Super Bowl LII Preview

So it’s all come down to this. Super Bowl Sunday. The Eagles and Patriots took very different routes to get to this point. The Eagles were running roughshod over the league before losing their potential MVP quarterback in Carson Wentz to an ACL tear. He gets replaced by Nick Foles, who had been inconsistent up until the NFC Championship game, where he absolutely lit up the NFL’s #1 defense in the Vikings. Meanwhile the Patriots got off to a rough start and everybody wondered if this was the beginning of the end of their dynasty. Then they remembered they were the Patriots and proceeded to collect win after win en route to another AFC Championship game appearance, where they had to overcome a 10-point 4th quarter deficit to defeat the upstart Jaguars. So lets do what I always do with championship games and go position-by-position to see which team has the advantage.

Quarterback

Patriots: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Eagles: Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld

Advantage: Patriots

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Was there really ever any doubt? Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time whether he has protective bandages over his throwing hand or not. While Nick Foles played extremely well in the NFC Championship game, he’s too inconsistent for me to really give him a chance here. And as much as I love Nate Sudfeld, him being the previous Indiana quarterback, he can’t hold a candle to Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was the 49ers starting quarterback to start the season and how many guys can say they have a winning record as a starter for the reborn Browns? Just Hoyer. So this was a pretty easy choice here.

Runningback

Patriots: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Patriots

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While I do think that the Eagles runningbacks are better rushers, the Patriots runningbacks are far more dynamic and versatile. Ajayi and Blount are good running the football, but they have bricks for hands out of the backfield. They usually have Clement receiving the passes. Lewis, White, and Burkhead are all not only good rushers, but they’re good receiving out of the backfield as well, which is why they’re getting the nod over the Eagles backs.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Patriots: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister

Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton

Advantage: Patriots

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A healthy Julian Edelman would’ve made this an easy choice, but alas, we take what we get. This is probably one of the most balanced receiving groups the Patriots have had since the Moss-Welker days as they have a speedster who can take the top off (Cooks), possession receivers that can move the chains (Hogan and Amendola) and a huge red zone threat (Gronkowski). The Eagles have a similar group of guys (Agholor moving the chains, Smith the speedster, Jeffery the huge red zone threat), but I think the Patriots have utilized them most effectively this season.

Offensive Line

Patriots: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, La’Adrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming

Eagles: Hal Vatai, Stefen Wisniewski, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson

Advantage: Eagles

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Finally, the Eagles are on the board here and it’s thanks in large part to probably the best right side of an offensive line I think I’ve ever seen. You can make an argument for all three of Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson being the best at their respective spots on the offensive line in the entire NFL. While the Patriots’ O-line is solid, they don’t have nearly enough talent to contend with the Eagles. And imagine if Jason Peters were healthy on the left side. Vatai is the weakest link on either of these offensive lines, but his teammates are so good they make up for his shortcomings.

Defensive Line

Patriots: Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Alan Branch, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Ricky Jean Francois, Eric Lee

Eagles: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Beau Allen, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Vinny Curry

Advantage: Eagles

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There’s just too much talent on this Eagles defensive front. In fact, I think Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan, the starting DT’s, are going to be the most critical pieces if the Eagles hope to beat the Patriots. Brady does pretty well when there’s pressure coming from the tackles but he’s like a deer in the headlights when there’s pressure coming up the middle. Cox and Jernigan are one of the best DT duos in the NFL and they’re going to need to get lots of pressure to stifle Brady. For the Patriots, their defensive line is a patch-up job as they lost a lot of their guys to either free agency in the offseason or to injury and it’s resulted in them being possibly the weakest unit on this team.

Linebacker

Patriots: Kyle Van Noy, James Harrison, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, David Harris

Eagles: Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Najee Goode, Dannell Ellerbe, Kamu Grugier-Hill

Advantage: Eagles

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This was probably the closest one to choose from and I debated calling this a tie. But I hate ties so I decided to go with the pure talent aspect and that’s where the Eagles won out. Both teams lost their star middle linebackers midway through the seasons (Dont’a Hightower for the Patriots, Jordan Hicks for the Eagles) and they’ve both been trying to get by with the pieces they have. While Van Noy is having a career year, the talent around him in Elandon Roberts and a 39 year-old James Harrison doesn’t quite stack up to what the Eagles have in Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham.

Secondary

Patriots: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Johnson Bademosi, Brandon King, Jordan Richards

Eagles: Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Rodney McLeod

Advantage: Patriots

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It was a tale of two halves of the season for the Patriots’ secondary and no better was it personified than in the play of Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore looked lost in Matt Patricia’s system his first few weeks, as he would blow coverage after coverage while the Patriots would get lit up by quarterbacks that probably shouldn’t be doing so. He suffered a concussion midway through the year and after he returned, he’s been his old Pro Bowl-caliber self, locking down any receiver that he’s matched up on. Eric Rowe has also been a bright spot in this secondary as well and it’s interesting to note that the Patriots acquired him from the Eagles in a trade a couple years ago after a poor showing to start his career in Philly. For the Eagles, their secondary is considered their weak spot as their cornerbacks in particular have been very inconsistent this season.

Specialists

Patriots: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jake Elliott, Donnie Jones, Nelson Agholor, Rick Lovato, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Eagles

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I’d probably give this a tie to the kickers and punters, as both units for both teams have been very solid this season. The thing that puts the Eagles over the top is Kenjon Barner as their return man. While he isn’t Devin Hester by any means, Barner would definitely be an upgrade over Lewis and Amendola as returners.

Coaching

Patriots: Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia

Eagles: Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, Jim Schwartz

Advantage: Patriots

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Got to go with the Patriots here for obvious reasons. While it can’t be overstated the job that Pederson and company have done with this Eagles team, it’s Bill Belichick for Christ’s sake. Plus, he’s got two head coaches serving as his coordinators in McDaniels and Patricia, who will be taking over the Colts and Lions respectively after this game ends.

Scoreboard: Patriots 5, Eagles 4

No need to even watch the game now, congratulations to the Patriots on their sixth Super Bowl victory. As a Pats fan, I pray I don’t regret that sentence. This will be my third championship prediction segment, first time around I picked the Dodgers to win the World Series (I was wrong) then I picked Alabama to win the CFP National Championship (I was right). So really there isn’t anything to suggest how this is going to go based on my picks. Let me know who you think is going to win the Super Bowl in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Divisional Round Picks: Day 1

The Wild Card Round was rough for my picks segments, as the only game I hit on was Jaguars-Bills (one of the worst playoff games I’ve ever had the privilege to miss most of due to being on a plane). But now the winners of those games face the teams that had a week to prepare for them but history has shown that it’s not always a guarantee the team with the extra week will win. So with that, let’s get to the picks.

Atlanta Falcons (10-6) vs Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

The Falcons dispatched an inexperienced Rams team in Los Angeles in their 26-13 victory. The Rams special teams unit made botch after botch, most of them revolving around Pharoh Cooper and the Falcons managed to take advantage. They take on an Eagles team that is actually quite similar statistically. The Eagles averaged exactly one more yard per game than the Falcons did offensively and defensively both teams sport top 10 defenses. The Eagles were the talk of the NFL for most of the year, getting out to a 10-1 start and finishing the year as the 1 seed in a stacked NFC at 13-3. Quarterback Carson Wentz was having an MVP-caliber year and may be the favorite had he not torn his ACL in the Eagles’ 43-35 win over the Rams in Week 14. Nick Foles has been the Eagles quarterback since then and he hasn’t been particularly great, just good enough to get the job done. The Eagles were 2-1 in his starts, the one loss being when he didn’t play a whole lot in Week 17 against the Cowboys and was sat to rest in favor of former Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who actually finished with the highest completion percentage amongst quarterbacks playing their first game at 83% (minimum 20 attempts). Foles’ line as starter was 47-87 for 439 yards with 5 TD’s and 2 INT’s in 3 starts, which isn’t awful overall, but it’s a far cry from what Carson Wentz was doing. The Eagles’ rushing attack was also quietly very good, as the stable of LeGarrette Blount, midseason acquisition Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood combined to be the 3rd best rushing attack in the NFL. They also got a potentially career-saving year out of Nelson Agholor at receiver and a breakout season from tight end Zach Ertz. Defensively, the Eagles thrived under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who may be in line for his second head coaching gig when all is said and done. They were 4th overall in scoring and total yards and were best in the NFL at stopping the run. However I think they’re going to run into some problems against the Falcons. They’re going to have to ask Nick Foles to keep up with the reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan and I just don’t think he’ll be able to do that. It’s not 2013 where that isn’t so ridiculous a thought (seriously, go back and look at Foles’ stats when he was the Eagles’ starter in 2013. He was fantastic). But despite how good the Eagles have been defensively overall, stopping the pass has been more of a weak point for them, as they’re only average at that (17th against the pass). Their corners will have a hard time stopping the trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Taylor Gabriel. Plus, the Falcons were a top-10 defense this season and have guys that can fly around the field and cause problems for the Philly offense. I’m actually going to pick the Falcons to advance to the NFC championship game for the second consecutive year. However had Carson Wentz been healthy, I think this might be a different story.

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Projected Score: Falcons 27 Eagles 20

Tennessee Titans (9-7) vs New England Patriots (13-3)

What a game between the Titans and Chiefs. I expected the Chiefs to win in a bloodbath, which it looked like they were well on their way to doing. However Travis Kelce suffering a concussion late in the first half plus a lack of touches for Kareem Hunt really hurt the Chiefs as the game went along and allowed the Titans to creep back into the game. It was 21-3 at halftime in favor of the Chiefs, then Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown pass to himself and momentum seemed to swing in the exact opposite direction. The Titans were able to pull out a 22-21 victory over the Chiefs and will take on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The Patriots had a year that seemed akin to their 2014 run with a blend of 2015 in it. They got off to a slow 2-2 start to the point where everyone was questioning if this was the year the Patriots would finally fall off. But then the Patriots remembered they’re the Patriots and finished the year going 11-1 and seemingly fixing every problem they had in the first four games. Except there’s one little blemish for New England that makes there some resemblance to the 2015 team: injuries. It started with Julian Edelman tearing his ACL in a preseason game against the Lions and it hasn’t let up since. The list of Patriots on IR include Edelman, Dont’a Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Derek Rivers, Malcolm Mitchell, Vincent Valentine, Shea McClellin, Cyrus Jones, Nate Ebner, and Martellus Bennett. That’s a lot of key contributors. But the Patriots have had guys step up in big ways. Kyle Van Noy was able to adequately fill the void left by Hightower’s injury. The combination of La’Adrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming have adequately filled in for Cannon. The Patriots have continued to follow their “next man up” mantra and it has helped them finish near the top in the NFL in many major categories. They’re the #2 scoring offense, #1 in total yards, #2 in passing, #10 in rushing, and #5 in scoring defense despite being #29 in yards allowed. That’s the definition of a bend-but-don’t-break defense right there. One of the breakout stars for the Patriots has been Dion Lewis, who has reinvented himself from just a scat back that was used as a change of pace to an all-around back that isn’t afraid to run through defenders from time to time. In fact, Lewis led the NFL in rushing in the second half of the season to finish with 896 yards rushing on just 180 carries (5 yards per carry). I’m predicting in this game that Lewis will again be a big factor in a Patriots victory over the Titans to advance to their 7th straight AFC Championship game against either the Steelers or the Jaguars.

at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Projected Score: Patriots 30 Titans 17

That’s going to do it for my picks for day one of the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Let me know what you think about this slate of games in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

NFL Trade Deadline Recap

Holy shit, trades actually happened at the NFL Trade Deadline. Midseason trades typically don’t happen in the NFL because of the learning curve to switching systems midseason that is usually required. But this year some teams have chosen to be active this past week or so in the attempt to bolster their roster. A look at the major trades that took place:

Buffalo Bills trade DT Marcell Dareus to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 2018 6th Round Pick

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photo credit: Sports Illustrated

That’s it? That’s all the Jaguars had to give up to acquire a stud defensive tackle? Sure Dareus may come with some baggage, but he’s one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. He seems to be worth much more than a 6th rounder. For Jacksonville, they acquire an excellent run stuffer that will help a unit that ranks 31st against the run. And yes I am aware this trade took place days ago and not during today’s Trade Deadline. But Dareus is a good enough player and the timing is close enough that I’m including it.

Houston Texans trade OT Duane Brown to the Seattle Seahawks for CB Jeremy Lane, a 2018 5th Round Pick, and a 2019 2nd Round Pick

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photo credit: Sports Illustrated

I thought the Seahawks gave up a little much for Brown here (I thought the trade would’ve been fair without the 2nd rounder), but the need was so great that I don’t fault them for it. In fact, there were reports saying that the Seahawks were so desperate for a left tackle, they were willing to trade superstar TE Jimmy Graham for one. They receive stud Texans tackle Duane Brown, who has had his issues with the Houston organization this season. Brown had been holding out for most of the season before playing his first game this past Sunday (against the Seahawks, no less). Brown is a former All Pro and immediately becomes the best lineman on this Seahawks roster, even if he’s only half the player he was a few years ago. Jeremy Lane is by no means a star corner, but he can impact the game and I think the Texans will be happy to have him.

New England Patriots trade QB Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2018 2nd Round Pick

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photo credit: Sports Illustrated

This was the most shocking trade to me. I figured that the reason the Patriots acquired so much ammunition in the offseason was because they felt that Tom Brady’s career was on its last legs and they wanted to set him up for one final run. This trade of Garoppolo tells me that they are confident that he has a few more great years left in him (he has given them no reason to believe otherwise, as he leads the NFL in passing by almost 400 yards). I have no issue with the compensation, as a lot of other Pats fans do. The 49ers are currently 0-8 and Garoppolo isn’t going to magically turn them around, so this second round pick will likely come at around pick #33 or #34, which is basically a first round pick. There were reports that the Browns offered the Patriots the 12th overall pick in last year’s draft for Jimmy G, which they traded to the Texans to draft Deshaun Watson when New England turned them down, so one must wonder if the Patriots got all they could for the fourth year pro. The Patriots now only have Tom Brady on the roster at quarterback and will likely sign the newly-released Brian Hoyer, who had backed up Brady for the first three years of his career. Or maybe even another former 49ers signal caller…

Miami Dolphins trade RB Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2018 4th Round Pick

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photo credit: CBS Sports

This came as a shock to me because at no point were there any whispers that Ajayi was on the block or that the Eagles were searching for a runningback. Ajayi is having a down year from his breakout 2016 season, but that could be due in large part to the bad quarterback situation in Miami allowing defenses to stack the box against the run, much like what happened with Todd Gurley last season. The Eagles already have options at runningback, as LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood have been a part of a rotation that is 4th in the NFL in rushing. Also, really? Just a 4th round pick? Ajayi ran for 200 yards on 3 separate occasions last season and finished with over 1200 yards. I read somewhere (I think it was reported by Jeff Darlington) that the Dolphins were concerned about Ajayi’s long-term knee health stemming from an injury he suffered in college and that was why they sent him to Philly. That might also explain the lower draft pick because Philly may also have had that concern. We may learn more in the coming days.

Carolina Panthers trade WR Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills for a 2018 3rd Round Pick and a 2018 7th Round Pick

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photo credit: Bleacher Report

Like Ajayi, this trade also came as a surprise to me, as I didn’t think Benjamin was on the market, though it didn’t surprise me that the Bills were searching for a receiver. Buffalo receivers are dead last in the NFL in yards and catches this season and Benjamin is a big-bodied receiver with loads of potential. This move surprises me from Carolina’s standpoint because not only do they now have limited options at receiver, but the compensation I felt was subpar for the former first rounder. Benjamin has been solid (albeit inconsistent) since entering the league in the star-studded 2014 receiver class. I think the Panthers could’ve gotten more for him, maybe even the extra first rounder the Bills acquired from the Chiefs in the 2017 NFL Draft. But nonetheless, Benjamin adds a whole other dimension to this Bills offense that has been lacking, yet finds themselves in the thick of a playoff hunt.

Cincinnati Bengals don’t trade QB AJ McCarron to the Cleveland Browns

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photo credit: UPI.com

The Bengals and Browns agreed on a trade for QB AJ McCarron at 3:55 pm (deadline is at 4) but the Browns did not relay their half of the agreement until after the deadline, so McCarron is staying in Cincinnati. Classic Browns. Who knows what they would have given the Bengals for the former Alabama signal caller, but in the past the Bengals had reported that they were looking for as high as a first round pick for him. The Browns have 2 first rounders and 3 second rounders in the 2018 draft. We may never know what the compensation would have been. Also, curious that these two arch rivals would be doing business together over a quarterback.

Those are my thoughts on the trades that took place today. Did any of these moves surprise you? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.