Patriots’ Gronkowski cleared for Super Bowl while Eagles battle flu

The New England Patriots will have their most important receiver in the lineup for Super Bowl LII on Sunday after Rob Gronkowski cleared the conconcussion protocol. Gronkowski was knocked out of the AFC championship game after a hit to the head, and keeping him healthy will be key for New England’s offense against the vaunted defense of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Having Gronkowski in the lineup changes the Patriots’ offense, opening up previously unavailable passing lanes and often attracting double-coverage. Gronkowski is Tom Brady’s top target mainly because his size allows Brady to find him over and around defenders, and his absence can force New England into some uncomfortable offensive looks.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, Gronkowski’s health has been a persistent issue. He missed last year’s Super Bowl win against the Atlanta Falcons after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, and he played in Super Bowl XLVI despite an injured ankle that severely hindered his effectiveness. However, Gronkowski was also healthy enough to be a major contributor to New England’s Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seattle Seahawks, with 68 yards receiving and a touchdown.

Containing Gronkowski will be a priority for Philadelphia’s defense, which is dealing with some health issues of its own. Defensive lineman Tim Jernigan has missed multiple practices and media availabilities due to an illness that appears to be spreading around the Eagles’ locker room. Cornerback Ronald Darby was also absent from media availability on Thursday, and linebacker Mychal Kendricks appears to be under the weather as well. While none of those players are likely to miss a Super Bowl because of a cold, the lack of preparation time could hurt them against a canny team like the Patriots.

New England remains the favourite to win on Sunday despite some heavy betting action behind Philadelphia, and the news of Gronkowski’s availability should make the Patriots even harder to bet against.