5 things to know about the Eagles, the Patriots’ dynamic Super Bowl opponent

Philadelphia Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery catches a touchdown pass during the first half of the NFC championship game.

On February 4 in Minneapolis, the New England Patriots will take on the Philadelphia Eagles with the Lombardi Trophy on the line. The matchup was set Sunday night when the Eagles knocked off the Minnesota Vikings, 38-7, in the NFC Championship, following the Patriots’ victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier in the day.

It’s not the first time the two teams have met on the NFL’s final Sunday. In 2004, the Patriots beat the Eagles, 24-21, in Super Bowl XXXIX to win their third Super Bowl in four years. New England is chasing the same feat again this year.

Here’s what you need to know about the team that stands in their way:

The Eagles’ season was supposed to be over when they lost Carson Wentz

Heading into week 14 of the regular season, the Eagles and their MVP candidate quarterback looked to be headed for a Super Bowl run. But when quarterback Carson Wentz tore his ACL, it seemed like Philadelphia’s title dreams hobbled off the field with him. In 13 games, Wentz had thrown for 33 touchdowns and 3,296 yards. He was one of the first names spoken in any MVP discussion before the injury, and even without playing in the final two games of the season Wentz was selected to the Pro Bowl. The Eagles had lost players (starting left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles) to season-ending injuries earlier in the year and continued winning, but replacing the 2016 second overall pick felt like one task too many. Philadelphia fans were familiar with the backup quarterback stepping into the fray, but familiarity with Nick Foles did not breed confidence. One headline after Wentz went down read ‘With Carson Wentz Out for the Season, Eagles’ Dreams Turn to Dread.’ Five games and four wins later, Foles has proven that there was no reason to dread as the Eagles’ Super Bowl dreams are very much alive. 

Nick Foles is a journeyman no more

It’s a story Patriots fans know well. Talented starting quarterback goes down with an injury, backup steps off the sideline and leads the team to the cusp of a championship. But this time, instead of an unknown rookie like Tom Brady in 2001, it’s a well-known commodity rising above his middling label to seize the opportunity. Nick Foles was drafted by the Eagles in the third round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Arizona. Foles played for three seasons in Philadelphia before the Eagles traded him to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for Sam Bradford. He played for the Rams for the 2015 season, before requesting a release after the team drafted quarterback Jared Goff with the first pick of that year’s draft. Then he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, backed up Alex Smith until the team decided not to pick up his second-year option, and finally landed back in Philadelphia after signing as a free agent. His is a long and winding route to Minneapolis, but Foles fully deserves to be there. He led the Eagles past the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round, then carved apart the league’s top defense for three touchdowns and 352 yards in a 38-7 win over the Vikings in the NFC Championship.

The Eagles have a dominant defensive front

Philadelphia’s defense was ranked fourth in the league in yards (306.5) and points (18.4) allowed during the regular season. Through two playoff games, they’ve given up 17 points total. The Eagles are led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, but they have depth across the defensive line. Against Minnesota, Philadelphia forced three turnovers, including a strip sack and a 50-yard Patrick Robinson pick six. The Vikings scored on their opening drive, but Robinson intercepted Case Keenum on Minnesota’s next possession and the Eagles made sure that first touchdown was the only score the Vikings would create all game. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, an economics major at Georgetown, is known for his use of analytics in preparing players for any possible situation. But the only number he’ll need to be concerned with on Feb. 4 is how many points Tom Brady puts up on the U.S. Bank Stadium scoreboard.

Head coach Doug Pederson climbed the ranks from high school football

Doug Pederson played for twelve years in the NFL as a quarterback and even won a Super Bowl ring when his Green Bay Packers defeated the Patriots in the 1996 finale. Pederson was the third-string quarterback on that team, but he’ll be the top man against New England this time around. After Pederson retired from his playing career, he was hired as the head coach of Calvary Baptist Academy, a Christian high school in Louisiana. He led the Cavaliers to the playoffs in all four of his years there, before moving back to the professional ranks. Pederson was hired by Andy Reid as an assistant in Philadelphia, then followed Reid to Kansas City where he served as the offensive coordinator. In 2016, Pederson was hired to replace Chip Kelly as the head coach of the Eagles. He drafted Wentz and led the Eagles to a 7-9 record last year in his opening campaign. This season, Pederson’s team finished 13-3 in the regular season on their way to the NFC East title and the NFC Championship.

The Eagles are embracing their underdog status

Oddsmakers set the top-seeded Eagles as underdogs in each of their playoff games so far, even though both matchups were on home turf. The Philadelphia players, and the city as a whole, did not let this fact escape them. After the win against Atlanta in the divisional round, Lane Johnson and Chris Long walked around the field sporting dog masks. (Long is one of two Eagles who won Super Bowl rings with New England last season, along with LeGarrette Blount.) Vegas established the Patriots as a six-point favorite in the Super Bowl, so the underdog spirit will continue. And so will the dog masks.