Bleacher Report's Expert Super Bowl LII Picks & Predictions
The Super Bowl is almost here.
On Sunday, the AFC champion New England Patriots will battle the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in the 52nd iteration of the biggest game in sports.
For the Patriots, it's a return to the scene of so many crimes. Sunday's matchup in Minneapolis marks the eighth time that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have made it to within 60 minutes of a championship.
For the Eagles, it's their third-ever chance at the franchise's first Super Bowl win and would be their first championship since 1960.
It's a game filled with subplots galore: Brady's and Belichick's quest for a record sixth Super Bowl win. Nick Foles' attempt to become Jeff Hostetler 2.0—a backup quarterback who led his team to a win on football's biggest stage. And the battle between two of the NFL's three highest-scoring offenses against two of the league's stingiest scoring defenses.
It's a matchup that has the makings of an instant classic. And just as we do every year here at Bleacher Report, the NFL gang has gathered to preview the game and offer takes on how Super Bowl LII will play out.
Before we get to the good stuff, here's a quick look at the pundits who contributed picks and predictions regarding the most super-est of all the bowls...version 52.
Gary Davenport, NFL analyst
Tyler Dunne, NFL lead features writer
Doug Farrar, NFL lead scout
Mike Freeman, NFL national lead Writer
Brad Gagnon, NFL analyst
Matt Miller, NFL draft lead Writer
Dan Pompei, NFL columnist
Brent Sobleski, NFL analyst
Mike Tanier, NFL national lead Writer
Sean Tomlinson, NFL analyst
This way you know exactly who to be mad at. We're helpful like that.
The Game: Super Bowl LII
What: Super Bowl LII
When: Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Line (Per OddsShark): Patriots -4.5
On Sunday, the Patriots and Eagles will battle in the 52nd edition of the Super Bowl. This fact you probably know—especially if you're hip to the whole Roman numerals thing.
However, there are a few things you might not know about the NFL's annual season-ending spectacle.
In the 51 Super Bowls played prior to this year, the NFC/NFL holds the edge over the AFC/AFL in victories. But the edge is as narrow as edges get. The NFC/NFL has won 26 Super Bowls, while the AFC/AFL has won 25. The last 10 Super Bowls have been split right down the middle (five wins apiece), but the AFC has won four of the last five.
The Patriots will be appearing in a record 10th Super Bowl Sunday. If New England wins the game, it will tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Lombardi trophies with six. The Denver Broncos, who have played in eight Super Bowls, have the most losses in the game with five.
The Pats are 5-4 in their nine other Super Bowl appearances, and 5-2 during the Belichick/Brady era. The team lost its first Super Bowl in spectacular fashion (46-10 to the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX) but has emerged with a victory in its last two trips—including last year. New England's last loss in the Super Bowl came back in XLVI—a 21-17 setback at the hands of Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
The Eagles are appearing in their third Super Bowl and still searching for win No. 1. Philly lost Super Bowl XV 27-10 to the Oakland Raiders and fell to Brady's Patriots 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX. That game also marked the last time the NFL crowned a back-to-back champion.
Last year, a total audience of over 170 million tuned in to watch the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons play the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. Of course, many of those people were actually tuned in to see the commercials, which have become an event all their own.
Those commercials ought to be good. Per Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, a 30-second spot on Sunday will cost advertisers over $5 million.
The NFC Champion: No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles (15-3)
We'll begin with the winners of the National Football Conference.
That the Philadelphia Eagles are in the Super Bowl at all is surprising. Not many pundits picked the Eagles to do much in the NFC East in Carson Wentz's second season at quarterback—much less win 13 games and the division. The Eagles entered 2017 a +4,000 long shot to win the Super Bowl.
The Eagles kept the train on the track after losing Wentz (who was having an MVP-caliber year) to a torn ACL in Week 13, which is truly remarkable.
Now, Philly and Nick Foles are one game away from finishing that surprising year with a championship, and head coach Doug Pederson told reporters (via ESPN's Tim McManus) that he's confident Foles can seal the deal.
"He's really handled his business extremely well," Pederson said. "He tries to block out the clutter, the noise, as much as he can and just focus on his job. He's had a great week of preparation, and the last month has been really special for him. He's been able to handle it extremely well and put himself in a really good position."
A large part of the reason the Eagles were able to absorb the loss of Wentz is that Foles hasn't had to do it all on the field. He's got a lot of help.
In tailbacks Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, the Eagles have two physical tailbacks who keyed the NFL's third-ranked ground game in 2017. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith and tight end Zach Ertz offer Foles a bevy of weapons in the passing game.
And defensive end Brandon Graham and tackle Fletcher Cox anchor a unit that ranked first in the NFL against the run (79.2 yards per game), fourth in total defense (306.5 yards per game) and fourth in scoring defense (18.4 points per game).
This team showed plainly in the NFC Championship Game (a 38-7 dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings) that it can beat anyone in the NFL. Even the Big Bad Wolf of the AFC.
The AFC Champion: No 1 New England Patriots (15-3)
So that Tom Brady fellow is pretty good at the whole being an NFL quarterback thing.
In his 18th season, at 40 years young, Brady finds himself in position to do something unprecedented in history of the NFL. If there's any doubt as to the best to ever play at the position, a sixth victory in his eighth Super Bowl would finish that.
In 2017, Brady led the NFL with 4,577 passing yards and had 32 touchdown passes vs. eight interceptions and a passer rating of 102.8. It was a performance that makes Brady the odds-on favorite to be named the NFL's MVP Saturday at the NFL Honors.
Just another year at the office.
However, while Brady's been great this season, it's the improvement of New England's defense as the year went on that propelled the Patriots into their umpteenth Super Bowl.
Over the first month of 2017, the Patriots were a sieve defensively. They allowed 32 points per game in a 2-2 start (both losses at home).
But while the Patriots finished the year 29th in yards allowed and 30th in passing yards allowed, they also ended the season fifth in scoring defense by surrendering just 18.5 points per game. From Week 5 on, the Pats gave up only 14 points per contest—best in the league.
Per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, New England safety Duron Harmon is confident in his group.
"The proof is in the pudding," Harmon said. "We know what we do. We know what we have to do to be successful. It starts with a good week of practice and a good week of preparation. We know what we've done over the last 12 weeks. Everybody can talk about what they want to talk about, but we know what we're capable of. We know we've got good players on this defense.”
Two of the NFL's highest-scoring offenses against a pair of the NFL's hardest defenses to score on.
It's not great news for the teams involved. But for the fans?
Oh, yeah. Must-see TV.
The Pick: New England Patriots (8-2)
Per NFL.com, Super Bowl LII marks just the third time that the two teams both rank in the top five in both scoring offense and scoring defense. It hasn't happened since Super Bowl XIII.
It isn't any stretch to say that this Eagles team is the staunchest opponent the Brady/Belichick Patriots have faced in the Super Bowl.
And as NFL analyst Brent Sobleski wrote, Philadelphia is more than capable of availing themselves of the sort of game plan (ball control and pressure with just the front four) that others have used to knock off Brady and the Patriots in the past.
"Forget about the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback situation for a moment," Sobleski said. "Doug Pederson's squad can exploit two favorable mismatches on its way to a Super Bowl victory. First, the Eagles defensive line is counted among the league's best. The group comes at opposing quarterbacks in waves with multiple pass-rushers capable of exploiting mismatches. Meanwhile, Tom Brady can be rattled and start seeing ghosts when consistent pressure is applied. This is exactly how the New York Giants and Denver Broncos overcame the game's greatest quarterback. Second, the Patriots aren't as stout along their defensive front and struggle to slow opposing ground games. The Eagles running scheme is the league's best with multiple backs who can punish defenses. A ball-control approach with a dynamic defense is the recipe to overcome a dynasty."
But Sobleski was one of just two scribes who picked the Eagles. For fellow NFL analyst Sean Tomlinson, that quarterback situation remains the rub.
"In theory, the Eagles have the ingredients to beat Tom Brady," Tomlinson said. "Their defense can bring relentless pressure with only the front four, and they have a deep rushing offense that can keep Brady on the sideline. But the Jaguars had those elements too, and they're watching Super Bowl LII from home. The Patriots have the pass-catching weapons out of the backfield to neutralize the Eagles pass rush with quick throws. If they do that while also leaning on Rob Gronkowski up the seam, they can build up an early lead and put the game more squarely in Nick Foles' hands. That's still an uncertain place for any game, and especially the Super Bowl."
NFL lead scout Doug Farrar echoed those sentiments, while adding that the Patriots' experience and ability to adjust schematically give them a decisive edge.
"I'm tempted to pick the Eagles," Farrar said, "as their multiple pass-rush looks and dime defensive schemes should give Tom Brady more trouble than he's used to. But to do so, I'd have to believe that New England's defense, which has improved drastically in the second half of the season, won't get a ton of pressure on Nick Foles, and I think they will. Foles has never been a good quarterback when pressured, and I think the efforts of guys like Trey Flowers and James Harrison will make that evident. In fact, I think the Patriots picking up Harrison for the stretch run will be a major difference-maker in this game, and yet more evidence that Bill Belichick knows how to tailor specific personnel to scheme better than anybody else."
That ability to switch things up on the fly is where NFL columnist Dan Pompei believes the key to a New England victory lies.
"The Patriots handle adversity within games better than any team," he said. "Their ability to shake off setbacks and make plays at the most critical times should make them the kings of the NFL again."
It's that last part NFL analyst Gary Davenport can't get past.
"The Patriots have been here, done that time and again," he said. "This is essentially the exact same team that staged the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history just last year. The Pats won't rest on an early lead or panic due to an early deficit. They remain calm and adjust better from game to game and quarter to quarter than any team in the NFL. Maybe better than any team ever has."
Throw in the greatest quarterback and head coach in NFL history, mix well…and choke it down.
Because it's the recipe for the Patriots to win yet another Super Bowl.
Eagles: Sobleski, Tanier
Patriots: Davenport, Dunne, Farrar, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Pompei, Tomlinson
Super Bowl MVP
The Pick: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (5 votes)
The winner of the Super Bowl MVP award will receive the Pete Rozelle Trophy.
NFL national lead writer Mike Tanier, the second of our experts to predict an Eagles victory, thinks a tight end (Philadelphia's Zach Ertz) will win the award for the first time ever.
"Per Football Outsiders," Tanier said, "the Patriots defense is particularly vulnerable to short passes over the middle of the field. If the Eagles win—and this old South Jersey boy is thinking with both his head and heart this week—it will be because Ertz turned some short passes into big gains and/or clutch first downs in the middle of the field. And he got the Eagles in scoring position and limited the number of possessions Tom Brady and company got."
NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller, on the other hand, tabbed James Harrison, who would put quite the exclamation point on his NFL career by winning the MVP award that eluded him in Super Bowl XLIII.
"It's easy to pick Tom Brady as MVP of Super Bowl LII, but let's go away from the obvious for a second and look at outside linebacker James Harrison," Miller said. "Facing an Eagles' offense that will likely have to throw the ball to keep pace with the Patriots, Harrison will be able to tee off on replacement left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (I Googled that) and produce the types of hurries, hits and sacks that could get the attention off Brady. I'm predicting a two-sack, three-tackles-for-loss game from Harrison in his MVP performance."
Only two players received multiple votes. One, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, was the pick of NFL national lead writer Mike Freeman.
"First, we all know the odds are Brady will be named the MVP. Because he's Tom Freaking Brady," he said. "But Gronk is a close second to me because he matches up extremely well with that Philadelphia defense. He, in fact, matches up well with every defense. This could truly be an historic moment for him."
But as Miller and Freeman noted, if the Patriots win this game, we all know where the MVP voting is headed.
"Philadelphia has the front four to potentially pressure Tom Brady without blitzing, which is a necessity," Bleacher Report NFL lead features writer Tyler Dunne wrote. "But Tom Brady's game has also evolved to counterpunch this, from his quick-trigger release to knowing exactly how to use a slew of weapons underneath a defense. He'll pick, pick and pick away at the Eagles small chunks at a time with the occasional shot deep. Legacy matters to Brady. Don't count on him letting a sixth ring in a turbulent season pass by."
NFL analyst Brad Gagnon may have put it best.
"This doesn't have to be complicated," he said. "The Patriots are going to win the game because they're the stronger, healthier, smarter and more experienced team. Tom Brady is their quarterback, and quarterbacks have won eight of the last 11 Super Bowl MVP awards."
Like Freeman said—he's Tom freaking Brady.
Others receiving votes: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (2 votes), Jay Ajayi, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (1 vote), Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles (1 vote), James Harrison, OLB, New England Patriots (1 vote)