By Steve Silverman
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The Philadelphia Eagles appear to be at the top of their game.
They were a dominant 38-7 winner over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game, and quarterback Nick Foles was brilliant in that game, throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions.
We tend to have short memories when looking at an NFL game in general and a Super Bowl in particular. Foles has had a very good postseason, but he had two brutal performances in the final regular-season games of the year against the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.
Are those games completely out of his system? Has he turned the corner, and is he destined to have a big game against the five-time Super Bowl champion Patriots?
Many observers are giving an edge to the Eagles based on their fairly secure advantage on defense. There’s little doubt that Philadelphia plays tougher, more aggressive and more consistent defense than the Patriots.
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Philadelphia ranked fourth in yards allowed while the Patriots were 28th in that area. New England was woeful on defense through the first four games of the season before defensive coordinator Matt Patricia found the correct bend-but-don’t-break formula to use.
The Pats often get pushed around between the 20-yard lines, but they found a way to keep opponents from getting into the end zone. They have held 11 of their last 14 foes to 17 or fewer points. That formula is a good one when the offense features Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis and regularly scores 24 or more points. New England reached that threshold 13 times this season.
The Patriots can move the ball and take advantage of favorable field position and turnovers as well as any team in the league. Give Brady one break, such as a short field after a long Amendola punt return, and he will take advantage of it as well as any quarterback who has ever played.
The 40-year-old Brady has not suffered any slippage to his game. He had a 32-to-8 TD-to-interception ratio during the regular season, and he has five touchdowns and no interceptions in the postseason.
More than the numbers, Brady reads defenses decisively and makes the proper adjustments at the line of scrimmage. The added bonus with Brady is his ability to squeeze out first downs on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1 plays.
Brady will get challenged by Eagles defenders Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Chris Long, Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. They are capable of putting significant pressure on the quarterback and getting to him at various moments in the game.
But what about the fourth quarter? This is when coach Bill Belichick, Brady and the rest of the Patriots have been at their best.
This is when it takes more than a statistically good team to stop the Patriots and win the game. New England’s ability to come back from a late deficit was proven in their last two Super Bowl wins over Seattle and Atlanta and again in the AFC title game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
If the Eagles are going to win this game, one defensive player – most likely Graham — is going to have to come up with a game-changing play in the final 10 minutes or so against Brady. If that doesn’t happen, the Patriots will win their sixth Super Bowl and tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Vince Lombardi trophies.
Philadelphia will give New England a battle for nearly the full 60 minutes. But Brady will not be denied, and he will lead the Pats to a late touchdown and a victory.
New England comes away with a 37-30 victory, and Brady wins the Super Bowl MVP with quite a bit of help from Gronkowski.
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