If you want to know why the Philadelphia Eagles are in the Super Bowl, you've got plenty of reasons to choose from.
Quarterback Carson Wentz's MVP contention is always a good place to start. After all, common sense says the Birds wouldn't be nearly as formidable as they were at 11-2 when he went down with a torn ACL. The team's defense is another obvious point of discussion, not only because of Pro Bowlers Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins but because of a league-leading performance against the run. You've got plain old camaraderie, which has been a hot topic in Philadelphia since the club won nine straight. And, of course, now you've also got Nick Foles' redeeming showcase in the biggest game of his life -- a rout of the Minnesota Vikings to actually get to the big game.
The one thing that encompasses -- and, to a degree, supersedes -- all of those championship-caliber things?
And in a Super Bowl that will feature maybe the greatest head coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick, and his New England Patriots, there's still an argument to be made that the Eagles boast the NFL's top staff.
Career-wise, this isn't even close. Controversial at times, Belichick is an undeniable staple of this NFL era. He's got a track record that 31 other coaches would kill for, and his resume warrants consideration among the game's all-time greats just like his quarterback, Tom Brady, deserves the same treatment for his job. Even if Doug Pederson, the second-year man in charge of the Eagles' staff, were to upset Supreme Hoodie in Minneapolis, he'd need a whole heck of a lot more titles to get the kind of respect Belichick has earned.
If we're talking about Super Bowl LII and the 2017 season, however, we're talking about the here and now. Here and now, of course, you'd be a fool not to think Belichick and Brady have enough up their sleeves to make a legitimate run at Super Bowl No. 6, especially because, you know, they're one win away from doing it.
But you'd also be a fool not to consider that Philadelphia has been dominating on a whole lot more than the football field this year. Take it to the drawing board, the film room, the practice sessions and then revisit how, exactly, the Eagles advanced to this moment, and you'll be hard pressed to come away without confidence that Pederson and his assistants have more than a fighting chance. Against the Patriots. In the Super Bowl.
Doug Pederson is going to coach in the Super Bowl against Bill Belichick and it doesn’t seem like an agonizingly bad matchup for the Eagles.— Noah Becker (@Noah_Becker) January 22, 2018
The resiliency storyline has been talked about so much that its magnitude has probably been watered down, so let's first remember that any good coach would have his hands full keeping his ship afloat if that ship's crew lost its MVP-caliber starting quarterback, its Hall of Fame left tackle, its Pro Bowl punt returner, its starting middle linebacker, its special teams captain and its kicker. But Pederson did just that, and he didn't just keep his ship afloat, either. He steered that thing right to the Super Bowl.
Unlikely heroes (see: Foles, Patrick Robinson), improved role players (Nelson Agholor) and savvy veteran additions (Alshon Jeffery, Chris Long) obviously helped lessen the load, but it's not hard to see that Pederson -- in his second season as a head coach, no less -- put his group in the best position to win. Get imaginative for a second, and let's say the Pats lost Brady, Nate Solder and Stephen Gostkowski by Week 14 (they've already lost Julian Edelman and Dont'a Hightower). Would they still be playing for a sixth Lombardi Trophy in February?
Even if your answer is a resounding "yes," there's still reason to lavish Philly in praise. Everyone likes to talk up Sean McVay as a Coach of the Year favorite, and the Los Angeles Rams sure looked like an offensive juggernaut under his wing. But if you're looking for the play-calling genius of the NFC, look no further than Pederson.
This is a man who not only oversaw Wentz's incredible rise, seamlessly blended a Miami Dolphins outcast into the running game and all but re-tailored his system for Foles entering the playoffs but also unequivocally out-schemed some of the most lauded defenses on his schedule -- first earlier in the year with a 51-point outing against the Denver Broncos and then, again, on the biggest stage of the year, against Mike Zimmer's No. 1-ranked Vikings.
Pederson's also got the locker room fully in his favor, which just so happens to be a commonality for most Super Bowl teams. He's long been heralded by his players for finding the perfect balance between laid-back -- he listened to and granted veterans' request to practice in pads during the playoffs -- and aggressive. He's apparently as notorious for fourth-down game-day gambles as he is a perfectly timed locker-room tirade.
Say what you will about "culture," but that kind of well-regarded approach may certainly have been a motivator for guys, especially short-term plug-ins like Long and LeGarrette Blount, not only to execute those esteemed gameplans but to endure all that "underdog" talk that stemmed from the team's long list of injuries.
Then, perhaps best of all from an Eagles perspective, you've got the staff around Pederson. If the head coach is the one driving the car, then the assistants are like the trusty, navigating passengers, and Pederson picked some good ones.
Frank Reich is often overshadowed as the offensive coordinator simply because it's Doug's show when it comes to calling plays, but between him and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, an intricate teacher whose close work with Wentz earned him head coaching interest in recent weeks, Philadelphia is well positioned. Wideouts coach Mike Groh, a Jeffery favorite from Chicago, is another gem thanks to his hand in transforming Agholor.
And on the other side of the ball, it's Pederson's hands-off mentality that really benefits him -- coordinator Jim Schwartz saw his unit lose its grasp on tackling late in the year, but it's also allowed an average of just 8.25 points over its last four games, completely dominated opposing rushing attacks and come up with takeaways in the biggest of spots.
This Eagles staff may not be the only reason this Eagles team is 13-3 and playing in just its third Super Bowl. But it sure is a big one.
Call the Patriots the favorites. Call Belichick the favorite. That's fair. But don't for a second think that Philadelphia is waltzing into Minneapolis with anything less than a group of coaches who can challenge New England's throne.