Note: If you came looking for fantasy football recommendations, I don’t have anything for you. This season, Football Fantasy! here at Field Gulls will offer a recurring daydream considering the weekly football schedule from a perspective of entertaining narratives and wished-for results across the non-Seattle Seahawks landscape. Here, we welcome storylines and silliness to topple other interests from week to week as we deliver the lowdown on the rest of the league from the land of make believe. For more detailed explanation of the picks, look here.
It’s hard to envision a more despised Super Bowl matchup than this one.
Judging by our official Football Fantasy! standings published here a month ago, in a proper world the Philadelphia Eagles would have gone 2-14 and the New England Patriots 1-15, in which case neither would have qualified for the postseason if we had our way. However, history reveals a long tradition of wince-worthy title tilts and indeed although the FF! database doesn’t go back far enough to compare across years, unfortunately, according to those same figures only three teams were less favored in the league in 2017, the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals—suggesting the Super Bowl clashes after 2008 and 2010 might have been even more yucky from a Seahawks fan’s point of view. True heads will also recall the unfortunate stretch from 1995 to 1997 that offered Steelers-Cowboys, Packers-Patriots and Packers-Broncos three years in succession. Fact is, when you ride for upsets the hegemony of NFL power will tend to leave you feeling revolted.
Of course, the Eagles situation has improved somewhat from the midst of their nine-game win streak that made them heels of the NFC, given how Carson Wentz’s absence alters the aura around that team. A victory for Philadelphia would now signal a resurgence of Total Football against the tide of quarterback domination. It would also turn back the narrative about Bill Belichick as the tactics whisperer who can turn any opponent’s best weapons and game plans against each other. Belichick’s record eight appearances in the Super Bowl will forever be fantastic. A 5-3 record in those games is only one strike better than dumb luck, and would drop New England’s all time balance in the big game to .500.
So it’s no secret how I’m recommending you cheer during the football on Sunday, and this represents the final filing from Football Fantasy! from the frontier called 2017. But there’s still plenty more goofiness to break down below, and there’s always wishing the spirits of the game grant more favored outcomes a year from now.
Thank you for participating in the make believe. Enjoy your offseason. Maybe next time I’ll even watch the games.
Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots
Speaking of our friends in Pittsburgh, this game features two players on opposite sides who had falling out with the Steelers and each essentially quit the team before finding themselves on the Patriots. Of course, LeGarrette Blount is now in the Eagles backfield and only spent a few months in the Pittsburgh organization before rejoining his old mates in New England midway through 2014. James Harrison was virtually a lifelong Steeler apart from brief episodes elsewhere in the AFC North (Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals) at the beginning and what was assumed to be the end of Harrison’s career. But Harrison lately found his way back to Pittsburgh as an emergency injury reserve and managed to hold on for four more years until a lockerroom spat ended that final tenure with Harrison’s release and reclamation off waivers by the Patriots. Blount too is again a road warrior, determined to savage his former squad from his new role with Philly.
Apart from the excitement it would groom to see the combined 500 pounds of these behemoths colliding over and over beyond the line of scrimmage in a Super Bowl, a frequent presence by now pass-rush specialist Harrison could signal bad news for the Eagles as it probably means Philadelphia is behind and throwing too often.
With Blount balanced by Jay Ajayi, we in the appropriate Eagles corner hope for more of the nine runs of more than five yards (and four beyond 10) the Eagles backfield produced against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship. Philadelphia was only the 17th-rated rushing attack by DVOA during the regular season, but the way Doug Pederson and John DeFilippo mix successful rushes with counterposed pass options is essential to their offensive scheme that could turn inside out Belichick’s famous strategy. The Patriots 31st-ranked defense improved against the run late in 2017, but still ended up giving up an inordinate efficiency on those plays. Nick Foles can be an instrument in this gameplan but he ought’n’t be the operator.
The Eagles can also keep to this plan by keeping Tom Brady as often as possible in the grasp, or putting him on the run chasing down intercepting players like Malcolm Jenkins in the picture at the top of this post. As I wrote in my preview before the Philadelphia-Seattle matchup two months ago, the Eagles do an excellent job keeping opponents from nibbling the edges of the defense and Brady will do better to aim his passes short and toward the middle. Jim Schwartz wants to find ways to control Dion Lewis on angle routes and cover Rob Gronkowski, if his brain is healthy from his recent concussion, over the seam. Jenkins will again be the keystone in that responsibility.
We know how Super Bowls, like all football encounters, hardly ever play to expectation. Brady has already been attacked in recent weeks by teammate helmets and rogue hounds, so he can reasonably imagine the worst torment is already behind him. We’ll do our best to picture it getting even more fearful for the five-time champ: Blount and Foles unwrapping the hardware atop the dais at the end of the fourth quarter.
My choice: Eagles
Sharp pick: Philadelphia (+4.5)
On the year:
My choices (straight up): 101-149 (5-5 playoffs)
Sharp picks (against the spread): 117-114-9 (4-5-1 playoffs)