By Jason Keidel
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For a few reasons, it feels like the Super Bowl pivots on playoff experience more than the World Series, Stanley Cup or NBA Finals.
One reason is the other sports have up to seven games to play for the world title. In the NFL, we have one game, four quarters, 60 minutes to settle the final score on the season. Add the epic pressure of the game, the 150 million Americans watching and the fact that it could be your lone chance to ever win a world championship.
Only eight Eagles on the team’s full roster — including those on injured reserve and the practice squad — have Super Bowl experience. The Patriots have 41 such players. Tom Brady has more Super Bowl MVP awards (four) than Nick Foles has playoff starts (three). Led by Brady’s seven prior Super Bowls, the Pats’ 41 players have played in a combined 73 Super Bowls.
So if experience matters — especially at quarterback — check the Brady Box.
If you’d like the quintessential, statistical canyon between the haves and have-nots, scroll through Pro-Football-Reference.com. Eagles QB Nick Foles has 9,752 passing yards and 61 touchdowns over his entire NFL career. Tom Brady has tossed for 9,721 yards and 68 touchdowns in the playoffs alone.
The Pats opened as nearly a touchdown favorite, which seemed oddly wide considering what each team had done in the conference championship games. New England overcame a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit on Brady’s arm and playoff savvy while the Eagles vaporized the Minnesota Vikings, a fellow 13-3 club that many thought would be hosting the Super Bowl on Sunday.
The point spread is now around five points, which speaks to the chasm at quarterback. Indeed, you don’t hear anyone saying the Patriots have a better or deeper roster. The Eagles clearly have a better defense, perhaps more weapons on offense and been more impressive in the playoffs.
But the Patriots have Brady and coach Bill Belichick, and the Eagles don’t. This is the Patriots’ eighth Super Bowl this century while it’s Philadelphia’s third trip in franchise history, as it looks to bag its first Lombardi Trophy. No current Eagles were on the roster the last time they reached the Super Bowl 13 years ago — a loss, of course, to the Patriots. (Brady and Belichick are 4-1 against the Eagles, if that matters.)
The largest variable entering this game is not Brady, Belichick or any other player on either squad other than the QB. Which Foles will show up? The pedestrian backup who replaced the injured Carson Wentz in Week 13? Or the one who lit up the NFC in January? Indeed, Foles is just the second quarterback to complete 75 percent of his passes in consecutive playoff games while throwing at least three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The other is Brady’s hometown hero, Joe Montana.
Foles was possessed against the Vikings’ defense, the best west of Jacksonville, passing for 352 yards and three TDs while posting a 141.4 passer rating. Most agree that if he can do the same against the Patriots, the Eagles will come home with their first world title since 1960, when they beat another decent HC/QB combo — Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr. They’re still the only team to beat Lombardi in a postseason contest. (After that defeat, Lombardi promised his Packers they would never fall short in such a big game again, and they didn’t, winning their next nine playoff games, including five NFL titles and two Super Bowls.)
The Eagles are good, hungry and due for a championship for a title-starved city that has seen a dearth of dominant sports clubs. No NBA title since the Moses Malone’s “Fo, Fo, Fo” 76ers of 1983. They haven’t won a Stanley Cup since the Broad Street Bullies of 1975. The Philadelphia Phillies have played in just seven World Series since 1915, winning two over the last century (1980 and 2008).
Is it fair that all this rides on a backup QB with a handful of starts this year? If Brady is the emblem of playoff excellence; Foles is the bright-eyed neophyte just looking to not mess this all up. Brady is set to make $41 million over this year and next; Foles will average about $5.5 million in yearly salary over the same stretch. Brady is looking for his sixth ring; Foles is making his fourth playoff start.
Does this matter or make the difference? Or is it, as they say these days, fake news? Just a forced plot to keep pundits busy? Unlike politics, the Super Bowl is more than theory or ideology, and there will be a clear winner and loser. Philly fans just hope there’s nothing fake or ephemeral about Nick Foles, the new QB who can end an old lineage of losing.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel