The Eagles are about to play for their first Super Bowl title in franchise history and it may be their best opportunity ever.
Relaxed and taking a business as usual approach, the players and coaches are acting more like the match up against the Patriots, a 6:40 kickoff on NBC, is taking place in Week 8 and not on February 4.
They aren’t taking the five-time champs lightly, however, as they have focused all their energy on thwarting Tom Brady’s try to defy the grips of old age.Underdogs yet again (by 4.5 points), 60 minutes and the AFC champs are all that stands between Philadelphia and a world championship.
Here are 5 things to watch for in Super Bowl LII:
1. Pressure Tom Brady
It’s no secret that one of New England biggest weaknesses is their offensive line. A lack of consistent protection for the 40-year-old signal-caller hasn’t cost the Pats all that much, as he has one of the quickest releases in football. But few defensive lines have the talent and depth that the Eagles do.
“Don’t be playing to lose,” Brandon Graham, key to the Eagles pass rush said. “You hear about him coming back, but it’s because people get out of being themselves. That wont hapen to us. We will live or die by being ourselves.”
2. Keep the football
Anyone who saw the Patriots comeback against the Jaguars two weeks ago has had their fear of Brady’s heroics awakened again. Like he’s done so many times in the playoffs, Brady was able to drive the Patriots down the field twice in the fourth quarter in that game to close a 10-point gap.
If the game is within reach and New England has the ball, the game will never be over — making it ever more important for Philly to run the ball, control the clock and limit turnovers. Doug Pederson’s ability to manage time outs and make good decisions will be amplified to the highest level of scrutiny Sunday night.
“Sometimes people do stick to what they know,” cornerbacl Jalen Mills said of recent Patriots comebacks. “And sometimes it’s him doing what he does.”
3. The Gronk factor
It’s widely assumed that Rob Gronkowski, the league’s top tight end and Patriots; leading receiver will play Sunday. He’s practiced in a limited role despite being in the concussion protocol — after a huge hit he took against Jacksonville. And on Thursday afternoon it was reported he was cleared to play and he addressed the media for the first time.
“I really wasn’t worried I knew I’d be back,” he said.
If he’s on the field, the match up problems will make things tough for the Eagles’ defense. Making sure he’s attended to at all times will be of utmost importance when the Patriots have the ball.
4. Same old defense
The Eagles stout defense was on full display when the team dismantled the Vikings 38-7 two weeks ago and will need to be at its best again to best the Patriots.
Philly has been able to combine a solid pass defense, intense pass rush and make timely big plays — as key turnovers from back up role players Chris Long, Patrick Robinson and Derek Barnett helped lift them against Minnesota. With contributions like that reliving the efforts of centerpieces Fletcher Cox, Ronald Darby and others, the D is a fearsome unit and one that could give the Patriots fits.
5. Enjoy this
It’s happened just two times in 51 years and even though the Eagles are in spectacular shape to compete well beyond 2017-18, a trip to the Super Bowl should not be taken for granted. By the players or by the fans.
The entire sports-loving world will be paying attention to the Birds Sunday, and to the city of Philadelphia. Anyone born after 1960 still is waiting to call themselves NFL champions, and the experience of being a Super Bowl winner brings euphoria the city has never experienced before.
“I’m probably going to shed a tear,” Mychal Kendricks said.
A lot of other Eagles fans probably will too.