'Underdog' Philadelphia Eagles more predator than prey in Super Bowl

Jay Asser 13:38 02/02/2018
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Eagles players celebrate in dog masks after beating the Minnesota Vikings.

As comical as it was when Lane Johnson wore a dog mask after the Philadelphia Eagles‘ win over Atlanta earlier this month, the message behind it was no less true.

‘You want to treat us like underdogs? We’ll give you underdogs.’

Despite tying for the best record in the NFL this season and earning the top seed in the NFC, Philadelphia haven’t been given the proper respect that typically comes with those accomplishments. They were considered underdogs twice on their home field in the playoffs, against reigning NFC champions Atlanta in the divisional round and against the Vikings on the heels of the ‘Minnesota Miracle’ in the NFC Championship Game. Both times they defied expectations and advanced.

And now their underdog status has reached its zenith, with the mighty New England Patriots‘ dynasty standing in the way of the franchise’s first Super Bowl title in a contest many are viewing through a David vs Goliath lens.

But there’s a reason why the Eagles are here, and it’s not to serve as fodder for someone else’s storybook ending. This is the rare case where the consensus underdog may actually be better than the favourite and end up proving it.

As charming as it might be to associate the Eagles with one of their city’s icons and the ultimate underdog, Rocky Balboa, this team is fittingly more of a Philly Shell fighter than a brawler hoping to connect on a haymaker.

Philadelphia have arguably the most talented roster in the NFL, from top to bottom. Their athleticism and depth, wielded by strong coaching, is why they won 13 games this season and looked like the clear-cut best team in the league before their most important player was taken away.

If the Eagles have anything in common with Rocky, it’s their ability to get up after being knocked down.

When Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14, Philadelphia not only lost their starting quarterback, but a player who was the frontrunner for MVP. It was just assumed that their Super Bowl hopes were dashed in an instant and that a regular season full of promise had gone up in flames.

But the Eagles have lost just one game since and that too was a meaningless match-up in Week 17, at which point they had already locked up the one seed. That’s just not possible to do with a back-up quarterback unless the rest of your team is incredibly well-rounded and capable of mitigating the blow.

Nick Foles has provided a steady hand at quarterback for Philadelphia.

Nick Foles has provided a steady hand at quarterback for Philadelphia.

It’s completely reasonable to point to Nick Foles as the reason why Philadelphia are underdogs. But there’s another way of looking at it and that is by recognising that the Eagles have minimised how crucial of a role their biggest weakness plays. Quarterback is undoubtedly the most important position in football, but what Philadelphia have done is make Foles’ production a byproduct of their success, not the catalyst.

That’s all well and good, but the Eagles can’t possibly get away with that against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, right?

They actually can. Philadelphia don’t necessarily need Foles to play well if they can get pressure on Brady and reduce his effectiveness. And if Foles does channel his inner Wentz and play like he did in the NFC Championship Game, nothing less than another heroic effort by Brady will be needed for the Patriots to lift the Lombardi Trophy again.

New England have the biggest advantage at the most important position, but if that is somehow neutralised, the Eagles have the talent and ability to capitalise everywhere else.

While that doesn’t mean the roles should be reserved and Philadelphia be considered the favourites, it is time to kill the underdog narrative.

There’s a still a good chance, however, we see the dog masks one last time.

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