This article is part of our Beating the Book series.
Last year I was wrong on the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010, and only because I had the Falcons plus three in a game they were winning 28-3 in the third quarter and that went to overtime. Not that I'm bitter about it.
This year, I had no immediate lean after the conference championship games, but after I sat on it awhile I feel pretty clear.
Super Bowl LII
Eagles +4.5 vs. Patriots
Before the close win by the Patriots and the Eagles' blowout of the Vikings, the hypothetical line between these teams was seven. Moreover, the Eagles were home underdogs in consecutive weeks against the Falcons and Vikings and nearly lost to Atlanta but for some awful playcalling near the goal line by the Falcons. I can't imagine the Patriots coming back from 10 points down against one of the league's top defenses despite not having Rob Gronkowski dinged their stock price much. Instead, I'd chalk up the narrowing line to Nick Foles' surprisingly excellent play against the league's other top defense. While one game shouldn't move the needle that much, one otherworldly game against top competition from a player who had an all-time great 13-game season in 2013 might. Suddenly, what could have been an ugly blowout looks like it might be a fight. And it might.
But the Patriots should get Rob Gronkowski back from a concussion, and the Eagles defensive backs aren't in the same class as the Jaguars' DBs. On the year, the Eagles allowed 6.5 YPA (still good, but not as good as the Jags' 6.0), and 24 TD catches to Jacksonville's 17. Moreover, the Eagles struggled against hurry-up offenses, a fact of which Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are no doubt aware:
#Eagles D vs huddle (vs no-huddle)Comp%: 58.9% (68.0%)Yards/Att: 6.0 (8.7)Passer Rating: 73.8 (106.5)- NFL Avg: 87.3 (86.1)QB Pressure Rate: 42.2% (36.0%)- NFL Avg: 35.1% (30.9%)Total Yards/Play: 4.83 (7.28)— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) January 28, 2018
And there are few better at pushing the pace and getting the ball out quickly than Tom Brady. The Eagles are also stout against the run (3.8 YPC, sixth) and allowed only seven rushing TDs (T-3rd.) I wouldn't be surprised if Brady throws 45 times, getting the ball out as quickly as possible, connecting with Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead and/or Danny Amendola on short routes and Brandin Cooks and Gronkowski when the defense is gassed and unable to substitute. In short, I think the Patriots are an especially bad matchup for this defense, and it's likely they'll come up with the right game plan to exploit it.
The Eagles offense is multifaceted and good, and Doug Pederson has been masterful at keeping teams off balance while effectively mixing run and pass plays. But instead of playing in hitters' counts with a large lead at home, Foles will likely have to hang drive for drive with Brady, and if the Eagles get behind, the margin for error will shrink. If Foles plays approaching the level he did last week, no problem. But consistency is what separates the all-time greats from merely talented professionals, and accordingly Foles is a long shot to repeat on the game's biggest stage against a defense that's had two weeks to prepare for him.
The bottom line, both offenses have the advantage in this game, but someone's going to crack, and I'm betting it's not Brady.
Back the Pats.
Patriots 31 - 23
(Some props I like.)
I went 1-1 against the spread in the Championship Round, putting me at 5-5 overall in the playoffs. I was 117-125-14 on the season and 43-39-3 in the SuperContest. From 1999-2017, I've gone 2,428-2,270 (51.7%), not including ties.