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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The Houston Astros managed to win the AL West once again, and while things got a little nerve wracking toward the end of the season, when it mattered most, the 'Stros took care of business.

It certainly didn't hurt to get a little help from the Mariners, beating the Rangers 1-0 on Sunday, paving the way for the Astros to secure the division. Rangers fans and members of their broadcast team were none too pleased with the Diamondbacks resting some of their starters on Sunday.

But let's be real, with the division on the line, the Rangers couldn't even manage to score a single run on Sunday against Seattle. That's why they're playing in the Wild Card series, not because of how Arizona approached Sunday's game.

So what did we learn during these must-win games over the last week? A lot was made of GM Dana Brown's comments on the team's flagship station. Brown was hoping manager Dusty Baker would put the best offensive lineup on the field. Yainer Diaz did not start a single game of the Diamondbacks series. But Chas McCormick played every game of the Mariners and Diamondbacks series, except for the finale against Seattle, after being hit in the back with a fastball the night before.

Michael Brantley played in two of three against Arizona, so he appears to be an option Dusty will turn to moving forward. And with the Astros only scoring 1 and 2 runs in two of the three wins against the D-Backs, the Astros need every bit of offense they can get.

Plus, we discuss how getting extra rest for Michael Brantley, Jose Abreu, and the bullpen could pay huge dividends for the club. And don't look now, but Jose Abreu is getting hot at just the right time!

Be sure to watch the video above for the full discussion.

And be sure to watch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every Monday on SportMapHouston's YouTube channel.

Listen to ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 FM for Houston's best sports talk.


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