By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was supposed to Minnesota vs. New England in Super Bowl LII.
Ex-Packers QB Doug Pederson leads Philadelphia to SB 52 battle with Pats
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The NFL’s premature and incorrect release said so.
The Philadelphia Eagles had other ideas.
Once the toast of the NFC, if not the NFL, Philadelphia relied on a rugged defense, strong running attack and Carson Wentz to soar to the conference’s No. 1 seed.
Then Wentz was lost for the season to a knee injury in a Week 15 win at Los Angeles and most everyone discarded the Eagles. They quickly became afterthoughts on the NFL landscape.
Sure, head coach Doug Pederson was having a tremendous season and the Eagles’ balance plus veteran backup QB Nick Foles might carry them, but few truly believed it.
Perhaps the Packers’ example was on the league’s mind.
When Aaron Rodgers was injured Oct. 15 at Minnesota, the Packers’ Super Bowl LII odds plummeted and the season with it.
Green Bay lacked the offensive balance, defensive strength and overall confidence to move forward despite Rodgers’ absence. In some ways, the injury did the Packers a favor. It left little doubt as to where the team’s 53-man roster was at, and where it needed to go if Green Bay was going to reclaim its place among the NFC’s elite.
Then 7-9 and an ensuing housecleaning happened.
In Philadelphia, the Eagles’ critical injury to Wentz came much later than Rodgers’, and allowed them time to rebound.
They showed it in a matter-of-fact hammering of Atlanta, 15-10, in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Again, an underdog, the Eagles shrugged it off and proceeded to toss aside the Vikings in similar fashion.
Philadelphia’s dominant 38-7 victory over Minnesota – which included scoring 38 unanswered points – was as severe a dismantling as any in recent memory.
The Vikings, for all the talk about them being a “team of destiny,” the reality is Philadelphia was that much better.
Nick Foles was that much better than Case Keenum in this battle of backup QBs.
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison was asked if the NFC Championship game’s outcome was “surprising.”
“Surprising? Well, obviously, it was very surprising,” he told ESPN. “I didn’t expect to come in here and the s— kicked out of us. So yeah, it was surprising.”
Keenum opened with a workmanlike touchdown drive.
The Vikings’ 7-0 lead was as good as it got.
The undaunted Eagles answered with a 3 ½-quarter beat-down.
It was made possible by Foles’ ability to correctly and effectively run the Eagles’ offense, which features run-pass options (RPOs) and a lot of them.
The Vikings’ defense couldn’t solve the riddle. It was either a half-step slow attacking the would-be ball carrier, or it was a half-step behind defending the receiver on a shallow slant.
It had to be maddening to Minnesota’s brain trust.
The Eagles were doing exactly what they predicted and their powerful defense still couldn’t stop it.
There is a lot to be said for simplicity and great execution. The Eagles’ offense featured both. It was interesting to watch the backup QB run the same offense as the starter.
Pederson didn’t appear to make major philosophical changes to accommodate Foles. Indeed, he found it all the way to the Twin Cities and Super Bowl 52.
The lesson for Green Bay is clear: Make sure you’ve got a truly balanced team and a reliable backup QB just in case.
In the AFC, the upstart Jaguars pushed the Patriots to the limit before succumbing to Tom Brady’s greatness in the fourth quarter. For most of the game, Jacksonville played out its game plan to a ‘T’.
It grabbed an early 20-10 lead, pounded away with the running game and played field-position football throughout.
The trouble was Brady.
When the Patriots needed him the most he stepped up to find Danny Amendola for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in a 24-20 thriller.
Frankly, I would’ve expected the AFC title game to be 38-7 Patriots, and the NFC game to be 24-20 Eagles. It played out just the opposite.
Clearly, the Vikings and their fans have to be crushed. Minnesota was so close to making Super Bowl history even before the opening kickoff.
Instead, they are forced to be the polite hosts to the perennial awesome and unlikable Patriots, and those damnable Eagles that flew up to KO the Vikings.
The Patriots opened up as 6 ½-point favorites – the biggest favorite since 2009 – which reflects the NFL betting public’s respect for New England coach Bill Belichick and Brady, as well as its continued underrating of the Eagles.
It’s too early for predictions, but I wouldn’t count out the Eagles.