Eagles open as underdogs against Patriots in Super Bowl LII, but that may be good news

Eagles defensive end Chris Long wears an underdog mask while celebrating with teammates and owner Jeffrey Lurie during the trophy ceremony after the NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings.
(Tim Tai / Philadelphia Inquirer)

Football is a game of disguise.

In these parts, that means rubber dog masks.

The Philadelphia Eagles were home underdogs in their two playoff games this month, and oddsmakers are now favoring the New England Patriots by 5½ points in Super Bowl LII.

“Everybody in the league sort of envies the success to some extent, and rightfully so,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday of the Patriots, aiming to become the first team to win consecutive Super Bowls since the 2003-04 Patriots — who beat the Eagles in the second of those.


“They’ve been there, done that many times, and that’s something that every other team would love to have. It’s impressive, obviously, and it’s well-respected and well-documented. At the same time, we’re just going to prepare the same and try to block out all the noise.”

The odds news elicited a big shrug from the Eagles, who unwittingly started a trend after a divisional victory over Atlanta when Philadelphia’s Chris Long and Lane Johnson pulled on matching German Shepherd masks they had stashed on the sideline. Those masks promptly sold out online, and Johnson has raised more than $100,000 for Philadelphia schools with the sale of his “home dogs” T-shirts.

“People can do whatever they want; count us out, count us in,” Eagles running back Jay Ajayi said. “We’re playing in the Super Bowl. They’re going to have to sit back and watch us do that.”

The theme of the overlooked Eagles is likely to resonate throughout the week leading up to the Feb. 4 game. The Eagles are the biggest underdog since the Arizona Cardinals were seven-point underdogs to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII nine years ago, a game that went down to the wire with the Steelers winning 27-23.


Even Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie conceded after Sunday’s NFC championship game that the situation looked bleak on that flight home from Los Angeles in early December, when the team had lost quarterback Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury in a win over the Rams.

“You feel like you played a great game in L.A., you have the best record in football, and you lose your most valuable player, or maybe the league’s most valuable player,” Lurie said. “However, we made such a concerted effort to make sure we could get Nick [Foles] back on the team. Who knew it would come to this?”

Both the Eagles and Patriots lost cornerstone players this season. In addition to Wentz, Philadelphia lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, versatile running back/Pro Bowl returner Darren Sproles and playmaking middle linebacker Jordan Hicks. Atop the list of Patriots lost to injury were linebacker Dont’a Hightower and receiver Julian Edelman, both pivotal players in last year’s Super Bowl victory.

Neither team is bemoaning those losses, however. First, because it would do them no good. And also, look how far they have gotten, with those injuries being galvanizing events.


“The goal was never that we wanted to win the Super Bowl with X, Y and Z doing it,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “The goal was, we want to get it done by any means necessary.”

The biggest question surrounding the Patriots now concerns another injured player: When will tight end Rob Gronkowski be able to return? He was knocked out of Sunday’s victory over Jacksonville with a concussion, and is now in the league-imposed protocol, meaning he’ll have to pass a series of cognitive tests before he’s allowed to resume practicing. It’s not inconceivable that New England’s most colorful player could be kept out of the media spotlight in the days leading up to the game.

As for the Patriots’ most important player, quarterback Tom Brady, he’ll be front and center. Again.

“He’s definitely the greatest quarterback of all time,” Jenkins said of Brady, who will be starting in his eighth Super Bowl. “But that doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable. We’ve got a destination that we’re getting to, no matter who’s in front of us. We’ve got some place to go. We’re not worried about what’s in front of us; we’re going to run through whatever it is.”


For both the Eagles and Patriots, postgame Sunday was time to pull on newly-minted conference championship T-shirts and hats and celebrate. At times, the Patriots seem to be joyless robots, so it was interesting to see New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, head-coach-to-be of the Detroit Lions, doing snow angels in the confetti after the win.

Patricia explained on a conference call Monday that his young son had come to Gillette Stadium, and they were having some fun.

“He hasn’t really been to a lot of games,” the burly, bearded Patricia said. “He’s been to two. So that was kind of his second game and he wanted to go play in the field. So we played a good game of touch football. He beat me four-nothing so he kind of outran me there a little bit and made some good plays on me. I couldn’t catch him. Just fun to have him out there running around and just seeing the excitement that he had to be out on the field.”

Thirteen years ago, Brady led the Patriots to a 24-21 victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. That might as well have been a century ago for these young Philadelphia players.


The last time Philadelphia and New England played, in December 2015, the visiting Eagles roared back from a 14-0 deficit to win 35-28. Some of the current Eagles know these Patriots far better than others; Long and running back LeGarrette Blount won Super Bowl rings with New England last season.

“It’s a blessing,” Long, a former Rams defensive end, said of playing his former team. “I waited a decade to be in the playoffs, and I know we have a lot of guys who have never felt this feeling. Playing on this stage with this opportunity, I keep saying that there’s only a hundred dudes in the world playing football this time of year. At the end of the day, that’s something we are very lucky to be a part of.”

For Pederson, it’s all still sinking in.

“We’re going to the Super Bowl,” he said. “We’re going to the stinking Super Bowl.”


Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer