Looking ahead

Super Bowl LII Preview: This one might come down to the wire

Will the Patriots do it again? New England Patriots website

By now, we should all know the participants. In case you’ve been on a quest to listen to your inner self and have been unplugged from society, The Philadelphia Eagles are taking on the New England Patriots in the 52nd Super Bowl. These two teams are pretty dissimilar. To size them up, I’m going to the Tale of the Tape:

 

Eagles

Patriots

Coaches

Doug Pederson, 2nd year, 0 rings

Bill Belichek, the G.O.A.T. C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\MEDIA\OFFICE12\Bullets\BD21301_.gif

Quarterbacks

Nick Foles, backup to injured starter Carson Wentz, journeyman

Tom Brady, the G.O.A.T. C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\MEDIA\OFFICE12\Bullets\BD21301_.gif

Defenses

Top five defense this year C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\MEDIA\OFFICE12\Bullets\BD21301_.gif

Middle of the pack defense

Regional Food Specialty

Philly Cheesesteaks C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\MEDIA\OFFICE12\Bullets\BD21301_.gif

Clam Chowder/Lobster Rolls

Regional Pop Culture

“Rocky” movie series C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\MEDIA\OFFICE12\Bullets\BD21301_.gif

Ben Affleck/Matt Damon/Mark Wahlberg

Historical Landmarks

Liberty Bell C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\MEDIA\OFFICE12\Bullets\BD21301_.gif

JFK Birthplace

Super Bowl Wins/Appearances (excluding this year)

0/2

5/9 C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\MEDIA\OFFICE12\Bullets\BD21301_.gif

 

As you can see, The Pats have the clear advantage where it counts as far as playing the game is concerned, which is why they’re widely considered the favorite. While some give the Eagles no shot, I do believe they have a puncher’s chance. The Jacksonville Jaguars had the Pats on the ropes for a good portion of the AFC Title game, until Brady pulled it off. The Eagles’ offense took advantage of what was known to be a stout Minnesota Vikings defense and blew the doors off them in the NFC Title game.

If the Eagles pull off the upset, they’re going to have to do it by harassing Brady. But first and foremost, they’re going to have to eliminate the run game and short to intermediate pass game. The Pats live off the short/intermediate pass game as if it’s their run game. Sure they run the ball, but the 7-10 yards and under routes are where they can kill you. If the Eagles’ linebackers can hold that part of the game down while the defensive line generates a pass rush sans the blitz, look for this game to be closer than expected. On offense, they’ll have to establish the run game to allow the play action passes to be more effective. That’s what helped them move the ball with ease all season.

The Pats will win if they can contain the explosive and diverse Eagles offense. We all know the Pats can score with anybody, but it’s their defense that is suspect. The Eagles were able to take advantage of every weakness they saw in the Vikings’ defense. Being that the Vikings’ defense is better than the Pats defense, many would think this should be a walk in the park. When you give Belichick and his defensive coordinator Matt Patricia two weeks to prepare, the outcome could be different. Having tight end Rob Gronkowski back will help the run and pass game immensely. Brady isn’t considered the best of all-time for nothing. So having him opposite a relatively inexperienced quarterback at this stage should be in his favor.

Prediction: I see the Pats winning yet another title by the score of 28-24. This time, it’ll come down to the Eagles needing a touchdown, and the Pats stopping them from scoring, turning it over on downs inside the redzone. A pass breakup by an unheralded linebacker on a potential game-winning touchdown pass will be the final play. This will be their second title run of winning Super Bowls three out of four years two different times, but 10 years apart. That feat in and of itself is unimaginable. Nowadays, the NFL prides itself on diversity and parity. That is until one of their favorites is now a dominant weekly fixture. Then, it won’t take much to suspend one or the both of them.

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Will Yuli Gurriel return to the Astros? Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Defacto Astros general manager Jeff Bagwell was asked point-blank at the team’s annual Fanfest at Minute Maid Park over the weekend:

Do the Astros intend to sign free agent first baseman Yuli Gurriel for another World Series run in 2023? And if the answer is yes … what’s the holdup?

Bagwell, typically a straight shooter, said, “There's nobody that loves Yuli more than us, myself, Jim (Crane), Dusty (Baker), everybody. It's just trying to find the right fit for the club. He's a huge part of our success here. We'll continue to monitor that situation."

Do the Astros really love Gurriel, or do they love him not?

If Bagwell was speaking truth, and everybody in Astros management is aboard the Gurriel love train, why isn’t Gurriel a done deal so fans can stop worrying?

What does that mean, the Astros are trying to find the “right fit for the club?” Seriously? Here’s where Gurriel fits in: first base, second base, third base, DH, and team leader.

More important than his contribution on the diamond, Gurriel is a symbol of Astros excellence, a key member of this close-knit family of players so beloved in Houston.

Yes, Gurriel is 38 years old and coming off a disastrous 2022 season in which he batted a woeful, power outage .242. It was a major dropoff from 2021, when Gurriel won the American League batting title with a .319 average.

Numbers don’t reflect Gurriel’s value to this team. He arrived in Houston from Cuba in 2016. One year later, he took over as the Astros everyday first baseman. The Astros won the World Series that year and began six seasons of unprecedented success never before witnessed in Houston – two World Series championships, four American League pennants, and five AL West titles. Gurriel was in the middle of every postseason run – driving in key runs and turning errant throws from Astros infielders into outs at first base.

Current MLB rosters allow for 26 players. The Astros can’t find a spot for arguably one of Houston’s favorite athletes of all time? With the best hair (no argument there).

Yes, the Astros have promising young players who need to see the field to develop. But the Astros lineup is loaded with veterans so it’s not like there’s much room for rookies, anyway. The Astros could keep Gurriel and trade a prospect for experienced help behind the plate.

Two years ago, I went to a sports collectors show in Houston. There were dozens of pro athletes, including several Astros, scribbling autographs. The longest line led to Yuli Gurriel.

Recent stories from the Hot Stove League have Gurriel headed to the Miami Marlins. He’s not ready to spend his baseball golden years in Florida. Before we allow a Houston treasure loose, c’mon Astros, prove that your professed love for Gurriel is real. Keep La Pina where he belongs.

Editor's note: The Marlins interest in Yuli Gurriel seems to have cooled off, per Jon Heyman. The Twins or Astros could have interest.

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