It would be a lot easier picking the Eagles in the Super Bowl if Tom Brady had stuck to the usual rules of time and reality and simply retired at the advanced age of, say, 37.
That would have been a pretty good spot to ride off into the sunset, on the momentum of his fourth championship and his third Super Bowl MVP performance. Between that and his Brazilian supermodel wife, you have to figure Brady would have been pretty much set.
There is another way of looking at this thing, however. Tom’s way.
Keep playing. Keep winning. Don’t stop until somebody shows they can stop you, consistently.
So here we are, looking at a 40-year-old quarterback who keeps getting better and is favored to win yet another Super Bowl, his sixth if it happens. Is there any reason why New England shouldn’t be celebrating his success all over again late Sunday night?
Well, I can think of a few, and based on them, the pick here is Philadelphia 30-26.
There’s not a ton of confidence behind that call, in part because the Gronk is cleared from concussion protocol and ready to rumble. The Patriots staged a wild comeback win against Atlanta in last year’s Super Bowl without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the game with a bad back. What Brady can achieve in partnership with his favorite target, who is best described as what happens when you put a helmet on a rhino, is far more frightening.
The Eagles have their own strengths, however.
Start with a defense that limited opponents to 79.2 rushing yards per game during the regular season and 78 in the playoffs. That makes teams one-dimensional, and even a wizard like Brady needs all the help he can get.
Pair that with Philadelphia’s ability to put heat on a quarterback with a basic four-man rush. Brandon Graham is the best of them with 9.5 sacks during the regular season but three others in a lively rotation of ends and tackles had at least five sacks, including first-round rookie Derek Barnett.
That frees linebackers to track down running backs on the Patriots’ frequent dink-and-dunk passes, and that’s how Jacksonville frustrated Brady for most of the AFC title game, along with sacking him three times and hitting him seven times.
Move now to offense, where the Eagles have a stout running game (Jay Ajayi and LaGarrette Blount) and three dangerous receiving targets who combined for 25 touchdown catches during the regular season (Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and tight end Zach Ertz, who will try to do to New England what Gronk does to everybody else).
Of course, Carson Wentz is the man you’d want running a show like that, but if it seems that Nick Foles may not be up to it, consider the recent conference championship games.
In one of them, Foles threw for three touchdowns against a Minnesota defense that was supposed to be a whole lot better than that.
In the other, Blake Bortles had the Jaguars up by 10 points on New England and generally looked pretty sharp on a 23-of-36 passing day. Bortles and Foles may not be the same guy but their quarterback ratings are in the same mediocre neighborhood and most NFL head coaches would be looking for an upgrade if either of these two were their starter.
Last, there is the notion that somebody other than the New York Giants is going to finish the job on Brady once they’ve got the Patriots on the ropes.
Seattle had the Lombardi Trophy all but clinched three Super Bowls ago but messed it up on the 1-yard line with 26 seconds to play when Seahawks battering ram Marshawn Lynch didn’t get the ball. A pass play was called instead and a heroic goal-line interception made, allowing New England’s 28-24 lead to stand.
Last year, Atlanta suffered one of the greatest collapses of all time, wasting a 28-3 lead over the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Nothing more was needed from the Falcons but the basic requirement of running time off the clock and avoiding killer penalties. Neither came to pass and Brady eventually buried them in overtime.
Jacksonville also had New England in real trouble in the AFC title game two weeks back, requiring Brady to hit Danny Amendola for two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and to convert a third-and-18 early in the first of those crucial scoring drives. This is all the more remarkable because the Jaguars weren’t supposed to have a chance.
Nostradamus I am not, as proven by years and years of daffy Dolphins picks, but it sure seems to me that the Eagles have a chance on Sunday night, and they’ve got the players to take full advantage of it, to.
If nothing else, there’s the example of that Super Bowl four years ago, when Denver came in as a slight favorite with Peyton Manning at quarterback and wound up losing by 35 points to Seattle.
It’s a one-game shot on one crazy night, that’s all. A tipped pass can turn into an interception. A field-goal try can bounce off the upright. Heck, the lights even went out in the stadium one time.
Either way, here’s hoping we get to see Brady driving the Patriots downfield in the final minutes, to win or fail based on one spectacular play. That’s where this worthy matchup is headed. That’s what makes it super in the first place.