Super Bowl 52 is scheduled to kick off this Sunday at approximately 3:30 p.m. Pacific time. The indoor venue of US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis should make for a cleanly played game with no wind or other weather elements coming into play.
Starting the week the Patriots, after opening as 6-point favorites, are widely being held as 4.5-point favorites at sportsbooks both in Nevada and around the world. The Total, which opened at many books at 47 or 47.5, has generally settled in at 48 with little movement in either the Side or Total over this past weekend.
The defending champion New England Patriots are seeking their second achievement of three Super Bowl wins in four seasons, which would be a rather remarkable accomplishment. The Philadelphia Eagles are seeking their first Super Bowl title in what is their third appearance in the Big Game, and their second against the Patriots.
A baker’s dozen years ago, in Super Bowl 39, the Pats defeated the Eagles 24-21 to complete their first “3 Titles in 4 seasons” run. All three of those wins were by exactly a FG.
Their most recent pair of wins were by 4 points and 6 points. The 4-point win was over Seattle in Super Bowl 49 when the Seahawks eschewed running the football with Marshawn Lynch from the one-yard line and having Russell Wilson’s pass intercepted. Had the ‘Hawks scored and kicked the extra point Seattle likely would have won by a FG.
The 6-point win came last season when New England, trailing 28-3 in the third quarter, staged an improbable rally to force overtime and needing not one but a pair of successful two-point conversions to do so. The Pats then scored a TD in overtime, where games are usually won by a FG.
When the Pats’ two Super Bowl losses in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era are also considered it’s very possible six of the seven New England Super Bowls could have been decided by exactly 3 points. The Pats lost by 3 to the Giants in Super Bowl 42 and by 4 points in their rematch with the Giants in Super Bowl 46.
As to the game itsel, there are many compelling arguments that can be made for each side. Perhaps the greatest that can be made for New England is their experience versus that of Philadelphia. This will bethe eighth Super Bowl appearance for the Patriots in the era of Coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady. The Pats are 5-2 in the prior seven. One came against the Eagles in Philadelphia’s most recent Super Bowl appearance, 13 seasons ago in Super Bowl 39.
It is reasonable to think the Patriots’ dynasty is winding down after nearly two decades of excellence. But Belichick remains the best coach in the NFL and Brady had another MVP-caliber season at QB.
The Eagles showed this was more than a team that relied on the excellent play of starting QB Carson Wentz. The second season signal caller was himself enjoying an MVP season when he was injured late in Philly’s Week 14 win at the Rams. But to be 11-2 with Wentz in the lineup and then win two more games when Nick Foles took over shows the Eagles also got excellent play from their defense and special teams, indicative of being a complete football team.
The Patriots are deserving of being the favorite largely based on their edge in experience. The statistical profiles of these teams can make a case that they are very evenly matched, and the Eagles may actually have had the better overall season.
It is expected TE Rob Gronkowski will clear concussion protocol and be able to play for the Patriots. He was able to practice over the weekend. He missed last season’s Super Bowl against Atlanta due to injury and it can be theorized had he been able to play the Pats would not have fallen behind 28-3 and needed to stage their remarkable comeback that enabled them to win in overtime.
By the same token, one can look at the fact that the Pats should have lost both last season’s Super Bowl and the one two years earlier against Seattle and conjecture this is the season they run out of good fortune. Yet it must be acknowledged their good fortune was also due to having made the plays that needed to be made.
The Eagles have a defense capable of pressuring Brady much as the Giants did in their two Super Bowl wins over a much younger Brady. The ability of the Eagles to establish and maintain a pass rush will be key.
Belichick has long been able to take away a team’s strength and force opponents to win the game with their weakness. The Eagles offense is well balanced, even with Foles replacing Wentz. And so is their defense.
In the regular season the Eagles ranked number 7 in total offense (number 3 in rushing, number 13 in passing). On defense the Eagles were number 4 overall (number 1 against the run, number 17 against the pass). On a yards per play basis Philly was number 10 on offense (5.45 ypp) and number 8 on defense (5.02 ypp).
The Patriots were number 1 in total offense (10 in rushing, 2 in passing) but number 29 in total defense (20 vs. the run, 30 vs. the pass). New England was number 5 in offensive yards per play (5.89) and number 30 defensively (5.73).
Of course games are not won or lost on the basis of stats and sometimes the stats can be misleading or skewed. This would be the case for New England, which made dramatic strides defensively over the second half of the season, allowing 418 average total yards per game in their first eight games but improved to allow just 315 ypg in games 9 through 16, an incredible improvement of 103 yards per game.
In football the bottom line is scoring and preventing scoring regardless of how that is accomplished. What is truly remarkable is how evenly these teams performed over the course of the season. In their 16 games New England scored 458 points and allowed 296. The Eagles scored 457 points while allowing 295. Both teams had an identical plus 162 scoring margin and both had the same 13-3 record.
With these teams so evenly matched the points appear worth taking and a case can easily be made for an outright upset win by Philadelphia.
The key in making such a call, however, is coming to grips with the huge experience edge held by the Patriots and whether there are reasons to find for the Eagles to overcome that huge intangible.
Perhaps a key factor may be the Eagles have two key players – one on offense, one on defense – that were on last season’s Super Bowl winning Patriots team.
Pay attention to the pointspread during the week. Once Gronkowski’s status is clarified we should see some line movement. The most likely scenario is Gronk will be cleared to play and, when announced, we could well see the pointspread move back up toward the opening line of Patriots -6.
It might not be get above 6 but for an instant. The best case for Eagles backers would be for public money to pour in on the Pats and for the wise guys, who would look to take the Eagles with the most points available, to wait for +6.5 or +7. That line of +7 has a low probability of occurring but if the line reaches 6.5 and stays there for a few hours on, say Saturday afternoon or evening, then 7s might show briefly on Sunday.
If you prefer the Patriots you might wish to act early as -4.5 may not last unless it becomes likely Gronk won’t play. Based on what we learned over the weekend that announcement is unlikely and the line is much more likely to rise to – 5 than to drop to -4.
Ultimately the call here is for the Eagles to pull the upset and win by what has been a familiar theme for Patriot Super Bowls and was the margin by which the Pats defeated the Eagles in Super Bowl 39.
The final forecast for this column for is for Philadelphia to win Super Bowl 52, defeating New England 27-24 and sending the game slightly OVER the Total that currently sits at 48.