Super Bowl 2018: Playoff Danny Amendola is unstoppable, 10 stats for Eagles-Patriots

Danny Amendola is not the same player as Playoff Danny Amendola. Danny Amendola is a consistent, all-around, good-not-great receiver for the Patriots. Playoff Danny Amendola is an unstoppable clutch wide receiver for the Patriots and Tom Brady's best friend in crunch time. In the playoffs and in crucial situations, Danny Amendola turns into an entirely different player.

On Sunday, Super Bowl LII will be played between the Eagles and Patriots to determine the one true king of the 2017-18 NFL season. Most of the attention in the buildup has been directed toward Brady, Bill Belichick, Rob Gronkowski, Zach ErtzNick Foles, and the Eagles' horde of pass rushers -- and with good reason -- but don't forget about Amendola. He'll never be the best player on the field (our Pete Prisco ranked him as the 27th best starter among the two teams, and he's not wrong), but that doesn't mean he won't be one of the most important players. Whenever the magnitude of the moment increases, so does his caliber of play. This might just sound like a bunch of cliches about the gritty, clutch receiver who's often overlooked, but the numbers back it up. 

After averaging 4.1 catches, 43.9 yards and 0.1 touchdowns per game in the regular season, Amendola is averaging nine catches, 98 yards and one touchdown per game in the playoffs. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady accumulated a 103.1 passer rating when targeting Amendola in the regular season. In the playoffs so far, Brady has a 134.1 passer rating when targeting Amendola. Brady has thrown only four incompletions in Amendola's direction out of 22 total attempts in the playoffs, which makes for an 82 percent completion rate. According to PFF, Amendola has caught more passes on third third (24) than every other Patriots receiver combined (23) in both the regular season and playoffs.

NFL.com's Chris Wesseling crunched the numbers and discovered that during the Patriots' past four double-digit fourth-quarter comebacks, Brady has thrown four touchdowns (and a two-point conversion) and posted a 140.2 passer rating when targeting Amendola.

There was the touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX, which cut the Seahawks' lead from 10 points to three.

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NFL Game Pass

There was the touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of last year's Super Bowl, which helped the Patriots get to within eight points of the Falcons after the ensuing two-point conversion.

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NFL Game Pass

There was his catch to send the game to overtime on a two-point conversion in that same game.

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NFL Game Pass

And then there were his touchdown catches in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' comeback against the Jaguars in the AFC title game, which brought them to this year's Super Bowl. First, Amendola scored to trim the deficit to three points.

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NFL Game Pass

And then he came down with an incredible catch to give the Patriots a lead they wouldn't relinquish late in the fourth quarter.

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NFL Game Pass

On Sunday, the Patriots don't want to get into a game that requires Brady to frequently throw deep downfield. That's not his strength. To negate the Eagles' dominant defensive front, they'll likely try to use shorter passes that allow Brady to release the ball before the pass-rush can bother him. That's where Amendola comes into play. 

He's Brady's safety valve coming out of the slot. According to PFF, Amendola has lined up in the slot 77 percent of the time this postseason. Eighteen of his 22 targets have come when he's the slot receiver. Seven of his targets have come on crossing routes, but he also runs outs (four targets), ins (four targets), and hitches (three targets) with frequency, according to PFF. As you can see below, Amendola does most of his work between 0-19 yards downfield, hardly ever getting fully vertical.

Who needs Julian Edelman when you have this?

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Pro Football Focus

In the lead up to the Super Bowl, Amendola was quoted in an NFL.com story written by Judy Battista saying he's never had the role in New England he's wanted.

"Since I've gotten here, I've always tried to do everything I can to expand my role, whether doing more on special teams or doing more in the offense," Amendola said. "I've never really settled. As much as maybe the coaches have settled me into a role, I've always wanted to expand it."

That might be the case. Amendola hasn't morphed into the star the Patriots probably thought they were getting back in 2013 when they signed him to a five-year deal after losing Wes Welker to the Broncos. But they've still gotten more value than they paid for from a player who's taken a pay-cut in each of the past three offseasons to remain in New England. 

"Danny's such a good football player," Bill Belichick said after the AFC Championships game, per NFL.com. "When you look up 'good football player' in the dictionary, his picture is right there beside it. It doesn't matter what it is. Fielding punts, third down, big play, red area, onside kick recovery -- whatever we need him to do."

There's all of that plus he's figured out the secret formula to winning the Super Bowl.

Read on for 10 stats to know for Super Bowl LII.

1. White jerseys rule

The Eagles will wear green jerseys. The Patriots will wear white jerseys. That probably won't matter much, right?

According to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, teams wearing white are 33-18 in the Super Bowl. Even more strangely, 12 of the past 13 winners have worn white. 

Advantage: Patriots.

2. The Patriots have the edge in experience

OK, onto actual stats that matter. The color of the Patriots' jersey probably won't matter, but their edge in experience might.

Consider the following:

Advantage: Patriots, again.

3. Can the Patriots stop the Eagles' RPOs?

The Patriots' defense, though, isn't exactly a dominant unit. They've gotten here by playing strong defense near the end zone while allowing a crap-ton of yards everywhere else, and by letting Brady bail them out. And even though the Eagles' offense is quarterbacked by Nick Foles, they'll challenge the Patriots' defense in large part because their scheme will be difficult to deal with.

The Eagles run a lot of run-pass options (RPOs), a play in which the quarterback can decide whether to hand the ball off or throw the ball after the snap. The beauty of the RPO is that it usually requires a simple quick throw, which is perfect for Foles. 

Below, ESPN's Matt Bowen breaks down one of the Eagles' RPOs from their win over the Vikings.

Here's the problem for the Patriots: According to PFF, the Patriots faced the fewest RPOs in the regular season. Meanwhile, no one used RPOs more than the Eagles.

In the AFC title game, the Patriots failed to stop the Jaguars when they used RPOs.

How the Patriots handle the Eagles' RPOs might be the most important aspect of that matchup.

4. Foles is money on third down

There's an area that Foles does thrive in with and without RPOs. That area is third down. So far this season, Foles has gone 27 of 46 for 320 yards, three touchdowns, no picks, and a 101.7 passer rating on third down.

By Foles' standards, that's an awesome stat line.

5. Foles can join an exclusive club

Foles started three games in the regular season. According to NFL Research, only two quarterbacks (Doug Williams and Jeff Hostetler) started fewer games in the regular season before starting in a Super Bowl. 

Williams and Hostetler both won. So, if Foles beat the Patriots, he'll join an exclusive club.

It gets even better: Hostetler won his championship with the Giants. The defensive coordinator of those Giants? Bill Belichick, as Chase Stuart of Football Perspective pointed out.

6. A familiar type of matchup

Oh and by the way, the matchup between the Patriots and Eagles should feel familiar. It turns out, No. 1 seeds have a really good track record of making it to the Super Bowl.

Poor Cowboys. They got Aaron Rodgers'd.

7. The Eagles might be the Patriots' best Super Bowl opponent

On that note, the Eagles are the Patriots' toughest Super Bowl opponent, by the numbers at least.

Of course, the Eagles are not the same team without Carson Wentz. If they had gone an entire season with Foles at quarterback, they likely wouldn't be trotting out a top-five offense.

8. Eagles can get after Brady

But the Eagles' defense is for real -- specifically, their defensive front, which should be able to harass Brady. According to PFF, the Eagles have generated pressure at an incredibly high rate (41.9 percent). They've done that even though they've blitzed only 22.6 percent of the time, according to PFF. League average? 29.3 percent. 

They can force pressure up the middle. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has registered 5.5 sacks. And they can come around the edges. Defensive end Brandon Graham leads the team with 9.5 sacks, defensive ends Chris Long and Derek Barnett each have five sacks apiece while defensive end Vinny Curry has collected three sacks. 

The Eagles know full well that the only way to beat Brady is to hit him.

"We can't go out and just let him bake pizzas back there," Cox said this week, per ESPN's Tim McManus. "If we do that, it's going to be a long game for the back end."

Brady is at his worst under pressure, but that doesn't mean he's bad. According to PFF, Brady sports the league's highest passer rating under pressure (95.5). 

9. The Patriots' first quarter problem

The Patriots have played in seven Super Bowls under Belichick. They've never scored in the first quarter:

  • 2001: 3-0 Rams
  • 2003: 0-0 Tie
  • 2004: 0-0 Tie
  • 2007: 3-0 Giants
  • 2011: 9-0 Giants
  • 2014: 0-0 Tie
  • 2016: 0-0 Tie

So in all, they've been outscored 15-0 in the first quarter. Thoughts, Bill?

"Look, we try to score in every game," he said, per the Boston Globe. "I know that's probably hard to understand, but we try to go out and score and keep the other team from scoring."

10. Alshon Jeffery is perfect in the playoffs

A year ago, Alshon Jeffery was making ludicrous Super Bowl predictions as a member of the downtrodden Bears. A year later, Jeffery is on the verge of completing his Super Bowl guarantee -- albeit he's now on a different team, but it still counts. 

He's been the Eagles' best receiver in the playoffs. According to PFF, Foles has a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeting Jeffery this postseason. He's completed 9 of 10 passes to Jeffery for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Even Jeffery couldn't have predicted that.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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