hamstring), probable.
New England Patriots
TE Rob Gronkowski (concussion), questionable; DT Alan Branch (knee), questionable; T LaAdrian Waddle (knee), questionable; RB Rex Burkhead (knee), probable; QB Tom Brady (hand), probable.
- Dec. 6, 2015 (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough): Philadelphia 35, New England 28
- Nov. 27, 2011 (Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia): New England 38, Philadelphia 20
- Nov. 25, 2007 (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough): New England 31, Philadelphia 28
These teams also met in Super Bowl 39 with the Patriots emerging victorious, 24-21.
Significant ATS Trends
- The Patriots are 3-4 ATS in Super Bowls under Bill Belichick, and 3-5-1 ATS all-time.
- Underdogs have gone 11-4 ATS in the last 15 Super Bowls (2014 was a pick’em).
- The Eagles are 4-2 ATS as an underdog this season.
- The Patriots were 7-0 ATS when favored by seven or fewer points in 2017.
- Teams wearing white jerseys have won 12 of the past 13 Super Bowls straight-up. (Pats will be in white in SB52.)
- The total has gone UNDER in 10 of the last 14 Patriots games.
- Six of the last nine Eagles games have gone UNDER.
- Six of the last nine Super Bowls have gone OVER.
The matchup is set. To the surprise of few, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick led the New England Patriots to the big game for an astounding eighth time in the past 17 years. To the surprise of many more, the Philadelphia Eagles, one season removed from finishing last in the NFC East and led by their backup quarterback, will be the representative from the NFC.
As is always the storyline when the Patriots are involved, this game is the scrappy underdog versus the unstoppable empire. The “nobody believes in us team” against the “we honestly thought they might go 16-0 team.” This is Rocky Marciano vs Rocky Balboa: one is a proven heavyweight champion, the other is only a believable winner on the silver screen.
If the line stays put, the Eagles will be the biggest Super Bowl underdog since the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, who got seven points against the Steelers. But even that 9-7 Cards team, which barely squeaked into the playoffs, came within a toe-tapping touchdown of winning it all. It’s rare that a team doesn’t bring their absolute best effort on Super Bowl Sunday, which is why underdogs have such a great track record recently. Though the Patriots are often sizable favorites, they don’t exactly blow teams out in this spot. The largest margin of victory for a Belichick team in the Super Bowl came last year, with their six-point OT win over Atlanta.
However, the underdogs that have been coming through in years past have been powered by elite QB play. Nick Foles is trying to join territory only navigated by Jeff Hostetler before him: leading his team to a Super Bowl win as a backup. The comparisons between those two have already been drawn, and are sure to be exhausted in the days leading up to the game. But where the 1991 Giants ran a conservative game-plan against the favored Bills, focusing on running the ball and controlling the clock, the Eagles and head coach Doug Pederson showed a higher level of trust in Foles during the NFC Championship.
A week after he was knocked for failing to stretch the field, Foles attempted ten passes of ten or more yards, including a pair of 40-plus-yard touchdowns, against the Vikings. The surprisingly effective deep passing game helped Philly boat-race the NFC’s best defense in a 38-7 laugher.
The Patriots had their own success against an elite defense, rallying back from a ten-point fourth-quarter deficit without top target Rob Gronkowski. At this point, we know the Patriots are never out of a game, no matter what the scoreboard says, and no matter who is on the field (as long as one of them is Tom Brady). But New England’s comeback was aided by some conservative and predictable play calling by Jacksonville’s offense. Philly kept up their aggressive ways last week; even leading by 17 in the second half, Pederson was dialing up flea flickers and trusting Foles to make big plays.
That’s how the Eagles need to approach things should they get a lead against the Patriots. Granted, you don’t want to go full Super Bowl 51 Falcons and forget the run game, but running the complete offense – a balance between deep passes, screens, and fourth-quarter LeGarrette Blount runs – is how you close out a Brady-led team. Pederson and his coaching staff have overcome so many obstacles to get to this point, there’s little reason to think they’ll get scared in a big spot now.
Of course, it takes a great game plan to even jump out to a lead on these Patriots. New England has the league’s most efficient offense because they are the most well-coached team in the world, and something that works against them for the first half is sure to get solved in the second. The Jaguars pass rush got to Brady early, but after the Pats started chipping tight ends and backs, Jacksonville finished the day with pressure on just 21-percent of dropbacks (compared to their season average of 38-percent).
Behind Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Derek Barnett, the Eagles (like the Jags) have a strong four-man rush. But defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will have to show some creative looks to keep Brady guessing throughout the day, otherwise, he’ll eventually start to pick this D – which finished the year fifth in DVOA – apart.
Life will be made easier for the Eagles D if Gronk isn’t cleared to play. The 6’5 tight end is a matchup nightmare; anytime things aren’t going Brady’s way, he locks on to Gronk in order to get a rhythm back. If his security blanket isn’t out there, Brady will look for Danny Amendola in the slot, who will draw the Eagles’ best cover corner in Patrick Robinson.
As for rushing the ball, despite boasting a loaded backfield, the Pats know they won’t have much success with a traditional run game against the league’s best rush defense. That just means Brady will have even more of an impact on this game, as he’ll use short passes to supplement the run game.
Defensively, New England has been nothing special this year. They have talented guys like Stephon Gilmore, Trey Flowers, and James Harrison, but Matt Patricia has not been great at calling a game this season; the Patriots were torched early and then played a lot of weak opponents down the stretch. Over their last ten games, the Pats have only played three offenses (including Jacksonville) that ranked in the top 16 in offensive DVOA.
One of the biggest weaknesses the Pats have is defending running backs in the passing game, as Corey Grant and the Jags showed. The Eagles don’t have a great pass-catching back with Darren Sproles hurt, but if Jay Ajayi or Corey Clement can step up in that role, it could lead to some big gains. Outside of that, look for Foles to continue using run/pass options to help simplify throws to Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery.
It should be noted that drawing conclusions about these teams from their most recent games has limited utility. It’s been over a month since either team had to hit the road and play in a different stadium. Philly’s last road game was a 34-29 win over the Giants, while the Pats last game road game was their tight 27-24 win over the Steelers. New England was 7-1 SU away from Gillette this season, while Philadelphia was 6-2 on the road.
Special teams isn’t likely to be the deciding factor, but also note that New England has the edge, ranking third in DVOA (versus 16th for Philly). Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is a career 91-percent in the playoffs, missing just one extra point in four Super Bowl appearances. Rookie Eagles kicker Jake Elliott has, obviously, never attempted a field goal or PAT in the Super Bowl. He’s 4/4 on field goals in the playoffs and went 5/5 on extra points last week, but missed his only extra-point try of the Divisional Round.
You’re going to hear a lot this week about Brady cementing his legacy (as if winning five Super Bowls and eight AFC titles didn’t already make him the GOAT). I’m going to bank on him cementing his legacy as the greatest showman ever, though. Every Patriots Super Bowl is worth watching; each one features a moment when you think they’re done for and I’ll be shocked if this year is any different.
We’ve seen inexperienced QBs hang with seasoned vets all playoffs, because having a great roster around you counts for more than having a few extra postseason starts. The Eagles have the best roster in football. They’ve shown it all year long. At every non-QB position, Philadelphia is better or at least equal to the Pats.
Besides, knowing the tortured history of Eagles fans, you have to start thinking: what will hurt more, a blowout loss, or a last-second field goal that erases a fourth-quarter lead? Give me the Pats to pull out their signature tight Super Bowl win, 24-23.
And since we’re looking at a New England win, consider the potential for voter fatigue in giving Brady another MVP. Much like the last time the Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years, there’s a chance someone else on the offense could get the honor. It’s worth sprinkling money between his top receiving options: Gronk (if healthy), Amendola, and Brandin Cooks. If one of them musters a day like Amendola had in the AFC title game, they could be the Deion Branch of Super Bowl 52.
Pick: Eagles (+5.5) and UNDER (48).