It’s easy to say now, especially in an NFL season that’s seemingly been so volatile from the jump, but we should be in store for quite the treat when the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles square off in Super Bowl 57.
Because despite all of the chaos, we are ultimately getting a matchup of two top-seeds and two 14-win teams. It’s the first Super Bowl tilt of No. 1 seeds since the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 — half a decade ago. In the heavily adjusted paraphrased words of the immortal “Macho Man” Randy Savage: It’s unjustifiably a position we’d rather be in, the cream has risen to the top, and we are getting the cream of the crop.
Take it away, Mr. Savage:
In the coming days, there’ll be a lot of bold declarations and (superfluous) analysis of what to envision from a game that features Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, etc., etc., etc. (Takes a deep breath) So, in the interest of helping you cut through the thick brush, I’ve rounded up a few way-too-early predictions about what we’ll definitely see unfold in Arizona.
Peer into my glorious crystal ball, and you won’t be remotely shocked once you see these happenings take place in Super Bowl 57.
The Eagles will bully the Chiefs' defensive front, rush for over 150 yards as a team
On a statistical basis, the Chiefs had a stout rushing defense during the regular season, allowing the eighth-least rushing yards of anyone. It was one of the hallmarks of a league-average unit that did enough to stay afloat. But in the playoffs, while they were still able to survive, the Jacksonville Jaguars (who ran for 140-plus yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry) showed that Kansas City can be gashed and can be pushed around.
From this perspective, the Eagles’ massive offensive front couldn’t be a worse matchup for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s boys. Not only did Philadelphia have a top-five rushing attack that created 17 runs of at least 20 yards in the regular year, it continued to terrorize the poor New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers in January.
If the Eagles can get the brick-wall 49ers’ defense to slowly bleed out 148 yards as a team, they can inflict damage on any team opposing them.
Plus, Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen know that the optimal way to beat Patrick Mahomes is to keep the ball out of his hands. Look for Philly to set the tempo early and often with a bruising rushing attack that limits the NFL’s best quarterback by opportunity.
Chris Jones and Frank Clark will combine for at least five sacks
Much of the next week or so will discuss how Jones (and, in turn, Clark) can possibly find a way to wreak havoc on one of the top OLs in the game. In fact, it might be one of the critical factors in this chalky Super Bowl tug-of-war. I’m here to tell you: The Chiefs shouldn’t be concerned. Not with the furious Jones, a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, who set the table for pro football’s second-best pass rush this season (55 sacks).
News flash: Guys who can collapse the pocket from the interior are very valuable to a defense’s integrity.
Oh, sorry. Did I neglect to mention that the Eagles allowed 44 sacks in 2022 (borderline top 10) and that we didn’t really have to think about them throwing the ball against the overmatched Giants and 49ers? To be clear, much of the Eagles letting Jalen Hurts get torn asunder on occasion is due to their offensive structure, not necessarily that their offensive line can’t pass block. Philadelphia vies for the home run ball, and often, Hurts himself usually waits until the last second to let a play develop. But that aggressive strategy still opens the door for unfortunate negative plays.
This Philadelphia passing makeup is a recipe for disaster against one of the game’s elite defensive buzzsaws in Jones and his running mate Clark. Think of it like the Hulk and Thor putting aside their differences and deciding to “smash” together.
Kansas City's secondary will struggle with the Eagles' team speed
Over their entire catalog of games, almost no one created more “explosive plays” than the Eagles in 2022. Philadelphia had the league’s second-best explosive passing offense (any pass of 20 yards or more) and the eighth-best explosive rushing offense. Only the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants had a higher rushing first-down percentage than the Eagles (29.6 percent)
None of this should be a surprise.
The Eagles have the modern version of Terrell Owens in A.J. Brown. Complementing him is one of the sport’s best No. 2 wideouts in DeVonta Smith. Throw in a tight end who can control the middle seam in Dallas Goedert, an offensive line that opens lanes fit for an 18-wheeler that lets Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kenneth Gainwell often get to the second level untouched, and you have a lethal collection of manufactured tempo.
The Eagles do not sit on the ball, nor should they.
Kansas City did an admirable job of limiting explosive plays this year, finishing ninth in opponent in yards per play (5.1) and third in explosive plays allowed. But, not by coincidence, its defense was thoroughly gashed every time it played a team in the top five in offensive DVOA (the Bills, the Bengals, the 49ers).
On paper, Philadelphia possesses the most complete and quick offense the Chiefs have faced in roughly five months. They’ll need some time to adjust … if they even can.
Kadarius Toney will have at least 100 receiving yards
The Chiefs took a complete flier on Kadarius Toney when they acquired him for the paltry sum of a third and sixth-round pick at midseason.
One of the NFL’s better offenses didn’t need a talent like Toney to continue humming along; it just wanted another toy to throw into the playpen. And to this moment, Toney’s production has been meager in Kansas City. The former first-round has just 171 receiving yards in seven games, has topped over 50 yards in only two, and last scored a touchdown on Christmas Eve. A lingering ankle injury — depending on its severity — could hamper his production in Super Bowl 57.
But I wouldn’t bet on it.
I think the Chiefs, specifically, acquired an electric talent Toney for a Big Game. Kansas City may have the genius Andy Reid scheming up plays and a Hall of Fame tight end in Travis Kelce owning the middle of the field. But it’s been missing a consistent downfield threat that makes defenders pay for sitting on their heels or trying to jump short routes. Enter Toney in space and/or with five yards of separation on Eagles’ defensive backs that try to press him.
The last performance Toney had over 100 receiving yards came in October … of 2021. With so much attention on Kelce and the rest of the red and gold crew, no one in Philadelphia will see an unleashed Toney coming. That’s exactly what the Chiefs are counting on.
A rusty Jalen Hurts will have three turnovers
Look, I like Jalen Hurts. A lot. I think the superstar will make the Eagles a deep January (and February) fixture for a long time. There’s zero question he’s one of the NFL’s brightest young quarterbacks, and there’s still so much ground left to travel in his career journey.
That said, what’s happened for Hurts and the Eagles of late paints the picture of catastrophe at the worst possible time. By the time Super Bowl 57 kicks off in Arizona, Hurts will have thrown roughly 84 passes (!) in two months. Some of that is a product of the Eagles protecting their talisman as he nurses a hurt shoulder. Some of that is a product of the Eagles not needing Hurts to throw the ball much against two overmatched New York and San Francisco squads. Nonetheless, to be asked to be responsible for so little as the biggest game of your career looms is a mountain of a task.
Hurts not unleashing the dragon since mid-December will make him susceptible to succumbing to the initial pressure of the grandest stage in American sports. What’s more, the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes won’t let the Eagles ease in and get comfortable and work as they please on offense. To keep pace, Hurts and Philadelphia have to throw the ball. While I have no doubt that he’ll eventually settle in to keep this game tight — there will be a degree of rust putting Hurts and his offense behind the eight-ball.
The Chiefs aren’t a particularly remarkable team when it comes to forcing turnovers (20 in the regular season). However, they did get two each off Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow’s respective crews in the playoffs. You know, when it counts. Hurts is not markedly better (if at all) than his fellow QB peers in this respect, meaning we have plenty of signs pointing toward a young player melting down with the lights at their brightest.