Super Bowl Preview: Patriots vs. Eagles

Martin Clancy, Staff Writer

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America loves champions.  Those select individuals who rise above the clutches of mediocrity in memorably exciting (and often heartbreaking) fashion are revered for decades, or even centuries, to come.  When it comes to sports, many names come to mind when thinking of great champions.  Athletes such as Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Bo Jackson and Wayne Gretzky are widely regarded as the best to ever step on the court, or climb in the ring, or put on skates.  Bo Jackson managed to make a name for himself playing football and baseball before his career ended due to injury.  These athletes are once in a generation players for their sports, and right now, we are seeing a generational talent at its peak in Tom Brady.

The Super Bowl will be held in Minneapolis for the second time, at the recently built US Bank Stadium. This stadium is the home of the Minnesota Vikings, who had a chance to be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium before they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles.

After winning his fifth Super Bowl last February (the most ever for a starting quarterback), many quickly proclaimed Tom Brady as the greatest quarterback of all time.  Brady, however, wasn’t done there and has led his New England Patriots back to the big game this year.  This season was not another re-run of the machine-like Patriots we have grown used to seeing; however, as the season got of to a rough start, with the team going 2-2 through their first four games.  The slow start did not deter the Pats, however.  Due to improved play from the defense, and an offense that played at an extremely high level, they ripped off eight consecutive victories in dominant fashion.  Winning their games by an average score of 27-12, including five wins by two touchdowns or more, the Patriot machine was back in action.  After a humiliating loss to division foe Miami, the 10-3 Patriots headed to Pittsburgh for a showdown with the 11-3 Steelers.  In a game that would all but determine the top seed in the AFC, the Patriots came out on top after a controversial call and a game-sealing interception late in the fourth quarter.  Despite destroying their competition in the final two games of the season, there was doubt as to the stability of the organization heading into the playoffs.  Rumors of a feud between Brady, head coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft began to take hold.  These rumors only grew after an ESPN article detailing the tension between the three was released on January 4.  None of this stopped the excellent play on the field, however.  After a bye the first week of the playoffs, the Patriots relieved any doubt by thrashing the Tennessee Titans 35-14 in the divisional round.  The next week, they faced the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars, who were fresh off an upset victory over the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers, to determine who would represent the AFC in Super Bowl 52.  Down ten late in the game, Tom Brady showed the world why he has five Super Bowl rings, as he engineered a memorable fourth quarter comeback to win 24-20.  It was the eighth AFC Championship win for the Patriots with Brady and Belichick, and their tenth as a franchise, the most ever.  The Patriots will undoubtedly be motivated this Sunday, as they will have a chance to tie the Steelers for the most Super Bowl wins by a franchise, with six.  Amid all the hype about the Patriots dynasty; however, something has been brewing in the City of Brotherly Love.

Undoubtedly, 58 years is a long time, but it must feel like forever for Eagles fans.  Why 58 years?  Well, that’s the last time the Eagles won a championship, taking down the Green bay Packers 17-13 in the 1960 NFL championship game.  Since that game, the two franchises could not have taken more different paths.  The Packers went on to win five of the next seven championship games, including the first two Super Bowls.  Legendary head coach, Vince Lombardi, even had the Super Bowl trophy named after him.  The Eagles, however, didn’t even earn another playoff berth until 1978.  They appeared in their first ever Super Bowl in 1980 but got stomped 27-10 by the Oakland Raiders.  After that, the Eagles failed to make it farther than the divisional round until 2001 when they lost three consecutive NFC Championship games to the St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Carolina Panthers.  But in 2004, the Eagles broke through, defeating the Atlanta Falcons to advance to their second Super Bowl as a franchise.  Fittingly, their Super Bowl 39 opponent would be none other than the New England Patriots.  The two teams met in Jacksonville for what would be an exciting game.  Down three with less than a minute to play, the Eagles’ final hoped slipped away with a game-sealing interception.  Eagles fans have not had much to cheer for since then.  Only one more NFC Championship appearance followed: a 2008 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals.  This season’s Eagles came into the season as a team most expected to finish with a middle-of-the-pack record.  Playing in a division with a team on the rise in the Dallas Cowboys, and the New York Giants, who made the playoffs last season, few people expected the Eagles to even make the playoffs.  Nobody, however, could have predicted what would take place over the course of the season.  The Cowboys and Giants both massively underachieved and missed the playoffs, leaving the door wide open for Philadelphia.  The Eagles took their chance and marched to a 10-2 record through three quarters of the season.  Disaster struck when they played the Los Angeles Rams; however, as quarterback Carson Wentz, who was a massive favorite to win league MVP, went out with a torn ACL.  The Eagles won the game and clinched their division but lost Wentz for the remainder of the season and the playoffs.  With backup quarterback Nick Foles at the wheel, the Eagles were expected to fall out of contention, despite entering the playoffs as the number one seed in the NFC, with a 13-3 record.  Philadelphia, however, proved everyone wrong yet again.  Playing in the divisional round at home against the Atlanta Falcons, Foles and Co. squeaked out a 15-10 win.  The march continued the next week when they played the Minnesota Vikings as 3.5 point underdogs.  Never have the oddsmakers been so wrong, as Foles looked absolutely superhuman while dismantling the Vikes in a 38-7 blowout.  Finally, the Eagles are headed back to the big game.

Vegas’ odds currently have the Eagles as 4 point underdogs against the Pats – the same kind of underdog role that they have thrived in all postseason.  No doubt, they will be fueled by the chance to extract revenge for their defeat to Brady and Belichick 13 years ago.  Nick Foles and the vaunted Eagles defense now have to deal with carrying the hopes of an entire city on their shoulders.  For the Patriots, it’s just another game.  They’ve been here, done that, and have no intentions of stopping.  The game should be a pleasure for fans to watch, as always.  Both teams have had triumphs and struggles all season to get here, but only one can win.  Personally, as a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, I will have a hard time rooting for either team this week.  If the Patriots were to win, they would pass the Cowboys in all-time Super Bowl wins, with six.  As a division foe, I can’t root for the Eagles either. I can make my prediction for the game; however, and I believe the Patriots will come out on top.  This prediction is not based on stats are team analysis but the fact that the Patriots will be wearing their white jerseys.  The team wearing white has prevailed in 12 of the last 13 Super Bowls, which is more than enough evidence to sway my vote.  Hopefully the game lives up to the hype and provides a satisfying conclusion to the NFL season.

 

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