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Clash of the titans: Super Bowl LVII preview

UP graphic by Keagan Smith
UP graphic by Keagan Smith

It’s not a foregone conclusion that the NFL’s best two teams meet in the championship game, but fans are in for a treat this weekend as the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. This year’s big game, held in Glendale, Arizona, is certainly a matchup between the elite.

The Kansas City Chiefs are on the brink of a dynastic run, so it’s no surprise they’ll be playing Sunday. This season marks their third Super Bowl appearance in the past four years, and they’re surely hungry for another championship ring after going 1-1 in the previous two.

After all, winning does seem to be the specialty of superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The 27-year old led the Chiefs to a 14-3 finish in the regular season, earning a first-round playoff bye before downing the up-and-coming Jaguars and a talented Bengals squad en route to the Super Bowl. Despite losing his No. 1 receiver Tyreek Hill in the offseason, Mahomes still won the league’s MVP award – and some argue that Hill’s departure helped him improve even more as a signal-caller.

The NFL’s most dominant team awaits on the opposite sideline. The Philadelphia Eagles put together an incredible regular-season campaign, also finishing with a 14-3 record. They received a first-round bye, then blew out the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers in the leadup to the big game. How did they get here? They simply built this roster with home-grown talent and went all-in this past offseason to add elite talent and elevate their ceiling.

It certainly helps that the face of their franchise is in the midst of one of the most exciting breakout seasons in recent memory. Third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts played near MVP-caliber football for much of the year, and he’s quickly become a dynamic dual threat on the ground and through the air. He’s proving the doubters wrong.

What will be the story of the game? For starters, Super Bowl LVII is a game of firsts. It’s the first championship game between two Black quarterbacks, a significant achievement fitting for Black History Month. It will also be the first meeting between two brothers in the big game, as Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce will compete for the family lead in championship rings.

This matchup is personal for both head coaches, as well. Andy Reid served as the Eagles’ head coach from 1999 until 2012, when he moved on and took his current position as the Chiefs’ head coach. When he took over, he cleaned house and fired most of the old coaching staff  — including receivers coach Nick Sirianni, who is now at the helm of the Eagles’ franchise. 

With slightly under 48 hours to go until kickoff, the Eagles were listed as one-and-a-half-point favorites to win the title. They’re a testament to modern roster construction and probably have more talent across the board than their opponent. 

Philly’s offensive line is the best in the NFL, which gives Hurts plenty of time to throw and also helps open the gap for running back Miles Sanders, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hurts is throwing to a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert is an underrated weapon at tight end. 

On the other side of the ball, Philadelphia boasts the league’s most fearsome defense. Their pass-rush nearly set the all-time record for sacks in a season with 70, 15 more than the next-closest team. THis was two shy of the 1984 Bears’ 72. Their secondary is a no-fly-zone, tying for third-most interceptions in the NFL with 17, and allowed a meager 18.8 points a game. If anyone can stop Mahomes and the Chiefs, it’s going to be the Eagles.

At the same time, it’s basically impossible to count Mahomes out. He’s a two-time MVP — and possibly the most talented signal-caller in league history — for a reason. The guy just makes things happen when he’s in the game. While he sustained a high-ankle sprain in the Divisional round (and then played through it the following week), he’s also had two weeks to rehab and let his injury heal. When he’s on the field, offensive fireworks follow.

That’s especially true when Travis Kelce shares the field with Mahomes. In a league where tight ends have become semi-replaceable, Kelce has cemented his place among the legends of the game. At 33-years old, he caught 110 passes for more than 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns, plus another three scores in the playoffs. The rest of Kansas City’s offensive pieces may not be elite, but they can score with anybody. 

Keys to the game:

The Chiefs defense is good, but not great. They ranked around the middle of the pack in points allowed on a per-game basis, and didn’t force turnovers at a high rate. However, they were second in total sacks, so they may not be completely outmatched against Philadelphia’s talented offensive line. Kansas City will have to create pressure on Hurts — but at the same time, forcing him out of the pocket allows him to better utilize his elite mobility. The result is a bit of a paradox.

Keep in mind the Philadelphia offense is virtually unstoppable. The Eagles excel at everything, whether it's playing smash-mouth, run-heavy football, or airing the ball out for big plays. In particular, they utilize the run-pass option to near-perfection. Guarding that concept is difficult for defenses — running lanes are wide open if the defensive backs allow too much cushion to defend the pass, but moving further up to stop the run will leave them vulnerable to the explosive receivers lining up outside.

In short, the Kansas City defense has to step up to the moment and play at their absolute best. Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ offense will have to take advantage of every single possession. If they can keep the score close, Mahomes will give them as good a shot as any to win it all. The over-under total is set at 51 points, so it might just turn into a shootout between high-powered offenses.

The Chiefs’ offensive line allowed the third-fewest sacks this season, so they can probably hold their own against the Eagles pass-rush. Because of that, Philadelphia has the option to drop an extra defender into coverage to key in on Kelce, who is clearly Mahomes’ favorite target. The veteran pass-catcher is sure to see double teams, particularly in the red zone. The Eagles will want to force the rest of Kansas City’s offense to beat them, and that’s a gamble they’ll likely be more than happy to take.

Sure, beating the reigning MVP on the biggest stage isn't going to be easy. However, history isn't exactly on the Chiefs' and Mahomes' side. The last nine reigning MVPs to play in the Super Bowl have all lost in the title game — a streak that has stood since 1999. 

All things considered, we’re taking the Eagles to win the Super Bowl, 34-24. Regardless of the outcome, it looks to be a great game between two of the NFL’s titans. 

Category: Sports