GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sometimes there are surprise teams that get to the Super Bowl. This is not one of those times.
As the 2022 regular season progressed, the Eagles made it clear they were the dominant team in the NFC. There was never a time when the Chiefs were viewed as anything other than the top contender in the AFC. The two teams shared the best record in the NFL at 14-3, and as the survivors from their respective conferences, will meet Sunday in Super Bowl LVII.
The Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl for the third time in the past five years. The Eagles are here five years after beating the Patriots to bring Philadelphia its first Lombardi Trophy.
Kansas City averaged an NFL-leading 29.2 points a game during the season. Philadelphia was second at 28.1 points a game. In the playoffs, the Chiefs beat the Jaguars, 27-20, then needed a last-second field goal to beat the Bengals in the AFC Championship game. The Eagles have not been challenged, beating the Giants and 49ers by a combined 69-14.
As always, there are enticing matchups to delve into. Can Patrick Mahomes escape the ferocious Eagles pass rush on what still might be a suspect right ankle? Has Jalen Hurts’ right shoulder healed sufficiently to exploit the Chiefs down the field? Here is a closer look at how this game shapes up:
Chiefs pass offense vs. Eagles pass defense
Patrick Mahomes did not play on one leg in the AFC title game, but he certainly was impaired because of a high ankle sprain that reduced his mobility. He found a way to beat the Bengals anyway. Two weeks later, Mahomes should be moving better, and that is bad news for the Eagles, who are capable of getting to and dropping any quarterback. They led the league with an incredible 70 sacks and have eight more in their two playoff victories. They had four players with double-digit sacks, and that will stress the Chiefs’ offensive line.
Mahomes is the best player in the NFL and the 2022 Most Valuable Player. He led the league with 41 touchdown passes and 5,250 passing yards, but the Chiefs do not even possess the high-end, skill-player talent they used to have — other than all-world tight end Travis Kelce, who will have to dominate, which he is capable of doing. Mecole Hardman was put on injured reserve and thus will not play, making JuJu Smith-Schuster the main wide receiver target. Kadarius Toney, acquired in a trade with the Giants, hurt his ankle against the Bengals, and his status is (what else?) up in the air. The Eagles might have the best cornerback tandem in the game in Darius Slay and James Bradberry, helping them allow a league-low 179.8 passing yards per game.
Chiefs run offense vs. Eagles run defense
It is no secret Andy Reid as a play-caller leans so heavily at times on the pass game that it seems as if he forgets he can also run the ball from time to time. The Chiefs this season were 24th in the league in rushing attempts, with just 24.5 per game, and that is a big reason they were 20th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 115.9 yards per game. Thanks to the emergence of rookie Isiah Pacheco and steady Jerick McKinnon, the Chiefs’ regular-season rushing average of 4.7 yards per attempt was actually quite good. McKinnon is a valuable safety-valve option for Mahomes out of the backfield. Pacheco, a seventh-round pick, has been a revelation, averaging 4.9 yards per carry during the season. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the erstwhile starter, endured an injury-filled season and could be a wild-card.
Eagles LB T.J. Edwards finds the ball in the ground game, as evidenced by his team-leading 159 tackles. The heralded Eagles defensive line is more renowned for its pass-rush ability, and there was concern over its effectiveness against the run. That is why Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph were signed during the season, adding two veteran, experienced run-stoppers to the middle of the defensive front.
Eagles pass offense vs. Chiefs pass defense
Remember when it was uncertain whether Hurts would develop into a big-time passer? Yeah, that concern sure came and went quickly. His pocket awareness is growing, and his deep ball is usually quite accurate. CB L’Jarius Sneed left the AFC title game with a concussion, and he cleared protocol this past week, a big relief for the Chiefs. He mostly lines up in the slot and is a vital part of the Chiefs secondary, which must give snaps to three rookies: Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams.
That is a great deal of inexperience to go against A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, who became the first pair of Eagles receivers to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Brown, acquired in a trade with the Titans this past April, had a career-high 1,496 yards to finish fourth in the league. His 11 touchdown catches was tied for third in the league. Smith, in his second NFL season, set a franchise record with 95 catches. Tight end Dallas Goedert is a big part of the Philly passing attack and a difficult assignment for any linebacker. The Chiefs were second in the league with 55 sacks, led by Chris Jones with 15.5.
Eagles run offense vs. Chiefs run defense
What happens when you take a strong, but not elite, stable of running backs and one of the NFL’s top running quarterbacks, then stick them behind the league’s best offensive line? You have a ground attack that is hard to stop. No wonder the Eagles were fifth in the league in rushing.
The five-man line of Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo and Lane Johnson is especially adept at pulling with the guards and Kelce, a future Hall of Famer at center. Dickerson suffered an elbow injury in the NFC title game but will play, likely wearing a brace on his arm.
Miles Sanders was one of three running backs this season with 1,200-plus rushing yards, 11-plus rushing touchdowns and a rushing average of 4.5 yards or better. Kenneth Gainwell ripped off 112 yards in the playoff victory over the Giants. Boston Scott is capable (ask the Giants). The Eagles ran for four touchdowns against the 49ers’ stout defense in the NFC Championship game. Hurts, with 760 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns during the season, moves around the field like a running back. The Chiefs allowed just 107.2 yards per game on the ground during the season, with linebacker Nick Bolton a tackling machine with 180 of them (108 solo).
Strong-legged Harrison Butker kicked the Chiefs into the Super Bowl with a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining to beat the Bengals 23-20 in the AFC Championship. Butker knows his way around pressure kicks — he is 8-for-8 on field goals in his previous Super Bowl history. His Eagles counterpart, Jake Elliott, is 12-for-12 on field goals in the playoffs. Elliott went 5-for-5, with makes from 52 and 54 yards, in a Week 18 victory over the Giants.
Chiefs punter Tommy Townsend made his first Pro Bowl in his third season in Kansas City, leading the league with a net punting average of 45.6 yards. Eagles punter Arryn Siposs was not as effective and late in the season was on injured reserve with an ankle issue. He could be ready to play in the Super Bowl.
Chiefs punt returner Skyy Moore, a rookie, had three fumbles during the season, but his 29-yard return late in the AFC title game set up Butker’s game-winning field goal. Undrafted rookie punt returner Britain Covey has had several good moments for the Eagles, who are not strong in their kickoff coverage. Scott is a breakout threat as the Eagles kickoff returner.
Welcome to the Andy Reid Bowl. He was with the Eagles for 14 years, and just completed his 10th season with the Chiefs. This is the fourth Super Bowl as a head coach for the man known as “Big Red.” He lost the big game with the Eagles after the 2004 season, and he won it once with the Chiefs, getting to the Super Bowl in three of the past four years. At 64, he is headed to Hall of Fame territory.
There was no hoopla a year ago when the Eagles hired Nick Sirianni, but at 41 he led the Eagles to a magnificent season in his second year on the job. Sirianni is surrounded by youth. His coordinators — Shane Steichen (37), Jonathan Gannon (40) and Michael Clay (31) — are all on their way up. Reid is surrounded by older veteran coordinators Eric Bieniemy (53), Steve Spagnuolo (63) and Dave Toub (60).
It sure feels as if the Chiefs are more familiar with what goes down at a Super Bowl, but they have just 13 players remaining from their team that won Super Bowl LIV three years ago. The Eagles have eight players on the roster who were part of their Super Bowl LII victory five years ago.
Any team with Mahomes has a tangible and intangible edge, based on the magic he brings to the field. Hurts, in just his third NFL season, has gone 16-1 as a starter, but the right shoulder injury that kept him out of two games late in the year has not fully healed. Mahomes’ high ankle sprain also remains a factor.