Championship weekend was a mixed bag here. My “Pats win, Jags cover” pick was right on target. Heck, I even called the final score. The mood at Johnny Fantasy Estate was jubilant at 6:15 pm. ET last Sunday.
And then, depression set in. I thought the Vikings were going to roll the Eagles. No way Nick Foles would play well against the nasty Minnesota defense, right? Oh, well. Win some, lose some.
Let’s start Super Bowl LII coverage with what I’d LIKE to see. I know most of you hate the Patriots. You’re tired of seeing them win all the time. You think they cheat. You despise their fans’ arrogance, Bill Belichick’s terse media responses and Tom Brady’s apparent certainty that he’ll play several more years because he and his supermodel wife eat vegan dinners and avocado ice cream prepared by a personal chef. Enough already, am I right?
Thing is, I was born and raised a Giants’ fan. I bear no ill will toward the Pats, as Belichick’s ingenious defensive gameplans helped my team win its first two Super Bowls, and his Patriots were the victim as my team won two more. What’s to hate about that?
Even if I had the urge for something different, for a modern-day dynasty to fall to a franchise that has never won the Super Bowl … you want me to root for the Eagles??? Despite understanding the statistical impossibility of it, I usually hope that the Eagles, Redskins and Cowboys go 0-16 every year. Maybe they can all go 0-12-4 sometime? I can’t stand any of them.
I’d rather listen to Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith argue about LeBron James on an infinite loop for the rest of my life than see the Eagles emerge victorious on Sunday. I can’t do anything about the titles that the ‘Skins and Cowboys have already won, but I hope the Eagles never, ever, EVER win a Super Bowl. If they’re ahead during the fourth quarter, here’s hoping that Brady leads an epic comeback, or Asteroid 2002 AJ129 changes course and hits us before the final gun.
The pick (that I want): Patriots 200, Eagles negative-14
On to the actual Super Bowl pick. If you have any questions, catch me on Twitter (@jhalpin37).
(Home team in CAPS.)
Week 20 records: 1-1 SU, 1-1 ATS
Playoffs: 6-4 SU, 5-5 ATS
Overall: 168-98 SU, 135-119 ATS
Eagles vs. Patriots (-4.5, O/U 48)
The line for this game started at six points, and quickly dropped to 4.5. The Eagles’ obituary was being written prior to their divisional round matchup with the Falcons, but after two playoff victories as an underdog, lots of people think they can pull this off.
The Eagles are strong in the trenches. They ranked third in the NFL in rushing (132.2 ypg) behind an O-line tabbed as the NFL’s best by Pro Football Focus, and held opponents to a league-low 79.2 rushing yards per game. The Eagles were in the middle of the pack in both sacks and sacks allowed, but Fletcher Cox’s disruptive presence allows for the possibility of a successful Giants-style, get-to-Brady-with-four-guys blueprint.
(FYI, you want a weird stat about the Eagles’ D? They allowed 12.4 ppg at home, and 23.5 on the road.)
The Pats’ defense ranked 29th overall this season, settling down after a first half in which they looked like a sieve. But if you look closer, you’ll see a unit that ranked fifth in points per game allowed (18.5), and has allowed just 15.1 points over its last 10 contests. After allowing 4.7 yards per carry in the regular season, the Pats held Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette to 104 yards on 36 carries in two playoff games. Matt Patricia’s group isn’t scary, but it’s solid, and seems to be improving.
That D will face Eagles QB Nick Foles, who has thrown eight touchdowns against one interception while averaging 249.5 yards per game in four full games since replacing the injured Carson Wentz. Foles has played like a man possessed in the postseason, completing 77.8 percent of his passes and posting a QB Rating of 122.1.
With that said, it’s difficult to be sold on Foles, who has thrown 27 interceptions in 36 career games if we remove his magical 2013 season (I’m cherry picking stats, I know). Is Foles a new man under Doug Pederson’s tutelage? Maybe? Has he matured? Possibly. He’s a nice backup who can help you win some games, but he’s not the type of player who will make you win often. You can say he did that against the Vikings, but again, so soon? Hmm …
Oh, I almost forgot: The Patriots’ offense. They led the league in yards, and were second in points. In three games versus teams that finished the season as top-five defenses, they averaged 32 points. You know all about All-Pros Brady and Rob Gronkowski, but don’t forget about RB Dion Lewis, who has averaged 5.2 yards per carry over his last eight games, and has 16 receptions so far in the postseason. Their offensive line is pretty good, too.
The Eagles can certainly win this game. Their front four is deep, talented and good enough to bring the heat on Brady, while their offensive line is capable of generating a running game against anyone. However, the Eagles’ offensive fate relies on success with the run-pass option (RPO), and we should expect the Pats to force Foles to throw. The Falcons sort of did this in the divisional round, holding the Eagles to a touchdown with three field goals. That sounds about right for this game.
If I’m correct, that means Cox & Co. will need to keep the Patriots below 20 to win. I don’t think they’re gonna do it.
The pick (actual): Patriots win and cover, under 48 (something like 27-13)
BONUS: Here’s OddsShark’s prop bet page. If you like the Eagles, you have to like Foles at +325 for MVP, since quarterbacks have won the award more than half the time. If you prefer the Pats, Dion Lewis looks awfully interesting at +1800.