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Super Bowl pick: Head says Patriots, heart says Eagles

  • Philadelphia Eagles fans dressed as underdogs watch as players start to warm up before the NFL football NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

The time has come.

Live and direct from your house, friend and/or cousin’s house or your local sports bar is Super Bowl LII (52) this Sunday from Minneapolis.

If they were going to play in a cold-weather stadium, I wish it would be outdoors. It would suck for everyone involved in the game freezing their okoles off, but it would also make for great dramatics on TV.

The Philadelphia Eagles versus the New England Patriots (New England -4.5 favorite). One team is trying to win their first championship in its last three three trips. The other is going for their sixth title in 10 — all five titles won with the same quarterback and head coach.

Is this a “David vs. Goliath” matchup? Other than New England’s first Super Bowl win in 2001, it seems like every championship game with the Patriots feels that way, doesn’t it?

Let’s try to dissect this further.

Offenses

The Patriots have Tom Brady — a five-time Super Bowl winner, a four-time Super Bowl MVP and a future hall-of-famer. The Eagles have Nick Foles, the backup.

Other than New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is elite, both offenses have better-than-average to good players at the skill positions.

Gronk was cleared from concussion protocol Thursday, so it appears he’s good to go Sunday. But even if he doesn’t suit up, Brady has proven he doesn’t need elite players around him to win.

Foles lit up the Minnesota Vikings’ top-ranked defense in the NFC Conference championship, going 26-33 for 352 yards and three touchdowns.

Can Foles do it one more time? If this turns out to be a QB shootout, I’ll go with the one who’s headed for Canton. Pick: Patriots.

Defenses

In the regular season, Philly ranks fifth in total defense while New England ranks 29th.

In the playoffs, the Eagles allowed just 10 points to the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons and seven points to the Vikings. New England gave up 14 points to Marcus Mariota’s Tennessee Titans and 20 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

What sticks out is opposing QBs the Patriots faced put up decent stats. Mariota was 22-37 for 254 yards and two TDs and no interceptions. Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles was 23-36 for one touchdown and no picks. The Pats, though, did total 11 sacks in two postseason games — eight against Mariota. Yikes.

Against the Eagles, last year’s MVP Matt Ryan was 22-36 for 210 yards, one TD, no interceptions and gave up three sacks for Atlanta. Minnesota’s Case Keenum was 28-48 for 271 yards, one TD, two picks and one sack. Both had quarterback ratings of under 30, according to ESPN.

The Eagles D appears to be in better form, but Ryan and Keenum is one thing. We’ll see what happens against Brady. Pick: Eagles.

Coaches

New England’s Bill Belichick is going for his fifth ring. Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson is just in his second year as an NFL head coach.

Though Pederson has done great to get his team to this point despite losing starting QB Carson Wentz, who was having an MVP-caliber season up until suffering an ACL injury in December, this is a no brainer. I’m going with the hoodie. Pick: Patriots.

X-factor

The Eagles have relished the underdog role.

Since becoming the first No. 1 seed in history to open as an underdog, the Eagles have again and again stuck it to their critics.

Dog masks have become big business for Eagles fans since offensive lineman Lane Johnson and defensive end Chris Long wore them on the field after their win over the Falcons. It’s the kind of fandom I can get behind.

Once again, Philadelphia is pegged as the underdog — this time against the defending Super Bowl champs.

Can the Eagles continue to ride this wave? We’ll see, but it’s become a great storyline during the Eagles’ playoff run. Pick: Eagles.

Prediction

I’ve been asked a few times who I’m taking in the big game. Each time, I’ve said, “If I had to bet the house, then the Patriots. But I want the Eagles to win.”

Of course, the smart bet is on New England. But, screw it. I’ll go with my heart over my head.

Look, I understand Brady and Belichick are all-time greats. They’ve already proven themselves as the best quarterback-coach tandem in league history. As the famous idiom says, “Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.”

But every great dynasty falls at some point. The Patriots have been beaten before at the Super Bowl — both times to Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

It’s a tall order for the Eagles. But with a dogged and rabid fan base behind them (pun intended), I’m pulling for the underdogs to upset. Pick: Eagles.

•••

Nick Celario can be reached at ncelario@thegardenisland.com.

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