“I’d run over my own mother to win the Super Bowl” — Russ Grimm. “I’d run over Russ Grimm’s mother to win the Super Bowl, too” — Matt Millen.
“Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up”
Philadelphia is the city of the underdog. Rocky pounded the pavements — and the heavy bags — of the city, as one of cinema’s great overachieving underdogs. Its Football team has often embraced the role of the unheralded outsider and has been the underdog on their last two visits to the Super Bowl. Not this time, however, as, at the time of writing, the Philadelphia Eagles are the narrow favourite to lift the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday. Philly are appearing in the NFL’s Championship game for the fourth time, having stunned the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII on their most recent appearance, five years ago.
Their opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs, have been a model of consistency, having hosted the AFC Championship game for a record five consecutive seasons, which they’ve parlayed into winning Super Bowl LIV, and making it back to Super Sunday a year later, when they were beaten by Tampa Bay. This will be the Chiefs’ fifth Super Bowl appearance, with the others being a win and a loss in two of the first four Super Bowls.
In 2020, the NFL altered its Playoff format, with only the number one seed in each Conference benefitting from a First-Round bye, as well as home-field advantage throughout the Playoffs. In the first two seasons of this new format, only one of the four top seeds advanced to Super Sunday, but this season has seen both top seeds reach the big game.
Kansas City made a strong start to their season, with a comfortable 44-21 win in Arizona and a victory over their division rivals, the LA Chargers — the team expected to give them the most to think about in the AFC West. After a slightly surprising reversal in Indianapolis, the Chiefs avenged their Super Bowl LV loss against Tampa Bay, before scraping past the Raiders 30-29. The Chiefs two other losses on the season were no disgrace: a narrow 24-20 defeat to pre-season Super Bowl favourites, Buffalo, and a 27-24 loss on the road at the hands of Cincinnati. Either side of that loss to the Bengals, Kansas City rattled off ten more Regular Season wins, completing a 6-0 sweep of their division rivals.
Their 14-3 Regular Season record guaranteed a First-Round bye, after which they entertained Jacksonville. one of the surprise packages this season. Turnovers, as so often, proved to be the difference, in what was a hard-fought win. The Chiefs only outgained their opponents by 13 yards but recovered a Fumble and forced Trevor Lawrence into an Interception, en route to a 27-20 win. Last year, Kansas City became one of the victims of another upstart team: the Cincinnati Bengals. This year they avenged that defeat.
That victory certainly owed a great deal to the way that the game was officiated. Several calls went the Chiefs’ way. The most glaring of these dubious decisions was the call to replay Third Down, after Cincinnati believed they had stopped Kansas City, forcing them to punt. Prior to the play, one of the officials had tried to stop the game but, given the noise from Arrowhead Stadium’s raucous faithful, his attempts were in vain. Due to an error with the game clock, Kansas City was given another opportunity on Third Down and duly converted, much to the frustration of the Bengals. The Chiefs also benefitted from a questionable Intentional Grounding penalty on Cincinnati Quarterback, Joe Burrow. Throw in a missed call when Trey Hendrickson looked to have been held, and the Bengals had plenty of grievances. Nevertheless, Kansas City gained 48 more yards than their visitors, and their pass rush harassed Joe Burrow on numerous occasions, especially during the First Quarter. Kansas City’ players were only too aware of Cincinnati’s strong recent record against them and took exception to many people terming it Burrowhead Stadium, following the Bengals’ Quarterback’s strong recent efforts there. But they put that to rest, running out 23-20 winners.
Prior to the season starting, Kansas City were among the front-rank contenders, and went off a 10/1 chance to win the Super Bowl. The Eagles weren’t flying under the radar either, and began the season as a 20/1 shot to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy. In the franchise’s 90th season, it didn’t take Philadelphia long to confirm themselves as legitimate contenders, as they flew out of the gate, winning their first eight games. Their winning sequence finally came to an end when they lost to division rivals, the Washington Commanders. Towards the end of the Regular Season, Philadelphia faced a spell without Quarterback, Jalen Hurts, and during the third-year passer’s absence through injury, Philadelphia lost both games. Hurts returned and the Eagles clinched the number one seeding in the NFC with a win over their NFC East rivals, the New York Giants.
Only twelve of the 56 teams who, like Philadelphia, were the last to lose their unbeaten record, went on to win that season’s Super Bowl, and just one of those was in this century. Nevertheless, of the two finalists, Philadelphia looked more impressive in their first two playoff games, sweeping aside the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers by a combined score of 69 to 14. In truth, the Giants were somewhat of a façade, having made the Playoffs with a 9-7-1 record and having been marginally outscored by their combined opponents. Philadelphia led throughout the game and were ahead 28-0 at half-time. They outgained their divisional rivals by 416 yards to 227 and completed a 3-0 season sweep of the G-Men. The 49ers began the NFC Championship game behind their third-choice Quarterback, and when Brock Purdy got injured, they had to send for passer number four, journeyman Josh Johnson — a man who’s had more clubs than Tiger Woods (maybe more franchises than Starbucks is more appropriate?). Philly outgained the Niners by 105 yards, and forced three Fumbles, punching their Super Bowl ticket by a scoreline of 31-7.
Three is the magic number
Before the Conference Championships took place, many bookmakers published their lookahead lines — making odds available for all four possible Super Bowl matchups. The pre-Conference Championships line for Kansas City vs Philadelphia was pretty much a coin flip, with Kansas City one-point favourites, but with Philadelphia +1 priced at 5/6 and the Chiefs -1 on offer at Evens.
Where the Super Bowl line goes is going to depend on the health of Kansas City Quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. The Most Valuable Player (MVP) of Super Bowl LIX has a high ankle sprain, limiting his mobility and ability to throw the deep ball. As the injury report on Mahomes changes, so will the betting lines. At the time of writing, Philadelphia is a one-and-half-point favourite. Such is the significance of the number three in NFL betting that it’s unlikely that books will make either team a three-point favourite. As a result of American Football’s scoring system, certain winning margins are more likely than others. With around 14.8% of NFL games decided by three points, as kick-off approaches bookmakers are reluctant to hang the number three as the point spread for this game, as to do so, would mean that should the favourite (as this time, Philadelphia) win by three, customers who backed Philly giving up two, or two and a half points over the past week or so would win, while patrons backing Kansas City plus three would still get their money back. That would spell disaster for the books. So, the line is likely to oscillate between Philadelphia -2.5 and Kansas City -2.5, depending on bulletins concerning Mahomes’ health.
Fly Eagles fly
Third-year Quarterback Jalen Hurts was in the League MVP conversation this season, and the Eagles struggled in the short stretch when he was absent but have won 23 of the 34 matches that Hurts has started for them. Philadelphia has featured a very strong ground game this year. Although Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott have been useful contributors, Miles Sanders is the elite player within the group. The Eagles broke a 99-year-old record during this campaign, recording 39 Rushing Touchdowns, eclipsing the mark previously held by the 1924 Frankford Yellow Jackets. They traded for Wide Receiver A.J. Brown during the Draft, and he delivered 1,496 receiving yards during the Regular Season, though he hasn’t been targeted as much in the playoffs, while DeVonta Smith would be the number one Receiver for many teams. Nick Sirianni’s team also possess an outstanding Tight End in Dallas Goedert.
Allowing their skill position players to excel, is one of the NFL’s premier Offensive Lines, anchored by exceptional Right Tackle, Lane Johnson, who prevented the 49ers’ Nick Bosa from adding to his impressive Sack tally this season in the NFC Championship game. Protecting Hurts’ blindside, Left Tackle, Jordan Mailata has elevated his play to an elite level this season. The key pivot in between is six-time Pro-Bowler, Jason Kelce, one of the league’s best Centers.
Philly became the first team ever to have four players register 10 or more Quarterback Sacks in a season. Leading the way was Linebacker Haason Reddick. A former First-Round Draft Pick of the Arizona Cardinals, he has repaid the Eagles’ decision to sign him as a Free Agent with 16 Sacks. Opponents can’t slide blocking to Reddick’s side though, as there is Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Josh Sweat to worry about. Ndamukong Suh wasn’t in a rush to sign for a new team this season, until November he was watching games with the rest of us, before the five-time Pro-Bowler put pen to paper on a one-year-deal with the Eagles, giving them formidable depth on their Defensive Line.
If there is a better duo of Cornerbacks in the NFL than Darius Slay and James Bradberry, then it’s hard to think of one. It’s been slim pickings for Slay’s opponents again this season, and none has managed more than 50 yards in his last 10 starts. Targeting Bradberry has been similarly fruitless, as the seventh-year man has not allowed more than one reception in his last 10 outings. Having used a trade to upgrade their passing game in the off-season, Philly also dealt to obtain Strong Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson to improve their pass defense.
On Special Teams, Jake Elliott has been a reliable Kicker, while Brett Kern handles punting duties.
It’s hard to have many reservations about the Chiefs
Despite losing his best Wide Receiver during the offseason, Patrick Mahomes was named the league’s Most Valuable Player during the Regular Season and posted 5,251 Passing Yards this year — the highest one-season total of his career. Mahomes simply completes throws that other Quarterbacks wouldn’t even attempt. His recent injury aside, he’s just as dangerous throwing on the run when he gets flushed from the pocket. Seventh-round Draft pick, Isiah Pacheco has been a pleasant surprise for the Chiefs, bringing power to the running game. Having lost Tyreek Hill in the off-season, the Chiefs have attempted to plug in young, fast wideouts from other teams: JuJu Smith-Schuster from the Steelers and former Packer Marquez Valdes-Scantling. If the Wide Receiver position has required Kansas City’s Front Office to paper over the cracks, that isn’t the case at Tight End. Only a very select group of players can claim to have membership of the Madden 99 Club — the highest possible rating for a player in the highly-successful computer game franchise. Travis Kelce is one such player, and the four-time First-team All-Pro is a walking future Hall of Famer.
Many teams are reluctant to overpay for someone at the Guard position, considering it less valuable than most other spots on the roster. The Chiefs aren’t one of them. In 2021, they signed former Patriots’ star Joe Thuney, who alongside Center Creed Humphrey, has provided outstanding play along the interior of their Offensive Line. Orlando Brown had some struggles this year, when manning the all-important Left Tackle spot, protecting Mahomes’ blind-side.
In a league with several outstanding interior Defensive Linemen, Chris Jones has stood out this season, earning his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl nod. Frank Clark still has the motor to get after opposing QBs from his Defensive End position. Nick Bolton has been one of the most improved Linebackers in the league this season, in an important role, as the Chiefs’ base formation has four D-Linemen, just two Linebackers, and five Defensive Backs.
Those DBs are headed by L’Jarius Sneed who is usually tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top wideout. Justin Reid is the secondary’s next best performer, manning the Strong Safety spot.
As well as kicking the 45-yard Field Goal that sent Kansas City to the Super Bowl, Kicker Harrison Butker is fourth in the list for all-time percentage of Field Goals made, while Tommy Townsend is one of the league’s best Punters. With a team built for speed, it’s no surprise that Kansas City has several dangerous return men, capable of flipping the field with a big runback.
Know Thine Enemy
A part of the coaching trees of Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren, Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid, affectionately known as Big Red, began his NFL Head Coaching career in Philadelphia. He spent 14 seasons there, leading the Eagles to a place in four consecutive NFC Championships games, including taking them to Super Bowl XXXIX, where they lost to New England. Reid then took over the Head Coaching role in Kansas City, a position he has held for a decade. Now, the 64-year-old leads his current team against his old one in the biggest game of all.
When Reid took over as Head Coach of the Eagles in 1999, Philadelphia’s current coach, Nick Sirianni was a freshman student at Mount Union College. Ironically enough, Sirianni was a coaching assistant for Kansas City for four seasons. It would be a stretch to say that taking the NFL Head Coaching spotlight came naturally to Sirianni. His first Press Conference didn’t go smoothly. However, he used the video of his ordeal at the hands of the press corps as motivation and showed it to his squad as a teaching tool.
Kelce vs Kelce
If that has a poetic ring to it, then spare a thought for members of the Kelce family who will have divided loyalties come Sunday. Brothers Travis (the Chiefs’ starting Tight End) and Jason (Philadelphia’s Center) will become the first siblings ever to play against each other in a Super Bowl — though John and Jim Harbaugh were opposing Head Coaches in Super Bowl XLVII. Both Kelces are outstanding players, with Travis serving as Mahomes’ security blanket in the passing game, and Jason, a key cog in Philadelphia’s Offensive Line. Time for Mr and Mrs Kelce to break out the half-and-half Football jerseys.
Although the battle between two brothers is one of the Super Bowl’s intriguing sub-plots, they won’t be on the field at the same time, as both play on offense. There are, however, many key matchups — the games within a game — that will have a big say in who wins Super Bowl LVII. We have already documented the destruction that Chiefs’ Defensive Tackle, Chris Jones has reeked this season. Charged with stopping the charging Chief, will most likely be Philadelphia’s Left Guard, Landon Dickerson, who suffered an elbow injury in the NFC title win against San Francisco. Although MRIs brought positive news, it remains to be seen how healthy he will be.
In the Chiefs’ 19 matches this season, 11 opposing Quarterbacks threw for at least two Touchdowns, and the list of those who failed to do so includes lesser lights like Bryce Perkins, Jeff Driskel, and Jarrett Stidham. This should make Jalen Hurts’ eyes light up, as should the fact that in the second half of the season Kansas City ranked second to last in the league in terms of Quarterback Rushing Yards allowed and — except for Arizona’s Kyler Murray — none were as fleet-footed as Hurts.
For all the highlight reel throws, Patrick Mahomes has also been good at protecting the Football, recently, with his last six matches yielding just one pick. It will be a question of strength vs strength in this department, as he faces the Eagles’ ball-hawking defense. Mahomes has big-game experience, but he threw two Interceptions in each of his two previous Super Bowls appearances.
The Chiefs’ base Defense of four linemen, two Linebackers, and five Defensive Backs means they often only have six men in the box — playing close to the Line of Scrimmage and most able to affect running attempts. This could open space for Philadelphia’s three-headed monster of a running attack. To counteract this, the Chiefs may give more playing time to Linebacker, Leo Chenal, in a 4-3 set-up.
The Eagles have been fast starters and were the best opening-drive scoring team this year — averaging 4.8 points on their opening possessions this season. The team that has scored first has gone on to win 37 of the previous 56 Super Bowls.
Sports Agent Leigh Steinberg — the real Jerry Maguire — once said that, “the Super Bowl is like a movie, and the Quarterback is the leading man”. The statistics would certainly seem to bear that observation out, with the victorious QB having been named that Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player in 31 of the previous 56 renewals. So, it comes as little surprise that Messrs Hurts and Mahomes head the market when it comes to betting on who will be Super Bowl MVP.
For KC, read ER
Whatever you think about who the better team is, there’s definitely an argument that Philadelphia is the healthier squad. As well as Mahomes’ high ankle sprain, the Chiefs top corner L’ Jarius Sneed suffered a concussion during the AFC title game and that meant more playing time for Jaylen Watson, who was victimised by Cincinnati, including on the Tee Higgins’ Touchdown. Watson also allowed 148 receiving yards when he was primarily responsible for covering Stefon Diggs in the Chiefs’ Week 6 match-up with the Minnesota Vikings. Prior to his injury, Sneed had played 96% of Kansas City’s defensive snaps. Sneed is hoping to be available. The Chiefs are REALLY hoping he’ll be available. Early indications are that Sneed has passed concussion protocol and will be able to suit up on Sunday.
The AFC Championship game also saw the Chiefs’ receiving corps become regular visitors to the blue medical tent, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, their de facto number one wideout, among those to take a knock. Star Tight End, Travis Kelce, came into the Conference Championship round nursing a back injury. Although he was able to be a big factor in that game, he may still not be 100% healthy by Sunday.
In The Fanzone
Philadelphia might be the City of Brotherly Love, but its sports fans are hard to impress. During their less successful phases, Eagles fans have never been shy about showing their displeasure at the team’s poor performances. Even after their only Super Bowl win, when they returned to play the curtain-raiser the following year, the boo-birds were out in force, jeering their own team when they trailed at half-time, in what was supposed to be a celebration of the team’s Super Bowl triumph.
The Chiefs Kingdom have made Arrowhead Stadium one of the toughest venues for NFL teams to visit in recent years. Although the Star-Spangled Banner is sacrosanct in the US, it doesn’t stop Kansas City fans from singing the last line as: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the CHIEFS.”
“I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
However, Sunday’s game will take place in Arizona, without the big home advantage for the Chiefs — a case of “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The Cardinals’ State Farm Stadium will play host to Super Sunday for a third time, and both teams will have fond memories of their visits to Glendale, Arizona during the Regular Season. The Chiefs got their campaign off to a winning start there, while Philadelphia edged the hometown Cardinals 20-17, four weeks later.
Eight years ago, State Farm Stadium was the scene of one of the Super Bowl’s great endings. Trailing New England 28-24, Seattle had the ball on New England’s five-yard line, with a little over a minute remaining. A running play on First Down took the Seahawks to within half a yard of the endzone. With Beast Mode — Running Back Marshawn Lynch — in their backfield, most observers expected the Seahawks to pound the ball into the endzone and complete back-to-back NFL Championship wins. They elected to throw, and the unheralded, and undrafted, Patriots’ Corner Malcolm Butler stepped in front of the pass, with his interception sealing another Patriots’ Super Bowl triumph. It was the only time any team was picked off at the one-yard line all season. Victorious Quarterback, Tom Brady’s reaction said it all, as he leapt up and down — he thought he’d seen it all, but even he couldn’t believe his eyes.
We started by mentioning Rocky and finished up referencing the Wizard of Oz. Whoever wins on Sunday, this Super Bowl is sure to be a box office smash, on a par with anything Hollywood could muster.