New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles: Last two Super Bowl winners meet on Sunday
Watch Patriots @ Eagles live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event from 9.25pm on Sunday
By James Simpson - @JS_Football
Last Updated: 17/11/19 9:25pm
The last time the Eagles and Patriots played each other, they combined for an NFL all-time high 1,151 total yards. Not just the most yards in any Super Bowl, but the most yards in any single game in history.
That game - Super Bowl LII - was one of the all-time classics. When Philadelphia (5-4) and New England (8-1) meet again on Sunday - live on Sky Sports Action at 9.25pm - can we expect another high-scoring affair?
What happened to the high-flying Eagles?
In that epic game in Minnesota, New England and Philly matched each other throughout the game, with a late Tom Brady fumble being the difference as both attacks could not be slowed down.
The same was the case throughout the regular season, too, as they both finished with exactly 28.6 points per game in 2017.
Philadelphia - led by Carson Wentz throughout most of the regular season and Nick Foles in the latter part and the postseason run - had the 13th-best passing attack, but were top three in rushing with 132.2 yards per game.
The blueprint was simple: score early, then 'ground and pound', forcing other teams to play catch-up and make mistakes.
Last season, with Wentz recovering and then getting re-injured, the team chopped and changed QBs all season, and it showed.
Their points per game dropped to 22.9, and while the passing yards went up (267.2 per game), their running game - the key to 2017 success - fell off considerably. They managed just 98.1 yards per game (fifth-lowest in the NFL) in the regular season. In the playoffs? An insanely low 45.5 average over two games.
A divisional-round exit ended their year, but despite the additions of DeSean Jackson, Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and a healthy return of the offensive line and Wentz, this offense has been underwhelming - possibly largely due to Jackson's Week Two injury that ultimately sent him to injured reserve.
They rank 19th in total yards per game (347.0), 21st in passing (219.7), 11th in rushing (127.3) and 13th in points (24.9). Quite simply, if they want to make a playoff run, they need to be better.
Jackson's absence as the team's deep threat has been crushing. In the 2017 run, Torrey Smith's ability to open up space meant more room underneath for Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and even Nelson Agholor, who enjoyed a career year.
In this year's opener, Jackson had 154 yards and two 50-plus-yard touchdowns, setting the blueprint for how the team wanted to operate - but without him, they haven't lived up to it.
Instead, they have had to adapt. The growth of running backs Howard - 42 carries for 178 yards and two TDs in the last two weeks) - and Sanders (641 yards from scrimmage are second-most in NFL) have this team looking a powerful, run-based group.
Perhaps Wentz does not need to perform to his 2017 MVP level. These Eagles aren't the same high-flying offense as they were in the last meeting, but after two straight wins and with a chance to seize the NFC East in their hands, they could be just as dangerous.
Can they prove they are still contenders?
Patriots never change
Unlike the Eagles, New England simply don't do drop-offs.
After they fell short to Philly - despite leading the league in yards per game in 2017 - the Patriots bounced back by posting a top-five offense in 2018 and, yet again, ending the season with a Super Bowl win, their sixth with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at the helm.
Into 2019, they continued their momentum, winning eight straight games before Lamar Jackson and the Ravens put an ended to the streak in Week Nine.
There has been no step back from their attack - Brady and company have scored the second-most points this season (30 per game). But the defense is where there is a drastic difference from the previous meeting between these two sides.
In 2017, the Pats allowed the fourth-most yards throughout the regular season (even though they allowed the fifth-fewest points). This year, while the Eagles are a middle-of-the-pack group, New England lead the NFL with just 249.3 yards per game and 10.9 points per game allowed.
Yes, they were opened up by Jackson as he dropped 37 points on this vaunted D, but even after that blip, the unit still remains the best of the bunch.
And whether they win or lose, on the biggest stage of them all or during a regular-season game on the road against an extremely tough opponent, the Patriots have the ability to shut out their emotions and move on.
Speaking about their Super Bowl loss to Philly ahead of this week's game, safety - and captain - Devin McCourty said: "There's no difference of winning and losing the Super Bowl to me, as far as you have to turn the page.
"... Whether you win or lose, you have to understand when you come back the next year, it's a new team."
Head coach Belichick has no time for conversations about previous records or championship wins. He said: "Each year is a new year, and each of our performances from year to year is contingent on our preparation and ability to perform in that season that we're being judged in, not what we did in some other years.
"Personally, I don't really put a lot of weight or a whole lot of evaluation into what's happened in the past. I try to focus more on the present, and how that can be improved and accelerated to work to a higher level.
"That's really what's it's about for me."
That's what it is about for the whole team, and their mindset tells you why they continue to be so dominant.
The Patriots rarely lose, and it is even rarer they lose two games in a row. They will travel to Philadelphia looking to remind the entire league why they are the champs, and to be feared as much as ever.
Watch Patriots at Eagles live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event from 9.25pm on Sunday night; Texans at Ravens coverage begins at 5pm; RedZone is on Sky Sports Mix from 6pm.