Patriots

Foles shocks Vikings to set stage for Patriots and Eagles in Super Bowl LII

Foles shocks Vikings to set stage for Patriots and Eagles in Super Bowl LII

FOXBORO -- Nick Foles reached deep down inside, way down, like, into the small intestine, to pull out a performance that had him looking like Nick Foles of 2013. 

Putting together one of the greatest quarterback games in the history of the NFL's conference-championship weekend -- yes, you read that correctly -- Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns and recorded a rating of 141.4 to help Philly beat up on Minnesota, 38-7, ruining the chances of a Vikings home Super Bowl in the process.

It's been four years since Foles, who had a 27-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013, looked like one of the best quarterbacks in football. But what he did to the league's top-rated defense has to have boosted his confidence headed into a Super Bowl matchup where his club will be underdogs for the third consecutive playoff game. 

The Patriots have opened as 5.5-point favorites, making the Eagles the heaviest Super Bowl dog since 2009. That number could shift if it looks like the Patriots could be without Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a head injury in the second quarter against the Jaguars and did not return. 

Here are a few quick-hitting thoughts on the Patriots-Eagles matchup for the Lombardi Trophy . . . 

WHY THE EAGLES ARE BETTER THAN YOU THOUGHT

When Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 10, it looked like Philly's chances at a Super Bowl went with him. Because they were without not only Wentz but also starting left tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles. But their suffocating defense, led by a ferocious front-seven, has carried them. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is one of the most dominant players at his position the NFL has to offer. Defensive end Brandon Graham is a consistently-bothersome presence off the edge and an analytics darling because of an absurd number of pressures -- 158 over the last three seasons and counting. Vinny Curry, Timmy Jernigan, rookie Derek Barnett and former Patriots end Chris Long round out a  group that will have a very real chance to get after Tom Brady without defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz dialing up blitzes. For the second straight game, the Patriots' offensive line will have its hands full.

WHY THE EAGLES ARE WORSE THAN YOU THOUGHT

This really comes down to Foles. Which version will show up in Minnesota in two weeks? Will it be the one who shredded the Vikings? Or will it be the one who skated by the Raiders in Week 16 with a 50 percent completion mark and a rating of 59.4, the one who couldn't hold onto a starting gig after his historic 2013? If it's the latter, his weapons -- which are good but not dominant -- probably won't be enough to save him. Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount make up a hard-headed rushing attack. Zach Ertz is a talented receiving tight end but is more receiver than tight end. Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith all are capable of picking up explosive gains on the ground, but they need their quarterback to be able to get them the football. 

HOW THE PATRIOTS MAY HANDLE THINGS

Defensively, this could get interesting for the Patriots. On the one hand, they're going to have to stop the run. They could pull a page from each of their last two defensive game plans to sell out against hard-charging backs. On the other, what Foles did against the No. 1 defense in the NFL complicates the equation. They probably can't dare Foles to win from the pocket the way they did with Marcus Mariota. They can't have breakdowns on short dump-offs the way they did against Blake Bortles. They'll have to pressure Foles up front and then compete at the catch point with Foles' talented down-the-field wideouts. Offensively, the Patriots may want to steer clear of the running game. The Eagles were No. 1 in the league against the run this season, allowing just 79.2 yards per contest. When the Patriots throw, they'll have to contend with safety Malcolm Jenkins and corner Ronald Darby on the back end, and they'll have to protect against Philly's tough front. But keeping Brady upright in the passing game may be easier than trying to grind out yardage on the ground. Patriots backs and receivers ran for just 3.28 yards per carry against the Jaguars. 

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Tom Brady explains why GOAT label makes Patriots QB "uncomfortable"

Tom Brady explains why GOAT label makes Patriots QB "uncomfortable"

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is considered the GOAT, aka the "greatest of all time", throughout New England, and with good reason.

After all, the veteran quarterback is the only five-time Super Bowl champion and four-time Super Bowl MVP among quarterbacks. There's also a good chance he could add more titles and MVPs to his resume before his career ends. 

While Patriots fans, members of the media and others have no issue calling Brady the GOAT, the man himself is much less enthusiastic about it.

"I don't really like it, truthfully," Brady said in an interview with Scott Zolak on the latest episode of "Patriots All Access."

Zolak then told Brady he seems "uncomfortable" with the GOAT label, and the 40-year-old QB agreed.

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"Well, I am," Brady responded. "I don't see myself in that way. That's not a value I've ever put on me playing. I play for the enjoyment of the game. I play for the comraderie with my teammates, and I play to win. I don't play to be called a certain thing or compared to this guy. I had heroes when I grew up. There's a lot of great quarterbacks. There was when I grew up, there are now. The fact that I'm still playing, I love being that. I don't need people to tell me that 'man, you're such and such, or you're better than this.'

"There's a lot of great players. That's how I see other players, too. There's a lot of things that guys can do that I can't do. And there's some things I can do that other guys can't do, too. But that's part of my skill set. There's so many different things involved with being a great player. I think the greatest asset I have is a great organization. Great ownership. Great coaches. And great teammates I've had since I came into the league."

Brady, like Michael Jordan, has a never-ending motivation to be the best. Even though they've won so many championships, there's always something that can be used to fuel future success.

It's understandable Brady doesn't like being called the GOAT, especially with his career still ongoing. But when you compare the list of accomplishments between the NFL's greatest players, it's hard to put anyone above the Patriots quarterback.

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