Musings, observations and the occasional insight as Super Bowl LII week in Minneapolis-St. Paul begins...
- Not much went right for the Eagles in 2012, the 14th and final season of the team's Andy Reid coaching era. Philadelphia started 3-1 that year, then completely bottomed out, losing 11 of its last 12 games to finish in last place at 4-12, the franchise's worst record since 1998, the year before Reid arrived.
But Philly got at least one thing right that season, its draft class. The Eagles took stud defensive tackle Fletcher Cox in the first round, current defensive starters Mychal Kendricks (linebacker) and Vinny Curry (defensive end) in the second round, and spent a third-round pick, No. 88 overall, on a quarterback out of the University of Arizona. Guy by the name of Nick Foles.
To be sure it has been a circuitous path he has traveled, but Foles in his sixth season has helped the Eagles reach the Super Bowl, and where would Philadelphia be without him in light of Carson Wentz's year-ending knee injury in Week 14 this season? It's not always pretty with Foles, but next Sunday he'll become the second quarterback out of the 2012 draft class to start a Super Bowl, joining Seattle's Russell Wilson, who was selected 13 slots higher than him in that same third round.
To repeat, third-rounders Wilson and Foles will have Super Bowl experience, while the celebrated top two picks that year — the Colts' Andrew Luck and Washington's Robert Griffin III — do not. Luck didn't even play this season due to his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, and Griffin is already out of the league and his career may be over. Miami's Ryan Tannehill, taken No. 8 overall, also didn't play either in 2017 due to an August knee injury, and the fourth first-round quarterback that year, Brandon Weeden, is barely hanging on in the league as the Titans third-string passer.
Of that group, only Luck and Griffin has played in a playoff game, and the closest either of them has gotten to the Super Bowl is Luck's Colts losing big at New England in the 2014 AFC title game. Other notable quarterbacks taken that year were Brock Osweiler by Denver in the second round, and Kirk Cousins by Washington in the fourth round.
The irony of the Eagles' selecting Foles is that they went into the draft hell-bent on taking Wisconsin's Wilson, who they identified as their top priority at quarterback.
"We actually did a lot of research trying to decide how high we had to pick him to make sure we got him?'' said former Eagles team president Joe Banner. "After talking to a bunch of people we thought we could get him with our third-round pick. The key to our whole draft was getting Russell Wilson.
"With hindsight, for stupid reasons we decided to wait until the third round instead of taking him with that second, second-round selection, which wound up being the Vinny Curry pick. So when Wilson got picked, we were both heartbroken and shocked, because we really thought we were safe taking him with that pick.''
Instead they recovered from their disappointment in time to draft Foles, and now both he and Wilson will be linked again in Eagles history.
"Of the two quarterbacks who have made the Super Bowl out of that draft, there was the one we planned on taking, and the one we ended up picking,'' Banner said.
- A Super Bowl matchup like this year's, with one franchise that owns multiple Super Bowl rings facing off against a franchise that owns none, is getting quite common. It's New England with its five Super Bowl titles in nine tries against Philadelphia, which is 0-2 in Super Bowl play.
And good news, Patriots-backers. Recently the edge has been decidedly in favor of the Super Bowl teams that own the hardware in that situation, with them winning five of the last six matchups that fit that scenario. To wit:
- The multi-ring Patriots beat the ringless Falcons last year, in epic fashion.
- The multi-ring Broncos beat the ringless Panthers the year before that.
- The multi-ring Steelers beat the ringless Cardinals at the end of the 2008 season.
- The multi-ring Steelers beat the ringless Seahawks at the close of the 2005 season.
- The multi-ring Patriots beat the ringless Eagles in the Super Bowl that followed the 2004 season.
The lone exception to the trend came in the 2014 season, when Seattle convincingly won its only Super Bowl title against Denver, which came into the game with two Super Bowl championships as a franchise.
- The Eagles remain one of 13 NFL teams that have never won a Super Bowl, although seven of the franchises that pre-date the Super Bowl did win an NFL or AFL title at some point. Of that group, Philadelphia's title drought of 57 years is the third longest, bested on by Detroit (1957) and the Cardinals (the then-Chicago Cardinals won the NFL crown in 1947).
Here's the list of the 13 teams still striving for their first Super Bowl ring:
Chicago, St. Louis and Arizona Cardinals — Won NFL title in 1947.
Detroit — Won NFL title most recently in 1957.
Philadelphia — Won NFL title most recently in 1960.
Tennessee/Houston Oilers — Won AFL title most recently in 1961.
Chargers — Won AFL title most recently in 1963.
Cleveland — Won NFL title most recently in 1964.
Buffalo — Won AFL title most recently in 1965.
Minnesota — Began in 1961, won the last NFL title in 1969, but lost Super Bowl IV that season.
Atlanta — Began in 1966, no championships.
Cincinnati — Began in 1968, no championships.
Carolina —Began in 1995, no championships.
Jacksonville — Began in 1995, no championships.
Houston Texans — Began in 2002, no championships.
- The NFC champion for three years in a row has been at .500 or lower the year before they won the conference title. The 2016 Eagles were 7-9 and in last place in the NFC. The 2015 Falcons were 8-8 and a distant second in the NFC South. And the 2014 Panthers were 7-8-1, although that record was somehow good enough to win their sad-sack division.
Going by that trend, the 2018 NFC champion could be one of only seven teams, all of which were .500 or worse in 2017: The 8-8 Cardinals, the 7-9 Packers and Redskins, the 6-10 49ers, the 5-11 Bucs or Bears, or the 3-13 Giants.
Give me San Francisco, led by the undefeated Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, or a rebounding Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
- Take this for what it's worth, but the Bert Bell Award, given to the NFL's player of the year by the Maxwell Club, once was considered just a notch under the league's MVP award in terms of prestige.
Maybe there's a good omen for Eagles fans this year, because the award in 1960 went to Philadelphia quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, the last year the franchise won the NFL title. This year's winner? Carson Wentz, the injured Eagles quarterback who threw 33 touchdown passes in just 13 games. Wentz wears No. 11 for the Eagles, the same number as the Hall of Famer Van Brocklin. Symmetry anyone?
- With Mike Vrabel being hired in Tennessee and Steve Wilks in Arizona, the scorecard is expected to read four new head coaches with offensive backgrounds, and three with a defensive pedigree. That's assuming Josh McDaniels to Indianapolis and Matt Patricia to Detroit after the Super Bowl as has been widely reported.
In all three cases of the defensive coaches getting a top job, they're all newcomers to the head coaching ranks, and they're all replacing an offensive-minded coach: Vrabel for Mike Mularkey in Tennessee, Wilks for Bruce Arians in Arizona, and Patricia for Jim Caldwell in Detroit.
On the offensive side of the ledger, three of the four new coaches are retreads, with McDaniels, Oakland's Jon Gruden and the Giants' Pat Shurmur all having been head coaches before. In addition, three of the four coaches with offensive backgrounds are replacing coaches with defensive track records: Matt Nagy for John Fox in Chicago, McDaniels for Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis, and Gruden for Jack Del Rio in Oakland. Only Shurmur for Ben McAdoo with the Giants didn't follow the trend of a pendulum swing to the other side of the ball.
- Is there a "hot'' team in this year's Super Bowl? Philadelphia started the season 10-1, but lost two games in December. The Patriots were once 2-2, but they've dropped just one game since Oct. 1, going 13-1 in the past four months.
The Patriots and Eagles enter the Super Bowl with matching 15-3 records, making them a combined 30-6. In the past 10 years (2008-2017), the only Super Bowl pairings that won more games was Carolina-Denver two years ago, when the Panthers were 17-1 and the Broncos 14-4 for a combined 31-5 mark, and New Orleans-Indianapolis in 2009, when the Saints (15-3) and Colts (16-2) also produced a 31-5 record entering the game.
When the Eagles and Patriots played in the Super Bowl 13 years ago, they were a combined 31-5 before facing off. New England was 16-2 and Philadelphia 15-3 that season, with the Eagles losing their final two regular-season games.
- The last two times we've had a Super Bowl pairing the NFC East winner versus the AFC winner, as we do this year, also involved the Patriots. Not that New England fans care to remember. The 2007 and 2011 Giants upset the Patriots each time in stunning fashion, despite New York having seasons of 10-6 and 9-7.
But on a happier note for New England, the previous East versus East matchup came with the Patriots' win over the Eagles after the 2004 season.
And for kicks, the only other Super Bowl played on Feb. 4 came 11 years ago, and was won by the AFC champion, when Peyton Manning and the Colts earned their long-awaited ring by beating the Bears 29-17 in rainy South Florida.
- We have our fourth No. 1 seed vs. No. 1 seed Super Bowl pairing in the past five years, which is a first since the NFL started seeding teams in the postseason in 1975. From 1994-2012, the two top seeds met in the Super Bowl just once in 19 seasons, and that was the Colts-Saints matchup in 2009.
So even if you didn't want the Patriots or Eagles to survive until Super Bowl Sunday, they've earned their trip, from Week 1 on.
- Watching the Vikings lose big to the Eagles in last week's NFC title game, it was as if Minnesota had played its Super Bowl the week before, in winning at home against New Orleans in miraculous fashion. The Vikings were flatter than flat. I fear the Eagles may be susceptible to the same type of experience, if they give in at all to the feeling that their Super Bowl was the blowout home win against Minnesota, which no one expected to turn into a three-hour long celebration.
As for the five-time champion Patriots, nothing ever feels like their Super Bowl until they get to the Super Bowl, and even then it usually takes until the second quarter or sometimes the second half until they really know they're in the biggest game of the season.