How Nick Foles turned back the clock in Eagles’ win vs. Rams

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Usually, Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles takes a fairly long nap at the team hotel before road night games. It’s a good way to kill time and be fresh so he can help the starter, Carson Wentz, on the sidelines during games.

But Sunday, even in the comfy Omni Los Angeles Hotel, with hours to kill before the 1:50 p.m. team bus to the Coliseum, Foles was buzzing. He read the Bible, which he does every morning; on the road he uses a Bible app on his phone. He read devotionals. “I knew there’d be adversity today, so I read what I thought would help me,” Foles said. He journaled on his iPad, a hobby that helps him feel connected to his family when he’s away. He Facetimed with wife Tori and baby daughter Lily. “And Henry,” Foles added. That’s the family golden doodle, who reportedly is a good boy.

“Today I couldn’t nap,” Foles said from the Eagles’ locker room in Los Angeles late Sunday night. “I tried, but I had too much on my mind. Too many butterflies.”

That would give Foles a lot in common with the city of Philadelphia. Earlier in the week, Wentz, the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, got struck down for the second year in a row. Last year, it was a knee injury in the Coliseum against the Rams—exactly 53 weeks removed from this game—that kayoed Wentz. This year, reports say Wentz has a fractured vertebrae in his back; it’s more likely than not Wentz will be out for the season. Coming off a Super Bowl run last year, nothing has come easy for the Eagles, including a well-played and fluky tipped ball that handed the Cowboys a heartbreaking overtime win over Philadelphia a week ago. That left the Eagles 6-7 and, particularly with the news of the Wentz injury, dead for 2018.

Right?

But here came Foles, and for much of the evening, it felt like last January again. First eight Philadelphia drives of the night: field goal, field goal, failed fourth-down conversion, touchdown, punt, touchdown, field goal, touchdown. After those eight drives, behind the steady hand of Foles and the unsteady hands and feet of the Rams, the Eagles led 30-13. When it was over, the Eagles, 13-point dogs (and I don’t mean Henry) had a 30-23 victory over the stumbling Rams, losers of two straight for the first time in the 31-game Sean McVay Era of good fun.

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Just as everything Doug Pederson touched turned to touchdowns last year, everything this franchise has touched has turned to BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO by its infamous fandom this year. Foles took over in this same stadium last year and got the save in the NFC East-clinching victory while Wentz was in the locker room with two torn knee ligaments. This year, it was Wentz, wearing an earpiece to hear the playcalls and offer advice, on the sideline helping Foles.

“The huddle’s my sanctuary,” Foles said. “Today you’ve got phones, Instagram, Twitter. It’s hard to just be in the moment. But I like to be in the moment, be present. Today I was able to block everything about the significance of this—being back in the same place it started last year, playing on a big Sunday night game, playing for our playoffs [hopes]—and just focusing on one moment. One play. Then the next play. I called on my experience on playing in high-pressure games last year and succeeding. I think it helped.”

The Eagles’ playoff hopes still hang by a thread. For Philly to win the division, Dallas must lose to the Bucs and Giants, and the Eagles must beat Houston and Washington. Um, not likely. But to make the playoffs, the Eagles need to go 2-0 while Washington, Minnesota and Carolina all lose at least one game. Possible. Not likely, but Nick Foles has been in this situation before in what is becoming a downright weird career. The book he wrote last year after the Super Bowl was called “Believe It.” But if Foles has another run in him, and there’s a sequel to his first book, I’m going to push for this title: “Even I Can’t Believe It.”

Tom Brady on why he’s better than ever in his 40s

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I sat with Tom Brady at his locker for seven minutes after the Patriots’ 37-31 AFC Championship Game victory, and I can tell you he was dazed. Slightly dazed. Three really crazy things happened in this game that he was trying to process, still, about 50 minutes after his ninth championship game victory.

“We’ll remember this one forever,” Brady said, equal parts incredulous and grateful as he sat on a wooden stool stamped with the Chiefs logo. “It’s one of the great wins in franchise history.”

• Brady converted three third-and-10 passes on the only drive of overtime: to Julian Edelman, Edelman again and Rob Gronkowski.

• The pass play to Gronkowski, which gave the Patriots a first down at the Chiefs’ 15, was not in the game plan. New England has run the Gronk slant before, but hadn’t planned to run it here, and the only play they called that wasn’t planned turned out quite possibly to be the biggest play of their day. As the 40-second play clock wound down, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called the play they hadn’t practiced during the week because the coaches saw a coverage deficiency by Kansas City safety Eric Berry on Gronkowski.

• “We just put in eight new plays in the game plan this morning,” Brady told me. At the team hotel, the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, the offensive players were greeted at the 11 a.m. meeting with the news that eight new plays were being installed for the game. That happens, but not every week, and not eight plays’ worth. They walked through the plays in a hotel ballroom, then ran four or five of them during the game—all for positive yards.

“Aren’t you a little shocked?” I asked. “All of it—converting three third-and-10s in overtime, making another Super Bowl in a league that pushes everyone to the middle, surviving Mahomes …”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine. Nine Super Bowls. I know. It’s ridiculous.”

One more thing I wanted to do with Brady. I had a chart … well, I’ll show you what I showed him in the jammed Patriots’ locker room, about his staying power in this game. Comparing Brady in the 14 postseason games he played in his twenties versus Brady in the five postseason games he’s played in his forties:

Brady smiled. “When you first started your job, compared to you now, are you better?” he said. “You have a lot more experience. That’s what this is. Experience. So I don’t think it is all that surprising. We have been fighting uphill all year. This game is hard to win. The next game is harder to win. This game, you just celebrate it for what it is. Then we go to work on the Rams.

“I never imagined any of this, believe me. This is beyond. I mean, who could ever imagine this? Nine Super Bowls? I just take it for what it is and enjoy it. I love my teammates. I love my coaches. I love my family. It takes a lot of people to support you for all of us. I’m just happy for all of us.”

And, apparently, it’s never going to end.

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Brady, Patriots underdogs at Chiefs on AFC Championship Game odds

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The Arctic blast expected at Arrowhead Stadium might seem like Tom Brady weather, but there are also some cold, hard facts with home and away trends at this stage of the game.

The Kansas City Chiefs, with NFL MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes behind center, are 3-point favorites on the NFL betting lines against the Patriots with a 56-point total in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

While the Chiefs are trying to advance to their first Super Bowl in 49 seasons, they are 8-1 straight-up in their last nine games as home favorites. The Patriots, who are underdogs with Brady as a starter for the first time since September 2015, are 2-7 against the spread in their last nine games in the championship round, and 3-5 SU and ATS on the road this season.

While the Patriots should never be counted out as long as Bill Belichick is scheming and Brady is slinging passes, away teams are 1-11 SU in the last 12 AFC Championship Game matchups and 1-4 ATS in the last five at betting sites.

The Patriots, 12-5 SU and 10-7 ATS, have a history that needs no ballyhooing at this point. In the present, New England had a negative net yards per play and point differential during the regular season, and were markedly worse at finishing off offensive drives with touchdowns and making third-down stops on defense.

Of course, a good team can overcome that for one afternoon, and Belichick and Brady will try to confuse the Chiefs by spreading the ball around multi-talented running backs Sony Michel and James White, slippery wide receiver Julian Edelman, and tight end Rob Gronkowski. At peak form, the Patriots seldom let pass rushers get near Brady, but the Chiefs had three sacks in their divisional-round game against the Indianapolis Colts, who allowed the fewest sacks in the regular season.

The reality that the best defense for the Patriots is a clock-consuming controlled offense, combined with the conditions, could limit scoring.

The Chiefs, 13-4 SU and 10-6-1 ATS, do offer some historically based hunches. Mahomes, whose regular-season passing rating was the best in NFL history by a 23-year-old quarterback, also had just the second 5,000-yard/50-touchdown season in league annals, joining Peyton Manning in 2013 when he beat the Patriots at home in the AFC Championship Game.

The Chiefs are also 3-1 ATS in their last four games against New England, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

Matchups-wise, New England loves to take away an opponent’s fanciest toy – otherwise known as wide receiver Tyreek Hill in this game – but Mahomes’ other preferred targets, Sammy Watkins and tight end Travis Kelce, could take advantage of the added focus on their teammate. The X-factor will be running back Damien Williams, who will try to take advantage of the vulnerability New England has shown, at least to this point, at containing runs up the middle and passes to the backs.

The temperature is expected to be in the 20s, but neither passer needed a glove on his throwing hand while playing in frigid weather during the divisional round. The total has gone UNDER in eight of the Patriots’ last 10 games, with an average combined score of 43.7 points. The total has gone UNDER in 11 of the Chiefs’ last 14 home games, with an average combined score of 45.86 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.