Super Bowl 52: In-Depth Analysis (1/29/18)

By Paul Bessire

Super Bowl 52 Pages:
Super Bowl 52 Analysis
Super Bowl 52 Picks
Patriots vs. Eagles Projected Boxscore
Super Bowl 52 Props
Super Bowl Hypotheticals
GameChangers: Year in Review
Super Bowl Line Movements

Sunday, February 4 at 6:30 PM ET:

Philadelphia Eagles +5.5 @ New England Patriots (Covers 52.8%), OVER 48 (Covers 54.2%)
ATS Play Type: Light
O/U Play Type: Light

The Vitals:

Projected Score: Philadelphia 23.2 - New England 27.6
SU Pick and Win%: New England wins 60.7%
Week 21 SU Confidence Rank: #1
ATS Pick and Win%: Philadelphia Eagles +5.5 covers 52.8%
ATS Wager for $50 player: $4
O/U Pick and Win%: OVER (48) 54.2%
O/U Wager for $50 Player: $19

The Teams: PHI NE
Straight-Up Record 15-3 15-3
Against-the-Spread Record 12-5 10-7
Over/Under Record 8-10 7-9
Avg. Points For vs. Against 28.3-17.3 28.7-18.3
Strength of Schedule Rank (of all NFL) #1 #2
PM Passing Efficiency Rank #2 #1
PM Rushing Efficiency Rank #2 #1
PM Pass Defense Efficiency Rank #1 #2
PM Rush Defense Efficiency Rank #1 #2
Actual Pass/Run Ratio 55.4%/44.6% #59.2%/40.8%
Turnover Margin +12 +5

Injured Players: Jordan Hicks, LB, Philadelphia Eagles, Sidney Jones, CB, Philadelphia Eagles, Chris Maragos, S, Philadelphia Eagles, Jason Peters, T, Philadelphia Eagles, Donnel Pumphrey, RB, Philadelphia Eagles, Darren Sproles, RB, Philadelphia Eagles, Caleb Sturgis, K, Philadelphia Eagles, Joe Walker, LB, Philadelphia Eagles, Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles, Martellus Bennett, TE, New England Patriots, Marcus Cannon, T, New England Patriots, Nate Ebner, S, New England Patriots, Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots, Mike Gillislee, RB, New England Patriots, Dont'a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots, Cyrus Jones, CB, New England Patriots, Shea McClellin, LB, New England Patriots, Malcolm Mitchell, WR, New England Patriots, Derek Rivers, DE, New England Patriots, LaAdrian Waddle, T, New England Patriots

Wagering Information: ATS Bets - 58% Philadelphia, 42% New England; O/U Bets - 67% Over, 33% Under

The Breakdown:

Game Summary
Super Bowl 52 features the top seeds from the AFC and NFC and the two teams that spent the most time in the top spot of our NFL Power Rankings. While that all sounds great, these are very different squads, with very different journeys to this point. What was the second-most likely Super Bowl in our analysis heading into the playoffs, Philadelphia just won two home games by a combined 36 points despite being underdogs (in Vegas - Prediction Machine had the Eagles as favorites over Atlanta and as exactly 50/50 against the Vikings) against two of the league's best and most efficient teams. One win was a blow out over the Vikings, while the Eagles narrowly defeated Atlanta. New England's victories also included one easy win and one nail-biter, dominating the clearly inferior Titans, while struggling in the Conference Championship against the defensively elite Jaguars. Despite the struggle, the Patriots have won five straight and 13 of the last 14 (8 of those by double digits). Philadelphia has won five of the last six games and only has eight wins by double digits on the year. The win over the Vikings was their first such performance with Nick Foles at starting quarterback instead of Carson Wentz.

The Patriots and Eagles will each travel on the road for the first time this postseason to meet in Minnesota. Aside from the successes, these teams are different in almost every way. While we may have had one of the league's greatest ever quarterbacks facing this year's likely MVP from the same position, we now get the GOAT against a player with 39 career across six seasons who has as many losses as a starter as Tom Brady does in his last eight seasons (124 starts). With such disparity at the most important position, the Patriots are clearly favorites. However, the Eagles' edge in the trenches warrants watching, especially if this ends up "closer than the experts think." Expect balance and a general lack of exploitable weaknesses to win out for the favored Patriots, but in a relative shootout.

After a 7-9 season left the Eagles out of the postseason, six games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East in Carson Wentz's first year (2016), expectations for the 2017 season were admittedly tempered. The consensus over/under season win total for the team before the year was 8.0 wins and the Eagles were +4000 to win the Super Bowl. The 2016 team underachieved. On talent, Philadelphia ranked as the 12th best roster in the league in 2016 and graded above average in run blocking, run defense, pass rush and special teams. Meanwhile, Wentz started 2016 very strong, yet faded after his first three games, leaving fans and prognosticators not entirely sure what to make of the small school prospect. All of those facets that were good in 2016, translated into success in 2017 and Wentz put together 13 games of MVP caliber football before multiple knee injuries against the Rams knocked him out for the year. With some improvement in coverage, a few more explosive plays and a good amount of luck regression, Philadelphia put up some great performances and won 11 regular season games.

An easy early schedule set the Eagles up for a hot start. Philadelphia won games over the Redskins (twice), Giants, Chargers, Cardinals, Panthers, 49ers and Broncos before their Week 10 bye. Having proven themselves, the schedule got tougher down the stretch with matchups in Seattle and at the Rams in back-to-back weeks before losing Wentz. Philadelphia's defense carried this team through the more difficult times. The Eagles have held their last four opponents to ten or fewer points (an average of 8.2 points-per-game) and nine opponents have been held under 20 points on the year. Their four most recent opponents ranked #7, 8, 15 and 18 in our final strength-of-schedule adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. Through 18 games, the Eagles have played the 18th ranked strength-of-schedule, out-gaining opponents by 0.5 yards-per-play and winning by 11.0 points-per-game (8.8 ppg difference with Foles as starter). Philadelphia is 15-3 straight-up and 12-5-1 against-the-spread, with three of the five against-the-spread losses and the push coming in games for which the Eagles were favored by at least six points. The UNDER is 10-8 in Eagles'' games this year and has covered in three of the last four games. Our projections are 13-5 straight-up, 9-8-1 against-the-spread and 9-9 on the over/under in Eagles' games this season. They are 4-1-1 straight-up (NFC Championship was even the tenth of a point in our projections), 3-2-1 against-the-spread and 3-3 over/under in Nick Foles' games.

New England entered the year as the clear favorite. At 35.5%, the Patriots were the strongest Super Bowl favorite we have ever projected in the NFL before the season even starter and we had them projected to win 2.4 more games than anyone else the in regular season. Defensive additions turned the defending Super Bowl champions into a perceived, historically dominant squad. While the Patriots finished the year tops in our power rankings and are still projected to win the Super Bowl, the team still never lived up to that hype. New England lost its first game of the season by 15 points and started the year with a 1-5 against-the-spread record (allowing 26.5 points-per-game in that stretch). New England bounced back to win and cover in six straight games and ultimately held 11 opponents to 20 or fewer points. The Patriots played the NFL's fifth easiest schedule, out-gained opponents by 0.22 yards-per-play and earned the top seed in the conference with a 13-3 record. New England is known for Brady and a diverse, very difficult to defend offense. The Patriots entered the postseason with BOTH the second most efficient passing and run offense.

The Patriots have been very good as of late. They are likely capable of dominating most teams and could probably compete with just about any team in NFL history. But they played one of the easiest schedules in the league - the easiest in the NFL over the final 12 weeks of the season. In part, that is due to the fact that they did not have to play themselves, but the competition, especially with respect to Tom Brady's counterparts was not great. In games the Patriots have covered the spread this season the team faced a banged up Marcus Mariota, Bryce Petty, Tyrod Taylor (twice), Jay Cutler (once and lost outright to him another time), Derek Carr, Trevor Siemian, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. Those last three QBs have been very good. The others? Meanwhile, the Patriots have lost ATS to Alex Smith, Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Josh McCown, Jay Cutler and Blake Bortles (hmm... Nick Foles may want to consider running the ball).

On the year, the Patriots are 15-3 straight-up and 10-7-1 against-the-spread. The UNDER is 9-7-2 in Patriots' games. New England has been favored in every game this season and has been a touchdown or more favorite in 15 of 18 games. Prediction Machine's projection in Patriots' games is 14-4 straight-up, 7-10-1 against-the-spread (winning 3 out of the last 4 ATS) and 6-10 on totals (fortunately, there is no pick ATS here for these teams, but we do have a play on the OVER).

Philadelphia won yards-per-play differential convincingly this season despite only throwing the ball 55.4% of the time. On average this season, teams threw the ball 57.7% of the time. This is actually down from the previous year (59.4%) for the first time in the last 12 seasons. Nine of the 12 playoff teams were more run oriented than average.

From a trends perspective, this game is a little different from those in recent Super Bowl history. Six of the last seven Super Bowls had featured a spread of a field goal or less. The last time we saw a spread above a field goal, Baltimore was winning outright in New Orleans over the 49ers as 5.5 point underdogs. Prediction Machine's pick is also different than the norm. Eight of the nine Super Bowl picks on have been on the underdog and seven of nine picks have been opposite the public. In fact, up until last season, we had always had a strong opinion against-the-spread. Until Super Bowl 51, all seven Super Bowl picks on the site have now been "normal" or better plays with greater than 57% confidence.

The degree to which that is all true is compelling, though. Super Bowl favorites have historically received about 49% of all bets. This year, the favorite is receiving just 42% of all action and the line has not moved from opening at -6 to -5.5 when the pick was originally published last week all the way to -4.5 in most books today. Speaking of which, though Super Bowls were often considered blowouts (12 of the first 20 Super Bowls with recorded spreads had a favorite of more than a touchdown - and the first six of those covered), the last nine Super Bowls (all of the Super Bowls we have projected on this site) have featured a spread of less than six points. Despite the bias the public has for these games (especially towards offense and recent performance), teams are generally evenly matched when they get to this point and the expected outcome is not all that different than a normal game.

While their journeys are clearly different and the matchup looks like a classic, the final result in the prediction lines up with expectations. How the game is won however, will come down to the differences between these teams. New England has the elite offense, skill position players and coaching, while the Eagles win at the offensive and defensive lines.

“Styles make fights” is an oft-used cliché around the office. Generally, the team with the fewest exploitable weaknesses has the best chance to win in a contest that is otherwise similar. That's not necessarily true here with New England expected to win. The Patriots have more weaknesses in quantity, but the gap between Nick Foles and Tom Brady (as the public likely assumes) is too great for the Eagles to overcome in the average expectations.

The Patriots and Eagles played six common opponents all season. Against those teams - Kansas City, the Chargers, Carolina, Denver, Oakland and Atlanta - Philadelphia went 5-1 straight-up and 4-1-1 against-the-spread with an average final score in those games of 26.7-19.5. Against those same opponents, New England was 4-2 straight-up and 4-2 against-the-spread with an average score of 29.2-19.8. No real conclusions to draw with that analysis; just interesting.

Using strength-of-schedule-adjusted, play-by-play statistics, Prediction Machine'shas played Super Bowl 50 50,000 times before it's actually played. The New England Patriots win outright 60.7% of those games and by an average score of 27.6-23.0. As 5.5 point favorites, who win by 4.6 average, the Eagles cover the spread 52.8% of the time, which is barely playable. At least 52.38% confidence is required to win at the typical -110 juice, which means that the pick is not currently playable at +5 or +4.5. The OVER (48) hits 54.2% of the time. At 54.2% confidence, the OVER is worth a $19 play to a normal $50 player. Utilizing the Parlay Calculator, Philadelphia (+5.5) and OVER (48) both cover 28.6% of the time. Remarkably, this is just the second time in nine Super Bowls we have projected on the site for which we have a "normal" opinion against-the-spread.

Matchup Analysis
In analyzing games, the team that wins a game is most often the team that best exploits favorable matchups and generally gets a little "lucky." While luck usually comes from turnovers, especially when the two teams are otherwise evenly matched, balance is critical to success. In this case, balance does not necessarily mean that a team must pass as often as it runs, but that it must find the right mix of decisions to exploit the other team's weaknesses while hiding its own.

Let's take a close look at the matchups in Super Bowl 52:

New England's Run Offense vs. Philadelphia Run Defense:
Last season, the Patriots relied heavily on the running game early in the season when Tom Brady was suspended and both quarterbacks who filled in for him - Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo - were considerably more mobile. Lead back, LeGarrette Blount topped 100 yards rushing in two of the first three games this season and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns. Last year's Super Bowl was the third consecutive to feature two run-oriented teams (relative to the NFL average). Now, Blount is on the Eagles, Brady has played a full season and the Patriots' leading running back (Dion Lewis) averaged 11.2 carries-per-game and totaled just six rushing touchdowns. New England threw the ball the third most often of any team that ended the season with a winning record.

This is still a very efficient running game, however. Lewis has averaged 5.0 yards-per-carry and has stayed healthy to help the team down the stretch (he missed last year's playoff run until barely making it into the Super Bowl). Lewis topped 60 rushing yards AND six yards-per-carry five times in the last seven games.

Unlike Blount last year or Mike Gillislee this year, Lewis can be explosive and efficient. Lewis is joined in the backfield currently by James White and Rex Burkhead, two other "change of pace" backs more adept at running routes than picking up yardage on the ground. As versatile as the New England offense can be, the Patriots currently rely on the running game to eat clock and protect leads more than as a means to build a lead (Lewis' rushing average with the lead is 5.3 and it is 5.4 in the fourth quarter). This run offense ranks as being the second most efficient in football.

The Eagles run defense, which allowed 3.8 yards-per-carry on the year, is one of the strongest units in this game. Philadelphia lead the NFL in forcing negative running plays and fewest yards gained on the ground before contact. Ezekiel Elliott in Week 17 was the only player to top 100 yards rushing against the Eagles - and it took him 27 carries to get 103. While that's largely predicated on the fact that the Eagles' prolific offense (with Wentz healthy) forced the opposition to throw more to keep up (teams threw the ball 66% of the time against Philadelphia), the Eagles were still elite at taking away teams' abilities to dictate tempo on the ground.

In the projected Super Bowl 52 boxscore, the Patriots run for just 4.1 yards-per-carry. New England does top 100 rushing yards (104 yards on 25 carries) with much of that presumably coming in the fourth quarter with the lead. Four players are projected to run the ball, with only Lewis topping four yards-per-carry in this game. Unless the Patriots get a double digit lead by the third quarter and need the running game to ice the contest, the way this game is played will not likely dictate that this matchup plays a big role on the final outcome.
Edge: Eagles

New England Pass Offense vs. Philadelphia Pass Defense:
In 18 games this season, Tom Brady has dropped back 710 times. He completed 66.5% of his 672 pass attempts with a league-leading 5,204 yards (7.7 yards-per-attempt), 37 TDs and just eight interceptions. He has taken 38 sacks, which is more than double last season at this time in 14 games. Brady is generally considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. This season, even at 40 years old, he continues to play at that level.

When the Patriots' versatility is cited on offense, the team's ability to adjust from game to game and during the game with its passing game weapons is what leads that discussion. On the year, seven players for the Patriots have been targeted in the passing game at least 35 times. Eight have scored receiving touchdowns. And five have at least 400 yards receiving. The Patriots have one 1,000+ yard wide receiver (Brandin Cooks), a tight end who had led the team in TDs and catches (Rob Gronkowski), a home run threat averaging 16.2 yards-per-reception (Phillip Dorsett), the league's leader in catch percentage among receivers (Danny Amendola) and three tremendous running backs out of the back field who can beat teams in space (Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White). Last year, Julian Edelman was the 1000+ yard receiver, Martellus Bennett led the team in touchdowns and Chris Hogan was the home run threat. Everyone has a role. How that player is utilized from game to game and in game to adjust to what the defense allows is what separates Brady and this offense apart from most others.

As impressive as the run defense has been, the Eagles have done that while also generating the most amount of pressures in football from their defensive line and having one of the lowest blitz rates in football. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Timmy Jernigan and others have been that good. Being able to shut down the run and pressure the quarterback without blitzing is a great recipe for success in the NFL. It's even more relevant in this game. Tom Brady is one of the best there has ever been against the blitz this season, yet every quarterback will struggle with pressure when the opposition does not have to show its hand and bring extra players to get it.

Brady and the Patriots are 9-12 against-the-spread in the postseason dating back to the end of their famed 2007 season. The Patriots have lost 16 games against-the-spread in the NFL Playoffs under Brady and Bill Belichick. Fourteen of those were as favorites. Those ATS losses were as:
  • -6 vs. Tennessee in 2004 (17-14 win)
  • -7 vs. Carolina in 2004 (32-29 win)
  • -7 vs. Philadelphia in 2005 (24-21 win)
  • -13.5 vs. Jacksonville in 2008 (31-20 win)
  • -14 vs. San Diego in 2008 (21-12 win)
  • -12.5 vs. New York Giants in 2008 (17-14 loss)
  • -4 vs. Baltimore in 2010 (33-14 loss)
  • -9.5 vs. New York Jets in 2011 (28-21 loss)
  • -7.5 vs. Baltimore in 2012 (23-20 win)
  • -2.5 vs. New York Giants in 2012 (21-17 loss)
  • -9.5 vs. Baltimore in 2013 (28-13 loss)
  • -7 vs. Baltimore in 2015 (35-31 win)
  • -3.5 @ Denver in 2016 (20-18 loss)
  • -9 vs. Jacksonville in 2018 (24-20 win)
Of those 14 games, 13 were played against Top 8 pass rushes from the regular season, ten were as 7+ point favorites (six by nine or more points) and 13 were as favorites by more than a field goal with six of those results coming in games decided by a field goal or less. The most recent eight ATS playoff losses for Brady and the Patriots are most interesting. Baltimore (4 times), the Giants (twice) the Jets, Denver and Jacksonville from those respective seasons match what we see out of Philadelphia now: elite pass rushes without much blitzing, solid coverage and a below average quarterback (for that season) that underrates the entire team relative to public perception. Meanwhile, the Patriots have covered in that same stretch of time against Indianapolis twice, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Houston twice, Atlanta and Seattle. Seattle had a top eight pass rush and should have won that game. Houston did not actually have elite pass rush by the time the Patriots played the Texans in either of those games. Otherwise, those teams have good quarterbacks with shiny weapons, but nothing offensively on the Patriots level and nothing much on defense.

In the secondary, the Eagles are good, but not great. This is the major difference defensively between the Eagles and the Patriots last opponent, the Jaguars (in the passing game - the teams could not be more different on the ground). The Eagles ended the season ranked fifth in our pass defense rankings. That's not good enough to shutdown Brady.

For this simulation, we assume full health for Rob Gronkowski. More on his potential absence is covered here.

While this type of matchup tends to benefit the underdog against-the-spread, the Patriots still get the edge overall. New England averages 7.8 yards-per-pass in our projections for this game and gives up 2.2 sacks to Philadelphia.
Edge: Patriots

Philadelphia Run Offense vs. New England Run Defense:
It's subtle, but, if the Eagles are to have a real chance, this is likely where the game is won (and if it is not this specific matchup, the Patriots' overall defense is the difference).

The Eagles, who are more run-heavy than league average, have put up 4.5 yards-per-carry this season on the strength of the best offensive line in football (even without star left tackle Jason Peters) as well as a three-pronged attack with LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement and recently acquired Jay Ajayi at running back. Ajayi has averaged 5.2 yards-per-carry in his nine games on the Eagles with 103 carries for 535 yards. Blount, who the Patriots leaned on last season, has totaled 766 yards on 173 carries (4.4 yards-per-carry). And Corey Coleman has put up 344 yards rushing on just 77 rushes (4.5 ypc). He also has six touchdowns on just 93 touches for the season. Unlike New England, the Eagles leverage the running game for explosive plays. Philadelphia has had nearly twice as many (19) 20+ yard runs this season as the Patriots (10).

Philadelphia out gained opponents on the ground this season by 0.7 yards per carry. New England was out gained by opponents by 0.5 yards per carry.

While Philadelphia has only allowed one 100 yard rushers this season, New England allowed four running backs to do so. The Patriots went 1-3 against-the-spread in those games and 2-2 straight-up. This is in stark contrast to last year's team that entered the Super Bowl having not allowed any player to top 90 rushing yards at any point. The Patriots have allowed opponents to rush for just 4.7 yards-per-carry (second worst in the NFL), which is almost a full yard worse than last season. The ten worst run defenses in our metrics - Chargers (#9 overall in final regular season NFL Power Rankings), Rams (#6), Redskins (#18), Steelers (#3), Saints (#4), Bengals (#27), Patriots (#1), Bills (#22), Jaguars (#4) and Texans (#32) - include some the best teams in the league. Stopping the run is not a critical component to winning football games - especially with an explosive passing offense that can score much quicker than a running team - but it absolutely gains relevance in a matchup like this.

(CLICHE ALERT: These statements cliches and probably obvious, but they are also very true for this game). Philadelphia would prefer to establish and build off of the threat of the run to dictate tempo, keep the ball out of Tom Brady's hands and take pressure off of Nick Foles (literally and figuratively). Against the league's best run blocking line, the Patriots should have real trouble taking that away.

The projections see the Eagles rush for 132 yards on 29 carries for 4.5 yards-per-carry. The degree to which they are better or worse than that in the final boxscore should be the most telling postgame stat. The Eagles outgain the Patriots by almost half a yard per run.
Edge: Eagles

Philadelphia Pass Offense vs. New England Pass Defense:
So, this is where Nick Foles matters (for more on Wentz vs. Foles, check this out). Welp. Remember how we just said that running the ball does not matter much, but it gains relevance in a game and matchup like this? The Eagles outgain the Patriots by a half a yard per carry in our projected boxscore of this game. The Patriots outgain the Eagles by almost two full yards per pass. That leads to a 6.0 to 5.2 yards-per-play edge for the Patriots and a subsequent 4.6 point edge in the boxscore for New England.

On the year, including the playoffs, Foles, has dropped back 171 times (539 fewer than Brady). 38% of those dropbacks have come in the two playoff games. He is 106-of-164 (64.6% completion) for 1,135 yards (6.9 yards-per-attempt), 8 TDs and two interceptions. Of his yardage total, 53% of that has come in the postseason. He has had two very good starts, one terrible start and one just good enough start (plus a game he only played sparingly in Week 17). This is really a microcosm of his career. With the Eagles in 2013, Foles took Chip Kelly's innovative offense and turned it into a playoff season with an 8-2 record as a starter, 27 TDs and just two interceptions. Two years later, he took the opposite of that with Jeff Fisher and the Rams and went 4-7 with 7 TDs and 10 interceptions. With a good offensive line, strong running game, clean pocket and some clear reads, Foles can be great. Give him anything else and it's ugly. We know Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will do everything they can to get to the ugly Foles.

And if much of New England's versatility comes from its weapons in the passing game, this pass offense often looks like the opposite. Just four players have been targeted more than 35 times - three of which more than 95 times - and no one tops 825 receiving yards. This offense is built around using play action to set up big plays to Alshon Jeffery (120 targets, 57 receptions, 789 yards), Zach Ertz (110 targets, 74 receptions, 824 yards) or Nelson Algholor (95 targets, 62 receptions and 768 yards). That worked in the last game when those three combined for 16 catches, 237 yards and two touchdowns. It also makes game planning for the greatest game planner of all time pretty straight-forward. In our final strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency metrics, the Eagles come in 20th in pass offense, the only facet of their game not in the top ten overall.

It's a shame for the Eagles because this Patriots team can be had. Not only have mobile quarterbacks frustrated this Alabama New England team, the defense has struggled to remain consistent against the pass. The Patriots rank 16th in our pass efficiency rankings defensively. They allowed 6.8 yards-per-pass to a below average quarterback schedule, intercepting two percent of attempts and sacking the quarterback just less than seven percent of the time. League averages are 6.6 yards-per-attempt, two percent and just over six percent. The Patriots were just above average against a below average schedule - so, average.

That's overall. They also have completely shut down the passing games of the Bills, Dolphins, Chargers, Titans, Jets, Broncos and Falcons (not too surprisingly, three of those teams were in the division against teams they face twice a year), while getting exploited by the Chiefs, Saints, Jets, Buccaneers, Panthers and Texans. Yes, literally the six worst performances for this pass defense came in the first six weeks. The next most yards they allowed was last game against the Jaguars and their worst performance otherwise was against the Steelers in Week 15. The second half of the schedule has been pretty clean, but also very easy for this defense.

This pass offense is not very good, but it's probably better than most assumed under Nick Foles. This pass defense is average, but it's much better than it looked early in the season. And while we cannot formally give the "edge" to either in this matchup, the simple fact that the Patriots win the other matchup through the air means something.

In the projections, Foles throws for 6.5 yards-per-attempt on 33 attempts and is sacked 2.5 times. That's better than his regular season numbers this year, yet not likely the boxscore stats of a Super Bowl champion
Edge: Push

Special Teams:
In the short-term (i.e. one game, not 50,000), a big special teams play has far more relevance than it does in assessing teams' general strengths and weaknesses. In other words, this will be short because it does not mean too much to this exercise. New England and Philadelphia both finished above average in our overall special teams rankings, yet neither is in the top five. Stephen Gostkowsi is a slightly better kicker than Jake Elliott like Donnie Jones is a slightly better punter than Ryan Allen. Philadelphia has a notable edge in returning, but the Patriots have the superior coverage units.
Edge: Eagles (barely)

Misc. - Coaching, Penalties, Turnovers
Like Dan Quinn last year, Doug Pederson has done a very good job with the Eagles in two years. He hired Jim Schwartz who has seemingly gotten the most out of this defense. He has been an aggressive coach, making smart, generally analytically driven decisions in all facets of the game. This is a very similar matchup between strengths and weaknesses as the Patriots faced against the Jaguars in the AFC Championships, but unlike Doug Marrone, Doug Pederson is unlikely to play scared. But it's year two and it's difficult to know or trust that Pederson is headed down a path more like his counterpart or that of Quinn (I'd lean "not Quinn" for now). His counterpart in this matchup, Bill Belichick, also happens to be the greatest coach and NFL tactician that we have ever seen.

It's not specifically part of this category, but experience is relevant. New England was in the Super Bowl last year has a wealth of experience. The Eagles entered the season with the league's fifth oldest roster, yet relies on inexperienced starters at key spots - quarterback, left tackle and kicker.

With penalties, the Patriots should draw more penalties and for more yards (5.6 for 50.8 is the Eagles yardage gained via penalty total in our boxscore, while the Patriots get 6.9 for 61.5). In the postseason, the Patriots have relied on drawing penalties to pick up critical chunks of yardage. Plus, uh, they are the Patriots. The Patriots rank second in the NFL is penalties-per-play margin and are in the top ten in yards-per-penalty margin. The Eagles rank second in yards-per-penalty margin, but have been called for more penalties per play than opponents.

Similarly, turnovers. New England was dominant yet again at holding onto the ball and limiting turnovers. The Patriots are +5 in turnover margin. Philadelphia is +12, yet that perceived edge narrows when factoring in luck and the injuries to Wentz and Peters. In the boxscore, both teams turn the ball over 1.4 times.
Edge: Patriots

Based on that information, here are the most important players for each team:

Most Important Offensive Player to a Patriots' Victory: Shaq Mason, RG, New England Patriots
Tom Brady is likely to be Tom Brady. His variability around expected results is not high as long as he plays and is healthy the whole game (if he were not to play or got hurt, no single player in the NFL more impacts any game with his absence). The best way to ensure that all is true, that Brady plays at normal-to-peak Brady and that the offense succeeds is to win at the line of scrimmage. While we do not expect Mason to consistently do that against Fletcher Cox (and/or Timmy Jernigan), the degree to which Mason can fend off Cox is critical to the Patriots in this matchup. As we have seen with players like Aaron Donald, Calais Campbell and Jurell Casey (and previously against Brady by players like Haloti Ngata) interior pressure can derail a passing offense. Mason will probably get help, but he needs to play a very good game if the Patriots are going to win handily. Mason had a good year and stopped Casey, but he was dominated by the Campbell and the Jaguars. That's notable.

Most Important Defensive Player to a Patriots' Victory: Kyle Van Noy, LB
Van Noy is always looking for a big play and tends to find his share. Unfortunately for the Patriots, he often does not make enough of the normal plays he needs to, grading as the worst defensive starter in this game and missing 11 tackles on the year, despite only starting 12 games this year. His play is obviously valuable as a linebacker needed to stop the run and sometimes help in coverage, but it has gained exponential importance without Dont'a Hightower. In this run-heavy matchup, Van Noy will be needed to be sharp every down and not take too many chances.

Most Important Offensive Asset to a Eagles' Victory: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, LT
Everything that the Eagles want to do offensively - regardless of the quarterback - is predicated on having a good offensive line. They run often and efficiently, use play action at a high rate and well and like to take chances on explosive plays deep down field in the passing game. Quarterbacks need time for that. Foles needs even more time than Wentz and is less mobile making the offensive line even more important. The Eagles had the best offensive line in football this year... despite Vaitai. Jason Peters, a likely future Hall of Fame player, only played seven games at left tackle this year. The rest has been up to Vaitai, who has allowed nine sacks and 43 pressures in part-time duty. That needs to improve for the Eagles to play their best.

Most Important Defensive Player to a Eagles'' Victory: Jalen Mills, CB
Mills has actually had a pretty good and vastly improved sophomore season with the Eagles as starting cornerback. Though he is better, Mills still represents the biggest weakness in the Eagles' defense - pass coverage in the secondary - and remains the most likely player to give up a critical big play. Mills will likely see quite a bit of Brandin Cooks without normal safety help given the attention the team will need to pay to Rob Gronkowski.

While it warrants monitoring, these teams are pretty healthy at this point. Major injuries are known and have impacted the teams for several weeks. For the Eagles, Wentz and Peters are out as are contributors Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles and Chris Maragos, but none of those players has seen the field in over a month. Dannell Ellerbe is banged-up, yet should play and was just signed in November. Ellerbe is worth watching as his backup, Najee Goode was responsible for a blown assignment on the Vikings' lone TD in the NFC Championship game. New England had the most notable two injuries of the playoffs - losing Rob Gronkowski in the first half of the game against the Jaguars and Tom Brady getting stitches on his hand in practices - yet Gronkowski is practicing already and Brady had his stitches removed after carving up the Jaguars in the second half (without Gronkowski) last week.

Line Movement: Every dog (backer) has its day. Over the past three weeks, nine of the ten NFL dogs celebrated that day or, in the case of the Philadelphia Eagles, days - plural. Playoff underdogs are 9-1 against-the-spread (or 8-1-1 or 8-2 depending on which line you use for the Vikings vs. Saints) heading into the Super Bowl with Philly winning outright to advance to the Eagles' first Super Bowl since 2005 despite being at least a field goal underdog in each of its playoff games.

In addition to casual Philadelphia money pouring in, the underdog trend caused the Super Bowl's opening line to shift significantly over the first 12 hours.

New England opened as consensus 6-point favorites with an O/U of 46.5. Shortly thereafter, the spread dipped to Pats -5.5, while the O/U rose first to 47 then to 47.5 before locking in at 48 where it has remained. In those first few hours after the Eagles clinched the NFC Championship, the -5.5-point spread came with a variety of vigs as books clamored for Patriots' backers at discounted prices. By Monday morning, the line fell as low as New England (-5), while (-5.5) was listed on about half of the notable sports books. The -5 (NEP -116, PHI -104) /-5.5 oddsboards haven't shifted too much over the past few days.

Eagles (+5) ATS bets account for 58% of the action, while Philadelphia (+180) straight moneyline bets account for 68%. The OVER money is at 62%.

We have a light play on the Eagles (+5.5) and take the OVER (48). If you can find PHI +5.5 or +6, it's in your best interest to jump on it now as our pick at +5 does not carry value (at least 52.4% confidence is needed for a bet to be considered profitable or playable and the pick is only 51% at +5). In the possible case that so much Eagles money hits the books that the spread dips to +4, the projection backs the Patriots to cover with value.

We don't place much emphasis on season-to-date gambling trends; especially in this instance where the Eagles were forced to swap quarterbacks late. However, when you combine the regular and postseasons, the Eagles and Patriots are both now 12-6 against-the-spread. New England is 9-1 SU and 8-2 ATS over their past 10 games (including an ATS loss in the AFC Championship), while the Eagles are 8-2 SU and 6-4 ATS. As a starter, Nick Foles is 2-3 ATS, but both covers came over the past two weeks with straight-up wins as an underdog.

Boxscore: Philadelphia Eagles, 23 @ New England Patriots, 28

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