By Mike Keeney
After all the dust has cleared after the NFL’s second 18-week and 117-game season, the two teams with the best records during the 2022 season will meet in Super Bowl 57 in Glendale, AZ this Sunday.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles both finished 14-3 on the season, were the top seeds in their respective conferences and will each carry 16 wins into Sunday’s big game to determine who takes home the coveted Lombardi Trophy.
This should be a classic contest featuring two of the game’s best young quarterbacks in KC’s Patrick Mahomes and Philly’s Jalen Hurts. Both are products of Texas high school football, with Hurts coming out of Channelview High School. In addition, this will be the first time in Super Bowl history that two African-American quarterbacks will start in a Super Bowl.
Before we take a deeper look into the Big Game, I want to personally thank all of you who have shown me support and compassion after the passing away of my wife Sharon on Jan. 19 in our home in Humble. I do not know what I would have done without your care, calls, texts and sympathetic ears.
Sharon and I were together for 27 years and married for 21 years. She was my best friend and made me a better person. I am going to miss her more than you can know, but I will be sustained by the wonderful memories we shared for almost 30 years. I’m fortunate that I have my stepdaughter Kim, her husband Sean, my stepson Shane, his partner Jill and our grandchildren Cooper, Vivian and Cole here for each other.
Rest well, Babe. I will always love you.
Now, back to this year’s SB column.
This will be the Chiefs fifth SB appearance, they have won two (the last being following the 2019 season when they defeated San Francisco, 31-20. The Eagles will be making their fourth SB appearance and seeking their second title after winning it all following the 2018 season with a 41-33 victory over Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
KC head coach Andy Reid will be looking for his second Lombardi Title and has forged a 247-138-1 record in his 24 years as a 10th year as the Chiefs head coach after spending 14 years as the Eagles head man. During his time in Philly, Reid had a 130- 93-1 record, led the Eagles to four appearances in the NFC Championship Game, one NFC title and one SB appearance, where Philly lost to New England and the Belichick and Brady duo following the 2004 season, 24-21.
The Eagles were the class of the NFC led by brash second-year head coach Nick Sirianni. Sirianni has gone 25-11 in his two years leading the Eagles and has made the playoffs in each of his first two seasons as a head coach.
Reid is only the sixth head coach in NFL history to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl. The other four are: Don Shula (Baltimore and Miami), Dick Vermeil (Philadelphia and St. Louis Rams), Bill Parcells (New York Giants and New England Patriots), Mike Holmgren (Green Bay and Seattle) and Dan Reeves (Denver and Atlanta).
Both men will have their teams ready come Sunday, but will Reid’s experience in playing and preparing a team three times for a Super Bowl be that big a difference? It very will could be.
While Reid and Sirianni prepare their teams, it’s the players who will make the biggest difference in this game.
This game has the potential to be a high-scoring affair thanks to the fact that weather will not be a factor come Sunday. The game will be played indoors on a fast track at State Farm Stadium, which should be a benefit to Mahomes and Hurts.
The health of a number of key Chiefs players will be a big concern this week as they prepare for the Big One. Starting cornerback LJarius Sneed is in concussion protocol, two of Mahomes targets at wide receiver are hurting as JuJu-Smith Schuster (78 receptions, 933 yards, 3 TDs during regular season) has a knee injury and speedy wideout Mecole Hardman has a pelvis injury. Starting linebacker Will Gay Jr., suffered a shoulder injury in KC’s 23- 20 win over Cincinnati in the AFC title game.
Mahomes (5,250 passing yards, 41 TDs during regular season) is also dinged up as he sustained a high ankle sprain in the Divisional round win against Jacksonville. The former Texas Tech star did return to the game and played all of the AFC title game. In two playoff games, Mahomes has thrown for 521 yards and has tossed 4 TDs). Having an extra week to rehab the ankle should have Mahomes at just about full speed come Sunday.
If Schuster and Hardman are out on Sunday, Mahomes will once again look to Mr. Reliable, tight end Travis Kelce (110 receptions, 1,338 yards, 11 TDs). In two playoff games, Kelce has grabbed 21 catches for 176 yards and 3 TDs. He tweaked his back two days before the Cinci game, but should be good to go for the SB. If Schuster and Hardman are out, or limited come Sunday, KC will need fellow wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling to step up. He played well in the AFC title game grabbing eight passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Rookie running back Isiah Pacheco (930 rushing yards, 3 TDs in regular season) could be a key factor in this game, especially in the passing game. Pacheco has blazing speed and has started for a good portion of the season. Mahomes could look for him out of the backfield on screens and circle routes to let him do his thing in the open field.
Mahomes is the best QB in the NFL at the moment, but he will face a stern test Sunday when he faces an Eagles defense whose front seven has wreaked havoc all season long against opposing QBs.
The Philly defense has recorded 70 sacks this year and forced 27 turnovers (17 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries). Philly became the first team in NFL history to have four defensive linemen record double-digit sacks. Javon Hargrove had 11, Hasson Riddick had 16 (3.5 in the playoffs and a fumble recovery), while Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham each recorded 11 sacks this season. The Eagles added 8 sacks in their first two playoff games.
The Chiefs offensive line will need to play its best game of the year and can’t struggle like it did early against the Jags and Bengals. If Philly’s front seven tees off on Mahomes early, it could be a long day for the Chiefs.
Offensively, Hurts (3,701 passing yards, 22 TDs/760 yards rushing, 13 TDs in regular season) has struggled in the passing game throwing for only 275 yards and 2 TDs in his first two playoff games. Big-play wide receivers A.J. Brown (88 receptions, 1,496 yards, 11 TDs in regular season) and Devonta Smith (95 receptions, 1,196 yards, 7 TDs) have been limited in the postseason. Brown has been limited to 7 catches for just 50 yards and no TDs in the playoffs, while Smith has been limited to 8 catches for 97 yards and 1 TD in the second season.
I expect that duo to get back on track against a suspect and beat up KC secondary. Should they struggle again, look for Hurts to turn to tight end Dallas Gooedert (55 receptions, 702 yards, 3 TDs in regular season; 10 receptions, 81 yards, 1 TDs in playoffs).
Hurts could still be feeling the effects of a shoulder injury he sustained in Week 15 at Chicago. He hasn’t been good throwing deep in the playoffs, and like Mahomes, perhaps the extra week of rest will help with his shoulder.
While the Eagles have struggled in the passing game, they have been rolling on the ground. In two playoff games, Philly has rushed for 416 yards (208 yards a game) and 7 touchdowns. Reserve running back Kenneth Gainwell has been the team’s leading rusher in the postseason with 160 yards and 1 TD, while starter Miles Sanders (1,269 yards, 11 TDs in regular season) has added 132 yards and 2 TDs.
The KC defense will need a big game from defensive tackles Chris Jones (2 sacks in AFC title game) and Frank Clark to slow down the Philly running game and apply pressure to Hurts, who is an excellent scrambler.
The Eagles appear to be the better and healthier team on paper, but I think Mahomes’ experience (this will be his third Super Bowl game in the last four years) will be a huge factor in the game, plus his big-play ability.
Hurts will make plays with his arm and legs and the Eagles defense will look to get to Mahomes early. Look for the KC offensive line to play its best game of the season. They, and Reid, know their only chance for a second Lombardi Trophy in the last four years rides on keeping Mahomes upright so he can make plays downfield to Kelce and his wideouts.
This has the potential to be a classic Super Bowl, and at the end of the day, Chief fans will be smiling once again thanks to No. 15. My pick, Kansas City 34, Philadelphia 30