Super Bowl week is upon us. The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots collide in a matchup many perceive as ‘David vs Goliath’. But is the mismatch really that clear? I decided to rank the top 10 starters competing this weekend to see just how even the matchup could be.
10) Trey Flowers
With 6.5 sacks this year, Trey Flowers has exploded in his third season and will no doubt be looking for a favorable matchup this week. The Pats defense has leaked passing yards all year long, but Flowers has been a force in pressuring quarterbacks and stopping the run. 62 tackles and 3 passes defensed show just how dominant he can be and with the Eagles needing to do all they can to buy Foles time, they can’t afford to let Flowers run riot.
9 Dion Lewis
This list isn’t necessarily about talent, but more about the impact on the game. The fact of the matter is, Dion Lewis is averaging 5 yards per carry and has amassed 896 rushing yards, 214 receiving yards and 9 total touchdowns. The former Eagle was tremendous in the Super Bowl one year ago and while he may not have star power, he provides enough explosiveness and danger for the Eagles to at least have to pay attention to him on every down.
8) Malcolm Jenkins
The heart of the Eagles defense, Malcolm Jenkins has once again been the glue that keeps the units together. A prototypical safety who can play both over the top or inside the box, Jenkins has recorded 76 tackles and a sack this year along with 2 picks. With the absence of Jordan Hicks, the Birds have often leaned on Jenkins to come down and help against tough tight end matchups or stop the run. Both of those will be pivotal against New England.
7) Brandin Cooks
The Pats best offseason move may well have been acquiring the talents of former Saints wideout, Brandin Cooks. With 1,082 yards to his name in his first season in New England, Cooks finally gives Brady a number one option he can build with for the remainder of his career. The loss to Edelman stung the reigning champions, but the arrival of Cooks made the impact sustained minimal. Ronald Darby will have a busy afternoon trying to keep Cooks quiet.
6) Lane Johnson
Our first offensive lineman in this list should come as no surprise. It’s safe to say Johnson arrived with a chip on his shoulder this year following his suspension filled 2016 campaign. The Eagles right tackle has been a complete monster all season long and has shut down just about every pass-rusher he’s lined up against. With Trey Flowers looking to change that, Johnson will need to be at his Pro-Bowl level best if the Birds are to find an advantage in the Super Bowl.
5) Zach Ertz
The Super Bowl will mark the second clash between two of the most impressive receiving tight ends in the league. Zach Ertz has come a long way since the Eagles impressive 2015 win over New England and with 824 yards and 8 scores to his name, Ertz has finally broken the mold…and some tackles along the way. The Stanford product was the safety blanket the Eagles passing-game knew he could become this season and in the biggest game of his career, will be the same for the quarterback who tossed him first touchdown pass back in 2013.
4) Jason Kelce
A center ranked as the fourth best starter in the Super Bowl? That’s right. Jason Kelce has not just been elite this season, but without him, the Eagles running game would not be anywhere near as dangerous as it has become. His ability to get to the second level with the pace of a tight end and block like a tackle is simply devastating to defenses who struggle against both angle and zone blocking schemes. His chemistry with Foles is building and Kelce will be a player the Patriots have circled as one they simply have to gameplan for when it comes to harassing Nick Foles.
3) Rob Gronkowski
Choosing between Gronk and Cox at the number two spot was difficult, but the Patriots offense has proven it can survive without the production of their most decorated receiver. Gronkowski has been dominant for what feels like an eternity now and registering another 1,000 yard season this year only helped etch his name deeper into the record books. The birds will have a tough time containing Gronk if he is indeed able to play and his average of 77 receiving yard per game should be alarming for a defense that bends but never breaks.
2) Fletcher Cox
The $100M man has had a big year, but an even bigger postseason. Cox has been rampant over the last two weeks, with 10 tackles and a sack during that span. An integral cog of the Eagles pass-rushing machine, the defensive tackle has stepped it up another notch entirely and with the help of running-mate, Timmy Jernigan, he could be poised for a big night on the grandest stage of all.
1) Tom Brady
This list would just be wrong if any other name than Tom Brady was sat atop it. To be playing at such an elite level at the age of 40 is just astounding. The numbers speak for themselves, 32 touchdowns and 8 interceptions headline the way while Brady has completed 66% of his passes. Last year, Brady was remarkable and that form has continued through a series of dominant wins and moments only the best to ever play the game could conjure. The debate is over, at least in my mind. There will never be another Tom Brady and while all attention should adequately be placed on disrupting his rhythm in Super Bowl 52, respect has to be paid.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports