New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady became the oldest winner of the National Football League’s Player of the Year award on Saturday, winning the honour for the third time on the eve of his eighth Super Bowl appearance.
The 40-year-old superstar, who will on Sunday attempt to win his sixth Lombardi Trophy against the Philadelphia Eagles, enjoyed another dazzling season as the Patriots talisman.
Brady threw for 4,577 yards this season for 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
Brady could become the oldest quarterback in history to win the Super Bowl if he is able to steer the Patriots past the Eagles at US Bank Stadium on Sunday.
In other awards Saturday, the Los Angeles Rams earned recognition for their stellar turnaround year, picking up three top honours.
Rams head coach Sean McVay – the youngest head coach in NFL history at 31 — was named coach of the year for transforming the California outfit into the league’s most potent offense after a 4-12 season in 2016.
The Rams won the NFC West championship for the first time since 2003 before being eliminated in the playoffs.
Rams running back Todd Gurley picked up the offensive player of the year award following a season which saw him rack up 2,093 running and receiving yards with 19 total touchdowns.
Rams team-mate Aaron Donald was named defensive player of the year.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara was named rookie of the year following a dazzling debut season.
Kamara finished the year with 14 touchdowns and 1,554 yards from scrimmage. He was only the second rookie in history to post five rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and a kick-off return touchdown in the same season.
Saturday also marked the selection of the Hall of Fame’s latest inductees, with former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and wide receivers Terrell Owens and Randy Moss among the newest entrants.
Even though these moments have become a regular occurrence for him, Tom Brady doesn’t take them for granted.
Sixteen years after playing and winning his first Super Bowl, the New England Patriots quarterback will be on the field for the last game of the NFL season for the eighth time on Sunday when he goes for his sixth title.
Now at the age of 40, there’s always a chance this could be his last appearance on the grand stage. But Brady isn’t fixated on the past or looking ahead to the future as the Patriots prepare to meet the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I could never imagine being in this position eight times. To be in it one time is a dream come true, and to be here eight times is unbelievable,” Brady said. “I think I just appreciate it as I’ve gotten older.
“Early on, it went so fast. I think I really relish these experiences and opportunities and make the best of them. We lost a couple of them – in ‘07 and 2011 – and we were lucky to get back and win a couple of times, but this is the one that matters the most.”
Brady’s counterpart on Sunday, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, couldn’t be in a more different position.
Foles only became the starter when MVP candidate Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL in Week 14, severely denting the Eagles’ contention hopes.
But Foles has done more than enough to help get Philadelphia this far, including a 352-yard, three-touchdown explosion to beat Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game.
While he’s not as essential as Brady is to New England, Foles is all of a sudden in position to go down as one of the game’s most unlikely heroes.
“To be in this position is extremely humbling, but at the same time, I know why we’re here,” Foles said. “I’m just a small piece to the puzzle, there’s so many other pieces to the puzzle, and that’s the beautiful thing about this team, is we’ve really had to depend on each other throughout the course of the year because of everything that happened. And to be here makes it even more special.”
Though Foles’ performance will be crucial to knocking off the defending champions, the spotlight will truly be on Philadelphia’s defensive line.
Getting pressure on Brady, especially up the middle on the interior of the line, has been the deciding factor in previous Super Bowl losses for New England.
The Eagles know if they want to win, they won’t be able to “take it easy on the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all-time)”, as Chris Long said of former team-mate Brady.
“You can’t take it easy on him,” Long said. “He knows that. He’s not going to take it easy on us.
“One of the big matchups will be Tom against our defense.”
As interesting as the player battles on the field will be in Super Bowl LII, the coaching chess match between Bill Belichick and Doug Pederson is expected to be just as fun.
Belichick, of course, always has the edge heading into every game due to his impressive track record during his tenure with the New England Patriots, but Pederson is no slouch and he’s guided the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl despite losing his starting quarterback and MVP candidate, Carson Wentz, before the playoffs.
Let’s break down the coaching battle.
No one can put together a game plan and prepare for an opponent quite like Belichick. Giving him two weeks to scheme for his Super Bowl opponent is a massive advantage for the Patriots and Belichick will need that time against Philadelphia to figure out how he wants to defend against one of their biggest strengths: RPOs (run-pass options).
The Eagles used RPOs more than anyone in the league this season, while New England had to defend against it the least of any team. Philadelphia are expected to heavily utilise those plays against a Patriots defence that is weakest at the linebacker position.
Lack of athleticism and speed between New England’s linebackers means it will be an even bigger task for Belichick to figure out how to slow the Eagles down.
However, another quality Belichick has in his favour is the ability to adjust mid-game. Even if Philadelphia get off to a fast start and gash the Patriots in the first half, Belichick has proven he can change schemes up on the fly, so the lengthy halftime will be crucial for the Patriots to reformulate their plan of attack after seeing the Eagles first-hand for 30 minutes.
Will be interesting to see how the Pats gameplan for the Eagles RPOs. Jaguars shredded them with same RPO 4 times in first half last week pic.twitter.com/gYJWIPYIjj— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) January 30, 2018
Whereas Belichick is more of a defensive guru, Pederson’s strength lies on the other side of the ball. Forget head coaches, few offensive coordinators around the league have as good of a feel when it comes to play-calling as Pederson, whose scheme has put Nick Foles in a position to succeed by amplifying his strengths and covering up his weaknesses.
Against New England, Pederson will hope to control both the pace of the game and time of possession, keeping Tom Brady off the field while his offence moves the chains.
When the Patriots are in their base defence, expect Pederson to dial up plays like RPOs to take advantage of mismatches with linebackers. When New England bring in more defensive backs, expect the Eagles to attack on the ground.
One aspect to watch is how Pederson responds late in the game if the score is somewhat close. The Patriots’ past two Super Bowl wins have been helped by questionable play-calling on the opposite sideline and Belichick has knack for getting his counterpart to screw up at inopportune times.