Doug Pederson has never lost a playoff game as a head coach. Of course, he has only coached in two such games, and is staring at the biggest game of his career on Sunday when his Philadelphia Eagles square off against the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.
In a way, Pederson has been here before. He was the No. 3 quarterback on a Green Bay Packers squad that beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. Of course, the Packers were led by a quarterback name Brett Favre, and Tom Brady was still just a backup quarterback on a Michigan team led by Brian Griese.
Pederson’s quarterback Sunday will be journeyman Nick Foles, who started only three games for the Eagles during the regular season after a knee injury ended the MVP-caliber year of Wentz.
Only two other quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era had fewer regular-season starts than Foles, and both of them wound up leading their teams to victories in the big game.
Doug Williams went 0-2 as a starter before leading the Redskins to the promised land in Super Bowl XXII, and Jeff Hostetler won his only start of the year before his New York Giants claimed the crown in Super Bowl XXII. Foles started three games for Philadelphia this year, and posted a record of 2-1.
The challenges facing this year’s Eagles team are even more daunting. Not only is Philadelphia squaring off against probably the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, it is charged with stopping who many consider to be the best tight end of all time in Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski recorded 69 receptions for a league-leading 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns this season. In addition, Gronkowski is the postseason leader in targets (96) and receiving yards (856) by a tight end. Only Shannon Sharpe has more playoff receptions (62) than Gronkowski’s 59.
Gronk’s 10 postseason touchdowns puts him in exclusive company, as well. Only Jerry Rice, with 22, and John Stallworth, with 12, have more.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins, the two-time Pro Bowler out of Ohio State, already owns a Super Bowl ring as a member of the New Orleans Saints’ team that beat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. He will probably draw the unenviable task of covering Gronk on Sunday, and the winner of that matchup will probably go a long way toward determining the outcome of the game.
Of course, Philadelphia has a top tight end of its own in Zach Ertz, who made his first Pro Bowl this year. Ertz actually had more receptions than Gronkowski this season with 74, and also scored eight touchdowns.
The stage is set, and the countdown is on.
How to watch Super Bowl LII
Date: Sunday, February 4, 2018
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Location: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota
TV Channels: NBC
SB Nation Coverage: Bleeding Green Nation and Pats Pulpit
Online Streaming: NBC Sports will be streaming the game on NBCSportsLive, international viewers can use NFL Game Pass.
Radio: KFAN Sports Radio 100.3 Live Online Radio Stream. Westwood One Sports will air the game across the country. Kevin Harlan (play-by-play) and Boomer Esiason (analyst) will call the action and Mike Holmgren, Tony Boselli and Ed Werder will host pregame and halftime shows.
Announcers: Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (color analyst) and Michelle Tafoya (sideline reporter).
Odds: Patriots: -4.5; over/under: 48.5 (Bovada)