The anticipation is almost over, and Super Bowl LII is just about upon us. The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots each ended the regular season with identical 13-3 records. Each team finished first in their respective conference and won two home games to earn a berth to Super Bowl LII. The Patriots dominated the Tennessee Titans 35-14 in the Divisional Round before earning a 24-20, come from behind victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. The Eagles squeaked by the Atlanta Falcons 15-10 in the Divisional Round but followed that with a 38-7 destruction of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game.
When it comes to breaking down a single game for fantasy purposes, there aren’t a ton of options available to the fantasy player. Considering this, I will break down the game as I have been throughout the playoffs, but I will also mention some player props that I believe can be taken advantage of.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – IMPLIED VEGAS TOTAL: 22 POINTS
The light switch turned “ON” for Nick Foles in the NFC Championship Game. Foles had been terrible up until that game, but he turned back the clock to 2013 as he decimated the Vikings to the tune of 352 yards and three touchdowns. Head coach Doug Pederson will likely give Foles plenty of run-pass options (RPOs) in this game. Pederson dialed up a league-high 181 RPOs during the regular season and has doubled down on that with another 26 in the postseason. The Jaguars had success running similar plays against New England, and Philadelphia will likely follow suit. Masterminds Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia know this, of course. But I would still expect Philadelphia to show this look quite often, especially early in the game to get a feel for how New England is defending it. Including the playoffs, opposing quarterbacks have averaged 24.44 completions, 36.83 attempts, and 270.33 yards against New England this season. Vegas has projected a line for Foles of roughly 22 completions, 33 attempts, and 232.5 passing yards. I think Foles has a decent chance of hitting all three thresholds, but the one I like the most is the 33 attempts. Foles has averaged 34.75 attempts in all four games in which he has started and finished, which is noteworthy considering the Eagles never trailed in the fourth quarter of any of those games. I believe Foles will approach 40 attempts in this game, which would only increase the likelihood of him hitting the other marks as well.
Jay Ajayi’s touches have increased in each of Philadelphia’s last four games, with weekly touches of 14, 16, 18, and 21. He has yet to truly break out, as he has averaged between 3.6 and 4.08 yards per carry in each of those games. However, he does have multiple receptions in all four, raising his floor. New England’s run defense has improved as the season has worn on, and the Patriots have held the combination of Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette to just 104 rushing yards on 36 carries this postseason. If pressed, I would pick that Ajayi falls short of his projected 60.5 total rushing yards total. However, I believe there is a high likelihood of Ajayi hitting his mark of 18.0 receiving yards. He has done so in four consecutive games, and New England allowed the second-most receiving yards to opposing running backs on the year. I have seen props on LeGarrette Blount’s total rushing yards (27.5) and longest rush (8.5). I would bang the “under” on these two props. Dating back to the regular season, Blount has averaged 21.14 rushing yards in his last seven games, with a long run of 11 yards. If he happens to luck into a long run, I’ll live with myself. I would not feel comfortable touching Corey Clement props, but I would point out that if you are inclined to pick the over on his 15.5 total rushing yards, start first by taking the over on his 1.5 rushing attempts. Those two numbers in conjunction are not logically sound.
Philadelphia finished the regular season with three pass catchers who averaged at least 48.0 receiving yards per game, but with none averaging more than 58.86 receiving yards per game. Vegas expects the Eagles to continue their balanced passing attack, as evidenced by middling receiving totals for tight end Zach Ertz (5.0 receptions, 55.5 receiving yards), and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (4.0/52.5), Nelson Agholor (3.5, 37.5), and Torrey Smith (2.5/29.5). It will be interesting to see how Foles uses his receiving weapons in this game. In the postseason, Ertz has continued as the leader in target share. New England settled in against opposing tight ends after a rough first third of the season, but they were not challenged by many elite tight ends down the stretch. They did hold Delanie Walker to just three catches and 49 yards in the Divisional Round, but I would expect Ertz to be more involved. I don’t think Ertz is a lock to reach his personal over/under totals, but I do think he is likely to do so. Jeffery is a bit tougher to figure out. Foles has a perfect passer rating when targeting Jeffery during these playoffs, but yet he has only done so 10 times. Jeffery is a frequent target of the aforementioned RPO package, frequently running quick slants. New England uses man coverage at the second-highest rate in the NFL, and I would expect Jeffery to see his fair share of targets against the combination of Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler. However, I find myself gravitating more toward the actual number of receptions than the yardage. I fear a scenario in which Jeffery catches at least five passes but possibly for fewer than the requisite 52 receiving yards. Agholor has been targeted just seven times during the postseason, but he enjoyed a breakout year and has the most inviting individual matchup among Eagles’ pass catchers. Slot corner Eric Rowe finished the year as the 106th graded cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus. Slot receivers Eric Decker and Allen Hurns rinsed New England for a combined 12 catches and 165 receiving yards on 14 targets during the playoffs. Despite Agholor’s postseason struggles, the overs on both his receptions and receiving yards are my favorite props on the Eagles’ offensive side of the ball. Smith has seen an uptick in targets (12) during these playoffs, but I cannot trust him in this matchup. Whether facing Gilmore or Butler, Smith will face tough sledding in this matchup. I would not feel completely comfortable betting against him, but there are plenty of other props I’d rather play.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – IMPLIED VEGAS TOTAL: 26.5 POINTS
Tom Brady had to deal with a dominant Jacksonville passing defense and a painful injury to his throwing hand during the AFC Championship game. Things were not looking good, especially when safety blanket Rob Gronkowski was forced out of the game due to a concussion. However, Brady did what he always seems to do – he found a way to adapt and win the game. Brady went 9-for-14 for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, leading New England to yet another Super Bowl appearance. No team plays away from opponents’ strengths better than the New England Patriots. Given the Eagles’ stout run defense and their ability to create pressure in the passing game, I see this as a game where Brady will pepper Philadelphia with lots of quick throws in an up-tempo attack. Therefore, I am taking the “over” on all of Brady’s player props (25 completions, 37 attempts, 285.5 passing yards, 2.0 touchdowns). Including the postseason, Brady has played five games against elite run defenses. In those contests, Brady has averaged 27.6 completions, 39.2 attempts, 307.4 passing yards, and 3.0 touchdowns. He has also thrown a grand total of zero interceptions in those five games. Betting against Brady is a fool’s errand, and I have seen him come through in the clutch way too many times to advocate fading him in this matchup.
Dion Lewis has arguably been the Patriots’ most important player since their Week 9 bye. Lewis will face a tough test against a Philadelphia defense that allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL this season. Lewis has projected Vegas totals of 13.5 carries and 55.5 rushing yards in this game. Those numbers feel attainable, but Lewis has averaged just 12.0 carries and 48.0 rushing yards during the playoffs. I am skeptical about the chances of Lewis hitting his rushing thresholds, but I do like his chances in the receiving game. Lewis has 16 catches for 111 yards during the postseason, and I believe his usage will be largely similar in this game. There is always the chance that Rex Burkhead and/or James White take targets away from Lewis, but I still lean toward taking the over on Lewis’ 4.5 receptions and 34.5 receiving yards. Burkhead returned from a knee injury in the AFC Championship game but saw the field for just three snaps. As such, it is hard to trust Burkhead even given his very low thresholds of 2.5 carries, 17.5 rushing yards, 2.5 receptions, and 18.5 receiving yards. As is the case with LeGarrette Blount, Burkhead’s rushing numbers do not jibe. If you believe Burkhead will receive less than 2.5 carries, then he will almost assuredly finish with less than 17.5 rushing yards. I also find myself going against James White, particularly in the running game. Even totals of just 3.0 carries and 10.5 rushing yards are no sure thing with White in this matchup. I am more optimistic about him reaching receiving benchmarks of 3.5 receptions and 24.5 yards.
Rob Gronkowski led all tight ends in receiving yards and led all Patriots’ pass catchers in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches. Philadelphia’s inside linebackers are vulnerable in coverage, and I expect Gronkowski to take full advantage of his matchups in this game. Now fully cleared following a concussion suffered in the AFC Championship, I am in favor of betting on Gronkowski to surpass his personal implied totals of 5.0 receptions and 72.5 receiving yards. Brandin Cooks’ projected totals of 4.5 receptions and 65.5 yards seem low for a player who had over 1,000 receiving yards this season. I suspect this is largely due to the playoff usage of slot receiver Danny Amendola. Amendola has been a force during the postseason, catching 18 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Amendola has relatively modest projected totals of 4.5 catches and 44.5 receiving yards considering his playoff numbers. I am inclined to believe that both Cooks and Amendola will surpass their projected thresholds. Amendola faces a difficult test in slot corner Patrick Robinson, but Brady will not shy away from targeting Amendola, particularly on third down and in the red zone. As for Cooks, he will line up against the combination of Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. Darby has excelled in “off” coverage this season, while Mills is a gambler who has allowed nine touchdowns in coverage. I think New England would be wise to line up Cooks against Mills as often as possible, essentially relegating Chris Hogan to decoy status against Darby. Either way, I suspect Cooks will get his numbers. I think he is likelier to hit his total receptions if he faces off with Darby, as he will likely catch screens and quick hitters, while he is more likely to hit splash plays versus Mills. Hogan has seen starter usage in terms of snaps played and routes run during the postseason but has yet to make much of an impact in the boxscore. Hogan has just three catches for 24 yards and a touchdown during the playoffs. I would begrudgingly bet against Hogan hitting his marks of 3.5 receptions and 37.5 yards.
PREDICTION: New England 26, Philadelphia 20