BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Of course Nick Foles is going to need to play well if the Eagles have any chance of taking down the mighty Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
If he plays anything like he did against the Vikings, the Eagles have a real shot at winning this thing.
The problem with Foles is inconsistency. What Foles is going to show up? The Eagles hope it'll be the one who was dropping dimes all over the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game at the Linc.
We won't include Foles in our five matchups because it's almost too easy. But there are plenty of other matchups to watch in this one.
Here we go:
Rob Gronkowski vs. Malcolm Jenkins
Gronk is coming off a concussion, but as long as he's in the game, he's the Patriots' biggest weapon. Simply put: he's the best tight end in the league and he's a mismatch no matter what team the Patriots are facing. But it might be a little less of an advantage against the Eagles. Jenkins just keeps getting better and has done well against tight ends over the last couple years. Jenkins is a safety with cornerback coverage skills, but he's also bigger than your average corner, which obviously helps against a giant like Gronk.
While Jenkins has played really well against the Patriots in past matchups, he said last week that he's never actually faced Gronkowksi. Every time he's played the Patriots, Gronk has been injured. This is going to be huge.
"This is my first opportunity," Jenkins said. "Obviously looking forward to the matchup. He's a top tight end in this league for a reason. He does a great job of creating contact and using his body to separate the defender from the ball and catches contested throws. He's faster than most people think and then Brady puts it in a spot only he can get it."
Tom Brady vs. Jim Schwartz
Oh yeah, Brady. We didn't forget about him. The G.O.A.T. is 40 now and at this rate, he'll be getting Social Security checks before he retires from the NFL.
"He's definitely the greatest quarterback of all time," Jenkins said after the NFC Championship Game. "But that doesn't mean he's unbeatable."
The key for the Eagles will be getting pressure on Brady without allowing him to pick them apart. It sounds easy, but the guy has five Super Bowl rings and that didn't happen by mistake. Bill Belichick certainly knows Jim Schwartz well, so it'll be up to Schwartz to figure out a game plan. He's not one to blitz, but what happens if the front four doesn't get consistent pressure? It could be a long game. The one thing Schwartz sometimes likes to use are zone blitzes. He'll at least try to keep the Patriots guessing.
Dion Lewis vs. Eagles linebackers
Lewis, a former Eagle, has really carved out a nice career since he arrived in New England in 2015. He never really got much of an opportunity with the Eagles, but this year he came into his own as a Patriot. He rushed for 896 yards and added 214 receiving yards on top of that.
The receiving aspect of his game might give the Eagles more problems. The Birds had the NFL's best rushing defense, giving up an average of 79.2 yards per game. So they should be able to stop the Patriots' running game. But covering receivers out of the backfield is something that has always given them fits.
It'll be up to Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks to cover Lewis when he comes out of the backfield on Sunday night.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. James Harrison
He's had plenty of doubters during his two years in the NFL, but Big V might have just played the best game of his career in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings. He was going against Pro Bowler Everson Griffen and more than held his own. Sure, the Eagles helped him at times, but there were also times where he was 1-on-1 against Griffen and won battles.
This matchup against Harrison is an interesting one for a few reasons. It would make sense for the Patriots to try a few different guys rushing against Vaitai in this game and Harrison is 39 and hasn't played a ton since they brought him in. But there's one thing Harrison can do: he can bend and get to the quarterback. Vaitai seems to struggle against those quick guys who can bend and sneak past him; he seems better against bull-rushers.
Nelson Agholor vs. Eric Rowe
Another former Eagles' player makes the list. Remember when the Eagles made a huge mistake by trading away Rowe for a draft pick? Well, it turns out the Eagles ended up with a ton of cornerback depth and don't need Rowe anymore.
The Patriots have two really good outside corners in Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore, so attacking the middle of the field might make the most sense for the Eagles. Expect Zach Ertz to play a big role in that.
The Eagles should also try to exploit this matchup. Agholor is so quick and shifty in the slot and that has just never really been Rowe's game. Really, Rowe is playing as the Patriots' nickel cornerback because the Patriots are already set outside. His playing style doesn't really seem to fit on the inside of the field, especially not against a player like Agholor.