NFL expert Paul Higham previews Super Bowl LII with New England Patriots expected to win a close game as they take on Philadelphia Eagles.
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Super Bowl Sunday is finally upon us and at the culmination of an NFL season full of thrills and spills, blood, sweat and tears, we're left with the New England Patriots going for back-to-back titles with now just the Philadelphia Eagles standing in their way.
Tom Brady's Patriots have been Super Bowl favorites all season long so it's no surprise that they're 1/2 to beat Philadelphia (13/8) straight up while also being five-point favourites on the handicap, but the underdog role is something the Eagles have embraced throughout the play-offs when they've been the outsiders twice despite playing at home.
It'd be a remarkable victory in the face of adversity for Doug Pederson's unit if they were to defy the odds. They'd be just the fourth team to win the Vince Lombardi trophy following a losing season the previous year, they're facing the best quarterback and the best coach possibly in NFL history - and they're having to do it all with a back-up QB after they lost MVP candidate Carson Wentz in December.
Nick Foles would be the first triggerman to win the big game after starting the season as a back-up since Brady himself did it in the 2001 season, but to do that they've got to overcome a huge gulf in experience. Brady alone has played in seven Super Bowls - the same amount as the entire Eagles roster.
Brady and coach Bill Belichick are in their eighth Super Bowl together, winning five and only losing two to the Giants. They're beatable, but you have to get your gameplan spot on and, as Atlanta will attest to, you've got to execute that plan for the full 60 minutes.
Expect a close game
Brady won his first three Super Bowls by exactly three points, a fourth by four points and only won last year's by six due to it going to overtime - he also lost to the Giants by three and four-points margins. So, expect this again to be close, especially given Philadelphia's need to run the ball and control the clock.
Whether they've been lucky to scrape those wins, or whether it's a sign that Brady and Belichick just know how to win, if New England are to win again then 5/2 that they do so by 1-6 points seems a sensible route to take.
Many expect Philly to jump ahead early given the fact Brady's teams have failed to register a single point in the opening quarter in any of their seven Super Bowls, although you could argue that the run must end soon. Whatever your view, 9/2 on the Patriots coming back from a half-time deficit is bound to be a popular bet.
The fact Brady engineered the biggest come back in Super Bowl history last year and erased a 10-point deficit against Jacksonville's league-best pass defence in the AFC title game certainly has some influence.
Keys to victory - Patriots
Teams winning the turnover battle have only lost six Super Bowls, and facing a fierce defence and running game such as Philadelphia's not giving the ball away is even more crucial. My guess is Belichick will try and cut out the run and short passes and make Foles try and win the game with deep throws, he did just that against Minnesota but can he do it on the biggest stage of all?
While Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead don't have great numbers individually, collectively they rank in the top two in touchdowns and yards for running backs in rushing and receiving. The fact they are all elusive, pass-catching backs means that it's harder for defences to sniff out run or pass plays before the snap.
Stop the run
LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi are tough-running bruisers and if they can help control the clock then Philly are in business. There's no doubt the Patriots defence has improved after a shocking start to the season, but they're on the field less than any other unit thanks to Brady's offence so a heavy snap count would test out their gas tanks.
Keys to victory - Eagles
Not rocket science but hard to carry out correctly. Philly will no doubt have been watching every play of the Giants' two Super Bowl wins and they have a similar defensive line that can do the job. Led by chief wrecking ball Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia get interior pressure as much as anyone, and they also rotate their line more than any other team as they're deep at the position - that could be key to succeeding where Atlanta failed.
Which Foles will turn up - the inconsistent one who struggled to take over from Wentz or the red-hot perfect passer from the NFC title game? Peyton Manning showed us that you don't need great QB play to win a Super Bowl, but brother Eli showed that against Brady you need at least one moment of magic. Foles hung big plays aplenty of the Vikings defence to get Philadelphia here; he'll need a few more of those to win it.
Both tight ends
Zach Ertz has been Foles' favourite receiver this season and he'll be needed again as a safety valve when the pressure is on. But on the other side there's an even more dangerous tight end in Rob Gronkowski, fresh out of concussion protocol. As long as there are no lingering physical or mental problems from that he'll be a match-up nightmare with his combination of size, speed and safe hands. He's got 10 receiving TDs in the post-season, the third-most of all time.
It's obvious, but Brady (4/5) and Foles (5/2) lead the MVP betting and one of them will most likely scoop the award, barring a monumental performance from a defensive star or running back - James White scored three TDs last year but Brady landed the gong.
Speaking of White, he's nothing to write home about in the regular season but comes out of hibernation for the play-offs to devastating effect. He's got six TDs in his last three post-season games. He's also been price boosted to 5/2 to find the endzone in Minneapolis.
A similar player to White really in that he really comes into his own in crucial post-season situations. He's called 'play-off Amendola' for a reason - Brady looks his way when the chips are down, and more often than not he delivers. He scored twice, including a spectacular match-winner, against the Jags and has bagged TDs in New England's last two Super Bowls. He's 9/4 to complete the hat-trick.
The big man has to cause havoc down the middle to give Philadelphia a chance. He's 11/8 to get a sack and 50/1 to land the MVP award. Defensive players have won two of the last four and he's the leading defender in the market.
Both the Eagles RBs are here as they need to work as a team to get the job done - Ajayi will get the bulk of the carries as the workhorse while Blount needs to be the goal line battering ram. It's 15/2 for them both to score.
Prediction: New England 27-24 Philadelphia
Posted at 1525 GMT on 03/02/18.