The hype is nearly over, and the game is almost here, and soon I can stop being shamed for saying that I am GLAD Tom Brady and the Patriots are back for an eighth Super Bowl of the Brady/Belichick Era. To be clear, I am not a Patriots fan, but I am a fan of suspenseful, dramatic, episodic television, and the numbers are undeniable — when Brady is playing in a Super Bowl, we inevitably get a hell of a show.
CBS Sports did a post ranking the 51 Super Bowls in terms of drama and quality of play, and it should be no surprise that seven of the top 19 games, and the top three overall, involve Tom Brady's Patriots:
19. 2004 vs Eagles (W, 24-21)
17. 2011 vs Giants (L, 21-17)
11. 2001 vs Rams (W, 20-17)
10. 2003 vs Panthers (W, 32-29)
3. 2016 vs Falcons (W, 34-28 OT)
2. 2007 vs Giants (L, 17-14)
1. 2014 vs Seahawks (W, 28-24)
Call me crazy, I'd rather be virtually assured of entertainment than watch Blake Bortles clunk his way through the most important sporting event of the year. So now, let's give a quick summary of what to watch for this Sunday and get the prediction out there...
4. When the Patriots have the ball....
Aside from the Patriots' individual greatness at quarterback, the best position group in this game is the Eagles' defensive front, which is fierce and deep, and led by Fletcher Cox, who is one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the league. The formula to beat Brady is known — put him on his ass, and hope he makes a mistake or two. The Eagles might be the team most capable of doing this in the entire league, and have a pass rush which mirrors the Giants' teams that were able to beat Brady in 2007 and 2011. I expect a lot of short passes to the backs out of the backfield, and a lot of Danny Amendola.
The big variable is the health of Rob Gronkowski, who is expected to play after a week in concussion protocol. Concussions are weird, and you know the Eagles safeties and linebackers will be trying to hit Gronk in the kill spot again. It's worth the 15 yard penalty to knock him out.
3. When the Eagles have the ball....
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles is the undoubted x-factor in this game (aside from Gronk's gray matter). His 300-plus yard passing performance in the NFC title game against a really good Minnesota defense completely recalibrated the possibility scale of what COULD happen with Foles under center. This New England defense, between the 20 yard lines, isn't in the same neighborhood as Minnesota's, but inside the red zone, they buckle down pretty well, allowing just the fifth most points in the league. That's a Belichick staple.
The Eagles will try to establish two things — their stable of running backs (Blount, Ajayi, Clement) and tight end Zach Ertz. Getting production in those areas will allow for the occasional shots down field to Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith. Overall, though, the game will be decided by how well Foles protects the football. An early lead would do wonders for this Eagles offense.
2. During the commercial breaks
We interrupt this blog post for the embedded videos of the Super Bowl commercials that have leaked onto the internet thus far, in advance of the game.....
1. A few good prop bets
If you can't stomach having a bet on the outcome of the game, but you have a few sawbucks burning a hoe in your pocket, here are three Prop bets that I will be playing. Feel free to come along for the ride!
* Pink OVER 2 minutes (-140) singing the national anthem
Betting on the UNDER for the anthem is a recipe for disaster. Regardless of how big the performer is, this is still the most people they will ever have watching him or her (her, in this case) at any one time, so I expect it to be milked to the hilt. We are going OVER, people.
* Will Tom Brady throw an interception? YES +110
Brady has thrown interceptions in more Super Bowls (four) than he's had Super Bowls where he's had a totally clean turnover sheet (three). I think the Eagles will pressure him into at least one.
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* James White OVER 3.5 receptions (+110)
Speaking of the Eagles' pressure, I think Brady getting the ball out fast will be a theme for the Patriots' offense,so I expect a lot of dump passes and stuff out in the flat to their running backs. White was the hero of last year's Super Bowl, with a double digit reception game. We will ride him for at least four catches here.
Now, for my pick.... go big or go home....
SPREAD: Patriots -4
PREDICTION: Eagles 22, Patriots 17
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.