Minneapolis — If it looks like a dog and barks like it dog, it’s probably a dog. Right?
Well, maybe not.
The Philadelphia Eagles have embraced their role as underdogs, a movement defined by the team’s players wearing creepy, latex dog masks throughout their playoff run. But after a thorough dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game, an exclamation point following a 13-3 regular season, how appropriate can the label still be?
Philadelphia has a single remaining hurdle to clear to bring home the city’s first Super Bowl championship — the defending champion New England Patriots.
The Patriots remain the NFL’s gold standard, a modern dynasty in a league set up to encourage parity. The team will be appearing in its eighth Super Bowl during coach Bill Belichick’s 18 years with the franchise and third in four seasons.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady knows something about being an underdog. The story of his legendary career began when he came off the bench as an injury replacement in his second season in 2001 and led the franchise on an improbable Super Bowl run, capped by a stunning upset over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams.
So excuse Brady if he isn’t buying this current narrative.
"They're well-coached,” Brady said. “They're good in all three phases. They play complementary games. They do a great job. There's no underdogs in the Super Bowl.
"They're the first seed in the NFC. Man, they're 13-3. They had an incredible season. I don't buy into any of that. I think they're as dangerous as any team in the league. It's going to come, down to whoever plays the best, and hopefully it's us."
A month ago, doubting the Eagles was more than reasonable. After overcoming the midseason loss of nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to a knee injury, the Eagles’ chances for postseason success appeared to be dealt a fatal blow when second-year quarterback and MVP candidate Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL in Week 14.
Hope fell on the shoulders of backup Nick Foles, in his first year back with the Eagles after a two-year odyssey through Missouri — single-season stops in both St. Louis and Kansas City — and four years removed from his only successful campaign as a pro.
Vegas certainly didn’t believe in the top-seeded Eagles. They were pegged as underdogs at home against the sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round, before grinding out a 15-10 victory.
The story repeated itself in the conference championship, but the touchdown the Vikings scored on their opening possession was their last points of the game. The Eagles responded with 38 unanswered, coasting into Sunday’s championship matchup.
Foles has been nothing short of sensational in the postseason. He’s completing 77.8 percent of his passes for 598 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the two games. Additionally, the Eagles defense, led by coordinator Jim Schwartz, has been stifling. Combined, it’s been a clear combination for success.
With Foles’ reemergence, much of the credit goes to coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich for incorporating a popular college element into their scheme — the run-pass option — where the quarterback can read the defensive front and decide whether to hand it off, pass or scramble. Foles’ best year came running similar concepts under Chip Kelly in 2013.
“I think it helps,” Reich said. “I think it’s a piece, it’s an important piece. But I mentioned this before, there’s a proverb that says a man of wisdom avoids all extremes.
“So we love the RPOs, but part of why it’s so effective for us is it’s not the bulk of our offense. It’s a small part of our offense that you try to use strategically and just enough to keep a team off balance. But you’ve got to go straight at them sometimes. You’ve got to play power ball. And I think we have the guys that can do both.”
The Eagles haven’t run the ball as well as they did in the regular season, but have a formidable backfield rotation consisting of former Patriot LeGarrette Blount, midseason trade addition Jay Ajayi and powerful rookie Corey Clement. The team averaged 4.5 yards per carry during the season.
And for Pederson, a branch off the Andy Reid coaching tree, Super Bowl 52 is an opportunity to do what his mentor couldn’t in 2005, when Reid’s Eagles fell just short to Belichick and Brady in Super Bowl 39, 24-21.
So even though the Patriots opened as big favorites, don’t sleep on the Eagles — they’re loaded with talent, are well-coached and on a roll. Plus, they’ve been overcoming odds all season and have the confidence that comes with that.
Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, another one of the team’s other key offseason additions this season, went as far to guarantee a victory on Sunday.
"Ain't no 'if,' man,” Jeffery said. “When we win on Sunday, ain't no telling what we're going to do, but we're probably going to celebrate, have some fun."
Super Bowl LII
Patriots vs. Eagles
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Line: Patriots by 4