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Scouting the Matchup: Brady, Gronk lead the way

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

The Patriots will have their hands full in Super Bowl LII against Philadelphia's versatile, talented defensive line. The Eagles finished No. 1 in the league against the run, spearheaded by three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who has the speed to rush the passer and the strength to play nose tackle and stop the run. Dion Lewis will lead the way for New England's running game. He got better as the season wore on, but struggled in the AFC Championship Game against Jacksonville, rushing for only 34 yards and fumbling in the fourth quarter. The Patriots won't likely get much from James White or Rex Burkhead in the running game, so the pressure falls on Lewis to establish the run and perhaps neutralize Philly's pass rush. The Eagles allowed only one 100-yard rusher all year and it came in a meaningless Week 17 game. Advantage: EAGLES

WHEN THE EAGLES RUN

The Eagles boast a two-headed rushing attack led by former Patriot LeGarrette Blount and ex-Miami Dolphin Jay Ajayi, who joined the team in October via a deadline trade in exchange for a fourth-round pick. Neither runner has absorbed the bulk of the carries as the Eagles continue to utilize a committee approach, but Blount has stepped up in the postseason, rushing for an 11-yard touchdown in the conference championship against the Vikings while Ajayi totaled 110 yards from scrimmage. This matchup pits the third-ranked rushing offense against the league's 20th-ranked rushing defense, but, as is the case with most of New England's numbers, the tale of the tape is deceiving. The Patriots struggle setting the edge, but their ability to buckle down on Leonard Fournette in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game was the difference. Advantage: PATRIOTS

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

A healthy Rob Gronkowski will go a long way toward getting New England's top-ranked offense going against the Eagles fourth-ranked defense, but the uncanny ability of receiver Danny Amendola to step up in big games can't be underscored. "Playoff" Amendola, as Gronkowski now calls him, came through in the conference championship with two fourth-quarter touchdowns and may be asked to step to the plate again Sunday with Chris Hogan and Burkhead still not looking 100 percent due to recent injuries. The Eagles cornerbacks can be beat 1-on-1, but their pass rush is second to none. Led by Cox, ex-Patriot Chris Long and Brandon Graham, Philadelphia boasts the league's deepest, most effective rush, putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than any team in the NFL. Tom Brady hasn't handled pressure as well this year as he has in the past, so this will be a tall order for New England's offensive line. Advantage: EAGLES

WHEN THE EAGLES PASS

Nick Foles has done an admirable job replacing Carson Wentz, especially in the NFC Championship Game when he smoked the Vikings No. 1-ranked defense for three touchdowns, but he's still a significant downgrade from his predecessor. The Patriots haven't exactly faced a Murderer's Row of quarterbacks in the postseason, but the Eagles have a few weapons they will need to respect, particularly tight end Zach Ertz, who led the team in catches, and offseason acquisition Alshon Jeffery, who finished with a team-high nine touchdowns. The Patriots won't face the same challenges they did against Jacksonville on the perimeter because the Eagles don't utilize their running backs in the passing game. The emphasis for New England will be to generate pressure with its four-man front and rely on its base nickel to cut off the passing lanes for Foles. Red-hot cornerback Stephon Gilmore will be the player to watch on Sunday. Advantage: PATRIOTS

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Eagles are typically solid on special teams, but suffered from a muffed punt and a missed extra point in their divisional round win over the Falcons before tying up the loose ends in the conference championship. Ultimately, it's hard to find a team that pays more attention to detail in this phase of the game than New England. The Patriots benefited from blocked field goals, a punt return for a touchdown and a safety on a punt return during the regular season and also boast one of the league's best-kept secrets in punter Ryan Allen. Field position turned out to be critical in the AFC Championship Game when Allen pinned the Jaguars deep in their own territory in the fourth quarter and Amendola returned the ensuing punt 20 yards to set up the game-winning touchdown. Don't be surprised if the Patriots make another game-changing play in the kicking game if this one is close down the stretch. Advantage: PATRIOTS

OTHER FACTORS

What more can you say about New England's laser-like focus and track record in the Super Bowl? Sunday's game will be their second attempt at winning three titles in four years, a feat they accomplished when they won Super Bowls in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Experience will be critical, even if head coach Bill Belichick disagrees. The Patriots erased double-digit deficits in each of their last two Super Bowl wins and are difficult to bury, even when it appears all hope is lost. Another win equals immortality for Brady, Belichick and Robert Kraft, all of whom would become the first player, coach and owner, respectively, to win six Super Bowl titles. The Eagles are a tremendous story, having finished 7-9 a year ago before winning 13 games this season, and they're rallying around Foles, who has rekindled his 2013 magic, but it's tough to bet against a dynasty like the one we'll see again on Sunday. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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