Top storylines for Super Bowl LII

For the eighth time during his illustrious career, Tom Brady will lead his team on the field Sunday with an opportunity to hoist the Lombardi. And so continues the most successful career for a quarterback in NFL history.

Over in the NFC, Philadelphia Eagles and quarterback Nick Foles are playing the role of David to New England’s Goliath. They’re fresh off a dominating performance against Minnesota in the conference title game and can make some history in the Vikings’ home stadium Sunday evening.

The backdrop here is a Patriots team that hasn’t slowed down after nearly 20 years of utter domination. Is this potentially New England’s last hurrah with the big two? That question likely won’t be answered any time soon. But it is among the top storylines for Super Bowl LII between New England and Philadelphia.

Tom Brady as Goliath 

We already know where Tom Brady stands in NFL lore. Depending on who you ask, he’s the best or second-best quarterback in the history of the league. The only other signal caller even in this conversation is Joe Montana and his 4-0 Super Bowl record.

Brady might not want to call the Eagles underdogs in this one. But that’s exactly what they are. It’s definitely biblical matchup between the two — one might even go as far to call it David vs Goliath.

We’ve seen this story before in Patriots history. Back in Super Bowl XLII, New England found itself as 12.5-point favorites against the New York Giants. It would go on to lose the game, 17-14. Back in Super Bowl XXXVI, New England was 14-point dogs to Kurt Warner and the then St. Louis Rams. It would go on to pull the greatest upset in the history of the big game to earn Brady’s first Super Bowl.

The moral of the story is clear here. Expect the unexpected in the Super Bowl. Don’t ever count out the underdogs. And remember, New England has a tendency to play down to the level of its competition in the Super Bowl. Not that this is a bad thing. It’s just a reminder for those projecting a blowout here.

Nick Foles as David 

On the other side of the ledger, Foles was merely an afterthought for the vast majority of the 2017 season. He was brought on to back up eventual MVP candidate Carson Wentz should something apocalyptic happen to the young signal caller. That was was primarily due to Foles’ experience in Doug Pederson’s offense. But something seemingly otherworldly happened here.

Foles wasn’t just under center for Philadelphia’s upset win over Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game. He was the primary reason the Eagles pulled off the win, completing 26-of-33 passes for 352 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks.

Foles now has an opportunity to put himself in football lore with a win here. Some have concluded that his appearance in the Super Bowl is akin to when Tom Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe back in 2001. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Unlike Bledsoe, Carson Wentz is the quarterback of the future in Philadelphia.

This is more like Jeff Hostetler replacing an injured Phil Simms for the Giants back in 1990. Hostetler led New York to a 20-19 win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV. Ultimately, this earned him a starting job with the Raiders for four seasons. We can easily envision Foles now moving into a starting role with another squad once Sunday’s game comes to a conclusion and the offseason starts. After all, everyone loves a fairy tale story of David taking out Goliath, right?

Rob Gronkowski’s injury 

It looks like Gronkowski will be able to go Sunday for Super Bowl LII. That’s not the biggest story here. He’ll suit up. And if he’s on his game, the Eagles are going to have a hard time containing the best pass-catching tight end in NFL history.

Throughout his playoff career, Gronkowski has caught 10 touchdown passes in 12 games. The Eagles themselves yielded a 66 percent catch rate and north of 700 yards to tight ends during the regular season. It’s seemingly an ideal matchup for Gronkowski, but Eagles Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins should have something to say about that.

It’s rather simple here. If Gronkowski can play the entire game and produces at a high level, the Patriots will win. They boast a 50-8 record in games that Gronkowski has scored a touchdown in his career. The team is 32-13 when he doesn’t reach the end zone.

The last hurrah? 

We’ve read the report that focused on a rift between the big three in New England. And while all central figures have downplayed it recently, there’s still something to the idea that this could very well be the last hurrah for them in the big game.

We’re not necessarily talking about Bill Belichick moving on to another team. We’re definitely not going to start rumors about Tom Brady somehow deciding to retire while still in the height of his career. Instead, it’s all about the window potentially closing on these Patriots and the bevy of potential contenders in the AFC moving forward.

Even at 40 years old, Brady is showing no real signs of slowing down. The same was pretty much true with Peyton Manning in the lead up to his final NFL season. Manning was coming off a 2014 campaign with the Broncos that saw him throw 39 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. It sure looked like the future Hall of Famer was going to continue his elite-level performance in 2015. Then, he hit a wall. A thick wall that even one of the greatest of all-time couldn’t overcome. Manning ultimately threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his final NFL season.

No one knows when Brady will hit that wall, but it’s inevitable that he will at some point. Once that does come, the Pats don’t have an in-house replacement after trading Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco back in October. That’s key. And it could very well see New England’s window close rapidly. Now take into account talented young AFC teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, and this is magnified even further.

The underrated Doug Pederson 

This second-year head coach just doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done in Philadelphia. Here’s a guy that took over a sinking ship from Chip Kelly prior to the 2016 season. He was then forced to start a wide-eyed rookie quarterback from a small school. Growing pains persisted, and the Eagles finished Pederson’s first season as head coach with a 7-9 record.

This season saw something click big time for the greenish head coach and his team. Whether it was Pederson’s experience as a rookie head coach or something completely different, his offensive scheme worked wonders in 2017. Philadelphia finished with the third-best scoring offense in the NFL and a point differential of over 10 points per game.

We’re not talking enough about how quickly Pederson has turned the ship around in Philadelphia. The coach on the other sideline is getting most of the play. But Pederson is already among the best in-game coaches in the game. That will surely have an impact come Sunday evening in Minnesota.

Bill Belichick’s place in history 

We have to look far past the Super Bowl era to draw a comparison to what Belichick has done since he joined the Patriots back in 2000. In fact, an argument could be made that he’s the most-successful head coach since Paul Brown led Cleveland to seven championships in the 1940s and 1950s. That’s just how darn good Belichick has been since being fired by the aforementioned Browns following the 1995 season.

This will represent Belichick’s 11th appearance in a Super Bowl either as a head coach or an assistant. Folks, that’s over 20 percent of the Super Bowls that have been played in NFL history. That’s insane.

We don’t have any idea what the future will hold for the 65-year-old Belichick moving forward. He’ll be back with the Patriots next season. But after that, it’s pretty much anyone’s guess. It’s in this that we really should continue to appreciate just how dominant of a figure Belichick has been on the Pats’ sideline for the past near two decades.

Playing for their next contract 

On the Eagles’ side, Nick Foles has one more year remaining on the contract he signed with the team this past offseason. However, a strong performance and potential win here could set him up with a long-term deal from a new team. Simply put, Foles is not the future in Philadelphia. That title belongs to Carson Wentz. Other quarterback-needy teams will surely come calling this offseason. And should the Eagles decide to put Foles in a situation to start elsewhere, said team will want to lock him up long term.

The other intriguing situation is that of Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola. Like Foles, he had been seen as an afterthought in New England prior to Julian Edelman going down for the season with a torn ACL during the exhibition slate. He responded by putting up 61 receptions for 659 yards during the regular year. New England isn’t going to pay the 32-year-old receiver what the market says he’s worth. This could lead to Sunday’s game being Amendola’s last with New England.

Can the underdog story continue?

The Eagles are going to continue with this mentality for a full 60 minutes come Sunday evening in Minnesota. It started with Carson Wentz going down to a season-ending torn ACL back in December. It continued with Nick Foles leading Philadelphia to wins over both Atlanta and Minnesota in the playoffs. Heck, they have an official mask for the occasion.

The larger question here is whether Philadelphia can even be seen as dramatic underdogs heading into Super Bowl LII. Football is a game that’s been won in the trenches much longer than it’s been a game where quarterbacks somehow help dictate the outcome more than any other position.

Philadelphia has a decisive advantage in this regard. No objective NFL observer can conclude that the Patriots’ offensive and defensive lines are superior than what Philadelphia throws out there. That in and of itself should make this a much more competitive game than most people think.

But it really is all about Tom Brady going up against a backup quarterback that was merely an afterthought a few short weeks ago. It’s a narrative that’s been force-fed to us, and will continue to be once the game itself kicks off. Can the Eagles take advantage of this narrative by stepping all over Brady and the Pats? We’ll find out soon enough.