Championship Sunday was a dud for many. A blowout win in the NFC title game and yet another Patriots comeback victory on the AFC side seemed to leave a lot of football fans in a state of dismay heading into Super Bowl LII. The thought of a New England vs. Philadelphia match-up was doomed to ruin the psuedo national holiday that is Super Bowl Sunday.
A quick look at my social media Sunday night showed as much. Comments like "BORING", "I'll only watch for the commercials", "the Patriots still suck" or my personal favorite "Un-dilly", seem to capture the frustration associated with the pending match-up. This was not what you the football fan wanted.
Oh how wrong you are!
You may not want to admit it, but you got the best possible scenario possible. Brady and Belichick and their somewhat joyless way of winning, may turn your stomach, but you need them in the big game. As for Philly, it's the underdog you and Hollywood need on February 3rd.
You can't love Luke Skywalker without hating Darth Vader. The emergence of a great hero is dependant on the treachery of the villain. There is no greater villain in team sports currently than the New England Patriots. Deflate-gate, and spy-gate still resonate years after the transgression. Rampant complaints about the officiating in Sunday's AFC Championship game only add to the dreary lore of the Patriots' Deathstar
People clamor all the time about parity and wanting to see other teams win. That sounds good, but is it really accurate? Was a Jaguars/Vikings or Jaguars/Eagles game really that enticing? Sounds like Ravens/Giants 2001 to me. Ugh...Trent Dilfer vs. Kerry Collins (had top look it up to confirm) in a truly forgettable clash in Super Bowl XXXV. Can't take anything away from either team, but the storylines were lacking and it played out for fans that way. Need some numbers? A 40.4 rating, 61 share and 84,335,000 viewers for Baltimore/New York make it one of the lowest rated and least watched Super Bowls in the modern era. Who needs that again?
Conversely, the Patriots have been involved in the 2 highest rated Super Bowls of all time. Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 between the Patriots and Seahawks garnered a 47.5 rating (and to date, is the most viewed Super Bowl based on average U.S. viewers) and Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 between New England and the New York Giants had a 47.0 rating.
So you have your villain. Now you need your Hollywood hero.
You got the best you could get in Philadelphia. Screenwriters are dreaming of these storylines. A team that came out of nowhere to win the conference championship, just one year removed from finishing dead last in the NFC East. A team that survived losing an MVP candidate in quarterback Carson Wentz. And finally the redemption story of replacement Nick Foles and his other-worldly performance in the NFC title game to get the Eagles to Super Sunday.
Some will argue the Vikings had equally enticing storylines. True, Case Keenum's unbelievable run, the miraculous last second win versus the Saints and a hometown Super Bowl are all intriguing, but Minnesota lacks one storyline Philly does not. The Vikings can't beat the Patriots, the Eagles can.
A hero must be believable. You must be able to picture them defeating the villain, no matter how long the odds are. Minnesota's defense is the best in the league, but their offense is just 10th. They would be bringing a knife to a gun fight versus the Pats. As exciting as the last second win over New Orleans was, it should have never happened. That win was as much about the Saints failure and it was about the Vikings success.
Despite what the oddsmakers say, underdog Philadelphia has a great match-up against New England. They both averaged 28.6 points per game (tied for second in the NFL) on offense. Defensively the Eagles game up 18.4 points per game, the Patriots gave up 18.5 (good fo 4th and 5th respectively). Job number one for Philly is stopping Tom Brady. Yes they rank only 15th in the league in QB sacks, but are 4th in interceptions and 3rd in passes defended.
Stopping the Patriots offense is one thing. Scoring on their defense is another. After Jacksonville's hot start in the AFC Championship game, New England adjusted to stop their run dominated offense and things fell apart in the second half. The Eagles bring the balance needed to adjust to the adjustments. They topped the league with 38 TD passes during the season. They were third in rushing at 132.2 yards per game. Philadelphia will also need to protect the ball. this is an area that favors the Eagles where where plus 11 in giveaway/takeaway (4th) during the year.
Finally you need the secret weapon to defeat the big bad boogey-men from New England. Give another check mark to Philly with the head coach/quarterback-whisperer abilities of Ferndale's own Doug Pederson. He has long been thought of as an offensive genius, but what he has done with first Carson Wentz and now Nick Foles has been simply outstanding. He'll face his toughest test matching wits with Bill Belichick, but his pedigree and creativity gives him more than a fighting chance.
So gripe all you want. hold your nose, claim you're just there for the commercials. Know this though, you'll be there. You'll be watching for what we (outside of the greater New England area) all want to see: Right over might, good over bad, a vanquishing of the bully...the Hollywood ending. Super Bowl LII has all the makings of a blockbuster hit straight out of tinseltown. Break out the popcorn and enjoy the show! - Doug Lange