02 February, 2018

The Monday Morning Quarterback

Historic Trends and Super Bowl LII: A Big Game Preview


February 2, 2018
By Peter Solari, Editor in Chief


The weekend is finally upon us, and we're just mere hours from Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. That means it's time for The Monday Morning Quarterback's Big Game preview, 2018! 

Unlike most of the Super Bowl previews you'll see, hear, or read, we won't be analyzing the two teams, or breaking down the x's and o's so much. Instead, we'll be examining the history of the Super Bowl, and what it can tell us about Sunday's showdown. More specifically, we'll investigate some historical trends, and what they could potentially mean for this year's Patriots and Eagles. 

Admittedly, this task becomes more difficult every time Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots make an appearance in the Big Game. Let's be honest, when it comes to Super Bowl history, these guys are it! 

Last year, I wrote a piece, and did a show, on how important championships are to a player's legacy, and why Brady's then-four Super Bowl rings, and then-seven Super Bowl appearances, make him the greatest quarterback of all time. A year later, Brady has added a record-fifth ring, and is about to make another-record-eighth Super Sunday start (John is Elway is second with five starts, and five other QBs have 4 under their belts). And by the end of Sunday's game, he could potentially break his own record, and add an unprecedented sixth ring to his collection. At this point, there's really no argument to be made. Brady is the GOAT! And while I focus mostly on quarterbacks, the same can be said about Belichick too, when discussing the greatest coaches in football history.

While the Patriots have become the gold standard in football, there are thankfully a handful of comparisons to be made with teams from the past, so we'll start there. Here's a look at what history can tell us about the 2017 New England Patriots and Super Bowl LII:

New England Patriots (15-3), AFC Champions

On Sunday, the Patriots will break their own record and appear in their league-leading tenth (not a misprint) Super Bowl! This, in-and-of-itself, is amazing. While millennials have and will grow up believing the Patriots are some sort of evil empire like the New York Yankees, those of us from the 20th century likely remember a sort of fledgling franchise that rarely, if ever, struck fear in the hearts of opponents. 

As a franchise, the Patriots have been around for the entire Super Bowl era, but until the turn of the century, they didn't do much damage. Sure, they had some good seasons, and were even underdogs in two Super Bowls, both of which they got worked over in. But it wasn't until 2000, when Belichick resigned as head coach of the Jets, just one day into his tenure as Bill Parcells' successor,  and took the job in Foxborough. Everything came together early in the following season (2001). It was originally scheduled as week 3, but became week 2 after the NFL rescheduled the September 16th and 17th games, in the wake of the September 11th attacks on America.

In what was the first game played by any teams since the attacks on our country, the Jets led the Patriots 10-3 in the 4th quarter of a boring game on September 23rd. That's when Jets linebacker Mo Lewis crushed Pats quarterback Drew Bledsoe near the sideline, causing Bledsoe's chest to fill with blood. Little-known backup Tom Brady finished the game (and the season) for New England, and just like that, history was forever changed. In fact, the Patriots have been on a roll like we've never seen, ever since!

As previously stated, the unprecedented success of the Patriots since 2001, makes comparing them to history, that much harder. Thankfully, there are a few categories that New England falls into, and we're going to start with the one that is the biggest stretch. In all honesty, it really isn't fair to lump Brady into this category, because he has surpassed what the others here have accomplished. However, with Brady being in a class of his own, we had to start somewhere, so here's a look at quarterbacks who have appeared in at least four Super Bowls, and how they performed from their four appearances on. 

Tom Brady is one of only seven quarterbacks to start at least four Super Bowls. He joins Denver's John Elway (5), as well as Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw, Dallas' Roger Staubach, San Francisco's Joe Montana, Buffalo's Jim Kelly, and Indianapolis'/Denver's Peyton Manning, all of whom have started four Super Bowls. Quarterbacks who have previously started at least three Super Bowls, are a combined 7-5 in subsequent Super Bowls. Again, it's really unfair to put Brady on the same level as guys who only started four Super Bowls, but it's the best we can do in this area, and perhaps it's something that Pats fans can hang their hats on come Sunday. 

Now we'll look at how teams have performed in back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in the past.

On Sunday, the Patriots will become the 20th team in history to appear in back-to-back Super Bowls. This includes the Patriots' previous consecutive appearances in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXIX, as well as three back-to-back appearances by the Cowboys (V, VI, XII, XIII, XXVII, XXVIII) and Bills (XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII) respectively, and two back-to-back appearances by the Packers (I, II, XXXI, XXXII), Dolphins (VI, VII, VIII), Steelers (IX, X, XII, XIV), and Broncos (XXI, XXII, XXXII, XXXIII) respectively. 

(NOTE: For the purpose of this story, we will not treat three-peats and four-peats as such, and will instead treat them as separate consecutive appearances. For example: instead of analyzing the Buffalo Bills as a team that appeared in four straight Super Bowls, we will treat them as a team that made three separate back-to-back appearances [XXV & XXVI, XXVI & XXVII, XXVII & XXVIII]. We will do the same for the Dolphins teams that appeared in three consecutive Super Bowls between 1971 and 1973 [V & VI, VI & VII]).

It may come as a surprise, but teams making their second consecutive Super Bowl appearances haven't held much of an advantage over their typically less experienced opponents (NOTE: Super Bowl XXVIII was a re-match of Super Bowl XXVII, with the Cowboys and Bills both making consecutive appearances. Dallas won both of those games). In fact, teams making consecutive appearances in the Big Game, are just a combined 10-9 in their second chances. Overall, consecutive Super Bowl appearances are becoming more rare. No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since Tom Brady led his Patriots to victories in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX, and only one franchise has even had the opportunity to repeat as champions, the Seattle Seahawks, who won Super Bowl XLVIII, but lost the following year in Super Bowl XLIX. This is good news for Eagles fans, because even though the Patriots will enter this game as the odds-on-favorite to win the game, history has shown that Philadelphia has nearly as much of a chance to come out on top, as New England does.

Finally, we will examine the rare-air that is franchises who have won at least Super Bowls, and are attempting to claim a sixth.

The Patriots' five Super Bowl titles rank second all-time. The Steelers lead the way with six, while the 49ers, Cowboys, and aforementioned Patriots have won five each. Since winning their fifth championship in Super Bowl XXX, the Cowboys have yet to return to the Big Game. This means that New England will become just the third team in history to enter the Super Bowl with five previous titles, and attempt to win a sixth. The previous two five-time Super Bowl champions are only a combined 1-1 in their attempts to win a sixth championship. The Steelers knocked off the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII to win their sixth title, while the 49ers fell short of hoisting another Lombardi, when Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens them in Super Bowl XLVII.

If we take it a step further, and Super Bowl teams with at-least five Big Game wins under their belts, the numbers become even more favorable to the Eagles. Those teams are just a combined 1-2 in subsequent Super Bowls. This is due to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers defeating the six-time champion Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

So what does all of this mean come Sunday? Absolutely nothing! That's why the two teams will line up across from each other in the Twin Cities. And in all honesty, if you're a Patriots fan, you've seen more than enough recent history to make you feel good about their chances on Sunday. However, history has shown that, at the very least, the Eagles have a shot in this game, and if you're a Philly fan, what more could you ask for?

Now let's take a look at the Philadelphia Eagles, and see what history tells us about their chances in Super Bowl LII.

Philadelphia Eagles (15-3), NFC Champions


This is the third straight year I've written this Super Bowl previw for The Monday Morning Quarterback, and for the third straight year, it features a franchise that has never won a Super Bowl, and quarterback/coach who will make their Super Bowl debuts. And as an added bonus, this year includes a starting QB, who began the season as a backup. 

It should come as no surprise that teams like this year's Eagles, last year's Atlanta Falcons, and 2015's Carolina Panthers, provide much more intriguing story lines for the Big Game, if for no other reason than having an opportunity to compare them with like-teams from the past. I'll show you exactly what I mean as we examine the franchises who came up short in their first two Super Bowl appearances, and how they performed from there on. 

The Eagles are one of only eight franchises to lose in their first two Super Bowl appearances. Of those eight franchises, only two have ever gone on to hoist the Lombardi trophy, the Patriots and Broncos. Overall, the eight franchises that started 0-2 in the Super Bowl are only a combined 8-9 in subsequent Super Bowls (this includes Brady's five wins with the Patriots) and a composite 8-23 in Super Bowls overall. Making matters worse for Philadelphia, a loss on Sunday wouldn't appear to bode well for their future, either.

If New England win Super Bowl LII, the Eagles will become just the fourth franchise in history, to lose in their first three Big Game appearances (Vikings, Broncos, Bills), and only one of them has gone on to ever win the Super Bowl (Denver). In fact, the three teams to start 0-3 in Super Bowls, have a composite record of 3-13 on Super Sunday, and are just 3-4 in composite Big Game appearances. The good news if you're a Philly fan? The other three franchises to start 0-3 in Super Bowls, have all made return trips to the Big Game.

Now let's see how first-time coaches and quarterbacks have performed in their Super Bowl debuts. For this, we'll start with Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

On Sunday, second-year coach Pederson will line up across the field from a man who has more experience than anyone in Belichick. In doing so, Pederson will become the 54th man to ever coach in the Super Bowl. The previous 53 have a very even record of 26-27 in their Big Game debuts, but that isn't the story here. The real story is what happened to the guys who won on their first try, and what happened to those who lost. 

Of the 26 coaches who won their Super Bowl debuts, 14 have made (a) return trip(s) to the Big Game and have composite record of 18-8 in their return trips. Meanwhile, only nine of the 27 coaches to lose their first Super Bowl, have since returned, and they have a collective record of 7-17 on Super Sunda, so a lot could be on the line for Pederson come Sunday. And it isn't just the coaches. The career of first-time quarterback Nick Foles could be on the line too!

Barring any setbacks, Foles will become the 60th quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl this Sunday. Like their coaching counterparts, first-time quarterbacks have an evenly combined record of 29-30. But once again, it's what happened to those guys later in their careers, that's most intriguing. 

24 of the 30 quarterbacks who lost their Super Bowl debuts, have not returned to the Big Game, and the six who did, are just a combined 4-9 in the Big Game, so Sunday's result could tell us a lot about Foles' future. And this isn't even the most compelling story surrounding Foles this week.

As most of you already know, Foles began the 2017 season as the backup to second-year phenom Carson Wentz. Wentz was well on his way to being named league MVP before tearing his ACL, and abruptly ending his season in week 14. Most people believed this was the end of the road for the Eagles. Even as the NFC's #1 seed, Philadelphia found themselves playing the "underdog"role in two home playoff games. There weren't many people expecting Foles to pick up where Wentz left off, and carry the load, but that's exactly what he's done. And if history has taught us anything, it's that he's got a damn-good chance to finish the job on Sunday. 

As Jason B from Sports on Earth explains, Foles will become just the sixth quarterback in history to start the season as a backup, and lead his team into the Big Game. What's even more staggering is that the other six have a record of 4-2 in those games!

Craig Morton (Dallas, Super Bowl V), Vince Ferragamo (LA Rams, Super Bowl XIV), Doug Williams (Washington, Super Bowl XXII), Jeff Hostetler (NY Giants, Super Bowl XXV), Trent Dilfer (BAL Ravens, Super Bowl XXXV), and Tom Brady (New England, Super Bowl XXXVI) all began their teams' Super Bowl seasons as backup quarterbacks, before lining up under center on Super Sunday. Williams, Hostetler, Dilfer, and Brady were all victorious in those games, while Morton and Ferragamo fell short. But that's not all!

When examining the case of Morton and the Cowboys, it's important to note that head coach Tom Landry alternated between Morton and Roger Staubach throughout the 1970 season. Though Staubach started in week 1, Morton started 11 games for Dallas that year, and can't be considered a backup in the traditional sense.

If, for the above stated reason, we remove Morton from this analysis, then backup quarterbacks are a very impressive 4-1 in the Super Bowl, giving Eagles fans enough reasons to be optimistic this Sunday.


So what does all this history tell us about Super Bowl LII? Absolutely nothing! As we all know by now, anyone can win on any given Sunday. But it's fun to put the sport's premiere event, into a historical context. And if you're a tortured Eagles fan, or just a football fan in general, who is tired of the Patriots' domination, hopefully this put a smile on your face, and gave you some reasons to be optimistic. But make no mistake: Super Bowl LII is a toss-up.

One consistency in the Brady/Belichick Patriots' previous seven Super Bowl appearances, have been close games. For all of their success, the Patriots have never had it easy in the Big Game, and I don't expect that to change. Super Bowl LII will likely be close throughout, and anybody's game come the fourth quarter. For that, football fans everywhere should be excited.

Enjoy the Super Bowl, everyone, and stay safe out there!

The Monday Morning Quarterback

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