Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Super Bowl LII, the New England Patriots vs. the Philadelphia Eagles.
1. Gronk will get his.
Nobody ever thought Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski would miss the Super Bowl, despite being in the concussion protocol for 12 days after taking a big hit against the Jaguars. The Eagles defended tight ends well all season, and safety Malcolm Jenkins was a big reason why. But Gronk is a matchup problem for every team he faces. He will be a big factor.
2. Fletcher Cox will harass Tom Brady.
Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was constantly in Brady’s face in last year’s Super Bowl, becoming only the second player to sack Brady three times in a game. The Patriots are vulnerable to a strong interior pass rusher, and Cox is among the NFL’s best penetrators. Brady will try to get the ball out quickly to offset Cox’s effectiveness. But on slower-developing pass plays, expect Cox to get home.
3. The Eagles will try to establish the run.
With a three-headed backfield, the Eagles had the NFL’s third-ranked rushing offense during the regular season. Look for offensive coordinator Frank Reich to get LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement going early to calm the nerves of quarterback Nick Foles in his first Super Bowl. The Eagles have three Pro Bowlers on their offensive line, with right tackle Lane Johnson one of the best road-graders in the game.
4. An old guy will shine for the Patriots.
And not just that old guy. Wouldn’t it be so Bill Belichick to win another Lombardi Trophy with another team’s castoff (former Steeler James Harrison) doing major damage? Harrison, who turns 40 in May, made a couple of big plays against Jacksonville in AFC championship game. He’ll make at least one more against left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the replacement for injured Jason Peters and Philadelphia’s weak link up front.
5. That old guy will shine, too.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who’s serving as a guest analyst for ESPN’s Super Bowl pregame marathon, thinks Philadelphia’s defense will allow Foles and Co. to keep it close. I tend to agree. But who’s going to pick against the guy with five Super Bowl rings down the stretch of a tight game? It might be Danny Amendola on the receiving end of a did-you-see-that play instead of Julian Edelman, but Brady will do what Brady does. What he always does. Patriots 27, Eagles 24.
Super Bowl LII
New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles
U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Sunday, 6:30 p.m.