Who Will We See in the Super Bowl: Nick Foles or Nick Fails?

The Philadelphia Eagles can do it again.

Pull the upset.

They can beat the point spread and the New England Patriots.  We know this because we’ve already watched the Eagles take down two betting-line favorites, Atlanta and Minnesota, in the NFC playoffs. That’s why they’re crazed to do it one more time, in the 52nd Super Bowl.

Among several reasons that make a Philly win possible if not probable, I’ll zone in on one:

Pass defense.

Before I start in, let me point out that New England didn’t suffer as many burns through the air when the schedule offered several opponents that were lousy in the passing game.

But overall during the regular season the Patriots gave up a passer rating of 89.5 to opponents. That was topped during the AFC playoffs by Tennessee (92.4) and Jacksonville (96.2)

Only one Bill Belichick defense has allowed a higher passer rating (89.8) in a season, and that 2008 team missed the playoffs.

The Eagles can exploit the New England’s vulnerability. When aiming passes at the Patriots this season, offenses scored 3.3 more points per game than expected (adjusting for down, distance, and field position of each passing attempt.)

Belichick has brought only one defense into a Super Bowl that performed more poorly against the pass than this 2018 team that’s going for the sixth SB championship in franchise history: the 2011 Patriots who got upset by the NY Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. Giants quarterback Eli Manning damaged the Patriots for 296 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and a 103.7 passer rating.

The Eagles have to hope Nick Foles has another ace start in him … a repeat of the NFC Championship Game, when he demolished a top-ranked Vikings defense 352 yards passing, three touchdowns, and a 141.4 passer rating.  Keep in mind that Minnesota went into the NFC game having allowed a league-low opponent passer rating of 74.

Can Foles do it again Sunday? The Iggles need him to. In their wins this season (including playoffs) the Patriots yielded a passer rating of 83.2. But in their losses the Patriots were dart-boarded for a 130.6 passer rating.

Factually, Foles’ monster day in shredding the Vikings went in the books as one of the best postseason games by a quarterback in modern NFL history.  Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, 855 postseason games have been played. And what Foles did to the Vikings placed him at No. 16 on the list of 855 games for top passer rating.

For Foles this continued a pattern that’s part of a highly unusual career.

This dude can go from Nick Foles to Nick Fails in a matter of seconds.

I don’t know if I’ve seen a quarterback have as many extreme fluctuations between great and grotesque.

As Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus wrote, “For a quarterback who qualifies as a journeyman at this point, he’s had some of the highest-graded games we’ve ever awarded at the position. At the same time, he’s achieved some of the lowest as well.”

And that of course raises this question as we move a little closer to Super Bowl: will the Patriots defense see Awful Nick, or Awesome Nick? Will they see the Sainted Nick, or the Tainted Nick?

We were thoroughly confused by the Nick Foles experience in 2015 when he started 11 games for the St. Louis  Rams.

In three of the 11 starts, Foles had a passer rating above 100, and was especially money on his downfield throws against Seattle’s best-in-the-NFL defense in a season-opening win. After a couple of OK games, Foles had a 127 passer rating and three touchdown throws to lead the Rams to an upset win at Arizona.

A week after winning in Arizona,  Foles played horrifically in a lopsided loss at Greean Bay, completing only 11 of 30 passes with 4 interceptions and a passer rating of 23.8.

Even with one good game (at San Francisco) mixed in, Foles  put up a weak 67.8 passer rating with one touchdown and 5 interceptions in his final six games as Rams starter. By Week 14, Foles was benched and never started again for the Rams. Case Keenum moved in at starter.

Foles is improving and peaking under the brilliant guidance of Eagles coach Doug Pederson. After a couple of frightening late-season displays of how NOT to play quarterback — with a passer rating of 48 over two games — Foles has the best passer rating (122.1)  this postseason.

Remember Foles’ sensational year with Chip Kelly in Philly back in 2013? The stats were amazing: 68 percent completions, 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions, a passer rating of 119 … but along the way, Foles had one horrible start that  came out of nowhere, and it left everybody thinking  “What the hell was that?” 

There are many ways to analyze the Eagles-Patriots matchup. But consistent quarterback play ranks high on the list of priorities for both sides.

In 251 career regular-season starts, New England’s Tom Brady had a passer rating under 50 in a game only 5 times.

In only 39 career reg-season starts, Foles has had 7 games with a passer rating under 50.

Yep, that’s right: Foles has had more stink-bomb games than Brady — despite playing in 212 fewer games than Brady.

In the number of career games with a passer rating under 70,  Foles has done that in 28 percent of his starts — double the rate of Brady’s 14 percent.

Foles, the backup QB, is emerging as a  “Rocky” type hero to Philly fans.

The Patriots hope to turn him into a Rockhead.

It’s Nick Foles, my friends. On any given Sunday, you don’t know where the ball will go when it flies out of his hand. But if Foles is great  this  coming Sunday, the Eagles will win the Super Bowl.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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