Tom Brady vs. Jim Schwartz
Philadelphia's defensive chief is not a blitzing coordinator. He relies on the four-man rush, as he did in Buffalo in 2014. The front four must get Tom Brady off his spot. Schwartz has flexibility. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry all can play end or tackle on third down. Look for the Pats to use two TEs to keep Schwartz from moving guys all over. Philly's D-line goes seven deep. They will have more steam in the fourth quarter than the last year's Falcons, who got tired during the Pats' comeback. Will Schwartz have to bring the blitz more than he wants? The Patriots won't butt their heads into the Eagles' No. 1-ranked run defense, which allowed the fewest rush yards in the NFL on first down (and just a 3.4-yard average). The Pats passed on 21 of the first 28 first downs vs. Jacksonville's stout front.
Rob Gronkowski vs. Malcolm Jenkins & Co.
The Eagles are primarily a zone-coverage team, so it's largely going to be a group effort against the Patriots' All-Pro tight end. Still Jenkins will be a key component because he's the Eagles' two-time Pro Bowl safety. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronk has a huge size edge on Jenkins, 6-0, 204, as he does with all safeties. Look for the Pats to use four verticals at times to attack Cover 3. And they will run hitches to the outside with Gronk and the other slot receiver running down the seams. In the red zone, the Pats will isolate Gronk alone on one side of the field with three receivers to the other side. Jenkins is versatile. He will have to use all of his athleticism to jam Gronk at the line and try to defend the fade/back-shoulder route.
Trey Flowers vs. Halapoulivaati Vaitai
The Eagles' second-year left tackle is a weaker link on the Philadelphia offensive line. He has started the last 12 games after Jason Peters tore knee ligaments, and Vaitai has been OK down the stretch. But he has had some clunker games, against the Seahawks and Rams. He allowed four sacks in those two and nine on the season. Flowers led the Pats in sacks but only had 6.5 for the season. He had 2.5 sacks against Atlanta in last year's Super Bowl. Flowers has had two good playoff games this year, with a sack against Tennessee and nine tackles vs. Jacksonville. The Eagles rely on the quick passing game. If New England can get them in third-and-long situations, that's when Flowers could take advantage of both Vaitai and suspect left guard Stefen Wisniewski.