If Defense Still Wins Championships, The Eagles Should Prevail Over The Chiefs

Super Bowl 57 may come down to how well the Eagles can slow down the indomitable duo of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. (Kansas City Star)

Super Bowl 57 may come down to how well the Eagles can slow down the indomitable duo of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. (Kansas City Star)

If defense still wins championships, the Eagles should prevail over the Chiefs

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.


Four downs on Kansas City Chiefs (16-3) v. Philadelphia Eagles (16-3)

First down: Just like everyone thought.

This was a fairly predictable Super Bowl matchup at the start of the season. What’s surprising is that it held up during a season of otherwise unforeseen twists – the Jaguars making the playoffs and the Patriots not, Russell Wilson falling from NFL superstar to Internet meme, the Lions winning as many games as the Browns, etc. The teams’ Tale of the Tape is eerily identical. Each has the same record, each scored 546 points, each have six All-Pros, each has a Kelce brother. They were the No. 1 playoff seeds in the AFC and NFC. The last time both No. 1 seeds squared off came in Super Bowl 49 when New England turned back Seattle, 28-24, on a Malcolm Butler interception at the goal line with 26 seconds left. Oh, that game was played in the same stadium in Glendale, AZ, as this one.

Second down: Dee-fence! Dee-fence!

While the offensive numbers are similar, the Eagles have a slight edge on defense. The Eagles ranked second overall in yards and eighth in points allowed. The Chiefs were 11th and 16th, respectively. The Eagles led the NFL with 78 sacks; the Chiefs were second with 62. The 140 combined team sacks are the most in a Super Bowl matchup. The Eagles have the deepest and most formidable defensive line in the league and were the first team in NFL history to have four players with double-digit sack totals. Haason Reddick had 16, and Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham and Javon Hargave and 11 apiece. The Eagles are capable of hitting quarterbacks with a second wave of linemen, such as Fletcher Cox, Ndamukong Suh, Linval Joseph and rookie Jordan Davis. The Chiefs are less deep up front, but feature arguably the most game-wrecking lineman in this matchup, Chris Jones, who produced 15.5 sacks in the regular season and added two in the AFC Championship against Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow. If the MVP comes from the defensive side of the ball for the first time since Von Miller in Super Bowl 50, his name most likely will be found in this paragraph.

Third down: Historical QB matchup.

The first African-American quarterback to appear in and win a Super Bowl was Doug Williams for the Washington Redskins in SB22 following the 1988 season. Steve McNair of the Tennessee Titans appeared in SB34 and lost, Donovan McNabb of the Eagles played in SB39 and lost, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks won in SB48 and lost in SB49, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers lost in SB50, and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs won SB54 and lost SB55. This year’s matchup of Mahomes and Jalen Hurts of the Eagles marks the first pairing of African-American quarterbacks in a Super Bowl. “The guys that came before me and Jalen set the stage for this, and I'm just glad that we can set the stage for … kids that are coming up now,” said Mahomes, who obviously has covered the topic in his previous Super Bowls. Hurts, who is making his first Super Bowl appearance in his third NFL season, said, “It's a historic moment. It's telling kids that maybe if someone is telling them they can't do something, that it can be done.” Yes, this matchup breaks down another racial barrier in professional sports. But another thing Mahomes and Hurts shares will have a greater bearing on the actual outcome of the game. Both have been playing through injuries. Hurts injured his right shoulder in Game 15 against the Bears. Gardner Minshew played for him the next two games, and the Eagles lost to the Cowboys and Saints. Since Hurts returned, he hasn’t looked as good. In the Eagles’ two playoff wins, Hurts wasn’t forced to lead the way. He’s thrown for 275 yards and two touchdowns and run for 73 yards and two touchdowns – both disciplines well below his season averages. Mahomes suffered a right high ankle injury in the Chiefs’ playoff victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He talked his way into returning to that game and then hobbled his way through the victory over the Bengals in the AFC Championship, making a heroic run to the sideline for a first down (also drawing a late-hit penalty) to set up a game-winning field goal. Protecting Mahomes against the Eagles’ fearsome pass rush will be Priority No. 1 for the Chiefs.

Fourth down: Defending Travis Kelce.

After the Chiefs traded over-the-top speedster Tyreek Hill this season, and then suffered injuries in the postseason to wideouts Mecole Hardman, Kadarius Toney and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kelce has become even more indomitable than ever at the tight end position. In the Chiefs’ two playoff victories, Kelce had 21 catches on 25 targets for 176 yards and three touchdowns. It seems like the more Mahomes has to rely on Kelce, the harder it is for defenses to cover him. Coach Andy Reid has used more multiple-tight end packages to create favorable matchups for Kelce. But Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon credits Kelce and Mahomes also for essentially winging it in the most crucial game situations. “[The Chiefs] dictate certain coverages to get him some free releases,” Gannon told me this week. “But in my opinion, the thing where he’s head-and-shoulders above the rest is his brain. He understands holes in coverages. He adjusts his routes off what he sees in real time. Not a lot of guys can do that. And then the rapport he has with the quarterback makes him hard to defend. But I would say his intelligence makes him elite.” In the five years Kelce and Mahomes have been together, Kelce’s 507 catches and 6,444 yards trail only Packers/Raiders receiver Davante Adams in those categories. The 47 receiving touchdowns Kelce has racked up are fourth in the NFL. Kelce has made the Pro Bowl all five years and has made three First Team All-Pro selections with Mahomes as his starting quarterback. This week, Kelce deferred credit to his coach. “I say it all the time. Andy Reid baby. Big Red. He can dial some stuff at the right time, create some things at the right time.” Kelce once starred in an online dating show called Catching Travis Kelce. Well, in order to gain the big prize in SB57, the Eagles will have to follow a script called Defending Travis Kelce.

The pick: Eagles 27, Chiefs 23.

My record: 7-10.