Philadelphia Eagles vs Kansas City Chiefs
Recommended Wager: KC +2.0
Power Rankings: Philly 4, KC 1
Spread thoughts: We recommended the Chiefs +2 the morning after the championship games. Since then, the line has moved to 1.5. A slight an irrelevant movement toward the model. Per PFF, 59% of cash and 60% of tickets are on the Eagles. Vegas appears to be happy to be taking more money on the Eagles then the Chiefs, and we're certainly happy about that.
The bottomline is this: the Chiefs are the better team by any advanced metric worth a damn. Let's review.
Betting Market Dervied Power Rankings: KC 1, PHI 5
The only reasonable take I'll hear is around Pat Mahomes's health, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the divisional round. With 3 weeks to heal, the doctors are SICscore.com gave Mahomes an injury score of 91 out of 100. He's not full strength, but damn close.
The Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have been crowned the more "well-rounded" team, and rightfully so. The Eagles offense is 3rd in both DVOA and EPA/play. They're 9th in DVOA throwing the ball and 1st running it. Jalen Hurts finished the year 5th in PFF grades, 10th in DYAR, and 4th in ESPN's QBR. As a runner, Hurts finished 2nd among all QBs in total rushing yards with 831, but gained his 4.4 yards per attempt wasn't quite as impressive, and his 11 fumbles were 4th most. As a passer, Hurts was much safer with the ball -- he had just 6 INTs on the season and a 1.9% turnover worthy play ratio (PFF), 2nd best in the league. Stylistically, Hurts is 15th in both aDOT (8.5) and deep passing rate (12.4%). They rely heavily on the trio of AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, and Dallas Goedart, who account for roughly 70% of the teams targets. The offensive line is -- in my not so humble opinion -- the best in football. Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata make up one of the better tackle duos in football, and C Jason Kelce needs no introduction. With those 3 alone and even mediocre guards the Eagles would be an elite line, but both LG Landon Dickerson and RG Isaac Seumalo are both solid. Miles Sanders will handle the bulk of the carries on the ground with Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott chipping in. The Eagles are a pass-first team, ranking 6th in situation-neutral passing frequency. They are also one of the more aggressive teams on 4th down -- their 34 first down attempts this season was 4th most in the league. They run a QB sneak play with Hurts where other members of the team push him across the line that is virtually unstoppable. It's to the point where several people have speculated that the competition committee will make it illegal in the offseason.
The Eagles defense sits at 6th in DVOA and 4th in EPA/play. Per DVOA, they're the best defense in the league in defending the pass, but 21st against the run. The prowess of the passing defense is easy to understand. It's starts up front with the pass rush, which generates pressure at a rate of 25.5%, 2nd best in the league. It's even more impressive when you consider their blitz rate, which sits at 22.1%, 18th highest in the league. The Eagles essentially have a slew of pass rushers capable of winning, enabling them to rotate in fresh legs to give quarterbacks nightmares. Let's review:
-DE Haason Reddick (80 pressures): Reddick had his best season of his 6 year career. He finished 3rd in the NFL in PFF pass rush grade (90.8) and 13th in pass rush win rate (20.2%).
-DE Josh Sweat (49 pressures): Another solid edge rusher, Sweat starts opposite Reddick and has a 15.5% win rate.
-DE Brandon Graham (55 pressures): The 34 year old is one of the more underappreciated pass rushers of his time. He's had an elite career, but tore his Achilles in 2021. He isn't on the field a ton, but when he is he's an absolute force. His 23.6% win rate is 5th best in the league. He had 4 pressures on just 9 pass rushing snaps in the conference championships.
-DT Javon Hargrave (64 pressures): An interior pass rushers with a PFF pass rush grade of 91.2.
-DT Fletcher Cox (37 pressures): The 32 year old had a down year, but is still an above-average pass rusher, especially when you have the help of an elite defensive line.
-DT Ndamukong Suh: He hasn't been good in a long time, but he's Ndamukong Suh, so I'll mention him.
-DT Jordan Davis: Davis was the 13th pick in the 2022 draft. The guy is a 6'6 336 pound tackle who runs a 4.78 40, which quite literally sounds impossible. The knock on Davis coming in was he was never able to handle a full workload, and unsurprisingly he plays sparingly for the Eagles. He is, however, extremely disruptive when he is on the field.
The problem with the line -- as you can see from their run defense DVOA, is they aren't nearly as proficient in the run game as they are the pass game. At linebacker, TJ Edwards and Kyzir White are the only two who receive significant playing time. Edwards is the better of the two, who excels in coverage, pass rush, and run defense. White is a solid player as well. The secondary is also impressive, led by one of the strongest cornerback duos in football, Darius Slay and James Bradberry. Slay and Bradberry both play almost exclusively on the outside, rarely ever traveling into the slot. The safety tandem of Marcus Epps and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is the weakest point of the defense. Gardner-Johnson also plays a fair share of slot corner, along with Avonte Maddox.
The Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have the best offense in football, ranking 1st in both DVOA and EPA/play. Pat Mahomers, recently named the 2022 MVP, finished 2nd in PFF grades, 1st in DYAR, and 1st in ESPN's QBR. Without Tyreek Hill, Mahomes has favored shorter passes, ranking 30th in aDOT (7.6) and 28th in deep passing rate (9.6%). He's one of the toughest QB's in the league to sack, ranking first in pressure to sack ratio (10.8%). The offensive line is a legit top 5 unit, with RT Andrew Wylie being the one "weakness." Wylie isn't a bad player by any stretch, but he's easily the worst of the 5 and is certainly beatable. The receiving core, naturally, revolves around Travis Kelce, who finished the season with 150 targets, 110 receptions, 1,338 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Nobody else on the team eclipsed 100 targets - second was JuJu Smith-Schuster with 97, followed by Marquez Valdes-Scantling with 76, and RB Jerrick McKinnon at 68. McKinnon also added 9 touchdowns, meaning that of the 41 touchdowns that Mahomes threw, over 50% went to non wide receivers. In the conference championships, the Chiefs suffered several injuries to the receiver position -- Justin Watson missed with an illness, JuJu Smith-Schuster hurt his knee, Mecole Hardman re-injured his pelvis, and Kadarius Toney hurt his ankle. Hardman won't play in the Super Bowl, but the others don't have any injury designation and will play. The weird part, however, was McKinnon's lack of role in the conference championships despite the injuries -- he ran a route on just 17 of 52 dropbacks -- the same number as some guy named Marcus Kemp. It's impossible to know exactly what happened with McKinnon or what type of role he'll have moving forward. Isiah Pacheco had 10 carreis in the run game while McKinnon had 4. The Chiefs are a pass first team either way, ranking 2nd in situation-neutral pass frequency.
The Kansas City defense is 17th in DVOA and 15th in EPA/play. They're ranked 20th in DVOA against the pass and 15th against the run. The most impressive part of the defense is the pass rush, which ranks 5th in pressure rate (24.9%) despite blitzing 14th most (24.2%). Chris Jones is by far and away the star of the defense -- his 93 pressures are easily the most on the team (Frank Clark is 2nd with 53). Jones is primarily a tackle, but the Chiefs will also line him up on the edge. His alignment typically is related to the perceived weakness of the offensive line, if it's at tackle, he'll be on the edge. If the weakness is along the interior, he'll play tackle more often. The Chiefs other pass rushers do have a fair amount of pressures: Frank Clark (53), rookie DE George Karlaftis (49), DE Michael Danna (40), and DE Carlos Dunlap (39), but none have impressive win rates or PFF pass rushing grades. The linebacking core is led by Willie Gay Jr and Nick Bolton. Gay is solid in coverage, but occasionally has issues defending the run. Bolton is more well-rounded, and is equally qualified to both defend the run and drop into coverage. The secondary has a number of solid players, including CB L'Jarius Sneed, CB Trent McDuffie, S Juan Thornhill, and S Justin Reid. None of them are stars by any stretch, but all are capable of making life difficult to opposing offenses. McDuffie was selected 21st overall in the 2022 draft before suffering a serious hamstring injury week 1. He was unable to return until week 9, putting him in an extremely difficult spot playing a position that's almost inherently against the rules midseason as a rookie, but he's played well -- allowing just a 57.8% completion percentage when targeted. Sneed suffered a concussion in the conference championships, but he will play -- he'll take outside corner in base and will travel into the slot in nickel. The true weakness of the secondary is outside corner Jaylen Watson, who has a 58.4 coverage grade from PFF.
Keys to the game:
-The Eagles need to focus on stopping Chris Jones. The rest of their offensive lineman can win against the Chiefs pass rushers 1 on 1. I would expect Jones to line up more as a defensive tackle given how good the Eagles tackles are.
-The Eagles one weakness on defense has been covering running backs in the pass game, where they rank 28th in DVOA. I have no idea what happened to McKinnon in the conference championship, but he needs to be involved in the passing game.
-Whenever Devonota Smith or AJ Brown is covered by Watson, throw the ball at that player.
-The Eagles are 6th in DVOA in covering tight ends. That's helpful, but it's still Travis Kelce.
-Haason Reddick primarily lines up at left edge, where he'll have an advantage over RT Andrew Wylie. That's a mismatch in favor of the Eagles -- the Chiefs will need to make sure Wylie has help.
-The Chiefs defense ranks 31st in DVOA when covering #1 wide receivers, which isn't ideal against a team that has AJ Brown.
-The Chiefs are 24th in DVOA in covering short passes (14th deep) and 28th in covering running backs in the pass game. The Eagles don't really utilize their running backs in the pass game -- Miles Sanders had 4 targets in his last 6 games -- but they should start.
-The Chiefs should look to the slot, where they'll avoid Darius Slay and James Bradberry.
-The Chiefs are a pass first team, and correctly so. That said, the biggest advantage they have is in the trenches in the run game. It might not be a bad idea to get Isiah Pacheco going if the game script allows it.