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Super Bowl LII Preview

Michael Maynard, Staff Writer

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As the climax of the sports year approaches, what should be expected from Super Bowl LII? In a rematch of Super Bowl 39, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles prepare to square off in Minneapolis in what may be the least anticipated most anticipated event of the year.

It’s no secret the NFL’s ratings have sunk significantly this year; from National Anthem protests to increased awareness of long term health damage, while many complain all the player protection rules dilute the football from the game. And nobody knows what a catch is. It’s a disaster- but not really.

I’m curious to know how many people don’t watch the Super Bowl this year. Nielsen had last year’s super bowl between the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons at 111.3 million viewers, down about 600,000 from the year prior. The marketing behind the Super Bowl is one of the greatest ever as it appeals to everyone. Most people tend to have interest in either football or music in the halftime show, so it appeals to the two biggest entertainment factions. For those who aren’t, the commercials are supposed to be entertaining as well. At the least, it’s an excuse for people to get together. The majority of Americans will be tuned in to NBC on February 4th at 5:30 CT.

Even with all the antics, true football fans are still going to watch. The “boycott the NFL” narrative is logical, but it’s overblown to an extent. Many moderate football fans may not watch as much, but people who are football fans or have a loyal commitment a team will watch. While the NFL situation is bad, it’s not rock bottom. Regardless of what goes on, millions of people will still tune in to any game regardless. For example, Sunday night football NBC dropped 2 million viewers this season-from 20 million to 18 million. That’s still 18 million people watching. It’s not good to lose a good chunk of viewership, but it isn’t catastrophic at this very moment.

On to actual football, the teams have apparent similarities. Both finished 13-3, both were the top seed in their conference, and both won two home games in the playoffs to get to Minneapolis. Injuries were common both way: Philly lost star, left tackle, Jason Peters and MVP candidate QB Carson Wentz came to season ending injuries, while the Patriots got past injuries to star receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Other than that, that’s about the end of the similarities. The Patriots are 5-2 in Super Bowls in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era- most recently coming back from a 28-3 lead last year against the Falcons. We know what we’re going to get. The mantra of the Patriots is based on consistent dominance. They found a way to win five Super Bowls, and the two losses to the Giants were winnable games. They get it done. From Malcolm Butler’s goal line interception to the 25-point comeback, the Patriots get it done. It might not be pretty, but they will find a way.

On paper, the Patriots are the better team. They return a majority of experienced players from a year ago, and have arguably the most accomplished Super Bowl QB of all time with Tom Brady. The defense isn’t ideal, but managed to keep them in games throughout the season. Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will try to mask any defensive woes by dominating time of possession. This is a signature Patriots quality. They want to keep their best player in Brady on the field as long as possible.

The Eagles would be more favored with Wentz playing – he tore his ACL in a week 14 matchup vs. the Rams – but backup Nick Foles has been serviceable, and has confidence after a great game against the Vikings in the NFC Championship. Should Foles get into a rhythm like the Minnesota game and keep Brady on the sideline, the Eagles will have a chance.

In all seven of the Patriots Super Bowls, the games were decided by one score. All the Eagles can do is keep the game close and make key plays down the stretch.

With all that said, the Eagles  have the ability to do so. Between RBs Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement, WRs Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Torrey Smith, and TE Zach Ertz, the offense has plenty of playmakers the Patriots have reason to be concerned with. Foles won’t be the elite athlete Wentz was, but he doesn’t have to be. The goal is for him to play mistake free football. If the Eagles win the turnover battle, that’s a good sign.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles are solid on defense. They aren’t as good as Jacksonville – who hung with the Pats in the AFC Championship – but they have enough talent to slow down the Patriots. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare. The Eagles won’t be able to match up with him that we’ll, so they have to get to Brady. Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, and former Patriot Chris Long are some names up front to watch for. The more time Brady has to throw, the more trouble the Eagles are in.

This feels like the Patriots game to win or lose. Vegas agrees, favoring the Patriots at -4.5 as of now. The Eagles will have to play a near perfect game, and even that may not be enough. Blake Bortles had a career day, and the Jags still lost. Both history and season tendencies say this should be a competitive game. Which is what the fans want to see, and for their own sake, so does the NFL.

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Super Bowl LII Preview