Is it the Patriots’ experience or the opponents’ vulnerability?
Every angle makes Super Bowl 52 look like a close game, despite it first being called a blowout when the match-up was settled two weeks ago. New England opened as a 5 1/2-point favorite, but big bets on the Eagles have reduced that line to 4.
The Pats will be in their eighth Super Bowl under Brady and Belichick, the best quarterback-coaching tandem in the history of football. They have won five but none by more than six points. And bad plays, along with great plays, by both teams have marked all eight games, affecting the outcomes.
The Eagles were the best team in football most of this season, before quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury. Nick Foles has been good enough to get his team to the Big Game, but he is going against the greatest of all time, and the very thought of that just might be giving Foles some sleepless nights.
He is not expected to win the game, just manage it long enough for the defensive front to get into the Patriots’ backfield and the secondary into Brady’s head. The Eagles actually have personnel advantages in both areas, and only Brady’s brilliance and experience in the fourth quarter is giving New England the slight edge.
A Facebook docu-series called “Tom versus Time” shows why Brady is playing like a 30-year-old instead of his real age of 40. He trains mind and body all year round and incessantly watches tapes of past games and the next opponent. Computer-like knowledge of his offense, and a hatred of losing, always has him there late in the game when defenses are most vulnerable.
I wonder how having been to Super Bowls three of the last four years for many Patriot players will affect all 60 minutes of the game. They know the drill of the week before better than anyone, and fewer distractions can help preparation and focus.
The first time they met in the Super Bowl 13 years ago, the Eagles were in position to pull it out before turning the ball over. And it is Philly’s defense this time that has to make an older-but-wiser Brady miserable if the Patriots are to be denied a sixth ring.
The world outside New England will be waiting and watching and hoping for the upset and for the bully to be taken down. I see another great, grueling game and another that goes down to the wire – but with the same result.