This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
Chiefs at Eagles — 6:30 p.m. ET
Article updated Fri, Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. ET after release of final injury reports
The Odds 🎲
Eagles -1.5 — O/U 51
Chiefs Implied Total: 24.75
Eagles Implied Total: 26.25
This is the 14th Super Bowl to have an over/under in the 50s, with nine of the previous 13 having gone UNDER, including three in a row for SBs #53-55. Last year's matchup between the Rams and Bengals didn't quite have an over/under of 50, sitting at 48.5, but it nonetheless became the fourth Super Bowl in a row to fall shy of the spread.
While I don't put much stock in these small samples, especially given how the games are spread out over years/decades, it does seem at least vaguely logical that totals would tend to be pushed up in a game with so much public/non-sharp betting action. On the other hand, it's nearly 50/50 on point spreads if we look at all previous Super Bowls, with the under hitting 28 times and the over 27 (the site I'm looking at doesn't have data for SB1).
The stronger trend I see, at least in modern times, is that games with really high spreads have tended to go OVER while those with very low numbers (CAR-NE, BAL-NYG, etc) typically have gone UNDER. This also makes sense if we think the general public has more sway in betting lines, as most fans probably overestimate the impact great offenses/defenses have on point totals compared to stuff like pace of play, run/pass splits, etc.
Of course, 51 points isn't an unusually high total by modern standards, even after a regular season that was the lowest-scoring in five years. The Chiefs and Eagles led their respective conferences in both win-loss record and points scored, with Philly also ranking fourth in the NFC for points allowed (whereas KC finished 10th in the AFC, albeit with 21.7 being only 1.5 more than the Eagles gave up).
From a bird's eye view, it's hard to find significant fault with the betting line. Something like 'Eagles 27 - Chiefs 24' makes a lot of sense as the final score prediction.
The Injuries 🚑
Chiefs Key Injuries: WR Mecole Hardman (O - pelvis)
Eagles Key Injuries: CB Avonte Maddox (P - toe)
Hardman is back on IR after reinjuring his pelvis in the AFCCG, while Kadarius Toney has been cleared to play after suffering knee and ankle injuries during the win over Cincinatti.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, the third KC receiver knocked out of the conference championship game — and arguably the most important one — returned to practice Monday and was a full participant throughout the week. JuJu and QB Patrick Mahomes both will play, though in the latter's case there is still some concern about a high-ankle injury impacting his mobility.
Philadelphia looks even cleaner from an injury standpoint, though there initially was some concern with Maddox after he returned from a six-week absence for the NFCCG and then missed practice a few days later. The Eagles downplayed it last week and now are listing Maddox as 'rest/toe' on the injury report, suggesting he's not actually in danger of missing the game. The 'probable' designation no longer exists, but that's probably the best way to describe Maddox right now... only a setback in practice or something weird like that is going to keep him from playing, even if he's not quite 100 percent.
1. Eagles run offense >>> Chiefs run defense
Run defense has been a consistent weakness for Kansas City throughout the Mahomes era, and it's probably the biggest area of concern for this Sunday even after the Chiefs fielded their best run defense since 2015 in the regular season. While much better than in previous years, KC was still only middle of the pack against the run, ranking 15th in DVOA, 18th in YPC (4.4) and eighth in yards allowed (107.2 ypg, on the fifth-fewest attempts - 24.6 per game).
The Eagles, meanwhile, led the NFL in run-offense DVOA while ranking fifth in rushing yards (147.6) and 13th in YPC (4.6). That last number vastly understates the team's overall rushing efficiency, as a league-high 32 of their runs were ended by the end zone (no other team scored more than 24 rushing TDs).
A massive quantity of red-zone carries drove down the YPC stats, with Philadelphia ranking sixth in numbers of RZ drives (3.5 per game) and third in RZ run-play rate (66.9 percent, behind only Chicago and Atlanta). If we only look at carries between the 20-yard lines, Philadelphia goes up to ninth in YPC (5.4) and fifth in first-down percentage (28.6 percent of carries).
Also note that the Eagles led the league in rushing yards in 2021, finishing third in DVOA and fourth in YPC (4.9). It turns out you'll run for an awful lot of yards and touchdowns if you put one of the fastest QBs in the league behind a top-five offensive line and prioritize running the ball... and then this year the Eagles improved their defense and added a star wide receiver to round things out.
The good news for the Chiefs, as mentioned above, is that they aren't as bad against the run in past years, with DL Chris Jones playing better than ever and second-year linebacker Nick Bolton emerging as a star in his own right. The Chiefs also have LB Willie Gay back to full practice participation after a shoulder injury in the conference championship round, plus they have a rather impressive track record of playoff success without needing a strong run defense.
The goal for K.C. isn't to win this matchup; the Eagles have a good run scheme, solid RBs, an uber-athletic QB and five O-line starters who are both pedigreed and ranked in the upper quartile of PFF's 2022 position grades. The Chiefs just need to not lose this game with poor run defense the way we saw Aaron Rodgers' Packers, for example, get absolutely obliterated by the Niners multiple times late in January.
Giving up something like 28 carries for 140 yards would be far from the end of the world for the Chiefs. It's the 200-plus yards on 6+ YPC type beatings that put too much pressure on the rest of the team, even one with Mahomes at QB.
2. Fourth-Down Aggressiveness and Short-Yardage Conversions
Anyone familiar with Brandon Staley's work can tell you that an "aggressive" mentality toward going for it on fourth down isn't automatically a good thing. Most analytical models are dependent on an imperfect EP (Expected Points) model, and even the strongest proponents who would argue otherwise have to admit that the models can't account for individual matchups, fatigue or #vibes.
That being said... the models are right about one thing, which is that NFL coaches still punt more than they should, on average. It's only one aspect of a huge job, of course, so perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised to see that chief, repeat offenders in the Punt/Kick Too Much club include Andy Reid and Sean McVay, two of the league's best coaches.
Reid's Chiefs typically rank low in advanced stats measuring fourth-down aggressiveness, and they finished the 2022 regular season with the second-fewest fourth-down attempts (12) for a second straight year. Now part of that is just being good at moving the chains on early downs, but this was also true of the 2022 Eagles and they had nearly three times as many fourth-down attempts as Kansas City, with 32 being fourth most in the league.
The Chiefs were No. 2 in fourth-down conversion rate (75%) and the Eagles finished No. 4 (68.8%, best among 20 teams with 20-plus attempts). The Eagles faced 4th-and-1 15 times throughout the regular season and went for it 14 times, converting 11. The Chiefs had 14 such opportunities, with seven punts, two field-goal attempts and going 4-for-5 on conversion attempts.
You might point to the Chiefs' third-and-short struggles as evidence to back a more conservative approach on fourth down, but even then it's still a disadvantage if you're deciding optimal strategy is a punt in a situation where the other team is going for it and likely converting around 70 percent of the time. So, really, this is two advantages for Philly:
1) Nick Sirianni is better than Andy Reid on fourth-down decisions, especially within the context of two highly efficient offenses that theoretically should encourage more GO decisions.
2) The Eagles are better-equipped than the Chiefs to deal with a variety of short-yardage situations, be it 3rd-and-1, 4th-and-inches or goal-line plays.
3. WRs A.J. Brown & DeVonta Smith >>>
CBs L'Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie & Jaylen Watson
Sneed and McDuffie are good. Brown and Smith are great. This was almost a huge mismatch with Sneed suffering a scary-looking concussion against Cincinnati, but he's one of the many Chiefs injured in that game who has already returned to full practice and been deemed ready to play.
It'll be interesting to see how Kansas City guards the slot, mostly the domain of Sneed throughout the regular season before McDuffie took on the gig Weeks 16-18. It was then back to Sneed in the first playoff game, and we don't really know the plan from the second game because he was concussed on the opening drive.
The Eagles mostly use afterthought No. 3 receiver Quez Watkins in the slot, so you could maybe argue for putting Watson or Joshua Williams there and keeping Sneed/McDuffie on the perimeter or shadowing. If they stick to the usual plan with Sneed in the slot, it's worth noting that Watson — a seventh-round rookie and the weak link of the CB trio — has played about twice as many snaps at LCB as RCB this year.
That'd put Watson up against Smith slightly more than Brown if the Eagles go with their season-long splits, though we're talking about 55/45 margins given that both run routes from an assortment of alignments (quite effectively, at that).
4. CBs Darius Slay, James Bradberry & Avonte Maddox (toe) >>>
WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling & Kadarius Toney
Philly has two of the best cornerbacks in the business, excelling by every measure from reputation to coverage stats to PFF grades to Pro Bowl / All Pro recognition. Slay and Bradberry both played 17 games this year, and neither was among the 40th worst cornerbacks in yards allowed. Out of 36 cornerbacks with 500-plus cover snaps, Bradberry finished third in snaps per reception allowed (16.1) while Slay tied for eighth (14.7). Bradberry was second to only Sauce Gardner with a 46.0 completion rate on throws into his coverage, with Slay again not too far behind (54.7%, 8th).
The Chiefs' wide receivers at least offer a diverse skill set with Valdes-Scantling being the speed guy, JuJu the possession bruiser and Toney the YAC specialist, but only Smith-Schuster is really proven as a quality starter. MVS just had the best game of a wildly inconsistent career, while Toney looks good whenever he gets the ball but hasn't played more than 28 snaps in a game since Dec. 2021.
Sour grapes, perhaps, but the Chiefs should've spent more energy on developing Skyy Moore as a real wide receiver and less energy miscasting him as a punt returner and trick-play specialist. His role this Sunday is uncertain, after the AFC Championship Game saw him post a 3-13-0 line on seven targets and 58 percent snap share while also taking two punt returns for 29 yards and one kickoff for 18 yards.
Moore was rightfully demoted from returns in November after his third lost fumble on special teams in 11 games, only getting the job back in the AFCCG because Toney left early. Toney lost a fumble on a punt return Jan. 1 against the Broncos, but he hasn't struggled with fielding punts the way Moore did. I expect Toney back on punt returns at the very least this Sunday, and potentially kicks too.
KC's Advantage(s) 🏹
1. QB Patrick Mahomes & TE Travis Kelce
The Eagles have more good players than the Chiefs; they might even have more great players. But they don't have two all-time greats, and the one guy who might be that (C Jason Kelce) plays a position that's significantly less important than Mahomes' and arguably less important than the rarely seen 150-target variation of the tight end.
Mahomes will be two weeks further removed from his high-ankle sprain since we last saw him, an occasion marked by 326 passing yards, two TDs and one clear aggravation of the injury. It's still a factor, but his passing shouldn't be too affected and there's still hope for he and Kelce to exploit the Eagles' disadvantage in the middle of the field.
While the Eagles have a good coverage 'backer in T.J. Edwards and a decent safety duo with C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps, this is the part of the team that doesn't quite appear Super Bowl-caliber. The Chiefs presumably will try to target the middle of the field and isolate the linebackers and safeties, perhaps relying on Smith-Schuster in addition to Kelce, though all their receivers tend to share the slot snaps.
Mahomes should have time to throw, at least on most snaps, with Philadelphia's impressive defensive line seemingly neutralized on paper by KC's similarly impressive O-line. The relative weakness there is RT Andrew Wylie, who figures to see a whole lot of Haason Reddick on Sunday. Reddick has lined up across from / outside of the right tackle more than 80 percent of the time in his first season with the Eagles, thus far recording 16 sacks in the regular season and 3.5 more in two playoff games.
In fact, Reddick probably deserves a blurb above under the Eagles' list of advantages, but I think we get the idea that they generally have the stronger roster and just need to not get burned by the deficit at QB. On that note...
2. QB Jalen Hurts' shaky form since returning from a shoulder injury
Hurts hasn't even been listed on the Eagles' official injury reports since Week 18, which could be obfuscation or could mean he's physically healthy and has only looked mediocre the past month on account of reduced confidence (or even just it being a small-ish sample).
Whatever the case, Hurts has completed only 60.7 percent of his throws for 6.0 YPA and two TDs in three games since returning from a right shoulder injury, including two games against a middling Giants defense (that played a lot of backups Week 18). The extra week of rest before a Super Bowl could help Hurts as much as Mahomes, or even more, but what we saw last was Jalen playing the caretaker and Patrick the hero.
3. Big-Game Experience
Kelce, Mahomes and a slew of other Chiefs have already played in Super Bowls and made multiple deep playoff runs. The Eagles have some of that experience on the roster with (Jason) Kelce, OT Lane Johnson, DE Brandon Graham and DT Fletcher Cox, but this trip into late January and February is a first for the team's top three coaches (HC Nick Sirianni, OC Shane Steichen, DC Jonathan Gannon).
The Chiefs' main coaches obviously have a ton of experience in big games, and Andy Reid has a strong record for gameplanning and playcalling even as clock management and fourth-down decisions remain likely concerns. I'm not sure how much the experience gap matters now that Sirianni and Co. are in their second year as a playoff team, but it certainly can't hurt the Chiefs to have more key guys that have been in this spot before.
Eagles 28 - Chiefs 20
MVP: QB Jalen Hurts
Hurts won't be the best player on the field or even from his own offense, but he's the default MVP for a balanced Eagles team that spreads out carries and won't need more than five or six catches from any one pass catcher. Something like 50 rushing yards, 200 passing yards and two total TDs isn't even impressive by Hurts' standards and could get him the award.
But really, the Eagles' victory is about winning on both lines, with Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson getting the best of a Chiefs' defensive line that doesn't have much beyond the admittedly dominant Chris Jones. The Eagles flank their future Hall of Fame center with two strong guards in Landon Dickerson and Isaac Seumalo, so Jones won't dominate the way he did two weeks ago against Cincinnati's injury-riddled interior line.
Dark-Horse(ish) MVP: OLB Haason Reddick
Reddick, as mentioned above, figures to get most of his pass-rush snaps against the relative weak link of an otherwise excellent Kansas City offensive line. The first-year Eagle is easily the team's best pass-rusher, and he's put himself in the discussion for Top 5 in the league with a career-high 16 sacks in 2022 giving him three straight years with double digits for three different teams.
Just note that he's not that much of a 'dark horse' based on betting odds; +3000 on DraftKings ties him with DeVonta Smith as the sixth-most likely to win MVP. I'd rather get +2500 on Trent McDuffie or James Bradberry, figuring both are quality corners who typically don't see a ton of targets but should be challenged more in this matchup. For offensive players, I think JuJu Smith-Schuster at +8000 is an interesting long shot and don't mind DeVonta Smith (+3000) either.
Captains & Value Plays for DraftKings👑
Best Captains (DK)
RB Miles Sanders ($11,700)
QB Patrick Mahomes ($16,500)
QB Jalen Hurts ($16,800)
Believe it or not, Sanders has as many games with 30 DK points (three) as Kelce this season. Hurts has done it six times, including four weeks in a row at one point, while Mahomes has breached 30 on seven occasions (also doing it in four straight mid-season).
A.J. Brown has scored 30 three times, including the only 40-point game this year for any Eagle/Chiefs, and DeVonta Smith has done it twice. Not that '30' is everything, but it's a useful barometer for a blow-up game (I might use '25' if dealing with two teams that had fewer fantasy stars).
I like the rushing matchup for Sanders and Hurts here, and wonder if the Chiefs will challenge Hurts to run more after he fell shy of 40 yards in both of the previous two playoff games while the Eagles' RBs rumbled for 100-plus and multiple TDs. The problem for Sanders is Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott poaching touches, including at the goal line. But that's also a big part of why Sanders is cheap relative to other key skill-position players in the game.
Best Values (DK)
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster ($5,600)
K Harrison Butker ($4,000)
TE Noah Gray ($1,200)
WR Zach Pascal ($800)
QB Jalen Hurts & WR DeVonta Smith + Patrick Mahomes & JuJu Smith-Schuster
WR Kadarius Toney & Chiefs D/ST
RB Boston Scott & Eagles D/ST
QB Jalen Hurts & WR A.J. Brown + TE Travis Kelce & K Harrison Butker
QB Patrick Mahomes + TE Travis Kelce + WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster is the best of a middling WR group, and paired with an all-time quarterback. There's potential for a big game, especially if he plays the slot more than usual, and he's shown enough upside this year to warrant CPTN consideration this Sunday. He had back-to-back games with 100-plus yards and a TD in October, and put up 9-74-1 as recently as early December. There have been a lot of ugly receiving lines mixed in there, too, but I'll take Smith-Schuster and the guaranteed snaps at $5,600 over paying $4,400 for whatever Kadarius Toney might do with a couple trick plays and a couple screen passes.
For the kickers, I don't have much interest paying $4,200 for Jake Elliott when Butker is cheaper, better and has a coach who is far more likely to kick on fourth down (see above).
The Chiefs come with more uncertainty than the Eagles in terms of snap/route distributions. Through two playoff games, the Eagles have three guys with route shares of 90-plus percent (Brown, Smith, Goedert) and nobody else at even 40 percent. Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal essentially have been splitting the No. 3 WR role, with Watkins at 20 routes (out of 51 Hurts dropbacks this postseason) and Pascal at 18.
If you're using Hurts as a captain and also a Philly running back, consider Kenneth Gainwell ($5,000) as a cheaper and lower-owned alternative to Sanders ($5,800), as Gainwell has run 18 routes to Sanders' 12 in the playoffs, i.e., Sanders hasn't been on the field for many pass plays.
The Chiefs are more interesting, though stuff like Noah Gray's 42 percent route share in the playoffs (fourth best on the team) is at least partially a product of all the WR injuries in the conference championship game. Then again, the Chiefs still aren't great at wide receiver and could look to the multi-TE stuff again to help make up for it.
Friday note: With Toney off the final injury report, he'll likely returns punts and maybe kicks, which makes him more attractive in lineups that use the Chiefs defense (admittedly not my favorite play). For the Eagles, punt returner Britain Covey has played only 19 snaps on offense this season, while punt returner Boston Scott gets some run in the backfield, including a three-game TD streak entering Sunday. Unfortunately, Scott has just one career return of 50-plus yards and none for a touchdown on 58 tries, perhaps lacking the speed to break the big one.
Lineup Workshop ⚒️