This is by no means an all-time great Patriots team.
Without Julian Edelman (their top WR), Dont’a Hightower (their top defensive player) and Martellus Bennett (boy, could the Pats have used him against Jacksonville), this year’s Patriots are good enough to win a Super Bowl but don’t exactly stack up to the 2003-04 Pats or the 2007 Pats or the franchise’s last two Super Bowl winners.
There are weaknesses for this Patriots team across the board (except at QB, of course), so let’s take a look at the areas the Eagles are most likely to exploit.
The Patriots have not had a great offensive line for a while now. Two years ago in the AFC Championship game, Denver absolutely pummeled the New England line and hurried Tom Brady over and over again. The result was Brady throwing two interceptions and completing only 27-of-56 passes in a 20-18 Patriots loss.
Bill Belichick rarely discards members of his coaching staff, but he fired O-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo immediately after that loss and brought back old man Dante Scarnecchia out of retirement to fix the matter. Scarnecchia has done a nice job of getting the line stable, but this line does not exactly resemble that of the early 1990s Cowboys. The personnel is so-so, and it relies mostly on the fact that Brady is one of the best at getting rid of the ball quickly.
The Eagles’ top strength is their defensive line, so this looks like a mismatch.
As mentioned above, Hightower was the Patriots’ defensive leader – calling out the plays on D – and hasn’t been replaced since going down with a season-ending injury. Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Marquis Flowers all play above their heads but there’s a reason why the Pats had to scoop up James Harrison off the scrap heap last month.
Harrison is still good at getting to the quarterback, but the Pats’ pass coverage is highly suspect. That’s an issue against an Andy Reid-style offense (which the Pats have often had trouble with) which spreads the field.
In the Pats’ 42-27 opening night loss to the Chiefs this season, Kareem Hunt not only rushed for 148 yards but also caught five balls for 98 yards. Jay Ajayi is a very strong pass-catching back, and could be in-store for a Hunt-like evening in Super Bowl LII.
The Patriots had a bitter contract dispute with Malcolm Butler this past offseason and since then Butler has regressed greatly for whatever reason. Fellow cornerback Stephon Gilmore has gotten better as the season has progressed, and came up with a key play to ice the game against Jacksonville, but on the whole he’s been a disappointment as the Pats’ top offseason signing last spring.
The Pats gave up a whopping 251.3 passing yards per game this season, giving them the 30th ranked pass defense in the NFL. That said, they only gave up 18.5 points per game this season – good for fifth overall in the league.
The moral of the story is that Nick Foles should be able to move the Eagles up and down the field on New England. Getting touchdowns will be tough, but Philly was one of the top red zone teams in the league this year. Foles will be throwing a lot in this one, no doubt.