This is a tough one to pick. New England is favored by 4 1/2 points over Philadelphia in Super Bowl LII.

I’m not betting against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, but there is little separating the Patriots and Eagles.

It’s only the third matchup in Super Bowl history featuring teams ranked among the NFL’s top five in both points scored and fewest points allowed. The Patriots were second with 458 points during the regular season (28.6 per game) and the Eagles were third with 457 (also 28.6). Philadelphia ranked fourth by allowing 295 points (18.4 per game) and the Patriots were fifth with 296 (18.5 per game).

The Eagles are ranked much higher in total defense (fourth with 306.5 yards per game, compared to the Patriots 29th with 366.0), but the Patriots are better offensively (first with 394.2 yards per game, while the Eagles are seventh with 365.8).

But as Belichick always says, it’s going to come down to players making plays.

And I think the Patriots’ defense is going to make them.

When I look at this game, I see a lot of similarities with New England’s playoff wins against Tennessee and Jacksonville.

The Patriots have to slow down Philadelphia’s third-ranked running game – which features some pretty good backs in former Patriot LeGarrette Blount and former Dolphin Jay Ajayi – and what is widely considered the NFL’s best offensive line. Center Jason Kelce, guards Brandon Brooks and Stefan Wisniewski and tackles Lane Johnson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai are imposing. Tight end Zach Ertz is a heck of a blocker, too.

The Patriots faced similarly impressive rushing teams in their first two playoff games and did a good job limiting Tennessee’s Derrick Henry and Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette. They forced the game into the hands of the quarterbacks – Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota and Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles – and made the opposing offenses one-dimensional.

The Patriots’ inside guys on defense – Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown and Ricky Jean Francois – have to be stout. They have to hold up the blockers at the line and allow linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, along with safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, to come up and make tackles.

If New England can slow the running game, that puts the game in Nick Foles’ hands. While I like Foles, he’s not Tom Brady. Foles, after all, was the Eagles’ backup quarterback before Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 10. You want to force the game into his hands.

The Patriots need to get pressure on Foles from Trey Flowers, Adam Butler, Eric Lee and Deatrich Wise Jr. That group has done a great job in the playoffs with an NFL-high 11 sacks.

And don’t forget the impact of James Harrison, the veteran linebacker picked up in late December after his release by Pittsburgh. He has made a huge difference in setting the edge against the run while also rushing the passer.

The Patriots’ secondary, maligned much of the season, can handle Philadelphia’s receivers. Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler can cover anyone and Eric Rowe is a steady third cornerback. McCourty and Duron Harmon make plays at safety.

On offense, the Patriots would love to run against the Eagles, but that might be hard. The Eagles are ranked first against the run, allowing just 79.2 yards per game. If the Patriots can match that, it’s a big plus.

The Eagles’ front seven is aggressive, athletic, physical, and nasty. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham have been particularly impressive.

Expect the Eagles to try to pressure Brady, but that might play into Brady’s hands. No quarterback performed better than he did this year under pressure, with a 95.5 rating.

Then there’s this: The New York Giants, winners of three games all year, almost beat the Eagles twice. They lost 27-24 when Jake Elliott kicked a 61-yard field goal with 13 seconds left, then 34-29 when Foles threw for four touchdowns in his first start after replacing Wentz.

Eli Manning threw for 366 yards and three TDs in the first game, 434 yards and three TDs in the second. He did it with a no-huddle offense, quick slants and swing passes to his wide receivers, along with throwing to his tight end. You can be sure the Patriots have looked at those films.

Expect tight end Rob Gronkowski to have a big game. Look for Brady to try to get running backs James White and Dion Lewis in mismatches with linebackers. Look for Brandin Cooks to stretch the field and for Danny Amendola to come up with more big catches. Someone else, maybe Chris Hogan or Rex Burkhead, will make a game-changing play.

In the end, I see another duck boat parade in Boston.

Patriots 23, Eagles 17.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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