All 32 NFL teams end their season each year in defeat except for one. One team hoists the Lombardi Trophy up in front of millions. One team hangs a banner that reads: “World Champions.” One team will earn these awards in Super Bowl LII, a game between the defending champions, the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Held on Feb. 4 at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., this game is a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, when the Patriots defeated the Eagles 24-21, cementing the team’s — and quarterback Tom Brady’s — second consecutive championship. Although few knew it at the time, this game was a first step in establishing the Patriots as one of the greatest dynasties in sports history. Next Sunday marks the team’s 10th championship game, and New England (15-3) has won five Super Bowls with Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick at the helm. However, this year the Patriots could face their toughest challenge yet.
While Brady and the Pats chase their sixth Super Bowl since 2002, the Eagles (15-3) look to achieve their first win in franchise history. They are led by quarterback Nick Foles, who started the season as a backup to MVP candidate Carson Wentz, and a stifling defense that was fourth among all NFL teams in points per game, with 18.4, yards per game, with 306.5 and points scored by a defense, with 2.1.
Despite the fact that both teams were seeded first in their respective conferences, the Eagles are 5.5-point underdogs — largely due to a lack of confidence in Foles, who has struggled at times this season. However, Foles may have found a hot streak at just the right time. Last week against the NFL’s best statistical defense, the Minnesota Vikings, Foles threw for 352 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, boasting a quarterback rating of 141 in a 38-7 dismantling of the visitors. If Foles’ performance can carry over to the biggest stage of all, the NFC champions should have great chance to win.
Philadelphia has openly embraced this underdog role. Players have even sported dog masks after their playoff victories.
In a post-game interview with the Allentown Morning Call, Foles said, “This has been a crazy journey this year with all the obstacles, all the injuries … it’s a testament to the coaches we have and all the players.”
In the earlier game this past Sunday, the Patriots narrowly defeated the Jaguars 24-20 to win the AFC Championship. It was just another day at the office for Brady, who threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns, flawlessly dissecting a talented Jacksonville defense on his final touchdown drive. After the game, Brady commented on yet another fourth-quarter comeback.
“That’s why you play all four quarters,” he said. “The game’s never over at halftime. You have to go to the end.”
But history has shown that it is difficult to bet against the NFL’s greatest coach and quarterback tandem as they attempt to add yet another accolade to their resumes.
Still, the stars are finally aligning in Philadelphia. If the punishing Eagles defense is able to force Brady to make quick decisions through pressure with a four-man front, or if Gronkowski is sidelined or not fully healthy and Foles plays with the confidence and hot hand he has had throughout these playoffs, the Eagles could finally hang their first “World Champions” banner.