In the Divisional playoff, they beat Seattle 31-24 as Newton threw for 6.6 yards per attempt. Then Newton went really nuts against Arizona in the Conference Championship.
Arizona’s defense had excelled all season, but Newton threw for 11.2 yards per attempt in a resounding 49-15 win. Carolina looked invincible heading into the Super Bowl against Denver.
Does this sound familiar? Does it remind you of a more recent team?
Philadelphia in 2018
In the 2018 NFL playoffs, the Philadelphia Eagles were on fire. They entered the playoffs as the top seed in the NFC.
Even with back up QB Nick Foles, they beat Atlanta 15-10 in the Divisional playoff as Foles threw for 7.7 yards per attempt. The Foles went really nuts against Minnesota in the Conference Championship.
Minnesota’s defense had excelled all season, but Foles threw for 10.2 yards per attempt in a resounding 38-7 win. Philadelphia now enters the Super Bowl against New England.
Two years ago, Carolina faltered in the Super Bowl against Denver. Newton struggled as they lost 24-10. Will Philadelphia also fail to live up to expectations?
Nick Foles versus Cam Newton
But wait just a minute, you might be thinking. The comparison between Philadelphia and Carolina breaks down at the quarterback. How can you compare a back up like Foles to a career starter and Most Valuable Player like Newton?
It’s a good question. In some aspects of the game, there’s no comparison. Newton gains yards as a punishing, physical runner, a skill that Foles lacks.
However, let’s compare their career passing numbers.
- Nick Foles, 60% completion percentage, 6.2 yards per attempt
- Cam Newton, 59% completion percentage, 6.0 yards per attempt
The career stats for Foles can be deceiving, as he looked like a future Hall of Famer in 2013 before regressing to a back up the past two season.
However, Newton has never been an elite passer. He did throw for 7.2 yards per attempt in the 2015 season in which Carolina made the Super Bowl, but that season seems like an outlier.
The career numbers for Foles and Newton are similar. This suggests not to make too much of Foles’s performance in the last two playoff games.
Philadelphia’s pass offense with Foles
Let’s dig into Philadelphia further by isolating their passing numbers with Foles. For this analysis, I’ve consider 4 regular season games, but I only include pass attempts for Foles in two games.
- at the Los Angeles Rams, when Carson Wentz played most of the game but then hurt his knee
- Dallas, the week 17 game in which Philadelphia had nothing to play for, and Foles didn’t play the entire game
I’ve included the two playoff games as well. With Nick Foles, Philadelphia’s pass defense ranks 22nd in adjusted yards per attempt. They rank 9th with full season numbers.
I don’t like to make conclusions from 6 games of passing data. However, a rank of 22nd does suggest the Minnesota performance was an outlier.
New England’s pass defense
You might also object to the comparison of Philadelphia with Carolina because of the defense faced in the Super Bowl.
Carolina faced an elite Denver pass defense that ranked first in my adjusted yards per attempt. In contrast, Philadelphia goes against a New England’s pass defense ranks 19th this season by the same metric.
However, one number doesn’t tell the full story of New England’s pass defense. This unit came into the season with high expectations, as they cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a big free agent contract this off season.
Then the unit struggled the first half of the season. Gilmore got benched in a game, then suffered a concussion that caused him to miss a few games.
Gilmore returned against Denver in New England’s ninth game. I’ve isolated New England’s defense the second half of the season starting with this game. In addition, I removed the Jets game since they started back up QB Bryce Petty.
Since Gilmore’s return, New England’s pass defense ranks 6th by my adjusted yards per attempt. They’re not Denver from two seasons ago, but this suggests improvement the latter part of the season.
Philadelphia’s offensive line
I’ve heard multiple mentions about the strength of Philadelphia’s offensive line. This surprised me as they lost Jason Peters, one of the best left tackles in football, to injury.
To see how this might affect the game, I look at the sack rate allowed by Philadelphia’s offensive line and adjust for the pass rushes faced. This adjustment is similar to the pass numbers mentioned in this article.
For the season, Philadelphia’s offensive line ranks 14th in adjusted sack rate allowed, about NFL average. When I remove the first 7 games of the season in which Peters played, Philadelphia’s pass protection actually moves up to 6th.
So are the Eagles better without Jason Peters? Probably not.
According to Pro Football Focus, Peters allowed 7 pressures in 7 games before the injury. His replacement Halapoulivaati Vaitai has allowed 7 sacks and 30 pressures in 11 games. The pass protection without Peters has excelled due to the other four linemen.
Since Vaitai has allowed 7 of the 19 sacks in the games he has played, look for New England to attack him in pressuring Nick Foles.
During the NFC Championship game in which Philadelphia crushed Minnesota, I thought the Eagles should be a 7 point underdog against New England. The Eagles should have been a home underdog in both playoff games with Foles, and I didn’t think two games should change that. Small sample size.
When making a prediction for this game, I rely on market data to evaluate Foles instead of Wentz. Philadelphia has played 5 games since the Wentz injury, but I don’t consider the meaningless week 17 game against Dallas.
Based on these 4 games for Philadelphia, my market rankings consider closing point spreads and adjust for schedule based on my methods. This model predicts New England to win by 6.8.