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Reasons to fear? Against underdog Eagles, Patriots have plenty in Super Bowl LII

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — As the Broncos marched to Super Bowl 50 and Peyton Manning neared the end of his 18th NFL season, the veteran quarterback began to let his guard down, if ever so slightly. His children, twins Marshall and Mosley, clung to his side at postgame news conferences. He reflected on his career more frequently, and relished it. His tales from years past were shared, often in detail.

Maybe there’s something about No. 18.

Tom Brady, finalizing his 18th season and seeking yet another Super Bowl championship ring, has done the same. Early last week he shared a tale about the first time he tried chewing tobacco — it was in Minnesota when he was a boy, and it ended with him puking — and later he told of the two times he was bitten by dogs.

One was, again, in Minnesota at his grandfather’s farm. The other time was at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft allowed military training on the field.

“Some guys were kind of excited to see us walk out, so I kind of got close to all the guys, and I didn’t realize there were dogs,” Brady said. “Obviously those weren’t like Labradors. These were like tough dogs. I raised my arms up over my head, and right when I raised my arms up, the dog jumped up, and I guess was going for my neck and the guy grabbed the dog back down and the dog got my thigh on the way down.

“I was standing there with a bunch of tough guys, and they all saw it. They’re like, ‘Are you OK?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, of course I’m OK,’ but I could feel the cut.’ ”

Brady is back in Minnesota, and he could leave with a grand story to tell about his record sixth Super Bowl victory. Or he could return to New England with a tale about being attacked again, this time by a pack of underdogs.

The Patriots, the reigning champions, are favored over a Philadelphia Eagles team that, despite having the No. 1 seed in the NFC, wasn’t expected to make it here. A slew of injuries, including to  star quarterback Carson Wentz, were supposed to thwart the Eagles’ magical run.

But with second-year coach Doug Pederson, veteran quarterback Nick Foles, a stout defense and an offense that could be changing the game, the Eagles are a force.

“We’ve been the underdogs. I think that’s the mentality of our football team. I think that’s the mentality of our city, and I’m OK with that, I’m fine that,” Pederson said. “I’ve been an underdog my whole career, my whole life. Everything I’ve done, I either haven’t been good enough or something negative has been written or said, and I just blow it off. I have confidence in these guys and this team.”

Built for adversity

The Eagles were supposed to be finished Dec. 10 when Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury in a win over the Los Angeles Rams. The MVP in the making was the engine behind the Eagles’ resurgence, and after losing offensive tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles, there was no way Philadelphia could withstand the loss of Wentz too. At least that was the conventional thinking.

But the Eagles’ plan to transform a 7-9 team into a 13-3 NFC champion was still unfolding.

Pederson, a former backup to Brett Favre who joined the NFL coaching ranks with the help of Andy Reid, returned to Philadelphia in 2016 to clean up the mess left by Chip Kelly. In 2016, Pederson was a rookie head coach and Wentz was a star rookie whom the Eagles gave up a haul to draft No. 2 overall.

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