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Jan 29, 2018; St. Paul, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) sit on stage with the Vince Lombardi Trophy during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl LII Preview: New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Super Bowl 52 sets up like a movie script.

An underdog that no one gave a chance to against the reigning champion.

This is not David vs. Goliath. Even though there are parallels, this isn’t even Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed.

Super Bowl 52 stars the heavily favored and defending champion New England Patriots against the underdog Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots look to win their sixth championship, including their third in four years. The Eagles hope to bring a long-awaited Super Bowl win to Philadelphia for the franchise’s first championship.

Past Experience

An obvious advantage that the Patriots have over Philadelphia is the experience factor. In the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era of Patriots football, they have made the Super Bowl eight times, winning five of them. They’ll try to get one for the other thumb when they face the Eagles Sunday. The Patriots were in the same position last year. Their experience in the big game allowed them to pull off one of the best comebacks in Super Bowl history.

For Patriots QB Tom Brady, Super Bowl week is a week that he feels comfortable in.

One of Brady’s top targets, Patriots WR Danny Amendola, said that execution is more valuable than experience in the Super Bowl.

Underdog Role

Everyone counted the Eagles out of the Super Bowl chase once MVP candidate QB Carson Wentz was ruled out for the season. Thanks to the surprising play of backup QB Nick Foles, the Eagles proved the doubters wrong by making it to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years.

Even though the Eagles were home throughout the playoffs, they were still underdogs in both rounds. The team has adopted the underdog mentality, so much so that Lane Johnson and Chris Long wore dog masks following the team’s NFC Championship win.

Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox says the team has been loose ahead of the big game.

Limiting and Disrupting Brady

Stopping Patriots QB Tom Brady is close to impossible for any defense. On Sunday, the Eagles will try to implement the formula that has proven to at least slow down Brady.

In Brady’s two Super Bowl defeats to the New York Giants, the Giants established a ground game to keep Brady on the sideline. When the Patriot offense was on the field, the New York defensive line was in Brady’s face all night. The Eagles have the ingredients to replicate their division rivals had against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Mid-season acquisition RB Jay Ajayi and former Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount will see a lot of touches on Sunday. Both these backs are no strangers to an increased workload. The rushing attack for Philadelphia will not only keep Brady off the field but also prevent any costly turnovers.

Another key aspect of Philadelphia’s defensive strategy will be trying to throw Brady off his rhythm. The Eagles’ deep front four led by DT Fletcher Cox will be tasked with getting to Brady early and often.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson knows pressuring Tom Brady will be a major factor in Sunday’s game.

Money Down

The Eagles are the most efficient team when it comes to converting on third downs. They rank atop the NFL in third-down conversion percentage with 59.3%. They are able to be so efficient on third down by not getting into many third and long situations.

This is due in large part to the team’s multitude of options on third down. They can run the ball or get it to one of their explosive receivers. For the Patriots, getting the Eagles in unmanageable situations on third down will be crucial on Sunday. This would prohibit Philadelphia from sustaining long drives, keeping Brady and the Patriot offense off the field.

Belichick knows that third downs will play a major role in the game.

The Return of Gronk

The New England offense will be at full strength Super Bowl Sunday. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski passed concussion protocol and will be active for the Super Bowl. Gronkowski left the AFC Championship Game with a concussion.

Gronkowski said that the team took every precaution and he’s ready to return to the field.

Having “Gronk” back in the lineup is a huge boost to the Patriots offense. He creates such a mismatch for Eagles defenders because of his size and speed. The defense becomes fixated on stopping him they forget about Brady’s other targets, both wide and in the backfield. Expect Gronkowski to be featured a ton in Sunday’s game.

Kick-Off

The Patriots and Eagles meet for the second time in Super Bowl history. The Patriots beat the Eagles 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville. They will meet again in frigid Minnesota for Super Bowl LII. Kick-off is set for 6:40 p.m. Coverage on WRUF starts at 2 p.m.

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