Game Predictions & Player Projections - PHI vs. NE

David Dorey, @DMDorey

SUPER BOWL LII

February 4, 2018 at 6:30 PM EST, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MIN

Prediction: PHI 24, NE 27

(Line: NE by 4.5, O/U = 48)

UPDATE: Rob Gronkowski was removed from the injury report. No notable injuries for either side means both enter at full strength.

The Patriots mounted a comeback to nip the visiting Jaguars last week and had to operate without Rob Gronkowski for most of the game. But he'll be back.

The Eagles were the underdog against the Vikings despite being the No. 1 seed and playing at home. That didn't sit well with them and the beat was on. The Eagles not only manhandled the Vikings offense, they had no problem scoring on what was supposed to be the best defense.

The Patriots are naturally favored considering their lengthy experience and the Eagles haven't faced a road opponent with a winning record since Week 13 when they lost in Seattle. This should be competitive and last until the fourth quarter. The reality is that both teams share similarities. Both offenses employ a diverse scheme where no single player is critical, the backfield is a committee and all positions are used as receivers.

The difference comes down to the experience of the Patriots including their coaching staff versus how well the Eagles can disrupt the passing game and get to Tom Brady.

Philadelphia Eagles

1 @WAS 30-17 11 @DAL 37-9
2 @KC 20-27 12 CHI 31-3
3 NYG 27-24 13 @SEA 10-24
4 @LAC 26-24 14 @LAR 43-35
5 ARI 34-7 15 @NYG 34-29
6 @CAR 28-23 16 OAK 19-10
7 WAS 34-24 17 DAL 0-6
8 SF 33-10 19 ATL 15-10
9 DEN 51-23 20 MIN 38-7
10 BYE xxx      
News | Statistics | Roster
PHI vs. NE Rush Catch Pass
QB Nick Foles     240,2
RB Jay Ajayi 90 3-30  
RB LeGarrette Blount 30,1    
RB Corey Clement 10 2-10  
WR Nelson Agholor   4-40,1  
WR Alshon Jeffery   4-60,1  
WR Torrey Smith   2-20  
TE Zach Ertz   7-70  
PK Jake Elliott 1 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: The Vikings never stood a chance. After being disrespected by Vegas and most prognosticators, the Eagles laid the wood on the Vikings in a game that made no question which team was rightfully the No. 1 seed. What is going to be in play this week - for the first time in the playoffs - is the difference between the Eagles on the road and at home. They have not allowed more than 10 points to any opponent in the last four games - all at home. The three road games before that allowed almost 30 points per game. The defense has been a difference maker all year. But in road games, they have not been nearly so formidable.

The offense lost Carson Wentz in Week 14. They played in only one road game without him and that was Week 15 at New York when they won 34-29 versus the injury-decimated Giants offense. And trailed 21-23 at halftime. The Eagles have not been favored in a game since they beat the visiting Raiders in Week 16.

QUARTERBACK: Timing is everything. Nick Foles turned in his best game of the last four years when he threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns in the win over the vaunted Vikings defense. It was his first 300-yard effort since 2014. He's been dinged for not throwing deep but managed a 53-yard strike to Alshon Jeffery and 41 yards to Torrey Smith. Foles ended with a 141.4 QB rating. He made use of all of his receivers.

And yet... he only threw for 246 yards and no scores the previous week versus the Falcons who sported a far less formidable defense. Foles played well beyond the norm versus the Vikings. He can obviously get the job done in some cases. And he's outplayed Case Keenum and Matt Ryan this month. But his road experience is minimal this year. Which Foles shows up in Minneapolis is suddenly harder to gauge but that performance last week has been the outlier.

RUNNING BACK: LeGarrette Blount gets a chance to go against his old team on a rather big stage. Blount has been candid that he holds no warm and fuzzy feelings for his past employer who did not want him despite scoring 18 touchdowns for the Pats in 2016. But Blount has been limited to under ten carries per week since midseason and has no role as a receiver. He only combined for 15 carries for 40 yards over the two playoff games this year but scored once in each.

Jay Ajayi is the primary back since Week 14 but hasn't rushed in a score since Week 9 and has just one touchdown as a receiver. He is getting around 15 carries per game and averaging around 4.0 yards per rush. He turned in his best game as an Eagle last week when he ran for 73 yards on 18 carries and caught three passes for 26 yards. Ajayi is not a liability, but he's not a difference maker either. And he cedes the goal line work to Blount.

WIDE RECEIVER: The wide receivers have been ineffective under Foles - until last week. Alshon Jeffery is the primary wideout now and he caught five passes for 85 yards and two scores against the Vikings. He scored in the only road game with Foles when he caught four passes for 49 yards and one touchdown. He managed 61 yards on four receptions in the win over the Falcons. But he hasn't fielded more than five targets in a game since Week 15.

Nelson Agholor hasn't fared as well. Aside from the win over the Giants back in Week 15, Agholor has been held under 60 yards in every game and hasn't scored. The last three games saw him with no more than three catches and never more than four targets.

Torrey Smith caught a 41-yard touchdown against the Vikings and dropped another deep pass. But he hadn't gained more than 39 yards or scored in any of the other games with Foles.

TIGHT END: Zach Ertz hasn't scored since Week 15 either but he's been productive even with Foles. Ertz managed nine receptions for 81 yards in the win over the Raiders and caught eight passes for 93 yards last week. Ertz was limited to only 32 yards on three catches by the Falcons but is the best bet to lead the team in receptions.

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: The challenge in forecasting the Patriots performance is that they have been distinctly worse when on the road and haven't played in an away game since back in Week 15 which was five weeks ago. And yet they have all the experience on their side.

The defense did improve markedly since midseason and they have not allowed a 300-yard passer since Week 6. But their last two away venues saw Jay Cutler (263 yards, 3 TD) and Ben Roethlisberger (281 yards, 2 TD) playing well against them. Whereas they were racking up the sacks at home with 28 over the last five games, they only managed eight sacks over their most recent five away matchups.

Foles started only one road game this year and the Giants are no measuring stick. To his credit, he has only thrown two interceptions in his five starts and only been sacked five times though again - almost entirely while in home games. And all bets are off when he suddenly morphed into an elite quarterback last week while facing the stingiest defense in the NFL.

This is the big game. The Patriots have allowed healthy passing yards in almost every matchup. Expect two passing scores if only because he's facing a weaker secondary and the Pats have been solid against rushing touchdowns.

Those scores could end up with any receiver but the wideouts are most likely. Jeffery has been a factor in both playoff wins. Nelson Agholor has been less effective but mans the slot role that has been problematic for the Patriots in recent weeks, particularly in road games. He hasn't shown the same level of chemistry with Foles but his situation is better this week.

Ertz is the preferred outlet for Foles. The Pats ranked well versus the position but played almost no elite tight ends all year. Marcedes Lewis caught a touchdown on his only catch in the Conference Championship. Ertz should remain a safe bet for yardage and receptions though his use will skew higher or lower depending on the success of the wideouts and game situation.

It is notable that while the Pats only allowed two rushing touchdowns over the last ten games, they gave up at least 90 rushing yards to each of the primary backs of their last three road opponents. And there is the Blount factor that may come into play near the goal line. Ajayi should manage at least good rushing yardage with a shot for a bigger game if the score remains at least even.

If the Eagles can add a defensive or special teams score, they can win this game.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points PHI 2 21 14 1 13 5
Preventing Fantasy Points NE 26 16 29 13 6 8

New England Patriots

1 KC 27-42 11 @OAK 33-8
2 @NO 36-20 12 MIA 35-17
3 HOU 36-33 13 @BUF 23-3
4 CAR 30-33 14 @MIA 20-27
5 @TB 19-14 15 @PIT 27-24
6 @NYJ 24-17 16 BUF 37-16
7 ATL 23-7 17 NYJ 26-6
8 LAC 21-13 19 TEN 35-14
9 BYE xxx 20 JAC 24-20
10 @DEN 41-16      
News | Statistics | Roster
NE vs. PHI Rush Catch Pass
QB Tom Brady     310,2
RB Dion Lewis 50,1 6-40  
RB James White 10 4-20  
WR Brandin Cooks   3-50  
WR Danny Amendola   6-60  
WR Chris Hogan   3-30,1  
TE Rob Gronkowski   9-110,1  
PK S. Gostkowski 2 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: The Patriots fell behind to the Titans in the Divisional round of the playoffs but quickly bounced back and crushed them. Against the Jaguars, they needed to make up a ten-point deficit against the Jaguars who surprisingly helped by dropping back in the prevent defense and letting Tom Brady finally pick the defense apart. The favorable stat this week is that the Patriots are 7-1 on the road and won decisively in almost all away games. And last week presented a problem when Rob Gronkowski was knocked out of the game.

The Pats bring in all the experience and swagger that most winners need. The tendency to start slowly is a concern, but so far not an insurmountable problem. What could impact this game is that both the coordinators will be leaving for head coaching jobs elsewhere which is a problem to solve for next year. If it proves to be a distraction, it could be an issue for this year.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady had another patented comeback in the win over the Jaguars and he's making a mockery of the aging process so far. The stitches were removed from his hand but it never seemed to be an issue when he passed against the Jaguars who gave up 298 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns to the future Hall-of-Famer. There's no arguing that Brady has been effective in home games. He's thrown for at least two scores in almost every game there and his 337 yards and two three scores versus the Titans was one of his best games of the year.

On the road - Brady hasn't been as productive. He hasn't thrown for more than one touchdown in an away venue since Week 11 though he's only faced three home games since. It has been six weeks since he last played away and that was when he threw for 298 yards and one score in the critical win over the Steelers.

RUNNING BACK: Dion Lewis hasn't scored in the playoffs though he totaled 141 yards in the win over the Titans that included nine catches for 79 yards. He was limited to only nine runs for 34 yards by the Jaguars and gained just 32 yards on his seven receptions. The Patriots will rely on Lewis as much as they comfortably can. And he'll figure in as a top receiver as well.

James White is replicating his 2016 season when he mainly showed up for the playoffs. He's been held to only 15 rushing yards on seven carries over the two games played but ran in a score in each. He's added three or four catches as well and scored on a reception as well in the Titans win.

Rex Burkhead was out since Week 12 with a knee injury and returned for the Jaguars matchup. He was limited to only one run for five yards. There's a chance he sees more work in the Super Bowl, but his main role has been more about short yardage and goal-line work. Lewis handled that role to end the season but White has been the back to run in a touchdown for the two playoff games.

WIDE RECEIVER: Brandin Cooks turned in a surprising 100 yards on six catches versus the Jaguars but was held to only 32 yards by the Titans. Of his seven touchdowns this year, only two happened in an away venue. He's varied wildly in yardage each week and was notably less productive since midseason.

Chris Hogan caught a four-yard touchdown versus the Titans on his only catch and then only managed two receptions for 20 yards versus the Jags. He was out since Week 8 until returning for the playoffs but has not been a factor year.

Timing is also favoring Danny Amendola who was limited to around three or four short catches per week during the season and scored just twice all year. But he led the team with 11 receptions for 112 yards versus the Titans and then helped win the Jaguars matchup with seven catches for 84 yards and two scores.

Hogan is not contributing but Amendola is playing his best ball of the year. Cooks is good but inconsistent.

TIGHT END: Rob Gronkowski suffered a concussion in the Conference championship but is expected to make it back thanks to the two weeks until the Super Bowl. There is no expectation that he'll be any less than 100% for this game. The oddity so far this year is that he's far more likely to score when at home. His last road touchdown was in Week 6 while he totaled six touchdowns while at home. But his three 100-yard efforts were all in away venues. His last two away games both contained nine receptions for over 140 yards in each.

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: The Eagles should get LB Dannell Ellerbe back for this game which helps the run defense. The Eagles strength is against the run and they allowed just one rusher to top 100 yards against them - Ezekiel Elliott in Week 17 when the game did not matter and he needed 27 carries to reach 103 yards. How the breakdown in the backfield happens this week is a little harder to guess. Burkhead was a nonfactor last week and he's not proven to be any better than Dion Lewis who adds a lot as a receiver as well.

James White, amazingly enough, has been the only rushing scorer during the playoffs but has offered minimal yardage as both a runner and a receiver. Lewis totaled 16 catches for 112 yards over the two playoff tilts. That is very likely to happen again unless, like 2016, suddenly White becomes the focus. In either case, even one touchdown is a success against this defense.

Tom Brady was a lock for multiple touchdowns when at home and less so on the road. But the Eagles are worse on the road defending the pass. They held the seven most recent visitors to only one passing score but their last three road games allowed two or three touchdowns each. Russell Wilson (227 yards, 3 TD), Jared Goff (199 yards, 2 TD) and Eli Manning (434 yards, 3 TD) were the last three road opponents and only Manning played against an Eagles team led by Nick Foles.

But - the Eagles have been playing great defense for over the last month and they held both Matt Ryan (210 yards, TD) and Case Keenum (271 yards, TD) to lesser performances. On the road they have been mostly stuck at only two sacks per game and Brady cannot be left alone. Expect Brady to throw for at least two touchdowns. This should come down to whichever team wins the fourth quarter and that has to favor Brady.

The Eagles have been burned by tight ends and in particular when on the road. The only top players they faced were Travis Kelce (8-103, TD) and Evan Engram (8-87). And Gronkowski logged nine catches in each of his last two road games plus he missed the fun last week and in the last Super Bowl. Unless the Eagles just take note of the Jaguars success and try another helmet-to-helmet hit on him. Barring that, Gronk should be a major player in this game for a variety of reasons.

The Patriots rarely follow the same script each week with their wideouts and the Eagles were less successful against the position while on the road. Assuming a healthy Gronkowski, Danny Amendola is less likely to lead the team in receptions this time. But he's a better bet for yardage than Cooks who is much less consistent. Hogan has been a nonfactor so far and is completely unreliable. The Patriots employ a constantly changing lineup of receivers so matching them up to the secondary is less accurate.

If Brady can remain safe in the pocket, he can beat this secondary that hasn't been as good away from home and versus the experienced juggernaut of the Patriots. But it will be up to Brady to win this - the rushing effort is unlikely to be much more than a minor contributor.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points NE 6 2 16 4 3 23
Preventing Fantasy Points PHI 14 2 25 14 3 11

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