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Daily Helmsman sports staff discusses Super Bowl picks

<p>Stephen Gostowski gets set to kick off. The former Tiger and current Patriots kicker will face off against fellow Memphis alum Jake Elliot in Super Bowl 52</p>
Stephen Gostowski gets set to kick off. The former Tiger and current Patriots kicker will face off against fellow Memphis alum Jake Elliot in Super Bowl 52

With Super Bowl 52 between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles quickly approaching Feb. 3, the 2017 NFL season is officially coming to a close. The Daily Helmsman sports staff of editor Jeremiah Graham and reporters Abigail Warren, Caleb Hilliard and Patrick Graziosi gathered to make predictions and discuss big storylines heading into the big game.

Who will win the Super Bowl, and what will be the final score?

Abigail Warren: I’ve got the Patriots winning, unfortunately. I think it will be a close game — 34-31.

Caleb Hilliard: The Eagles will be Super Bowl champions. I’ve got them winning by a final score of 31-20.

Jeremiah Graham: I’m rooting for Philly, but I don’t trust Nick Foles. I’ve got the Pats winning a close one. I think the score will be 27-20. 

Patrick Graziosi: Philadelphia Eagles 26, New England Patriots 20. The Eagles will avenge their Spygate-fueled 24-21 Super Bowl XXXIX loss and bring their first Lombardi Trophy back to the City of Brotherly Love. Being a life-long Eagles fan may or may not have swayed my prediction.

Who will be Super Bowl MVP?

Abigail Warren: Tom Brady will win it because, well, he’s Tom Brady. He carried this team, and they didn’t get here without him.

Caleb Hilliard: I believe Malcolm Jenkins will be the MVP. Jenkins has been waiting for this his whole career, and he is ready to get the better of Tom Brady when it matters most.

Jeremiah Graham: Brady is the obvious choice for the Pats, but I think Dion Lewis is set for a big game. He came on strong the latter half of the year, and he could be a matchup problem for the Eagles linebacking core—especially out of the backfield. 

Patrick Graziosi: When you have three Pro Bowls (2015-2017) and a 2017 First-Team All-Pro selection under your belt, it’s hard to be underrated, but this is the case with Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. The game-wrecking interior force will be in the Patriots backfield all night, garnering him the respect he deserves with a Super Bowl MVP award.

What needs to happen for the Patriots or the Eagles to win?

Abigail Warren: For the Eagles to win, their defense has to play a flawless game and force turnovers. The key for New England is they can’t settle for field goals. They have to convert in the redzone.

Caleb Hilliard: The Patriots will need to stop the Eagles’ high-powered, downhill run game. If the defense can limit the run game and dictate the way Nick Foles plays, then Brady will receive his sixth ring. The Eagles need to rush Brady every chance they get. They need to replicate the defense the Falcons played in the first half of last year’s Super Bowl. 

Jeremiah Graham: To piggyback off of Caleb’s point, the key for an Eagles upset will be if they rush the passer. Every team that has given Brady trouble in the postseason, whether it was Denver in 2015 or the Giants in the two Super Bowls, went after Brady early and often. Brandon Graham and Chris Long will have to be special. For New England to win, it’s simple, protect number 12. If he gets a clean pocket, a sixth Lombardi trophy will come the Pats’ way.

Patrick Graziosi: In order for the Patriots to win, they’ll need to neutralize the Eagles’ No. 1 rated pass rushing defensive line, according to Pro Football Focus. The Eagles are susceptible to misdirection plays and occasional breakdowns on double-moves against gambling cornerback Ronald Darby. Patriots running back Dion Lewis and wide receiver Brandin Cooks could pose problems against an overly aggressive Eagles defense.

For the Eagles to win, they will need their defensive front four to pressure Patriot quarterback Tom Brady on a consistent basis. If the Eagles defensive line can get to Brady quickly, it will impede the Patriot receivers from gaining separation against the Eagles secondary.

What are the biggest storylines heading into the game?

Abigail Warren: One is Nick Foles leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl after almost retiring three years ago. Also, Jake Elliot squaring off against his mentor and fellow Memphis alumnus Stephen Gostkowski will be a big story, too.

Caleb Hilliard: For me, it’s whether or not Nick Foles can handle the pressure of starting in a Super Bowl when he has been on the bench for nearly the entirety of the season. Also, can Brady still bring the magic one last time and secure his spot as the greatest of all time? 

Jeremiah Graham: The battle of the Memphis kickers will be an interesting story to follow. As far as other stories, I already feel as if Brady is the best quarterback to have ever played. If he wins a sixth title, does he vault Jerry Rice, Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor as the best football player, regardless of position, to have ever played?

Patrick Graziosi: The two biggest storylines have to be Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and the drama surrounding Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Foles went from throwing an NFL game-record seven touchdown passes and producing arguably the most efficient quarterbacking season in league history in 2013 to mulling retirement in 2016. Also, recent rumors of Brady undermining Belichick by going to team owner Robert Kraft and urging the organization to trade former backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo have caused a firestorm.

Will the Brady and Belichick era end after this season?

Abigail Warren: No, I think they will stick together for one more year, at least. Whenever Brady goes, Belichick will join him.

Caleb Hilliard: I think their run will come to a conclusion at the end of the season. The duo built a dynasty of the likes that we may never see again, but their reign comes to a close in 2018.  

Jeremiah Graham: Like Brady said, “Why stop taking the test when you have all the answers?” Ever since that blowout loss to the Chiefs back in the 2014 season, he’s played better than he ever has before, in my opinion. I think he could play another two seasons, honestly.

Patrick Graziosi: Win or lose, this will not be the last of the Brady-Belichick era. Brady intends to play at least another couple seasons, and Belichick’s only other reasonable escape plan, the New York Giants, is no longer vacant. The team will put aside whatever differences that exist and be strong for as long as Brady is playing at a high level.

Patrick, as a life-long Eagles fan, what do you think a championship would mean to the city of Philadelphia?

Patrick Graziosi: An Eagles victory would mean everything to the city. They’ve always possessed a bit of a chip on their shoulder, dating back to the 1790s. At the time, Philadelphia served as the temporary national capital of the United States until Washington D.C. took over years later. If the Eagles defeat the Patriots on Sunday, all will be forgiven.

Stephen Gostowski gets set to kick off. The former Tiger and current Patriots kicker will face off against fellow Memphis alum Jake Elliot in Super Bowl 52

Jake Elliott kicks off against Kansas. The former Tiger and current Philadelphia Eagles kicker will square off against fellow Memphis alum and current New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski in Super Bowl 52

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