Patriots enjoy big Super Bowl experience edge over Eagles

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) The Eagles are playing some of their best football heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup with the Patriots.

One thing Philadelphia can’t contend with is New England’s huge experience advantage in the big game.

On the 53-man active roster the Patriots brought to Minnesota, 32 players have a combined 60 games of Super Bowl experience.

Tom Brady alone has been to the Super Bowl seven times during his 18-year career, winning five.

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By comparison, the Eagles have seven players on their active roster who’ve won a Super Bowl. Two of those players, LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long, won their rings last season with the Patriots. The others are Torrey Smith, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Dannell Ellerbe and Will Beatty. An eighth player, Chris Maragos, is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

It’s a huge gulf. By comparison, the 2015 Panthers that lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl that season had three players who had won a ring: Ed Dickson (Baltimore), Roman Harper (New Orleans) and Michael Oher (Baltimore).

But the Patriots say it’s nothing they will spend time talking about this week.

“I think it’s overrated,” said special teams captain Matt Slater, who will be appearing in his fourth Super Bowl.

Defensive end Trey Flowers said the coaching staff hasn’t mentioned last year’s Super Bowl win since it came up in film study prior to their regular-season meeting with Atlanta back in October.

“It’s a brand new team, so I wouldn’t say last year’s experience will have anything to do with the outcome of this game,” Flowers said. “This team has a lot of different guys from a year ago, so it’s something you’ve got to do all over again as far as experience goes.”

Yes and no.

New England actually returns 31 players who were on last year’s Super Bowl roster against the Falcons. That doesn’t include injured linebacker Dont'a Hightower or receiver Julian Edelman.

Two of the Patriots’ additions since then both played in the Super Bowl with other teams. Linebacker James Harrison won two rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois played on the San Francisco 49ers team that came up short against Baltimore in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 season.

“We know what to expect, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to perform,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “So there’s really no upper hand. You’ve got to just play the game and get ready for it and play at a high level.”

He said that is because there is respect across the board for what backup quarterback Nick Foles has accomplished since Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14.

“Everyone wants to hate on Nick Foles, but he’s done a great job,” Van Noy said. “He’s still a high-caliber quarterback, like Carson Wentz. Nick Foles is a great quarterback who’s done a great job. They distribute the ball really well and their run game is at a high level.”

More than experience on either side, linebacker Elandon Roberts said the biggest challenge is not getting caught up in the emotions that come with playing in a Super Bowl.

“Obviously it’s all the marbles right here, but it’s everything you work for,” Roberts said. “So you’ve got to think back to what got you here: doing your job, not getting overwhelmed and what not. As long as we do that that takes away most of it.”

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

The NFL’s final 4 all overcame injuries to star players

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The list of players sitting out this weekend’s conference championships is almost as impressive as the starting lineups: Julian Edelman. Carson Wentz. Dalvin Cook. Dont'a Hightower. Allen Robinson. Sam Bradford.

Following the NFL’s season of carnage that claimed the likes of, among others, Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Joe Thomas, this year’s final four all overcame not only the odds – “Minneapolis Miracle , anyone?” – but devastating injuries to key starters.

“We have a tough and resilient team,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said of the NFC’s top seed , which is missing its second-year QB in Wentz, an MVP hopeful when he blew out a knee in December.

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Even before Wentz’s injury thrust backup Nick Foles into the starting job for the playoffs, the Eagles lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, playmaking middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, versatile return specialist Darren Sproles, and special teams captain Chris Maragos.

Yet, here they are, 60 minutes from Minneapolis and Super Bowl 52.

“I think that starts at the top with Doug, because he sets the tone for being resilient and even keeled,” Long said of his coach, Doug Pederson. “At the end of the day, we have a tough group of guys.”

So do the Minnesota Vikings, who are trying to reach their first Super Bowl in more than four decades and fulfill mantra to “Bring it Home” and become the first NFL team to play the title game in its own stadium.

And they’re doing so behind Case Keenum, who crashed Tom Brady‘s playoff party along with fellow perennial backup Foles and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

Together, the four quarterbacks left standing have a combined five Super Bowl rings, two NFL MVP awards and four Super Bowl MVP trophies. Brady, of course, owns all of that hardware himself.

Such is the panorama of these playoffs following a season of pain in which so many superstars were rendered sideline spectators with broken bones, snapped ligaments, torn muscles.

Keenum replaced an injured Bradford, who had replaced an injured Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford, now back in uniform as Keenum’s backup, blew out a knee in the first month of the season, as did rookie running back in Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Behind resilient coach Mike Zimmer , who resisted the urge to quit just before he got the Vikings’ head coaching gig in 2014, Minnesota rolled right along. Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

“We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. “They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

The Patriots are also a bunch of fighters; they reached their seventh straight AFC title game despite losing Edelman, Brady’s top target, to a torn ACL in the preseason, and Hightower to a torn chest muscle in November.

Play caller Josh McDaniels and Brady, who led New England to a fifth Super Bowl title last year despite the absence of Rob Gronkowski, adjusted accordingly to Edelman’s absence with another terrific year.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy stepped in for Hightower and ranked third on the team with 73 tackles and second with 5+ sacks despite missing three of the final five games with a calf injury.

Van Noy’s sack total was just a half-sack shy of Hightower’s career high set in 2014.

“The thing about K.V. is he’s very versatile,” said Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty. “So we’ve used him a bunch of different ways. … He’s been a big asset to our team.”

The Jaguars are the healthiest of the remaining playoff teams. They have only one opening-day starter on injured reserve: former Pro Bowl receiver Robinson, who tore his left ACL on Jacksonville’s opener.

Four months removed from reconstructive surgery, Robinson is now traveling with the team, so he’ll be on the sideline Sunday at New England, serving as a mentor to a raw receiving corps.

“Every person in this locker room put in a lot of work to get to this point, with me being one of them,” said Robinson, who was poised for another big year after dominating the league’s best secondary in training camp.

His injury on Jacksonville’s third offensive snap created a huge void for the offense. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns tried to pick up the slack, but they ended up on the sideline at one point with injuries, too, leaving rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook to assume bigger roles.

Cole, an undrafted rookie from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan, had 42 catches for 748 yards and three scores in the regular season. He added a clutch 45-yard catch that set up a late TD in Jacksonville’s 45-42 stunner at Pittsburgh last week.

“I wish I could just wake up tomorrow and feel like I did Sept. 9,” Robinson said, “but I understand it’s going to be a process. I know I’ll be back to that point and better.”

Like so many other stars, Robinson will be in street clothes Sunday, cheering on his teammates in hopes of getting a sideline pass to the Super Bowl.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

With contributions from AP Pro Football Writers Rob Maaddi and Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Mark Long and Kyle Hightower.

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton