The Patriots are favorites Sunday and with good reason. They have won five Super Bowls over the last two decades, sport the best coach and quarterback of all time and have given little reason for doubters to pick against them this season.
But the tide is turning toward the underdog Eagles, getting anywhere from 6 to 4.5 points in betting lines as the game approaches. A closer look at the rosters of the NFC and AFC champions gives a major advantage to Philadelphia in most positional groups.
Obviously, the Super Bowl isn’t decided by looking at a depth chart and deciding which individual players are better. Coaching schemes, execution and experience — along with a bevy of other important factors — play just as large a role as talent and depth do. But regardless, it’s worth looking at which team has the better players ahead of the 52nd playing of the biggest game in sports.
Here’s a look at which team has a better squad:
Quarterback: Advantage Patriots
As good as Nick Foles looked two weeks ago against the Vikings (throwing for three touchdowns, no interceptions and posting a 141.1 QB rating), Tom Brady is the greatest to ever play the position. And even with his potentially slghtly injured hand, he will be the best player on the field Sunday — even at age 40. Brady is reason enough to pick the Patriots in this game, and a clutch performance from him could make the rest of these categories irrlevenant.
“If I make this all about them, we’re in trouble,” Doug Pederson said last week, when asked about Brady and his five Super Bowl titles. “Honestly, we’re in trouble. Everything is going to be written about it. Everything has been written about it, talked about it, discussed, debated, and it’s about us. And I’ll keep saying that. It’s what we do and how well we execute. I can’t worry about that.”
Running backs: Advantage Eagles
There could be some backlash for this pick — as Brady knows how to use running backs in the passing game better than anyone. And Dion Lewis definitely broke into a featured running back in the regular season’s second half. But the Eagles ran for more yards in the regular season (third most in football) and more in the playoffs and have one of the best offensive lines in the game. The Patriots use the run to mix things up, the Eagles use the run to set things up. Expect the Eagles — using Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement, to find ways to get the ground game going.
Wide receivers, tight ends: No advantage
This is a tough category to litigate. Rob Gronkowski is in the concussion protocol. Without him, the Eagles likely get a slight advantage thanks to their tight end Zach Ertz. But with Gronk, Brady is able to force defenses to pay less attention to either Brandin Cooks or Danny Amendola — both deadly weapons. Foles will rely on Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor in addition to Ertz on the line. NFL teams have problems defending both the Eagles and Patriots weapons and the Pats secondary could have its hands full with the deep ball and quick slants Foles likes to throw.
Offensive line: Advantage Eagles
The Eagles line — boasting three Pro Bowl/All Pros in Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks are dynamic and athletic. They set up the run game and protect the quarterback. The Patriots and Eagles pass blocking are both in the middle of the road as far as sacks allowed go but the starpower in Philly reigns supreme here. Offensive line is apoint of concern for Patriots fans and one of pride for Eagles fans.
Defensive line: Advantage Eagles
Much has been written about Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Timmy Jernigan and the rest of the Eagles dynamic pass rush. Back ups Chris Long and Derek Barnett (a 2017 first round pick) each made game-changing plays this postseason and the depth and talent of the position is as good as it gets in the NFL. The Patriots run defense is among the worst in football, though they do boast Trey and Marquis Flowers who combined for 10 sacks this season.
Linebackers: No advantage
The Eagles are without stud middle linebacker Jordan Hicks and have relied successfully on Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham this season, and both are excellent against the run. But they could have issues against Gronkowski, forcing safety Malcolm Jenkins to potentially line up in the second level against him. The Patriots are led by Kyle Van Noy, whose 5.5 sacks show how versatile and valuable he is as a linebacker. But as mentioned before the Pats struggle against the run and lack a lot of depth. An embarrassment of riches here with no advantage to either side.
Secondary: Advantage Eagles
The Patriots have the third worst passing defense in the NFL, based on the regular season and were one of three teams to let opposing offenses gain 4,000 yards through the air. They have 12 interceptions, seven less than the Eagles’ 19 but have been solid scoring-wise, allowing only 24 passing touchdowns — the exact same number the Eagles allowed (but the Eagles allowed over 400 yards less through the air). Jenkins, of course, is a Pro Bowler and in tandem with Rodney McLeod is part of one of the better safety tandems in football. Ronald Darby is as close to a shut down corner as the Eagles have with inconsistent but sometimes brilliant Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills rounding out the Eagles cornerbacks. The Pats have starpower, despite their lack of success, with Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler manning the outside.
Special teams: No advantage
Kicker Jake Elliott can make pressure kicks and long kicks, and punter Donnie Jones is very solid too, but the Eagles special teams have been marred by missed extra points, muffed returns and a lack of explosiveness on both punt and kickoff returns. In New England, Stephen Gostkowski is usually among the most reliable kickers in the NFL but made just 71 percent of his field goals, the second worst in the NFL. Neither team had a return touchdown this season.
Overall: Advantage Eagles
Are we picking the Eagles to win? Not necessarily. But based solely on the parameters listed above, the Eagles have the edge in nearly every position group on defense and are supreme on their offensive line and with running backs. This game won’t be determined by which team has better Madden ratings on its roster — but the Eagles certainly do have enough talent to not only win Super Bowl LII, but also continue to vie for championships for seasons to come.