It’s a question with crossover sports appeal.
Which is more appealing — the team with an experienced, veteran-laden roster flaunting championship rings — with the wisdom and savvy to handle the moment — or the team that’s young, dumb, and ignorant? The New England Patriots will play in their NFL-record 10th Super Bowl on February 4, having gone 5-4 in their prior nine. By serious contrast, Super Bowl LII will be Philadelphia’s fourth Super Bowl, and they are 0-3 entering the game. If it matters, the Pats are 4-1 in their last five match-ups with the Eagles.
Let conjecture sit on the sideline, and study the stats, which are fascinating. Toss out preseason, regular-season, and even playoff records and keep the lens on the Super Bowl, starting with Super Bowl I through the merger to the latest batch of Roman Numerals. Though Las Vegas has installed the Pats as clear favorites, the history — the aggregate wins and losses — seems to make this game a tossup.
In fact, NFL history doesn’t really pick a side. Indeed, eight clubs — Packers, Dolphins, Steelers, Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys, Broncos, Patriots, in chronological order — have won consecutive Super Bowls.
Three teams have lost consecutive Super Bowls — Vikings, Broncos, Bills.
Five have split consecutive trips to the Super Bowl — Cowboys, Dolphins, Redskins, Packers, Seahawks. So eight teams have won two straight, while eight have not. In fact, since the Bills lost four straight Super Bowls, you could argue they lost consecutively more than once, making the record favor not repeating as champs.
Of course, not all Super Bowl teams are the same. The Steelers beat the Cowboys twice in the ’70s, though most of the players on those Dallas clubs were Canton-bound, playoff-hardened vets. But not one of the Philadelphia Eagles playing in Super Bowl LII were on the team that lost Super Bowl XXXIX 13 years ago — to the Patriots, no less.
Does experience matter much? Eli Manning and his Giants didn’t care that Brady & Belichick were 18-0 a decade ago. John Elway and his Broncos didn’t care that the Packers had won the prior Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t phased by the Steelers pining for a seventh Super Bowl ring.
But if you’re wondering how wide the playoff chasm in Super Bowl LII is…
Only eight Eagles on the team’s full roster — including those on injured reserve and the practice squad — have Super Bowl experience. The Patriots have 41 such players. Tom Brady has more Super Bowl MVP awards (4) than Nick Foles has playoff starts (3). Led by Brady’s seven prior Super Bowls, the Pats’ 41 players have played in a combined 73 Super Bowls.
If you’d like the quintessential, statistical canyon between the haves and have-nots, thumb through Pro-Football-Reference.com. Foles has 9,752 passing yards and 61 touchdowns over his entire NFL career. Tom Brady has tossed for 9,721 yards and 68 touchdowns in the playoffs!
Of course, the club and coach with all the experience will tell you it’s all overrated. The neophytes on the other sideline will tell you inexperience is a gridiron euphemism for hunger and humility. In other words, both will belch the expected bromides, and will just about cancel each other out. At this point, days before the biggest game of their lives, each team, coach, and player is rehearsing their feigned modesty and tongues as much as the Tampa Two.
As big as winning a conference championship may feel, every NFL player will tell you that the moment is microscopic compared to the next two weeks, the momentum of media and hyperbole and history all building toward a cultural crescendo that is often too much for players and teams to bear. The pressure was so much it led two prominent players — Barrett Robbins (Raiders) and Stanley Wilson (Bengals) — into drug-fueled self-sabotaged journeys into darkness, both missing the biggest game in either’s life.
Besides, if the Eagles want to know what it’s like to play in the Super Bowl — and win one — they can simply stroll down their own locker room. Both RB LeGarrette Blount and DE Chris Long won it with — who else? — the Patriots last year. Blount and Long are looking to become the third and fourth players to win a Super Bowl with one team and then win it the next year with another team. The others are LB Ken Norton Jr. (Cowboys, 49ers) and Dion Sanders (49ers, Cowboys).
As with most team sports, it will likely come down to which team makes the big plays in the big moments. Or, with New England, which relies on attrition, patience, and prudence, which team makes the big mistakes at the wrong moments.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.