This Eagles-Patriots matchup looks like an easy whitewash, a Super Bowl catastrophe. Backup quarterback Nick Foles will be tasked with figuring out a Bill Belichick defense, while the Eagles must solve one of the greatest of all-time, Tom Brady. Belichick has perplexed some of history’s greatest quarterbacks and most explosive offenses in this spot. In ’90, his Giants defense sunk Jim Kelly and the Bills K-Gun. In ’01, the Pats punctured the effervescent “Greatest Show on Turf” and Kurt Warner. Foles? The guy nearly quit football a few years ago. Uh oh.
But, Super Bowl history tells us just when we’re ready to lock in a blowout, it rarely happens. The Patriots were installed as 6 point favorites, and after a week, the line dropped to 5. Is there a way the Eagles are able to keep this within a touchdown? Or will it be a bloodbath?
Just by looking at the Patriots’ history under Belichick, the odds say this will be another close one. Whether New England was huge underdogs (’01 vs. Rams) or monster favorites (’07 vs. Giants), the Pats have played in nail-biters.
The Pats have won three of their Super Bowls by a field goal (STL, CAR, PHI), one by 4 points (SEA), and last year’s by 6 (ATL). Their two losses to New York came by 3 (’07) and 4 points (’11). This is interesting because every other NFL dynasty has had at least one laugher. The Packers smashed the Chiefs and Raiders in the first two Super Bowls. The Steelers ran away from the Rams 31-19 (although the first three quarters were tight). The Niners destroyed the Dolphins and Broncos. The Cowboys annihilated the Bills 52-17 and then pulled away in ’93, 30-13.
Is there a reason the Pats haven’t done this yet? Or merely a historical anomaly which will change this Sunday?
I believe there’s a reason. Two, actually. The modern NFL is set up to have a closer level of competition at the top. And the Patriots have become a dynasty via tight margins on philosophy and design.
Don’t get it twisted, Belichick would love to destroy every team by 50. That’s pretty much how most of the undefeated regular season went a decade ago. But in general the Patriots haven’t been an all-powerful machine, loaded with far more talent than any of their opponents. Belichick has built an organization that parts with its best players when they outprice themselves, and supplements it with a depth of discarded players that will buy into the system.
Belichick knows a smart team that doesn’t make mistakes, and executes the small stuff will always have a chance in today’s NFL. This league is now littered with bad teams, and stupid coaching. The Patriots have consistently outlasted their opponents, waited for them to make a mistake, and then pounced. This has carried over to their Super Bowls.
Of course, Brady has made plays when it mattered most. So it’s not merely an annual War of Attrition. But largely, the Patriots know they can count on the other team losing its mind in a big spot (the Seahawks on the goal line, the Falcons refusing to run the ball up 28-3). And that’s when they’ll strike for the kill shot.
The NFL is also a league that rewards parity. Injuries can destroy a Super Bowl contender (Packers, Texans). The 16-game schedule leaves little room for error. Thus, the teams at the top are now separated by a blade of grass. If we played 7-game championship series, almost all of them would go the distance.
Since the Patriots won their first championship 16 years ago, you can count the blowouts in the Big Game on one hand. The Bucs over Oakland in ’02, Colts and Bears in ’06, and the Seahawks dismantling the Broncos in ’13. Those were the only truly non-competitive games, which is a 180-degree reversal from the boring Super Bowls of the ’80s and ’90s.
Let’s also point out, these two teams tend to hold their opponents out of the end zone. This betting preview points out the significance of two scoring defenses ranked in the top 5. While on the surface it’s hard to imagine Foles being able to beat the most successful NFL coach since Vince Lombardi, history tells us not to assume anything. The Patriots know it’s irrational to take high-risk chances early in a Super Bowl. Their defense is one that allows plenty of yards in a bend, but don’t break, mentality. The Eagles’ big-strike capability will be limited with Foles. And totally shutting down Brady is virtually impossible. It all leads us to another close game. This one will be tight, book it.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.