Why the Eagles will beat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts talks with head coach Nick Sirianni during the fourth quarter against the Cardinals on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts talks with head coach Nick Sirianni during the fourth quarter against the Cardinals on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

If Super Bowls are about quarterbacks and coaches, then the Chiefs have this one locked up. Patrick Mahomes won his second NFL MVP award this season. Andy Reid is a legendary coach with a Super Bowl title in hand. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and coach Nick Sirianni are up-and-comers, but they haven’t made it to the top.

Yet the Eagles are favored to win Sunday in Arizona. The point spread isn’t large – 1.5 points was the consensus line as of Friday afternoon. But it’s not often that the Super Bowl underdog has the league MVP at quarterback. That’s happened only five times of the 19 Super Bowls that featured an MVP QB since 1980, according to the Odds Shark database.

Avert your eyes if you guessed the last time it happened. MVP Matt Ryan’s Falcons were 3-point underdogs when they lost the 2017 Super Bowl to the Patriots. The other three MVP quarterbacks who were ‘dogs in the Super Bowl also lost: Ken Anderson in 1982, Dan Marino in 1985 and Boomer Esiason in 1989.

If the betting markets are right for Sunday’s game, and I believe they are, then the Chiefs should become the latest team with the league MVP to lose a Super Bowl. I think one reason for that is that the coaching isn’t as much of a mismatch as it seems. Reid supposedly shed his reputation for blowing it in big games by winning the 2020 Super Bowl with the Chiefs, but look at what’s happened since then.

Kansas City, favored by a field goal, lost 31-9 to Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in the 2021 Super Bowl. Last season, the Bengals took an inexperienced quarterback (Joe Burrow) and a shaky offensive line into Arrowhead Stadium and beat the Chiefs for the AFC title. The Chiefs got back at the Bengals by beating them for the AFC title two weeks ago. That wasn’t enough for me to forget that it’s hard to trust Reid in big games, when his shaky game management and strategy are magnified.

Sirianni’s resume doesn’t come close to comparing with Reid’s. He’d been an offensive coordinator for only three seasons when the Eagles hired him in 2021. Frank Reich, not Sirianni, called the plays for the Colts. Sirianni called the plays for the Eagles to start 2021, but turned over the responsibility to Shane Steichen during the season. That’s a good head coach setting aside ego and doing the right thing.

Sirianni and Steichen are part of the reason why the QB matchup in the Super Bowl isn’t as large as it seems. Hurts finished second to Mahomes in voting for this season’s league MVP. Hurts was picked 53rd overall in the 2020 NFL draft. Now he’s set to sign a lucrative contract extension this summer.

I never understood why Hurts lasted that long in the draft. He won at Alabama and Oklahoma while showing the dual-threat skills that have become valuable in the NFL. Before the draft, NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein projected Hurts as a good backup with the potential to become a starter while knocking him for tending to “break the pocket when throws are there to be made.”

I get the criticism, but projecting Hurts as a backup seemed a bit disrespectful. Hurts has since become a fine passer, and breaking the pocket isn’t always bad thing when you can run like he can. Mahomes is a better quarterback than Hurts because he’s a magician with the ball, more accurate on deep passes and throws on the run. But the threat of Hurts running is the reason why the Eagles have become a rushing machine.

There are reasons to like the Eagles in this game beyond Hurts’ emergence and Reid’s history in big games. Philadelphia has clear advantages on both sides of the line of scrimmage. That’s still the area where most games are won.

Kansas City’s offensive line is good. Philadelphia’s group is the best in the NFL.

Per Football Outsiders, this season Philly ranked seventh on power runs (two yards to go or less on third and fourth down, QB runs excluded) and stuffed percentage (backs tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Pro Football Focus ranked Philadelphia’s offensive line first in pass-blocking grade, second in QB pressure rate allowed and third in run-blocking grade.

The Chiefs usually must send extra rushers to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. The Eagles don’t need to do that. Four players in Philadelphia’s defensive front recorded 11 sacks or more this season. The Eagles had eight sacks in their two playoff games.

In addition to the edge at the line of scrimmage, the Eagles are better than K.C. at nearly every position group. They have the edge at wide receiver with the terrific duo of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. They have the better running backs, especially if Hurts is included. Philadelphia is stronger in the secondary. The advantages may be small, but they add up.

The exceptions are at tight end, where the Chiefs have all-time great Travis Kelce, and at the most important position, quarterback. Mahomes’ health may narrow that gap. He’s a master at escaping pressure, but Mahomes said he’s still hobbled after sustaining a high ankle sprain against the Jaguars in their divisional-round game.

Reid will have to come up with a plan to account for Mahomes’ decreased mobility. Few coaches are better at coming up with schemes when they have two weeks to prepare. Reid’s record after bye weeks is 28-4, including playoffs. Two of those losses came in Super Bowls, though. And Sirianni is 3-0 after bye weeks.

I don’t think Kansas City’s coaching edge is large, if there’s one at all. I’m not sure Mahomes, as great as he is, can play well enough on a bad ankle to overcome his team’s talent disparity in so many other areas. I’m taking the Eagles beat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, 27-23.