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Monday, 21 January, 2019

Philadelphia Eagles look sure to put up a good fight

New England may not have Super Bowl all their own way

Philadelphia stunned home side Minnesota in the NFC Championship game
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BBC1 & Sky Sports Main Event, 11.30pm Sunday

No sporting occasion has a more difficult task trying to live up to its hype than the Super Bowl but Sunday's tussle in Minnesota could be a cracker.

Repeating the drama of last season's NFL finale in Houston will be almost impossible, though.

As sporting comebacks go, New England's recovery from a 28-3 deficit against Atlanta to claim an overtime victory will take some beating and the Patriots, who return to the showpiece this year to face Philadelphia, will be mindful that the watching public will anticipate a performance of a similar magnitude.

The Patriots are undoubtedly capable of claiming a sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only team to go through a campaign unbeaten, and while the Patriots have lost three games this year little has gone wrong for them since their shock home defeat to Kansas City on the opening night.

Last year, they had Tom Brady's early four-match ban to contend with and a serious injury to star tight end Rob Gronkowski, but there have been no such issues this year since wide receiver Julian Edelman was ruled out for the campaign in pre-season.

Their passage to Minnesota has been mainly comfortable and even though they trailed to Jacksonville by ten points in the final quarter of AFC Championship game, their supporters will have remained confident that they would get over the line.

Brady is the master of such Roy-of-the-Rovers style antics.

The 40-year-old, who forms half of the greatest head coach-quarterback pairing in the game's history with Bill Belichick, is coolness personified in such situations.

And it would be no surprise to see him directing a familiar winning drive early on Monday morning.

But while many might feel such an outcome is inevitable, the key is whether the Eagles can do enough to keep it close and the handicap line looks quite generous.

Philadelphia, who have contested two Super Bowls without success, have questions to answer, mainly concerning quarterback Nick Foles.

The Eagles were led by the dynamic Carson Wentz for much of the campaign but a serious knee injury brought his season to a crashing halt in Week 15. Their progress has not been as serene as New England's even though their points for and against columns are remarkably similar.

But Philadelphia did not fade and their playoff performances finally saw thier dominant defence getting the credit they deserved for their displays throughout the campaign when the spotlight had previously been on Wentz.

Foles has been solid enough and has plenty of action under his belt even though this is his first post-season campaign. And the motivation that a great performance could earn him a starting job at another franchise next season should not be ignored either.

The potential is there for the occasion to get the better of him, but he could grow into the game if he has a solid start, something which two excellent running backs, former Patriot LeGarrette Blount and London-born Jay Ajayi, can help him with against an indifferent rushing defence.

And on the other side of the ball, the Eagles have a defensive line who can get into Brady's face and make it an uncomfortable night for the quarterback.

That battle looks set to be key to the outcome of the game and the Eagles will know they will not be able to switch off at any time having seen what happened to the Falcons last year.

But that 34-28 success was the only time the Patriots have won one of their five Super Bowls by a margin of more than four points - and they needed overtime to do it.

It may not be quite as dramatic, but there is potential for the Eagles to at least keep the match close and with underdogs having covered the handicap in all but one of this season's ten playoff matches, the team from the city that produced Rocky Balboa can at least put up a good fight.

Philadelphia +5
2pts 20-23 Ladbrokes

The lowdown
Venue US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Surface Artificial
Weather Indoors
Vegas handicap Philadelphia +4.5
Vegas points line 48.5

Probable line-ups

Philadelphia offence
LT H Vaitai 72 LG S Wisniewski 61 C J Kelce 62, RG B Brooks 79, RT L Johnson 65, TE Z Ertz 86, WR A Jeffery 17, N Agholor 13, T Smith 82, QB N Foles 9, RB L Blount 29

Philadelphia defence
DE V Curry 75, B Graham 55, DT T Jernigan 93, F Cox 91, LB M Kendricks 95, D Ellerbe 57, N Bradham 53, CB J Mills 31, R Darby 41, S R McLeod 23, M Jenkins 27

Philadelphia special teams
K J Elliott 4, P D Jones 8, PR & KR K Barner 38

New England offence
LT N Solder 77, LG J Thuney 62, C D Andrews 60, RG S Mason 69, RT M Cannon 61, TE R Gronkowski 87, WR B Cooks 14, D Amendola 80, C Hogan 15, QB T Brady 12, RB D Lewis 33

New England defence
DE E Lee 55, T Flowers 98, DT L Guy 93, M Brown 90, LB K Van Noy 53, E Roberts 52, D Harris 45, CB M Butler 21, S Gilmore 24, S D McCourty 32, P Chung 23

New England special teams
K S Gostkowski 3, P R Allen 6, PR D Amendola 80, KR D Lewis 33

Team news

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is fit after missing practice on Wednesday through illness. The Eagles have no other injury concerns.

New England
Star tight end Rob Gronkowski has left the concussion protocol and is available to play. Cornerback Malcolm Butler has recovered from illness.

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The key is whether the Eagles can do enough to keep it close and the handicap line looks quite generous
E.W. Terms
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