Classic red-zone battle on tap for game
Keep an even closer eye on the red zone than normal. The Patriots were 29th in yards allowed per game (366.0) this season but fifth in points allowed (18.5). That’s because coordinator Matt Patricia’s side of the ball also was fourth in red-zone defense, allowing TDs only 43.8 percent of the time. The Patriots also were second in points allowed per red-zone trip (3.94). But the Pats’ postseason opponents have scored four touchdowns in four tries. Next up: Philly’s strong line, big backs and an offense that ranked first in red-zone touchdown percentage (65.5).
It is all about the kickers, stupid
Fair or not, Tom Brady’s Super Bowl legacy would look a lot different without kickers Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski. Vinatieri was 3-0 with winning field goals of 48 and 41 yards. The latter came after he missed his first two attempts in the Super Bowl XXXVIII victory over Carolina. Gostkowski is 2-2 with his only miss being a PAT last year against the Falcons. Eagles rookie Jake Elliott has kicked in two playoff games, 22 fewer than Gostkowski, who has missed only three of 35 field goal attempts in the postseason.
Vintage Belichick: Dion Lewis stars
If the Patriots win, Brady figures to win his fifth MVP. But in keeping with the “Patriots Way,” a lesser-known grunt will leap forward. Last year, running back James White was Bill Belichick’s X-factor. White set a Super Bowl record with a career-high 14 receptions for 110 yards and a TD. With nine TDs this season, running back Dion Lewis isn’t an unknown. But he’s still not a headliner. So wouldn’t it be vintage Belichick if he uses the diminutive former Eagles running back to exploit a crack he sees in the Philly defense?
Eagles X-factor : Corey Clement
Belichick is known for precisely identifying and then eliminating the other team’s most harmful strength. It’s unlikely that Clement, a rooking running back from Wisconsin, is in Belichick’s cross hairs. That’s a place more suited for running backs Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, with their power and Ajayi’s screen-game skills. But this is a prideful team of underdogs. Who better to shock the Patriots than a rookie who had 321 rushing yards this season. Of course, Clement also had six touchdowns in only 84 touches this year.
Postgame turmoil for Patriots staff?
The Patriots have said all they can say to downplay the ESPN story alleging cracks in the 18-year partnership among Belichick, Brady and owner Robert Kraft. “There are a lot of people that have tried to say that for a while,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. Either way, Belichick is expected to lose McDaniels (Colts) and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia (Lions). Is this a distraction from trying to beat the Eagles for a third title in four years? Well, in 2003 Belichick lost both coordinators after the Pats beat the Eagles for their third title in four years.