My Night to Shine

I am honored to be a recipient of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation Shining Star Award which I received at the 2018 Night to Shine gala on Saturday, May 5th.

 

I was selected after emceeing the Flutie 5K in 2017.  For the last five years, The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism has awarded a select group of people and companies who have truly made a difference in the autism community.

My family and I arrived at the TripAdvisor headquarters right when Doug Flutie and his wife Laurie did.  Doug was carrying a huge cymbal but he and Laurie stopped to say hello and congratulations.  This was a great start to the night that would only get better.  We checked in at the desk in the lobby and I was handed a special honoree magnetic name tag to wear.

We headed down the hall and saw Milo, a robot boy built to help learners with autism learn social and behavioral skills (https://robots4autism.com/milo/).

 

We spent the first hour networking, catching up with people I knew, and meeting new people.  We talked to Nicole Gugleimucci from the Foundation who had helped me prepare for the Flutie 5K event last October and notified me about this exciting honor.  We also met the new Executive Director of the Foundation, Nick Savarese.

After meeting several more people, we looked at the many awesome sports-related silent auction items to bid on.  At our table, we met Paul Alexander, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Eastern Bank.  Shortly after, we decided to wait on bidding and get seats near the stage.

We sat in stadium-style seats in a 4-story atrium area at the center of the TripAdvisor Headquarters, which had an amazing view of all the floors.  I also noticed walls made out of live plants which looked really cool.  The ceiling had a sky with clouds which made it feel like the outside was inside.  They had a huge movie-sized video screen counting down the time to start the ceremony.

Susan Wornick, a longtime reporter and former anchor from WCVB-TV in Boston was the emcee for the event.  After Wornick introduced herself and Doug and Laurie, she passed the stage and microphone over to MUSE.

MUSE stands for Music, Unity, and Social Expansion.  They are a school that teaches independence and more skills to people with autism through music (http://www.muse-foundation.org/).  A MUSE band got on stage to play two songs and they were very impressive.  Everyone clapped to the beat for their second song as the crowd got really into the music.

After a standing ovation, Wornick returned to the stage to thank the sponsors and invite Nick Savarese to talk about his first year with the organization.  Nick asked me and a few other guests to stand up and everyone cheered which was pretty cool and I really appreciated.

Lisa Borges was called to the stage.  Lisa had worked in Nick’s position nearly as along as the Flutie Foundation had been around.  They handed her a large flower arrangement and thanked her for all she had done.  Laurie and Doug came up to the stage and thanked her as well.

A video was shown about the history of the foundation, which dates back 20 years.  The video gave an update on Doug Flutie’s son Doug Jr. and showed how the Flutie Foundation started Autism Awareness and wants to continue to build on that.  They have helped so many with autism, including me.  Thanks to the Foundation, I learned to ski with my brother in one weekend and now skiing is one of my favorite activities.  This year I was able to join my school’s ski club which has been a great social opportunity for me.

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After the video, Nick talked about how the organization has evolved and will continue to do so.  I was happy to learn that they will also add focus on the many children with autism that will be entering adulthood soon, like me, or already are adults like Doug Jr.

Wornick returned to the stage to begin announcing the Shining Stars.  I was ecstatic when my name was announced and rushed to the stage as she read my bio discussing some of my achievements including my sports blog that I started when I was 10 (https://andrewr1008.wordpress.com/).  She handed me the award, a glass star-shaped trophy with my name on it.  They took photos of me with Doug Flutie, Nick, and Susan as people continued to applaud.

Get Air Sports (a trampoline park that supports the foundation http://getairsports.com/ ), Luca and Danni jewelry (https://lucadanni.com/), John Breen, Alan Seymour (Doug Flutie’s good friend from Junior High School), Wegmans (https://www.wegmans.com/), NCGIT (https://ncgit.com/), and Amy Weinstock (http://autismhighereducationfoundation.org/amy-weinstock/) were the other Shining Stars and Get Air gave the foundation a big life-sized check for over $200,000 on the stage.

Susan then began a live auction for four very significant donated prizes.  The bidding for some of the items went over $10,000 and it was really exciting to see some of the bidders go back and forth trying to win with the final bid amount.

After the auction was over, many of the hundreds of guests came up to me to congratulate me and we exchanged contact info.  I said hello to Lisa Borges and I told her I would be back for the 2018 Flutie 5K and hoped to see her too.  I met Tyler Lagasse who Nick had asked to stand up with me.  He has autism too and plays golf competitively and wrote a book with his mom (https://www.amazon.com/What-Do-You-Say-Character/dp/1503556840).  We even caught up with Susan Wornick who wants to put me in touch with legendary sportscaster Bob Lobel to see a Red Sox game!

I did not end up winning any silent auction prizes but Jayme Parker, a longtime NESN reporter, took a picture with me and said she would keep in touch with me.  The experience of meeting her was like an auction prize that I had bid on and I went home with just as much excitement as I had at the start of the night.  The event was so much more than I could have ever imagined and I am so grateful for the experience!

______________________________

I would like to thank the Flutie Foundation for sharing this post on their own blog: http://www.flutiefoundation.org/blog/my-night-shine.

I would also like to give photo credit to Jenny Nourse Photography and thank them for the amazing pictures.

 

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NFL Draft Report Cards: AFC East Edition

Welcome to my first NFL Draft Report Card article of 2018.  I have given a grade to every pick of the 2018 NFL Draft and compiled the grades onto 32 report cards, one per team.  I averaged all the grades on each team to determine my final grade for each team’s NFL Draft.  To avoid overly long articles, I have split it into eight parts, one for each NFL division.  Let’s start with the AFC East, the home of the New England Patriots.

NFL Draft Report Cards

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AFC East                                                              NFC East

AFC North                                                           NFC North

AFC South                                                           NFC South

AFC West                                                             NFC West

 

Miami Dolphins

Grade: B

What They Did Right: The Dolphins started off the draft on a strong note.  Rather than trading up for a QB of the future that they do not need quite yet, they took Minkah Fitzpatrick, a versatile defensive back who fits well into a Dolphins secondary that needs significant help.  This was a big steal by the Dolphins, and it’s not the first time they have done this.  They took T Laremy Tunsil, originally the projected No. 1 pick after he slid in the 2016 NFL Draft.  They also did a good job filling their needs early on, taking a strong pair of tight ends, a defensive back, a young RB, and a linebacker.

What They Did Wrong: They made some reaches in the later rounds, and they took a second linebacker, TE, and cornerback when they could have used some offensive line help.  But there are no fatal flaws here.  The Dolphins arguably had the best draft in the AFC East.

Buffalo Bills

Grade: B

What They Did Right: The Bills had a spectacular Day 1.  They took two grade-A prospects in Round 1, making smart trades to put themselves in position to get what they needed.  Josh Allen has very high potential, and he will definitely compete for the starting job.  Tremaine Edmunds brings much-needed help to the linebacking corps on the outside and on the inside.  They got a steal in Edmunds with the 16th pick. They also had two other quality steals. They took DT Harrison Phillips after he nearly fell to Round 3.  They do not really need a DT, but Phillips was a valuable pick for the Bills at this point in the draft.  They also scored a steal in G Wyatt Teller. Not only was Teller projected to be drafted much earlier, but he fills the hole that Richie Incognito left behind.  Teller has the chance to compete for a starting job and thrive in one across from fellow Bills linemen John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse. They topped off their strong draft with a couple of good wide receivers in the late rounds.

What They Did Wrong: The Bills already had what is emerging as one of the league’s premier secondaries.  Yet they drafted not just one, but two defensive backs. In the meantime, they failed to fill some of their more important needs like tackle and linebacker (they could have still used another prospect there after Edmunds). Despite many steals, they also took a couple guys too early, and they could’ve done a better job addressing their current needs.

New England Patriots

Grade: B-

What They Did Right: The Patriots addressed all of their major needs despite many trades down. They ended up with nine total draft picks and they used them wisely. They eventually selected a QB, RB, WR, TE, offensive lineman, corner, and a linebacker. They started things off strong with two good players out of Georgia to address major needs. They also picked up a major steal in WR Braxton Berrios.

What They Did Wrong: The Pats may have waited too long for a QB, but reports say that they would have traded up if Baker Mayfield is available, which would not be the right strategy either. They could have also taken a linebacker or a tight end earlier. They had four picks in the first two rounds, and they used them on one T, one RB, one CB, and a trade down. I didn’t really see RB and CB as needs that were urgent enough to spend a first or second rounder on, and they did not need to trade down. Their grade gets a boost for addressing all their major needs, something no other AFC East team did in my eyes. But they waited too long for certain needs I saw as urgent.

New York Jets

Grade: C+

What They Did Right: The Jets started off strong by taking an NFL ready QB with the 3rd pick. I also liked the players they picked in the 3rd and 4th rounds. These two players addressed needs and are on my list of draft sleepers. But the Jets draft began to plummet from there. Day 3 did not end up looking so good for them.

What They Did Wrong: The Jets could have had a good draft if they continued to address their needs or take top available prospects in the later rounds. But they took CB Parry Nickerson when they did not need a corner, and took a running back I had never heard of when they were totally fine at running back. They have Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell to handle the backfield. I doubt the RB they drafted will ever make an NFL roster, let alone an NFL start. They also took another DT in Round 6 when they had already done enough to address the defensive line.  If they were going to take two d-linemen, at least one of them should’ve been a defensive end, which is more of where the Jets need d-line help.

That’s all for Part 1 of my NFL Draft Report Cards. Stay tuned for more post-draft analysis soon.

Super Bowl LII Video Preview

 

Welcome to the final article in my series of Super Bowl LII previews.  Today, I have summed it all up in my video preview.  I was going to make an iMovie trailer as well but was not able to finish as I spent the day preparing for the big game.

Here is my schedule for the series.  Articles that already up include links to the article.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance 

Friday, Feb. 2Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Sunday, Feb. 4: Super Bowl LII Video Preview 

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

 

Below is my final preview of the game, in video form.

I hope you all have a great Super Bowl Sunday, whether are throwing the Super Bowl party of the century or just enjoying the game with your family.  Who do you think will come out on top?  Make your prediction in my Instagram contest (My username is andrewr.1008).

 

 

Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Welcome to my fifth article in my series of previews for Super Bowl LII.  Today I will be making my final prediction including the winner, score, MVP and stat projections.

Here is my schedule for the series.  Articles that already up include links to the article.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance 

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Saturday, Feb. 3: Super Bowl LII Video Preview and iMovie Trailer

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

The Final Pick

Typically, I just predict the score. But it’s the Super Bowl, so I went a little deeper.  I simulated the entire game based on my basic score prediction.  Below are the final score, scoring summary and stat predictions I came up with.

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Although I have the Patriots winning in the end, it will be a close one here.  The Eagles are not to be taken lightly.  Whether QB Nick Foles comes through or not, the Eagles have a great offense that will keep the game close.  Their defense could also get on QB Tom Brady’s nerves.

I expect the Eagles to depend on their RB duo of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi against the struggling Pats run defense.  I also think Nick Foles will keep up the good work despite a few mistakes against a strong Pats secondary.  But, even though Tom Brady will be under a lot of pressure against the strong Eagles front seven, I think he will thrive and lead the Pats to another comeback style Super Bowl victory in Minneapolis.

 

Projected Stats/Scoring and Turnover Summary

Team    1   2   3   4   TOT

NE        10  10  3  14   37                                                                                                                          PHI       7    10  14  3   34

1st Quarter:

Tom Brady to Chris Hogan for 6 yard TD.  Stephen Gostkowski PAT made (7-0 NE)

Jay Ajayi for 3-yard rush TD.  Jake Elliott PAT made (7-7 TIE)

Stephen Gostkowski 49 yard FG made (10-7 NE)

 

2nd Quarter:

Nick Foles intercepted by Stephon Gillmore (10-7 NE)

Nick Foles to Torrey Smith for 2 yard TD.  Jake Elliott PAT made (14-10 PHI)

Stephen Gostkowski 36 yard FG made (14-13 PHI)

Jake Elliott 42 yard FG made (17-13 PHI)

Tom Brady to Danny Amendola for 6 yard TD.  Stephen Gostkowski PAT made (20-17 NE)

 

3rd Quarter:

Stephen Gostkowski 45 yard FG made (23-17 NE)

Nick Foles to Zach Ertz for 4 yard TD.  Jake Elliott PAT made (24-23 PHI)

LeGarrette Blount for 2-yard rush TD.  Jake Elliott PAT made (31-23 PHI)

 

4th Quarter:

James White 2 yard rush TD.  Stephen Gostkowski PAT made (31-30 PHI)

Jake Elliott 54 yard FG made (34-30 PHI)

Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski for 10 yard TD.  Stephen Gostkowski PAT made (37-34 NE)

Nick Foles intercepted by Malcolm Butler* [37-34 NE (Final)]

 

*Yes, I think Malcolm Butler will get the game-winning INT again

 

I’m predicting another close, exciting Super Bowl.  Here my offensive stat projections.

 

 

Stat Projections

NE

Passing:

Tom Brady: 37/55, 346 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack (My Projected Super Bowl MVP)

 

Rushing:

James White: 17 rush, 68 yards, 1 TD

Rex Burkhead: 11 rush, 31 yards

Dion Lewis: 7 rush, 21 yards

 

Receiving:

Rob Gronkowski: 10 REC, 104 yards, 1 TD

Brandin Cooks: 5 REC, 73 yards

Danny Amendola: 7 REC, 66 yards, 1 TD

Chris Hogan: 7 REC, 58 yards, 1 TD

Rex Burkhead: 4 REC, 20 yards

Dwayne Allen: 2 REC, 15 yards

Dion Lewis: 2 REC, 10 yards

 

PHI

Passing:

Nick Foles: 35/53, 311 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 2 sacks

 

Rushing:

Jay Ajayi: 21 rush, 95 yards, 1 TD

LeGarrette Blount: 18 rush, 44 yards, 1 TD

Wendell Smallwood: 4 rush, 12 yards

Corey Clement: 3 rush, 9 yards

 

Receiving:

Zach Ertz: 11 REC, 80 yards, 1 TD

Alshon Jeffery: 8 REC, 77 yards

Torrey Smith: 6 REC, 70 yards, 1 TD

Nelson Agholor: 6 REC, 62 yards

Corey Clement: 2 REC, 10 yards

Jay Ajayi: 1 REC, 6 yards

Brent Celek: 1 REC, 6 yards

 

 

 

That’s all for my Super Bowl LII prediction.  Stay tuned for a video preview and an iMovie trailer tomorrow that sums it all up.  Enjoy the game, and go Pats!

 

 

 

Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance in the Game

Welcome to my fourth article in my series of previews for Super Bowl LII.  Today I will be talking about interesting stats I’ve seen and what they mean to the game.

Here is my schedule for the series.  Articles that already up include links to the article.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance 

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Saturday, Feb. 3: Super Bowl LII Video Preview and iMovie Trailer

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

 

Super Bowl Fast Facts

Below are 5 fun facts that could mean a lot to the game:

 

1. The Patriots have struggled to stop the run, and the Eagles are 7-0 this season when the LeGarrette Blount-Jay Ajayi duo has combined for 100+ yards

Expect the Eagles to run the ball, especially based on the fact that their 7-0 when Blount and Ajayi combine for 100 or more yards.  The Patriots have struggled to stop elite running backs all season, and the Philly RB staff could just be a pain in the neck for the Pats.  Will the Pats finally stop the run, or win despite failing to do so?  This stat gets me a little worried, especially with LeGarrette Blount seeking revenge on New England.

2. Only eight teams won a conference championship in the Super Bowl era by 30+ points before the Eagles did.  Only two won the Super Bowl.  Will the Eagles look burnt out in the big game?

This brings up a good point, especially thinking about Eagles QB Nick Foles.  It may be a sign that we do not see a repeat of the NFC Championship for him, and the carriage will turn back into the pumpkin.  However, he had shown promise prior to that game, back in his first stint with the Eagles.  Was Foles’ performance a one-time thing, or is he just a good QB looking for a little consistency?  It’s good news for the Pats if Foles gets off to a rocky start.

3. In the Brady-Belichick era, none of New England’s other Super Bowl opponents have had both a Top 5 scoring offense and scoring defense.  In each category, the Eagles are 3rd and 4th, respectively.  

This worries me a little bit, but I don’t necessarily think it means that the Pats will lose.  However, not even the Giants in 2007 or 2011 had what this Eagles team has.  If they didn’t have QB Carson Wentz for three-quarters of the season though, they may be lower on the offensive side of things.

They have a lot of great weapons offensively and even acquired RB Jay Ajayi midway through the season.  But if Nick Foles can’t keep up the good work, this Eagles offense will not challenge the Pats nearly as much, bringing hope for them to win.  I do think this Eagles team could give New England a scare and come close to victory, but I think the Patriots are capable of beating a team with top 5 scoring offense and defense, especially with Philly’s backup QB under center.

4. Pats QB Tom Brady has as much Super Bowl experience as the entire Eagles 53-man roster combined (7 games)

This is an unbelievable stat, and Bill Belichick is great against teams with minimal playoff experience.  This is the perfect example.  A lot of Pats players have not played an NFL season without making the AFC Championship, while this entire Eagles roster has only made 7 combined Super Bowls.  Belichick will take advantage of the lack of experience on the Philly roster.  That may help him win this game.

5. According to ESPN, the most significant difference in yards per attempt between the QBs facing off in a Super Bowl was between Tom Brady and Eli Manning in Super Bowl XLII, and Brady, the much better QB lost.  Can Nick Foles be the next QB to shock Brady?

2007 was Brady and Eli Manning.  This year, it’s Brady against a backup quarterback (Foles).  Although the YPA difference between Brady and Manning (4.0) was greater than the difference between Brady and Foles (2.9), if you are measuring this on overall performance, Manning in 2007 was slightly better than 2017 Nick Foles.  But, you cannot rule out an underdog victory, especially based on these stats.

 

Some of these stats are favoring the Pats.  Others favor the Eagles.  But what it really comes down to is how these two teams match-up.  I will preview that in the next article that will be posted shortly.

 

The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Welcome to my third article in my series of previews for Super Bowl LII, where the underdogs, the Eagles will try to come through on the big stage against the defending champions.

Here is my schedule for the series.  Articles that are already up include links to the article.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31: The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Thursday, Feb. 1: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Saturday, Feb. 3: Super Bowl LII Video Preview and iMovie Trailer

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

 

The Case for the Eagles

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The Eagles are coming off a big win going into this big game.  Nick Foles broke out, throwing for 352 yards and 3 TDs to lead the Eagles to a 38-7 victory.  What Foles proved is that the Eagles have the offensive weapons of a Super Bowl-winning team, they just need a productive night out of their QB.  Nick Foles is the X-factor and the biggest question for the Eagles.  Although the Patriots secondary will be ready to keep Foles’ receivers well covered and make it hard for him to find them in either scenario, having a rough game doesn’t even give him a chance to win it.  Getting into a rhythm is step one for Foles and the Philly offense.

The Eagles have strong receivers that can at least try to get past a tricky Pats secondary, so if Foles picks up where he leaves off, the Eagles could soar.  Otherwise, Foles and the Eagles offense will struggle as the carriage turns back into the pumpkin and the Patriots dominate.  The Eagles also have a great run game that they should take advantage of against a defense that has struggled against running backs.  That’s something that’s not a problem in Philly, as they allowed the 2nd least rush yards during the 2017 regular season.

Speaking of the defense, they’ll need to be on top of their game for the Eagles to win.  If they have a good day, they could get on QB Tom Brady’s nerves and mess up the New England offensive scheme.  Although many people are saying otherwise, the Eagles do have a chance to win the Super Bowl.  These underdogs quietly made their way in through productive offense and dominant defense.  If you’re a Pats fan like me, don’t assume that the Pats are all set and will have it easy.  This will be a close one, at least in my opinion.

It will be especially close if the defense can pressure TB12 and Nick Foles can keep up the good work.  Those are their two major keys to win the game.  They’ll also need to win the turnover battle, get the run game going against a Pats defense which has struggled against running backs this year, and keep receivers open for Foles to make sure he doesn’t throw preventable interceptions.  If Foles makes mistakes like that, it could put a wrench in Philly’s entire gameplan, even if he looks good for the majority of the game.

Although they are clear underdogs, will the Eagles win Super Bowl LII?  Stay tuned for my Super Bowl LII Predictions this Friday to find out what I think.

Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

The match-up is set.  The Patriots and Eagles will face off in Super Bowl LII.  Today I will address how they got there, and give you your first look at the match-up.

But first here is the official schedule for my Super Bowl LII Preview. This will be part of each Preview article and will include links to the articles that are finished.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29: Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31: The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Thursday, Feb. 1: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Saturday, Feb. 3: Super Bowl LII Video Preview and iMovie Trailer

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

How They Got There

Patriots

 

The Pats won in comeback fashion again, this time against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20.  Early on, Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette, Corey Grant, and the rest of the Jaguars offense dominated, taking a 14-3 lead and challenging the Pats for their chance at making it to their 10th Super Bowl, and their 8th with Tom Brady.  The Pats were unable to stop this powerful Jags offense for most of the 1st half, although they did narrow Jacksonville’s lead with a TD before the half, making it 14-10.  The Jaguars’ powerful pass rush also got on Tom Brady’s nerves in this half.

By halftime, Pats fans were getting worried, and some (but not me) gave up hope.  But the 2nd half brought a turn-around for the Patriots.  In the 3rd quarter, we began to see a better defensive performance by New England, as they held Jacksonville to just a measly 3 points in that quarter.  Lawrence Guy was able to sack Bortles as he led the Pats defense to begin to get pressure on him.  The Jags scored another field goal to begin the 4th and led 20-10.

But better defense set the Pats offense up to come back in the 4th quarter.  Despite TE Rob Gronkowski being ruled out with a concussion, the Pats came back, led by Brady, Danny Amendola (who scored both 4th quarter TDs) and Brandin Cooks.  The Pats came out of nowhere after being down by 10, scoring 14 unanswered points to win the game and advance to the Super Bowl.  But how will they fare against the Eagles, who obliterated the Vikings?

Eagles

 

The Vikings got off to a fast start as Case Keenum connected with TE Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown.  But after that, Nick Foles broke out, leading the Eagles offense to blow away an otherwise unstoppable Vikings defense.  He somehow tossed 3 TDs and 352 yards against the typically dominant Vikings D.  I also don’t know how this defense gave up 38 points.

Not only did Foles do well, but his top four receivers (Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor) all had over 50 yards receiving, combining for 306 of Philly’s receiving yards and all 3 receiving TDs.  The combination of end zone back LeGarrette Blount and lead running back Jay Ajayi also had a big game compared to recent performances.

After that win, the Eagles truly do deserve to fight for that Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis, although it would have been cool to see Minnesota win it at home, or be stopped by the Patriots dynasty.  But will the Eagles put up the same numbers against New England, who has far more experience in the Super Bowl?  Many of New England’s players don’t even know what it is like not making the AFC Championship game.

A First Look at the Big Game

With TE Rob Gronkowski on the practice field as of Saturday the 27th, it’s a good sign that Gronk will be able to clear the concussion protocol and play by Sunday’s big game. Gronk’s status will help determine New England’s offensive schemes against an Eagles defense that can be tricky at times.

Either way, especially with T Marcus Cannon injured, DT Fletcher Cox and the Eagles’ defensive line could pressure QB Tom Brady and hit him a few times. But I do think Brady should be able to find his receivers against the younger, but still powerful Eagles secondary. With or without him, Gronk will have to get past Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins among others as they will likely keep the star tight end double covered.

Brady will have to mix it up a little, not only passing to Gronk, and dependable passing backs James White and Rex Burkhead, but also to his wide receivers who helped him win with Gronk and Burkhead out late into last week’s game. Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and/or Chris Hogan could have a big game here. But will we see the Eagles look like their inconsistent selves again, or will we see QB Nick Foles and the Eagles offense pick up where they left off?

If they can, they will significantly challenge the Patriots, whose pass rush has struggled to pressure the QB at times this season.  However, it has gotten better since LB James Harrison joined the Patriots.  Not only has he himself made an impact, but he’s also made an impact on other players’ performances, serving as a veteran influence.  The Pats sacked Jags QB Blake Bortles twice last week.  One was by Harrison, and the other by DT Lawrence Guy.  However, the Eagles give Foles better protection than Bortles gets with their strong offensive line.

This also helps running backs, who the Pats have struggled even more against.  In their Week 7 win against Atlanta, their big flaw was giving up big plays to Devonta Freeman.  It cost them in Week 1 against Kareem Hunt.  Can RB Jay Ajayi be next?  Will end zone threat Blount Force Trauma get revenge on his former team?  Or will it be younger RBs like Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood who thrive?

The good news is, despite their front seven woes, they have maintained a strong secondary all season long, and don’t be surprised if they annoy Foles’ receivers and pick Foles off a couple times. I do think Foles will continue to thrive though, finding his receivers for most of the game, but making brutal mistakes against this strong secondary that cause the Eagles offense to trail a little behind the “Brady Bunch.”

Who will win Super Bowl LII?  What is the game plan for each team?  What Super Bowl and season-long stats will burden, encourage and/or influence each team?  Find out this week as I release more articles each day.