Quibbl Sports takes a look at the key players, plans of attack, and who-knows-whats in this weekend’s Big Ol’ Game.
By Gavin Byrnes
I’ll admit that I procrastinated writing this preview article, twisting myself into knots attempting (and failing) to find anything positive to say about either team. My usual excitement for the Tremendous Tureen (do not get me started on how obnoxious it is that the NFL is so aggressive about who is and is not allowed to say “Super Bowl”) is rather hard to muster this year, given my established feelings about the two teams participating. I can enjoy a championship in which I am apathetic about both teams, and I can enjoy a big game that’s a blowout; as an example of both of these, I had a great time during Seahawks 43, Broncos 8. But when I openly and unreservedly HATE both teams? That’s going to be a bit trickier. I don’t want to root for injuries, but am I rooting for penalties? As many blocked punts as possible? An infinite overtime that brings about Jon Bois’s prophesied future of endless football?
Anyway, let me see if I can put my seething biases aside and talk a bit about what we can expect in this miserable Uber Urn between two miserable teams (whoops, there I go again). First, lessons learned from the conference championships…
I’ve Made a Huge Mistake
“If there’s a blowout, I think it’ll be by Minnesota.” Well, that was wrong. “If I were coaching Minnesota, I would be telling them to bottle up the rushing and short passing games and make Nick Foles beat them deep.” Well, they did… and he did. I discussed the possibility of a Gronkowski injury helping the Jaguars. He got hurt… and the Patriots came back from a ten-point fourth quarter deficit without him. I said that the Jags should keep the game plan simple for Bortles… and their play-calling was so phenomenally unimaginative that they could barely move the ball in the second half.
This week, I predict that my 1992 Honda Accord won’t be mysteriously transformed into, um, a 2017 Honda Accord.
[NOTE: Add quibbl here, “Will Gavin’s Honda Accord be transformed into an updated model,” “Yes,” “No”]
I WARNED YOU
Had I gone with my head instead of my heart, I would have gotten the winners of both games right. I still believe in you, Blake Bortles (and Jason Mendoza).
On to the Very Good Vessel…
When Philadelphia Has the Ball
Well hello, Nick Foles! After looking like a competent “game manager” quarterback without much in the way of big play capability, Foles was a genuine star in the NFC championship game, throwing for three touchdowns (two of which were for over 40 yards) and over 350 yards against one of the best defenses in the league. The Eagles have revamped their offense around Foles, relying less on his deep ball than they did when Wentz was the starter but still creating big gains by putting their receivers in position to gain more yards after the catch. They also proved themselves capable of running on the Vikings at least enough to not be one-dimensional; Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement didn’t bust open any big plays on the ground, but they got a couple of key first downs early on and controlled the clock with a big lead in the second half.
By the numbers, the Patriots are… not among the best defenses in the league, finishing second to last in DVOA during the regular season. That said, all those old chestnuts about Bill Belichick TAKING AWAY WHAT YOU DO BEST exist for a reason; as this article from FiveThirtyEight explains, the Patriots’ defense has been substantially better in the second half than in the first half all season and especially in the playoffs. Foles might be able to beat the Patriots deep in the first half, but he should be prepared to find those passing lanes shut down in the second — all the more reason it’s vital for Philadelphia to get a lead early.
When New England Has the Ball
Last week I talked about how Philadelphia’s pass defense is excellent against top receivers but struggles against tight ends and running backs catching passes over the middle. This suits New England’s game plan very well if Rob Gronkowski can play. The sensible part of my brain says, “He got a concussion ten days ago! Of course he can’t play!” The realistic part thinks that he’ll clear the league’s protocol and be out there (but possibly not at 100%). After Brady, Gronkowski is the most important and irreplaceable part of the Patriots offense; years of evidence back this up, including the second Peerless Pot loss to the Giants, in which Gronk’s injuries slowed him down and allowed his opponents to devote more attention elsewhere.
*BEEP BEEP FOOTBALL CLICHE INCOMING BEEP BEEP!* For the Eagles to keep Brady and the New England offense in check, they are going TO HAVE TO PLAY SIXTY MINUTES OF FOOTBALL. The Jaguars looked great for a half, but couldn’t keep it up the entire game and ended up tired and picked-apart in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia will try to keep their defensive line fresh so they can get consistent pressure without blitzing; 7 different linemen played more than 36% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps against Minnesota.
One last thing: Philly’s relative weakness against third receivers and passes over the middle bodes well for Danny Amendola, who had an excellent game against Jacksonville and will be needed again.
Something Weird That Might Happen
The only way I really imagine the Eagles winning this game is if they have a pick-six against Brady like they did against Minnesota to give a jolt of momentum. Seriously, I’ve been thinking about this for a full day, and I have an unshakeable feeling that the Patriots will win unless Philly returns an interception for a touchdown.
I’m fine with this because if it happens I’ll feel like a genius and if it doesn’t nobody will care anyway. This is why people make outlandish predictions.
My Gut Feeling
The Patriots have a justified reputation as juggernauts, but none of their seven Bombastic Basin appearances in the Brady / Belichick era has been decided by more than six points. The Eagles just played arguably the best game of the postseason, thoroughly destroying a team some considered the most complete team in the NFL. I can’t see anybody but the most devout Boston homer (read: any Boston homer) expecting a blowout.
I want to pick the Eagles; while I obviously hate both teams, Philadelphia winning would at least be something new. But every time I try to picture the game playing out, I can’t see myself thinking that the Eagles are going to win unless they’re ahead by more than two touchdowns with one quarter left. And I don’t think the game will ever be that lopsided. Philly might be ahead with a few minutes to play, but they won’t hold it. Never Count Out Touchdown Tom. New England 27, Philadelphia 24, Happiness 4. How did happiness get two safeties? I don’t know, I don’t care, and I don’t want to think about this damn game anymore. Enjoy the Cromulent Carafe.
Questions? Comments? Dare we say… QUIBBLS? Get at us in the box below!