Why hiding Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs is the right play

The Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs go head-to-head on Sunday to determine this year’s Super Bowl champion. The Eagles are slight 1.5-point favorites, although both teams chart their conferences as No. 1 and hold identical 16-3 records. I’m enjoying the hustle and bustle of Super Bowl week as much as anyone, but it’s time to hamper the game.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles (-1.5)

It’s no surprise to see the Chiefs here, but there’s certainly a populace of the public still wondering how Philadelphia was able to crash this party. The Chiefs are the more tried and true commodity. Having the most talented player in the world as quarterback on your team certainly helps dispel some of the doubts. Philadelphia, on the other hand, will spend this week answering questions about schedule strength and injury luck. Are they justified? Absolutely. Will it make a difference when teams enter the field? Not in the slightest.

The reality is that the Eagles paved their way to the promised land behind a powerful offensive line and a relentless defense. Going through the roster pound for pound, few will argue that the Eagles are the better team. Can Patrick Mahomes be the big equalizer? The betting market has disagreed so far, and here’s why I do too.

Philadelphia’s advantage in the trenches will be the story of Super Bowl LVII. The eagles have one historically good rushing attack developed by a dual-threat quarterback and anchored by an offensive line that ranks in the top 3 for both run blocking and pass protection. Additionally, four of the Eagles’ offensive linemen are ranked in the top 10 by PFF. Landon Dickerson, the only player outside of the top 10, ranks 16th out of 78 guards and was a first-choice Pro Bowler. The Eagles plowed forward for 148 rushing yards and four TDs against the 49ers defense, and they’ll likely get a lot more against the Chiefs. Here are a few stats that will add to the challenge in the trenches that Kansas City’s defensive line will face.

  • KC ranks 21st defensively in adjusted line yards and 30th in contacting running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage.

  • PHI averages 6.7 yards per rush with Miles Sanders when opposing defenses make no contact at or behind the line of scrimmage.

  • KC ranks 22nd in Rush EPA approval.

  • PHI averaged 213 rushing yards in seven games against teams with running defenses ranked 22nd or below.

  • KC allowed Jacksonville’s running backs 7 yards per rush in the divisional round.

It’s hard to see the Kansas City defense not getting pushed around, especially considering they haven’t yet faced an offense like the Eagles. According to Clevanalytics, the Chiefs had the league’s easiest rushing offense schedule based on the opponent’s EPA and have yet to play a team ranked in the top 13. That will change fundamentally on Sunday, which makes me very confident in the Eagles’ ability to score points, control the pace and keep Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines.

Miles Sanders of the Philadelphia Eagles warms up before the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers January 29.  (Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

Miles Sanders of the Philadelphia Eagles warms up before the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers January 29. (Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

When he’s on the field, Patrick Mahomes is a problem for any defense. I’m not going to pretend the Eagles are knocking out the Chiefs no matter how good the metrics look. They can be No. 1 in pass DVOA and lead the NFL in sacks, but it’s still Patrick Mahomes on the other side. However, if we’ve learned anything from past Super Bowls, Patrick Mahomes is beatable with a relentless passing frenzy. Mahomes’ passer rating dropped to 64.2 in his two Super Bowl appearances, a massive drop from his career (106.1) and playoff passer rating (115.5). Mahomes will see more pressure this game than he has all season.

Similar to the offensive line, the depth of the Eagles’ pass rush will be an important factor in this game. While the inside is solid, the Chiefs are vulnerable on both tackles, especially on the right flank where Mahomes likes to climb. With outside pressure, sound ankle or not, Mahomes’ escape routes will quickly collapse, courtesy of Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. That’s partly why the two defensive tackles combined for 20 sacks this season.

Andy Reid’s onscreen play will work early on and Mahomes will do some magic, but ultimately Haason Reddick and the Eagles’ relentless pass rush will cause enough chaos and force enough negative plays to kill drives. Philadelphia, checking the clock on the other side, will keep its passing rush fresh, forcing the Chiefs offense to play near-perfect football.

Considering the Eagles have the third-best touchdowns in the red zone and the Chiefs’ defense is the third-worst at preventing them, Mahomes has to answer several long-sustained drives with touchdowns. The pressure could easily cause Mahomes to do too much, adding to his 12 season interceptions. That’s another critical area where Philadelphia has a distinct advantage. The Chiefs do not have a positive on-season revenue differential, an area where the Eagles are +12.

Can Patrick Mahomes overcome all these disadvantages? I’ve seen him do the unimaginable too many times to say he can’t, but as a bettor who lives by odds, it’s not a good bet. This Chiefs team has failed to meet market expectations for most of the year (7-11-1 ATS), and I’ve seen too many great offenses fall short in the Super Bowl because they were dominated up front. It’s likely that the deciding factor is Philadelphia’s ability to control the game through the ditches. My money is on Philadelphia -1.5. Let’s say 28-20 for the bottom line.

Statistics provided by pff, clevanalytics, teamrankings, rbsdm, and sharpfootball


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