Super Bowl 52
The first thing that should be said about Super Bowl 52 and Philadelphia's
thrilling 41-33 win over New England is it was no fluke. The win capped as
consistent a season as any NFL team has put together in some time.
HC Doug Pederson's team lost only 2 games all year when it played to win (the
Week 17 loss to Dallas was closer to a preseason game than a regular season
game). In both losses, the Eagles were -2 TO. In every other game, Philadelphia
won the design battle or the turnover battle or both. That's as good as it gets
in the NFL.
From Week 4 through Week 12, the Eagles play design differential consitently
impoved from -2.09% to +5.36% (No. 2 in the NFL) as QB Carson Wentz emerged as
the most dangeros playmaker in the NFL. Then, after Wentz was injured and lost
for the season in Week 14, Philadelphia regrouped and regained its form for the
playoffs under backup QB Nick Foles, who played splendidly throughout Super
But although the Eagles went up-and-down the field against the Patriots
defense, Philadelphia did not win either the design battle or the turnover
battle. A team that does not win the design battle or the turnover battle has
about a 5% chance of winning. But the Eagles, their fans, and their betting
backers could care less.
Eagles DC Jim Schwartz had no clue how to slow down, much less stop, Tom Brady.
In eight Super Bowls, this was only the second time Bill Belichick and Brady
won the design battle. The other was in their 24-21 win over the Eagles in
Super Bowl 39. Brady's effort should have been enough.
It might have been if NFL HQ had not suddenly figured out what a completed NFL
pass looks like. On two of the Eagles' TDs, an activist appellate court could
have overturned the scores. To QC, there is no way to distinguish Philadelphia
TE Zach Ertz's encounter with the ground on the winning TD pass from Pittsburgh
TE Jesse James' encounter with the ground in the Steelers regular season game
with the Patriots.
Nevertheless, the NFL finally got its review right and hopefully it will spark
a new era of instant replay judicial restraint, which will end needlessly
arbitrary reversals that so often marred the regular season.
By butting out, the NFL left us with nothing but a fantastic game. And we will
take that everytime.
In the first 35 Super Bowls, the better designed team lost only
twice. (Cincinnati to San Francisco, 26-21, in Super Bowl 16 and
Green Bay to Denver, 31-24, in Super Bowl 32.)
But since Belichick moved to the AFC and upset the Rams in Super Bowl 36, the
team that wins the Super Bowl design battle is just 9-8 and has lost the last 4
games and 5 of the last 6 games.
In the prior era, one team or another, usually the NFC (Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs,
Belichick/Bill Parcells) after Chuck Noll's dynasty came to an end, enjoyed a
dominant play design edge over its opponent.
But that is no longer the case. Today, play design knowledge has diffused so
thoroughly throughout the NFL that by the time the Darwinian postseason
tournament has reduced the remaining competitors to one AFC team and one NFC
team, neither enjoys any meaningful design edge. As a result, the Super Bowl is
usually determined by a critical play or two, like Pederson's
"Philadelphia Special" 4DN play that produced a TD pass from backup
TE Trey Burton to Foles.
The Super Bowl itself is now deep in a Golden Age in which anything truly can