Super Bowl LVII preview: Chiefs vs. Eagles
Andrew McGuinness | Wednesday, February 1, 2023
In some ways, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles are in similar spots. Both teams, after years of suffering, are looking for their second Super Bowl in their last five years. Both have a superstar player with the last name Kelce. They are led by a do-it-all quarterback with gobs of talent and playoff experience. There is a healthy mix of players who have been to the Super Bowl before and those about to taste a stage like no other not just in football, but in all of sports, for the first time.
But there are also quite a few key differences. Seeing the Chiefs play deep into January has become an expectation. Kansas City has made the AFC Championship Game five years running, which just so happens to coincide with the year Patrick Mahomes took over the reins at quarterback. All he has done since is lead the Chiefs out of decades of despair. Kansas City has become one of the league’s model franchises, with long-time Eagles head coach Andy Reid guiding him and his supporting cast.
The Eagles also sparked a turnaround with a quarterback change, enshrining Jalen Hurts with the permanent starting role in 2021. After experiencing the typical highs and lows of a first-year starter in a respectable 9-8 campaign that ended with Hurts being totally overwhelmed in a Wild Card loss to the Bucs, improvements by Hurts himself and to the roster around him by general manager Howie Roseman have turned the Eagles back into a powerhouse. Less than a year ago, people were not even sure if Hurts would be the Eagles’ starter this year. Now, he is an MVP finalist for the NFC Champions. Not bad.
Of course, neither team’s arc is that simple. There are still doubts about Hurts and questions about Mahomes’ supporting cast — not to mention both quarterbacks’ health. It all adds up to an intriguing 57th edition of the climactic conclusion of an NFL season, one that has the potential to be a legendary game but can only bestow the same status upon one of these two teams.
Kansas City Chiefs: 14-3, AFC No. 1 Seed
Divisional: Beat Jacksonville 27-20, Conference: Beat Cincinnati 23-20
For all of the dominance and State Farm commercials Mahomes has been featured in over the last five years, it feels weird that this is *only* his third Super Bowl appearance. It feels like some of the biggest storylines of their season have focused on what the Chiefs do not have rather than what they do. Sure, Tyreek Hill left without another star wideout arriving to replace him. Yes, Mahomes suffered a high-ankle sprain that could still be lingering when the big game arrives.
What the Chiefs do have, however, is merely the league’s best offense, according to Football Outsiders’ Defense Value Over Adjusted (DVOA) metric. Hill may be gone, but that just means Mahomes and Travis Kelce are as dominant as ever. Kelce’s 1,138 receiving yards were over 400 more than any other tight end. Mahomes is once again an MVP finalist and is tied for third in Pro Football Reference’s approximate value statistic. Both are future Hall of Famers looking to solidify their legacy with a second ring.
Kansas City also compares well at offensive line. The Chiefs’ unit was ranked as the fourth-best offensive line by Pro Football Focus, giving Mahomes time to make the ridiculous plays he seems to have perfected by now. Rookie Isiah Pacheco also emerged down the stretch at running back, rushing for 754 yards since Week 10 and averaging over five yards a carry in that span. JuJu Smith-Schuster quietly finished just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. Both he and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are capable of making plays if the Eagles focus too much on other players.
Kansas City needs to find a way to do something almost no one has been able to do against the Eagles — make sure their strength of stopping the run lives up to the billing. The Chiefs allowed the eighth fewest rushing yards during the regular season. Their lone Pro Bowler on defense is at defensive tackle (Chris Jones). And three-time Pro Bowler Frank Clark is lined up next to him at defensive end.
The Kansas City defense does not force a lot of turnovers, which hurts. They are also 22nd in completion percentage against, although they were good at limiting big plays. In other words, the key for the Chiefs’ defense is to bend, don’t break and contain the Eagles’ run game. If Kansas City can hold the Eagles to field goals or fourth-down stops, they can create the type of momentum that Mahomes, Kelce and Reid know how to capitalize off better than almost anyone.
Philadelphia Eagles: 14-3, NFC No. 1 Seed
Divisional: Beat NY Giants 38-7, Conference: Beat San Francisco 31-7
The Eagles’ first two playoff games have presented a chicken-and-the-egg type of conundrum. Should you be more concerned that Jalen Hurts has not quite looked himself after missing two games and admitting he is not at 100% due to a shoulder injury or impressed that the Eagles have hung up 69 points in two playoff games, including 31 against the league’s No. 1 defense in the 49ers, regardless?
The answer might be a little bit of both. Although given that Hurts will be seven weeks removed from the injury, perhaps the former has a slight edge. Hurts is not the end-all, be-all of Philadelphia’s offense the way Mahomes is for the Chiefs. But the Eagles will be counting on Hurts to deliver the game of his career against the league’s No. 17 defense, according to DVOA. Each of Philadelphia’s three running backs has found the end zone in these playoffs. DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown are elite threats at wide receiver, and Dallas Goedert is a top-five tight end. In other words, Hurts is not lacking help.
Yet despite the gluttony of players the Eagles have at skill positions, the key to the team’s success is its line play. GM Howie Roseman has always prioritized building from the inside out. And it is more evident than ever with this team, arguably the best one of his tenure. All five members of the Eagles’ starting offensive line are either Pro Bowlers or Pro Bowl alternates, including Hall of Fame hopefuls Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson.
On defense, the Eagles came within two sacks of tying the 1984 Chicago Bears for most sacks in a season. Four Eagles had double-digit sacks, with local product Haason Reddick leading the way with 16. T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White have taken steps to solidify the linebacking core. Darius Slay and James Bradberry form one of the top lockdown duos at corner. C.J. Gardner-Johnson was tied for the league lead in interceptions despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney.
There just is not much of a weakness with this Eagles team. Their defense is first in DVOA and their offense is sixth. Even their special teams have been on the rise after a rough start. Was their path here relatively easy? Yes. Did the Eagles still dominate nearly every foe on their path here? Also yes. No matter how you feel about their journey, Philadelphia deserves to be here.
Any advantage the Eagles may have on defense feels likely to be neutralized by Kansas City’s edge in experience. While the Eagles did win the Super Bowl, only four of their 22 non-special teams starters are the same as Super Bowl LII. Most of the team had never won a playoff game before this year. They are going up against a coach as experienced as any in Reid and a duo in Mahomes and Kelce who always seem to rise to the moment.
Still, Philadelphia is not to be taken lightly. They have looked like the NFL’s best team for almost the entire season. But as their head coach Nick Sirianni has said, “It’s not about who’s the toughest, it’s about who’s the toughest the longest.” The Chiefs have been somewhere between tough and impossible to beat in big games under Mahomes. Super Bowl LVII, perhaps as doubted as Mahomes has been since establishing himself as a clear-cut superstar, feels like the type of moment where a great one decides he simply is not losing.
Chiefs 31, Eagles 30.
Contact Andrew McGuinness at [email protected].