Good morning, Eagles fans. This is the first Super Bowl-week edition of Early Birds. The Eagles arrived in Minneapolis on Sunday. So did I, along with many of my colleagues from the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. We'll have coverage for you throughout the week.
The big event on Monday will be "Super Bowl Opening Night," otherwise known as media day. It's going to be late — the Patriots at 8:10 p.m. and the Eagles at 10 p.m. — but that's when all the players, coaches, and some team executives will be available to reporters for an hour in a made-for-TV event that's become as well known for some outrageous questions and costumes as for the insight from the teams. (You'll get more of the latter later in the week.)
— Zach Berman
Super Bowl week can be a circus for the teams, but there is still work to be done. The Eagles will practice at the University of Minnesota's facility this week. The Patriots will practice at the Minnesota Vikings' facility. Although the Eagles are used to the NovaCare Complex, they'll likely be impressed by where the Golden Gophers practice. The university just built a $166 million athletic village, which includes a full-length indoor field. That's better than the Eagles' facility in Philadelphia, which is only 80 yards — including the end zones.
Both teams are staying at hotels attached to the Mall of America. After Monday night's festivities, the teams have media obligations from Tuesday to Thursday. By Friday, they're finished with the wide-scale obligations of the week and will put the finishing touches on their preparations.
Carson Wentz spoke to reporters for the first time since his Dec. 10 injury, and the big takeaway was his confidence in returning by Week 1. He wasn't firm on a timetable because it's fluid, but once the Super Bowl concludes, that becomes the big story of the Eagles' offseason. It could affect their plans at quarterback — do they try to trade Nick Foles? — and the timing will factor into what the Eagles do in training camp and the preseason. He'll need practice time, so it'll be intriguing to see how the Eagles split practice reps in training camp if he's still easing his way back. Wentz also revealed that he tore the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee in addition to the anterior cruciate ligament, but he indicated that should not affect his recovery time.
"Every time the offense runs out on the field on Sundays, it's tough. It hits me a little bit," Wentz said. "But then I'm in it because I love these guys, and I'm a part of this team just as much as anybody else. I get involved in the game, and then it all kind of goes away."
In the NFC championship game, the Eagles went away from their base defense after the first drive. Dannell Ellerbe wasn't active, so Najee Goode filled that role. He didn't impress on the first series, so I wondered whether that was the reason the Eagles stuck to mostly nickel and dime thereafter. Jim Schwartz said it was based on matchups and the personnel groupings the Vikings used — especially at running back, where the Vikings relied on the pass-catching ability of Jerick McKinnon as opposed to the running of Latavius Murray.
"Personnel matchups are something that's a little different for every game," Schwartz said. "It goes into not just what personnel is in the game, but also the down and distance. There are some times where we match big personnel with an extra backer, and there are some times we stay base. There have been times [against] big personnels that we've been nickelled because it's been third down."
My guess is you see mostly nickel and dime for the Eagles against the Patriots — especially when you look at the Patriots' running backs. Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead are all dangerous catching the ball. Even with Ellerbe healthy for the Super Bowl, it would be not be a good matchup for the Eagles to have a middle linebacker caught covering one of them in the open field. The base formation without Jordan Hicks is best against obvious running situations. The passing situations show just how much they miss Hicks.
Good question. The big story of the game would obviously be Tom Brady vs. Carson Wentz — perhaps the best quarterback in NFL history against perhaps the best young quarterback in the NFL. If Wentz was healthy, those two would likely be the front-runners for the regular-season MVP. (One could argue Wentz should still be a bona fide candidate.) My guess is Wentz would be the Super Bowl darling, especially with the game in Minnesota just a few hours from North Dakota, where he grew up and went to college.
How much would it shift the betting line? I'd still guess the Patriots would be favored because of Brady and their Super Bowl history, but it would be closer. I'm far from an expert on setting point spreads, so it's hard for me make an educated guess. But I'd still guess the Patriots are favored. Here's the thing: If we play this hypothetical, what if the Patriots have back all their injured players and the Eagles have all their injured players? So the Patriots get Julian Edelman, Marcus Cannon, and Dont'a Hightower. The Eagles get Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, and Darren Sproles, in addition to Wentz. Who's the favorite then? Who wins that game? The Patriots would likely still have a slight edge, but it would be compelling. And it would be a different game, too.