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Super Bowl LVII preview
The Kansas City Chiefs know all too well that when it comes to the Super Bowl that the joy of winning is fleeting when compared to the long-lasting pain of defeat.
NFL champions in 2019, the Chiefs still wear the scars from their failed attempt to retain the crown in the following year’s season-ending extravaganza when they were run over by a monstrous Tampa Bay Buccaneers defence.
Kansas City’s superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes spent that game running for his life and there’s the potential for a recurrence of Mahomes’ Super Bowl nightmare if the Philadelphia Eagles’ fearsome defensive front is let loose in Arizona.
The Eagles are proficient quarterback killers, racking up 78 sacks this season, but will find Mahomes a hard target to hit on a well-balanced and fundamentally sound Chiefs team built to avoid more Super Bowl pain.
The bookmakers might not agree, settling on the Chiefs as narrow underdogs having initially made them favourites before sustained support for the Eagles. But the flipping-flopping market illustrates just how hard it is to split the pair. Both sides had identical regular-season records, going 14-3 as they finished as their conference’s top seeds.
They’ve both scored exactly 546 points en route to the Super Bowl, and both rank in the top three for points and yards per game, with Mahomes and opposite number Jalen Hurts – the first pair of black quarterbacks to contest a Super Bowl – posting big numbers and earning MVP nominations.
Hurts was odds-on for the MVP gong after Week 15 before suffering an injury to his throwing shoulder. He admits he’s still dealing with the problem and it’s obvious to those watching that he’s not been the same player since returning, throwing for fewer than 155 yards in both of the Eagles’ playoff wins.
Philly are likely to lean on their excellent rushing attack as a result and while they can hurt a Chiefs defence who have had issues stopping the run, they’ll need some Hurts magic to claim the Lombardi trophy.
The emphatic nature of Philadelphia’s post-season wins – they beat the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants by a combined 69-14 scoreline to reach the Super Bowl – has masked Hurts’ issues, and he could be bringing a knife to a gunfight if he’s not fully tuned up for his mouthwatering duel with Mahomes.
The NFL’s MVP is also not 100 per cent fit due to an ankle sprain suffered in the playoffs, but Mahomes showed in the AFC Championship win over the Cincinnati Bengals that he’s still operating at a high level.
The Chiefs signal-caller moved well in that victory and that’s bad news for the Eagles’ quarterback hunters as no one in the NFL is better than Mahomes at escaping pressure and avoiding sacks.
Mahomes hasn’t had to be as quick on his feet as in previous seasons because the Chiefs have poured resources into the offensive line to make sure he’s well-protected in the wake of their Super Bowl 55 meltdown. And the results speak for themselves – Kansas City’s O-line is ranked number one in pass protection, although it will face its biggest test of the season in the biggest game of all on Sunday night.
The Eagles boast a strong defensive unit who have given up the fewest yards per game on average and the fourth-fewest points.
A soft schedule may mean Philly are slightly flattered by those stats, though, and on the occasions they have come up against top quarterbacks they were exposed, giving up 32 points per game on average to teams ranked in the top eight for expected points.
So expecting the Eagles to turn it on and nullify a Chiefs offence led by the best quarterback in the league, masterminded by former Philly head coach Andy Reid and with the majority of their weapons available following some injury worries could be a mistake.
The Chiefs’ defence, unlike the Eagles’, has a track record of standing up to good offences and often ones featuring better quarterbacks than Hurts – they gave up a respectable 20 points each to the Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars in their playoff run.
Both defences have the tools to limit scoring opportunities, and for the fifth Super Bowl in a row the total points line set by bookmakers may not be passed.
The question is: when those opportunities do arise, who do you have greater faith will take them? And the answer has to be Mahomes and the Chiefs.
It’s rare you get a chance to back one of the greatest quarterbacks of the modern era as an underdog – Kansas City have been favourites in each of their previous 15 post-season games. Only one Super Bowl has been settled by fewer than three points, so swerve the 1.5-point handicap and take the extra value on the Chiefs outright to heal their Super Bowl wounds.
Venue State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona Surface Grass Weather Indoor
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is 6-3 as an underdog in his NFL career.
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