What next for the Eagles and the Patriots?
The 2018 Super Bowl clash between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots was an NFL showpiece to savour.
Guided by veteran quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots were tipped to claim their sixth title since the turn of the century, putting the upstart Eagles in their place.
However, Philly hadn’t read that particular script, and Nick Foles steered them to a stunning 41-33 victory in Minneapolis.
Foles, who only came in for injured starting QB Carson Wentz towards the end of the regular season, became the first man to both throw and catch a touchdown pass in the big game.
A hugely entertaining match-up ended with the Eagles winning their first Super Bowl crown, having failed in two previous NFL finales.
But even as the celebratory ticker-tape was being swept away, thoughts were turning to next season.
Can the Eagles now establish themselves as serial winners? Has Brady still got what it takes to push the Pats to fresh glory in his fifth decade?
Under head coach Bill Belichick, New England have reached seven Super Bowls, winning in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2015 and 2017.
The way in which the team played against Philadelphia, especially on offence, suggests that the Patriots haven’t lost their groove just yet.
They gave it their all, but it wasn’t enough against the underdog Eagles, and their defeat will surely have left them shattered.
Shattered but defiant. Franchise owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and Brady have all come out and said that the Pats will regroup and go again.
There were times when the three clashed during the season. For example, allowing second string QB Jimmy Garoppolo to switch to San Francisco – a deal sanctioned ultimately by Kraft – was a shock move, but at 26 he’d clearly had enough of being Brady’s understudy.
The big question is: how long can Brady, who turns 41 this summer, hope to continue?
With Garoppolo gone, the Patriots re-signed Brian Hoyer last November, having released him in at the end of pre-season in 2012.
In an ironic twist, he had been with the 49ers, starting their first six games in 2017, but was released at the end of October, having been replaced by Garoppolo…
So Hoyer was Brady’s back-up in Minneapolis, but is he really the long-term successor to one of the game’s all-time greats?
If he’s a stop-gap, and simply covering for Brady in the twilight of his career, who is Belichick going to go for?
As Super Bowl runners-up, the Patriots have the 31st overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, and only a huge amount of trading will allow them to select from the best QBs available.
Belichick may put off a decision while Brady plays on, or may turn to the free agency market. One thing is for sure: Brady has had an amazing career but cannot go on forever.
Any sign of his powers waning once the new season gets underway in September will surely see the ruthless Belichick take action, despite his strong bond with the player.
Also in the head coach’s inbox is what to do about cornerback Malcolm Butler, the man who denied the Seattle Seahawks a Super Bowl win three years ago with that amazing interception.
Butler, 27, will surely not be playing in New England’s colours again. He was benched for the Super Bowl and becomes an unrestricted free agent this year, and most likely he is going to move on.
Foles v Wentz
What comes next for the Eagles after their first Super Bowl title, and in particular what does the future hold for the game’s MVP Foles?
One man’s misfortune is another’s lucky break, and Foles took full advantage of the ACL injury suffered by starting QB Wentz 13 games into the regular season.
In the play-offs, he threw for 971 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception, an incredible 115.7 passer rating in the post-season.
But the 29-year-old’s role at Philadelphia is the subject of much speculation, even after his role in the greatest moment in the team’s history.
The Eagles moved heaven and earth to select Wentz, 25, as the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and he repaid them by setting records galore in his rookie season.
His is clearly the franchise’s marquee talent, which leaves Foles facing uncertainty.
He has a year remaining on his contract, but does he simply return to being a back-up, or should he seek to capitalise on his Super Bowl success with another team?
Foles could certain command a salary of more than the $4m he is set to earn in the remaining season his existing deal.
Away from this year’s Super Bowl winners and runners-up, which team might create a stir in the new season?
How about the outfit that failed to win a single game in 2017? Yes, the struggling Cleveland Browns.
It might sound far-fetch given their recent history of failure, but last season’s abject showing means the Browns will have plenty of scope for improvement via the Draft in April.
Great things are expected of quarterback DeShone Kizer, picked in the second round last year, but has his confidence been damaged by only the second 0-16 season in NFL history?
The most important thing for the Browns now is patience. Head coach Hue Jackson is 1-31 in his first two seasons, but has surrounded himself with a very solid coaching staff, and should be given time to turn things around.
So maybe – just maybe – the Browns might turn a few heads and cause one or two shocks when the 2018 campaign begins.