Sunday will be the biggest game of the year for the Eagles. For most of the players, it will be the biggest game of their lives. How do you win such a big game? By treating it like business as usual.
I know some of you will think that's crazy. It really isn't. The Eagles have been incredibly consistent all year long, treating each game with equal importance. That helped the team to play at a consistent level and kept them from the dreaded "trap game" that so many fans and outsiders worry about.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talked about the Patriots as his team prepared to play other teams. Pittsburgh didn't stay focused and never got its postseason showdown with the Patriots. The Jaguars talked about winning the Super Bowl before even playing in the AFC title game. Instead of winning the Super Bowl, they'll be watching it.
Remember the speculation that the Rams rested starters in the season finale in part to get the No. 4 seed so they could face Nick Foles and the Eagles instead of the Vikings? We don't know if that's true, but if it was, the plan didn't work. They lost to the Falcons in the Wild Card round.
The Eagles? They play whoever is in front of them that week. They gave the same effort against the high-flying Rams that they did against the struggling Raiders. The Eagles won both games. This team lives in the moment. They focus on football, not outside noise. I think that's the mentality and focus they need on Sunday.
When Mychal Kendricks is out in space trying to tackle Dion Lewis, you don't want Kendricks thinking about the Super Bowl angle. Just go make the tackle, the same way you have all year long. Play football.
There is the famous scene in the movie Hoosiers when the coach, played by Gene Hackman, measures the basketball court to prove to his players that being in the big arena and playing for the championship isn't different than what they did all year. The same principle applies here.
The game is the game. The format is a bit different, with the extended pregame festivities and halftime show.
The context is totally different. If you win, it changes your life. If you lose, it can haunt you for a lifetime. There is also the fact that, win or lose, this is the final game of the year. That can have an emotional impact on players and coaches.
Some teams are affected by the overall situation. You go to a neutral site. The whole NFL world is there and it is party central. Every sports media outlet possible is there to interview you and ask every possible question. We found out this week that if Doug Pederson were a tree, he would be a "Douglas Fir." Well played, coach.
The 1980 Eagles have talked about having too much fun when they went to the Super Bowl. That game was in New Orleans, which didn't help. That is one of America's best cities to party in and the Eagles had their share of fun. Until gameday. The Raiders won the game convincingly, 27-10. Four turnovers killed Ron Jaworski and his teammates.
The 2004 Eagles were more business-like when they went to the Super Bowl. That was played in Jacksonville and it didn't have quite the same atmosphere. I think that team was hurt by its recent history. Losing the NFC title games in 2001, 2002, and 2003 made just getting to the Super Bowl as much of a focus as actually winning the big game. The team was sloppy, turning the ball over four times (not a good trend) and only rushing for 45 yards.
This Eagles team feels different. This is a business trip. They will have some fun in Minneapolis, but their eyes are on the prize, which is winning the game. This team isn't bringing any baggage into the game. This is their first playoff trip as a group. They are hungry.
Winning the NFC Championship was great, but that was two weeks ago. This team is ready for the next challenge.
Beating the Patriots will be difficult, but any notion that the Eagles must play a perfect game or that this is some colossal task just isn't accurate. If the Eagles play the way they have all year, they will win. They don't need anything special to happen. This team is good. Championship good. Super Bowl good.
Most analysis is about Nick Foles and how he'll do. I'm more focused on the Eagles' defense. They have allowed 33 points over the last four games. They've only given up 17 in the postseason and haven't allowed a second-half point. That's some amazing defense.
The last teams to allow 17 or fewer points in getting to the Super Bowl were the 2002 Bucs and the 2000 Ravens. They both played great in the Super Bowl and won. Both defenses scored touchdowns in the big game.
When the Eagles are at their best, the defensive line controls the game. That doesn't mean the players sack the quarterback every play. It does mean they collapse the pocket and get hits on the quarterback. They make him uncomfortable. The line also shuts down the run game. That forces the quarterback to carry the offense.
Tom Brady is certainly capable of carrying the Patriots' offense, but not if the Eagles' defense can make him uncomfortable. I think they will do just that and slow down the Patriots' offense.
I can't wait to see what game plan Doug Pederson and his staff have put together this week. My guess is that they will run from the shotgun a lot. If the Patriots try to shut that down, Foles will start throwing the ball over the defense.
Look for Nelson Agholor to be the key receiver in this game. The Patriots have good outside corners and I think they will focus on covering Zach Ertz over the middle. That leaves Agholor on the inside with a favorable matchup against former Eagle Eric Rowe.
As far as running the ball, I'm sure Jay Ajayi will be the focus of the run game, but I expect the Eagles to spread it around. Corey Clement could get more touches than usual. Don't be shocked if Kenjon Barner even gets a carry or two. Those guys have good speed and can get outside.
Foles played his best game of the year against the Vikings. I don't expect him to match that performance, but he doesn't have to. Foles has been smart and accurate so far in the postseason and I expect that to continue. The coaches have a great feel for him right now and are calling plays that Foles feels really comfortable with.
This isn't about destiny or revenge or heart. This is the final football game of the 2017 season. The Eagles have been the best team in the NFL all year long. That continues on Sunday and the Eagles win their first ever Super Bowl.
Just another day at the office.