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Breaking down Super Bowl LII

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Five months ago, 32 NFL teams took to the field with a singular goal – get to Minneapolis and hoist aloft the Lombardi Trophy as the winners of Super Bowl LII.

And now 32 have become two – the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles are squaring off to determine who will be crowned NFL champions. On one of the largest stages in all of the media – hundreds of millions will tune in to watch this contest – these two teams will settle it all on the field.

These franchises are coming at this game from very different places. On the one hand, you’ve got the Patriots, in the midst of one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) runs in NFL history. This marks their eighth Super Bowl appearance this century; a win gives them six championships. It’s a chance for coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady to further cement their respective legacies as all-time giants of the game, an opportunity to extend a stretch of excellence that we’ve never seen before – and almost certainly will never see again.

Meanwhile, you have the Philadelphia Eagles, who – despite being one of the NFL’s oldest franchises – have never won a Super Bowl. Their last championship season was 1960, before the Super Bowl even existed. They have only appeared in three Super Bowls – XV, XXXIX (when they lost to the Patriots) and now this one. Many thought Philly was done for when star QB Carson Wentz went down with injury, but they’ve ridden backup Nick Foles and a stellar defense to the precipice. It’s a chance for long-suffering Eagles fans to finally have their moment in the sun.

So what’s going to happen?

I happen to believe the impact of experience tends to be overrated, but when the gap is this vast, one has to assume that it will play at least a small part. The Eagles active roster has a total seven guys who have won a Super Bowl, two of whom – LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long – got their rings as members of last year’s New England squad. Brady’s got five rings himself.

No one thinks that the Patriots are going to be complacent coming into this game – that’s not their MO – but there’s something to be said for the fire of a team coming in with something to prove. The Eagles are almost certainly going to want this win more. That’ll play a part too.

Still, in the end it’s going to come down to the matchups on the field. Let’s break them down.

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Quarterback

Tom Brady has spent the past couple of years cementing his spot as the greatest QB of all time. It’s hard to argue against his successes, and even at 40 years old, he had an MVP-caliber season this year – 4,577 yards, 32 TDs, eight INTs – and followed that up by averaging over 300 yards per game in the playoffs with five TDs and no picks. He’s been here seven times before – he’s 5-2. He’s the GOAT, plain and simple.

Nick Foles shouldn’t even be in this game. However, it should be noted that the Eagles did not collapse the way we all thought they would after Carson Wentz was hurt. And he definitely held up his end of things in the playoffs, managing the game nicely against the Falcons and having perhaps the game of his life against the Vikings in the NFC Championship. Still, there’s a reason he was the backup. He’s a fine QB, but he’s no Brady.

This one is a no-brainer.

Advantage: Patriots

Running Back

The Patriots have built their offense around using running backs in a way that’s a bit different from most other teams. They’ve been led through the playoffs by two guys – Dion Lewis and James White. Lewis has been the primary rusher, while White has been a deadly weapon in the passing game (though Lewis has caught a TON of passes this postseason). Neither player is a bruiser, so those between-the-tackles yards are a bit harder to come by. Still, it’s a dynamic duo – and potentially a titanic trio if Rex Burkhead can get going.

The Eagles have some talented players carrying the ball. Pats fans are familiar with the rumbling rushing style of LeGarrette Blount; he’s as tough to tackle as ever. And Jay Ajayi is a real talent, finding ways to create plays in space and averaging almost four yards per carry in the playoffs. That might not sound like much, but he’s faced some stout defenses – if he does that against New England, they’re in trouble. The two of them together can do some damage.

Advantage: Eagles

Wide Receiver

The New England receiving corps has been underestimated in past seasons – this one is no exception. Danny Amendola turned himself into a Patriots legend with his performance in the AFC Championship, but he can’t be counted on to explode like that again. Brandin Cooks is a burner, but hasn’t quite developed the necessary rapport with Brady. Chris Hogan looks like he might still be less than 100 percent. Ultimately, as Amendola goes, so go the Patriots receivers.

On the Philadelphia side, Alshon Jeffery has proven himself to be an absolute stud this postseason, with the longest single catch of any wideout on either side. He’s got a couple of TDs as well. Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor have both shown themselves capable of big plays as well. All three have produced at a high level with Foles under center – the odds of all three being shut down in this game would seem to be awfully slim. It’s a low-key excellent group.

Advantage: Eagles

Tight End

In terms of both talent and ability to take over a game, Rob Gronkowski is not just the best tight end in this matchup, he’s the best in the league. Potentially the best ever. He remains the biggest threat in the New England passing attack, thanks to an exceptional connection to Brady and the ability to be a matchup nightmare for anyone trying to cover him. His numbers this postseason aren’t eye-popping – particularly since he left the AFC Championship before halftime – but he is an undeniable force on the field. All this assumes, of course, that he’s out of the concussion protocol and cleared to play.

Zach Ertz is one of the only tight ends in the NFL who can actually hang in a comparison with Gronk. He is an incredible talent in his own right, both as a pass catcher and as a blocker. He’s a key cog in this Eagles offense, a safety valve for Foles that can make plays happen after the catch. He’s the team’s leading postseason receiver thus far, a real weapon. In a Gronk-less world, he could have a real argument for the title of best tight end in the league. Instead, he’s not even the best tight end in this game. That said, he has just as much a chance of changing this game as his counterpart.

Advantage: Patriots

Offensive Line

It seems as though the offensive line is a place of constant struggle for the Patriots. For whatever reason, they always wind up performing just well enough. They’re solid, but not spectacular – if they can keep Tom Brady’s jersey from getting too dirty, well, that’s good enough. They’ve gotten good work out of veteran left tackle Nate Solder and solid performance from guys like Shaq Mason and David Andrews; offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia continues to scheme the group to be greater than the sum of its parts.

This Eagles offensive line is LEGIT. One could make an argument that they are the most athletic O-line in the NFL; it’s not even an argument that their performance is a huge reason for Philly’s season-long success. They’ve cleared lanes for the running backs and kept Foles upright throughout the postseason. Guys like tackle Lane Johnson, center Jason Kelce and guard Brandon Brooks are elite talents; the Eagles are actually missing their best lineman (Jason Peters) and they’re still miles ahead of the not-bad Patriots line.

Advantage: Eagles

Defensive Line

It’s no secret that New England’s defenses have a tendency to be of the bend-don’t-break variety. This group of linemen contributes to that; they’re merely OK at pressuring the quarterback and not even that good at stopping the run. There are some talents as part of the unit – Malcom Brown can look dominant and Trey Flowers has been a force – but for the most part, they’re a bit flat. Again, they’re not a bad crew, but there are some gaps in their abilities. They could potentially struggle against a tremendously talented Eagles offensive line.

Philadelphia is deep on this side of the line as well. They knocked the hell out of Case Keenum in the conference championship game and will be aiming to do the same to Brady. Tackle Fletcher Cox is going to be a nightmare for the Patriots; he’s probably the most talented player on either side of the line for either team. Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett – these guys can play. They’ve also got Chris Long, a very talented guy who started for the Pats last year. This D-line versus the Pats O-line might be the matchup that decides the whole thing.

Advantage: Eagles

Linebackers

One of the interesting things about this group is that it transcends its individual parts more than maybe any other unit on either team. Kyle Van Noy has quietly become a leader on the defense, putting up strong numbers and proving to be a constant source of disruption. David Harris and Marquis Flowers have both been steady, while newcomer James Harrison is a bit of a wild card who could potentially come up with a game-changing play. Again – there’s nothing sexy about this group, but they epitomize the “do your job” ethos of the Pats.

The Eagles have spent all season performing exceptionally on the defensive side of the ball. They didn’t garner the attention of some of the splashier groups, but this collection of talent is pretty darned good. Mychal Kendricks is a hell of a tackler, someone who can handle his business no matter the assignment. Nigel Bradham is another one who can really get after it. These guys are good, and they’re going to have to be – they’re the ones who are going to be tasked with handling the short and intermediate passing attack of New England – an area in which the Pats excel.

Advantage: Eagles

Secondary

It’s odd to think that after all the early season naysaying about the New England defense that we’d be singing the praises of their secondary, but here we are. This group has only increased in effectiveness as the season has worn on. The Patriots have one of the most impactful safety duos in the league in Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, guys who hit hard and cover well. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler have had their ups and downs; they’ll occasionally get burned, but when the chips are down, they have the ability to make big plays. A surprisingly strong bunch, all told.

This is the weakest group on the defensive side for Philadelphia. That’s not to say that they’re bad, mind you – they’re actually decent. They just aren’t the repositories of talent that you find in other areas of the roster. Ronald Darby is a solid cover guy, though he’s susceptible to big plays. Safety Malcolm Jenkins is good – probably the best guy in the Eagles secondary. For the most part, the rest of them are guys who have played a bit above their heads; they’ve been OK, but some regression toward the mean seems almost inevitable. Brady and company could accelerate that process.

Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams

I’m on record as saying that Stephen Gostkowski is one of the most underrated weapons in the NFL. Granted, he’s not at the peak of his powers like he was a couple of years ago, but he’s still one of the best kickers in the NFL, both in terms of field goals and kickoffs. Punter Ryan Allen continues to be OK, though he’s stepped his game up a bit in the playoffs. The return game, with Amendola on punts and Lewis on kickoffs, is steady. And the coverage teams, led by special teams legend Matthew Slater, will be on point as usual. This group is ALWAYS ready.

Jake Elliott is a perfectly serviceable NFL kicker. He’s got a good leg, but nothing spectacular. Ditto punter Donnie Jones. As far as the return game is concerned, there are some talented guys receiving kicks, but Kenjon Barner, Bryan Braman and Corey Clement don’t appear poised to be game changers. The Eagles coverage teams are, much like the kickers, absolutely OK. They’re fine, but nothing to write home about.

Advantage: Patriots

Coaching

Bill Belichick is going to go down as the greatest coach of his generation and one of the greatest in the history of the NFL. Both of his coordinators are going to be getting head coaching gigs of their own following the game – offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to the Colts, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to the Lions. This is a phenomenal coaching staff that adheres to a game plan better than any other team. It’s no hyperbole to say that Belichick is probably the greatest postseason coach in the history of the league.

Doug Pederson has done a wonderful job in turning around the Eagles following the less-than-celebrated tenure of Chip Kelly. He’s had help – offensive coordinator Frank Reich and especially defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz have done wonders in turning this team into a contender. Overcoming the weight of history to get the Eagles back to the Super Bowl was no easy feat – particularly with a backup QB leading the way – and they deserve plenty of credit for that accomplishment.

But, I mean … Bill Belichick.

Advantage: Patriots

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So that just leaves us with a prediction. It’s going to be a hard-fought game. The Patriots have a dynamic offense, but the Eagles have a talented defense. It’s going to be difficult for Nick Foles to live up to the moment, but the Philly D will keep it close. Close, but not close enough.

The Eagles will acquit themselves well, but in the end, it’s going to be six rings for Brady and Belichick.

Final prediction: New England Patriots 27 – Philadelphia Eagles 24

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A Super Bowl bet between Bangor mayors

Mayor Ben Sprague of Bangor, Maine and Mayor Brooke Kerzner of Bangor, Pennsylvania are making a friendly wager on the results of Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.

Mayor Sprague said, "The people of Bangor, Maine are confident that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the rest of the Patriots will do their jobs in bringing home a sixth title to New England. There may be two Bangors and two teams in this year's Super Bowl, but I think the ones from New England will be celebrating Super Bowl night."

Mayor Brooke Kerzner of Bangor, Pennsylvania said, "We are not the least bit concerned with the New England Patriots winning Super Bowl 52. Nick Foles can soar like an Eagle even when he is surrounded by a bunch of Turkeys from New England. I have a feeling Tom Brady is all out of 4th quarter comebacks. #flyeaglesfly "

As part of the wager, Mayor Sprague is offering a box of Maine whoopie pies from Governor's Restaurant in Bangor, a blueberry pie from Dysart's, a case of Moxie, some local Bangor souvenirs, and a collection of Stephen King books for the Bangor (Pennsylvania) Public Library. Stephen King is a resident of Bangor, Maine.

Mayor Kerzner is willing to bet a Growler of Beer from Bangor Trust Brewing Company, an assortment of Chocolates from Chocolates on Broadway, a pound of fresh Roasted Coffee from Baby Harry Coffee Co, a goodie basket from Grace on Broadway, and two slate Quoit Boards (Bangor's version of horseshoes) to the Maine Veterans Home.

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