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.

A Look at the NFL Head Coaching Hires

With Arizona’s hiring of Steve Wilks and Indy’s and Detroit’s inevitable hirings of Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, it appears that all head coaching vacancies have been filled. Let’s take a look at how each team did with their new head man.

Arizona Cardinals Hire Former Carolina Panthers’ DC Steve Wilks

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Wilks is probably the least experienced coach in the group as far as major responsibilities go. 2017 was his first year as a defensive coordinator in the NFL and only the second time he’s ever held such a title, when he was DC at East Tennessee State in 2002. Wilks spent one year as a head coach at the college level at Savannah State in 1999 before moving to Illinois State as defensive backs coach. He’s been an NFL coach since 2005, primarily as a defensive backs coach. He had spent the last 5-6 years in the Panthers organization, where he helped create guys such as Josh Norman into what they are today. His best work has easily come as a member of the Panthers, particularly in the last couple of seasons. Carolina’s secondary had been about as weak a defensive unit as there is in football but always got masked by a great front seven. Last year, Carolina boasted the 7th best defense in the NFL in total yards and helped lead the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. He joins an Arizona team that has talent but has to reload after the retirements of both former head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer. I don’t think it’d be fair to expect a ton out of Wilks and the Cardinals in his first year, as that offense is going to need to undergo a lot of changes, however I do think Arizona will continue to field a strong defense.

Indianapolis Colts Are Going to Hire New England Patriots’ OC Josh McDaniels

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Josh McDaniels is arguably the best offensive coordinator in the NFL, as the Patriots are consistently at the top of the NFL in terms of points and yardage year-in and year-out. He does have head coaching experience with the Denver Broncos, however after starting his career 6-0, he crashed and burned horribly. What I think went wrong was McDaniels tried to be Belichick with his new team before he had earned that right in his players’ eyes. He traded their quarterback and top wide receiver (Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall) before even coaching a game, which probably should’ve been the first sign of things to come. I think McDaniels will have learned a lot from his failures in Denver, however, and I expect his tenure with the Colts to go much better. He has still yet to be announced as their head coach but all signs point to McDaniels becoming the head man after the Super Bowl. The Colts offensively won’t become the Patriots overnight, but I think if they can boast just an average offensive line, then I think they could be deadly if McDaniels is able to transition his system over from New England to Indy.

Detroit Lions Are Going to Hire New England Patriots’ DC Matt Patricia

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Same situation with Patricia as McDaniels, as he hasn’t been announced as the head coach yet since he’ll be coaching in the Super Bowl, however it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that he’s getting the Lions job. There’s a lot of talent on the Lions that went unrealized under previous head coach Jim Caldwell however they could never get over the hump. It is unknown how Patricia will do as a head coach because he’s never been a head coach at any level before. He’s been the Patriots’ DC since 2012 and before that served as an offensive assistant, O-line, linebackers, and safeties coach. Patricia’s defenses in New England have been the personification of bend-but-don’t-break, as they’re routinely near the bottom in yards allowed but near the top in points allowed. Patricia is notoriously well-liked by his players and it will be interesting to see how he gels with the Lions. I really don’t know what to expect out of the Lions under Patricia just because there’s nothing to go off of since he’s never been a head coach before. I think the Lions will fall somewhere between the 6-9 wins range next season.

New York Giants Hire Former Minnesota Vikings’ OC Pat Shurmur

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Pat Shurmur has been in coaching since 1988 when he was a grad assistant at his alma mater at Michigan State. He’s been in the NFL since 1999 with the Eagles’ staff and has had one stint as a head coach and another as interim head coach. He led the Browns in 2011 and 2012 and posted a 9-23 record. He was also the Eagles’ interim head coach after they fired Chip Kelly in 2015 and won his only game at that position before the Eagles hired current head coach Doug Pederson. Shurmur has spent the last two seasons with the Vikings. In 2016 he was the tight ends coach before becoming interim offensive coordinator, then keeping the job on a full-time basis for 2017. In 2017, the Vikings were able to find a lot of success on offense despite the injuries to key offensive players. Stud rookie Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week 4 and Sam Bradford suffered a leg injury that effectively ended his season. But I think the biggest thing that got Shurmur the Giants’ gig is the rise of Case Keenum under his watch. When a journeyman quarterback leads his team to an NFC Championship game while posting the numbers that Keenum did, the OC is going to get some looks. I think this could wind up being a sneaky good hire. There’s lots of talent on the Giants, who simply underperformed in 2017 and if Shurmur can get the most out of a guy like Keenum, doing the same for Giants players will be a breeze. I think there will be a hefty win improvement in 2018. The intriguing thing for me is going to be what he decides to do with the #2 pick in the Draft. Do the Giants take Eli’s heir or do they take a playmaker like Saquon Barkley? We’ll have to wait and see.

Tennessee Titans Hire Former Houston Texans’ DC Mike Vrabel

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Like Matt Patricia, Mike Vrabel is also getting his very first head coaching gig at any level. Vrabel was a stud linebacker with the Patriots during their initial dynasty in the early 2000’s, as he was a major part of the team that won 3 super Bowls in a 4-year stretch from 2001-2004. He has since served as linebackers and defensive line coach at his alma mater Ohio State from 2011-2013 before joining Bill O’Brien on the Houston Texans’ staff in 2014 as linebackers’ coach. When Hard Knocks focused on the Texans in 2015, we got a chance to see Vrabel’s coaching style firsthand and man, is he tough. He’ll get in your face and yell and call your mother a bitch but you also get the sense that he really cares about his guys. In 2017, he was promoted to defensive coordinator and the Texans ranked 20th in yards allowed and last in points, however a large part of that was all the injuries to key players the team had to deal with. But Vrabel’s personality is the type of thing I think the Titans need. At times they seemed a little relaxed and I think a good kick in the pants could be what takes them from an inconsistent and mediocre team to one that contends for division titles every year. I’m not so sure the Titans will make the playoffs next year like they did this year, though, especially with the rise of the Jaguars and a healthy Texans team. But again, we don’t know what to expect with a true rookie head coach in Vrabel and how his players might respond to his coaching style.

Oakland Raiders Hire Monday Night Football Broadcaster Jon Gruden

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This is easily the highest-profile coaching hire of the offseason. Jon Gruden was a pretty well-decorated coach with the Raiders from 1998-2001, then with the Buccaneers from 2002-2008, including a Super Bowl XXXVII victory with Tampa over the same Raiders team that had fired him the year before. He also holds the distinction of being the winningest coach in Buccaneers’ history and was inducted into their Ring of Honor this past season. Since being fired from the Buccaneers in 2008, however, Gruden has been the color commentator for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, where his antics had become endearing to many fans. He now rejoins a Raiders team that really regressed last season but there are a lot of talented pieces in place. The AFC West appears to be wide open next season as both the Chiefs and Chargers, who finished ahead of Oakland, were wildly inconsistent while the Broncos struggled mightily. I think Gruden gets the Raiders back in the thick of things, though we may see some early-season rust.

Chicago Bears Hire Former Kansas City Chiefs’ OC Matt Nagy

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Matt Nagy was the first coach hired this offseason, as he was introduced as Bears’ head coach one week to the day that John Fox was fired. He may have the smoothest transition out of any of these coaches as he has a quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky that has a very similar skillset to his previous quarterback, Alex Smith, and an excellent runningback in Jordan Howard. Nagy is only 39 years old and had been playing football professionally as recently as 2008 with the Columbus Destroyers of the Arena Football League. Nagy has been a coach since 2010 as a coach’s assistant with the Eagles and was an offensive quality control coach there until 2012. He had been with the Chiefs since 2013, where he served as quarterbacks coach until 2015 when he was promoted to offensive coordinator, a position he had held up until his hiring with the Bears. Under Nagy, the Chiefs experienced a lot of success on offense through ball control and ball security, as they were #1 in turnover differential in 2016 and #2 in 2017. We’ll have to see if the transition is as seamless as I think it has the potential to be, considering the similarities I find between Trubisky and Smith, because if it is, then I think the Bears could be dark horses in 2018, perhaps becoming next year’s version of the Rams. Young head coach, young quarterback, complete overhaul in offensive philosophy. It worked in LA, can it work in Chicago?

That’s going to do it for my thoughts on the NFL head coaching hires. Let me know what you think of these hires in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.