What do you think of when you hear the name “New England Patriots?”
You may spit at the ground and yell “cheaters.” You may groan knowing you’ve seen them win game after game, championship after championship. But there’s one thing that can’t be denied of this Patriots dynasty: they’ve been a dominant force that’s been hard to stop. Now, on the cusp on their eighth Super Bowl appearance in the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era, only the Philadelphia Eagles stand in the way from yet another New England celebration.
So how do Doug Pederson, Nick Foles and the underdog Eagles pull the upset? It’s easier said than done. However, it isn’t impossible. Take it from the teams who’ve beat them in the playoffs over the last decade.
The New York Giants are the only team to beat Brady and Belichick in the Super Bowl, and they did it twice. In 2008, the Giants won the NFC Championship after starting the playoffs as a wild card. They played an undefeated Patriots team for Super Bowl XLII, where they beat them 17-14. The two teams squared off again in 2012 for Super Bowl XLVI, which led to the Giants winning a second time 21-17.
The key to the two upset victories was the pressure put on Brady. The Giants pass rush tried to disrupt the pocket and hit Brady as quickly and often as possible. For example, in 2008, Brady was sacked five times and was held to only 229 passing yards. What helped the Giants in both Super Bowls was miraculous plays on offense. In XLII, Eli Manning avoided a sack late in the fourth quarter to heave a ball down the field to David Tyree, who caught the ball by pinning the ball to his helmet. In XLVI, also late in the fourth quarter, Manning threw a high pass to Mario Manningham. He hauled in the ball before falling out of bounds. Both plays set up game-winning touchdowns in their respective Super Bowls.
The Patriots have also had to deal with tough competition when making a run at a Super Bowl berth. The Baltimore Ravens eliminated the Patriots in 2010 and 2013 in the playoffs. The Wild Card round in 2010 was unlike what we’ve ever seen out of these Patriots. Brady threw three interceptions, was sacked three times, and had only 154 yards passing. The Ravens were able to run well against the Patriots defense, who allowed 226 rushing yards.
The 2013 AFC Championship game was a bit different as the Ravens spread the ball out to seven receivers and carried that, plus the usual pressuring defense, to a victory and an eventual Lombardi Trophy.
The Giants weren’t the only New York team to give the Patriots problems. In 2011, the Jets knocked off the Patriots in the divisional round after they sacked Brady five times and ran for 120 rushing yards. The Jets had a very similar formula as the Ravens as they stuck to a ground attack on offense while making Brady uncomfortable on defense.
There’s only one team that has ended the Patriots season short of a Super Bowl in the last four seasons, and that’s the Denver Broncos. In the 2014 AFC Championship game, the Broncos racked up 507 yards of offense against the Patriots team, scoring on nearly every drive. The situation was much different in the 2016 AFC Championship game, as the Broncos’ victory was all thanks to the defense. The Broncos’ defensive front only allowed 44 rushing yards, while their secondary picked Brady off twice in a low-scoring game. The game came down to a failed two-point conversion in which Brady’s pass was tipped and intercepted to seal it.
Put it all together, you have quite a few ways you can look at shutting down the dynasty. On offense, running the ball is key to winning. The 2017 Patriots have done well against the run down the stretch, but struggled at times against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship. You will need to make one or two big throws in order to win, as the Patriots will adjust as the game goes on. Defensively, you need to swarm Brady and not let him get the ball out. He’s one of the best at getting the ball out quickly, so you need to rush him as often as possible. Running back Dion Lewis is one of the Patriots’ most important weapons, as is tight end Rob Gronkowski. Keeping them from making big plays is critical for big games like this.
If the Eagles can follow through on any of these parameters, they could deliver Philadelphia their first ever Super Bowl championship. If not, New England will be partying yet again on the first Sunday night in February.