On September 25, 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles and Carson Wentz put the Steelers on notice that they had become a rising power in the NFL—trouncing the Black-and-gold 34-3 while completely stifling the vaunted Steelers’ offense. Barring Wentz’s season-ending ACL tear suffered in Week 14 during Philadelphia’s win over the Rams, it’s unlikely the Patriots would be the near-unanimous favorite on Sunday to win their sixth Super Bowl.
The Eagles have one of the league’s top defenses, ranking No. 4 during the regular season as a team. In fact, the Eagles’ defense allowed opponents nearly 1,000 fewer total yards than the Patriots. Thus far in the playoffs, the Eagles’ defense has allowed only 17 points in two victories over the Falcons and Vikings. While Philadelphia’s pass defense was only average, their run defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL during the regular season, allowing opponents to average only 79.2 yards per game on the ground.
But the basic challenge facing the Eagles on Super Bowl Sunday will be the same one which has confounded the Steelers and other NFL teams in the past — how to stop Tom Brady and the NFL’s most diverse and potent offense. Game-planning to stop the Pats’ running game and force Brady to throw normally is a prescription for disaster. And regardless of the many good things which can be said about Nick Foles, reality views him primarily as a backup, journeyman quarterback in the league. Thus, out-dueling the league’s premier quarterback in the Super Bowl would represent nothing short of a miracle for Foles and the Eagles. But that’s precisely why Philadelphia shouldn’t be totally discounted from staging an upset.
Speaking of miracles, though, it would dispute everything we know about the Patriots’ ability to prepare for crucial games—and also to make halftime adjustments—if Belichick’s team isn’t entirely ready for whatever the Eagles might have up their sleeves. It’s been quite awhile since any opponent caught the Pats napping in a game of this magnitude.
So while I’m not dismissing the possibility of a surprise in Super Bowl 52, it’s far more likely that Brady and company will reassert their dominance of the NFL on the most important Sunday of the season. Yes, Steelers fans are going to hate watching a repeat of last year’s New England spectacle. Absolutely, we’d love to see that other team from Pennsylvania deny the Pats bragging rights on a par with those of the Black-and-gold. But I think we’ve all seen this movie enough times before, that the ending should come as no surprise.