The term “upset” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to sports shockers. If the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles and come through as my Super Bowl 57 pick, it's debatable if that would qualify as a true upset.
With the Super Bowl Odds showing the Chiefs currently as low as 1-point underdogs for February 12, a victory over the Eagles certainly wouldn’t be on par with Big Game stunners like the New York Giants' win over the New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLII, or the New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
But, Kansas City is the underdog nonetheless.
The Chiefs are already a popular pick to win outright when it comes to the Super Bowl moneyline odds, and they'll draw even more action at plus money the closer we get to kickoff.
If you’re on the fence as to which team to take on Sunday for your Big Game pick, here are three reasons why the Chiefs will upset Philadelphia in Super Bowl 57.
Strength of schedule
The playoff path isn’t the only easy road the Philadelphia Eagles have been enjoying in 2022-23.
Philadelphia, which cruised past the unworthy New York Giants and QB-less San Francisco 49ers in its two postseason games, finished with the NFL's softest strength of schedule. If Philly wins the Lombardi Trophy, the team will have enjoyed the fourth easiest all-time schedule for a Super Bowl champ.
And although the Eagles can only play the teams on their schedule while mostly prevailing as big favorites, there are questions about the club's validity against top-tier opposition.
Philadelphia has especially been untested on defense after facing 10 foes Football Outsiders ranks in the bottom half in DVOA (nine ranked 20th or worse) and limiting all but one to 20 points or less.
But in the handful of matchups against stronger offensive opposition, the Eagles gave up significant points to the likes of the Detroit Lions (35 points), Jacksonville Jaguars (21), Green Bay Packers (33), and Dallas Cowboys (40 with Dak Prescott). Enter Kansas City with the NFL's best offensive unit in EPA per play, DVOA, and good old-fashioned points per game (29.2).
NFL power rankings frequently featured the Kansas City Chiefs atop the chart for the bulk of the season. And even when Philly was at its peak, it still trailed the Chiefs in many advanced metrics and respected ratings. Now, all of sudden, the Eagles are the better team. Hmm.
Sure, some Kansas City starters on both sides of the ball are injured, though the injury report is trending positively. But we can’t really upgrade the Eagles for rolling over San Francisco, a team without a quarterback during the second half of the NFC Championship Game.
Plenty of lookahead lines for Super Bowl LVII featured Kansas City as a favorite over Philadelphia before Championship Sunday, and several sportsbooks also opened with the Chiefs as big as 1.5-point favorites before the market swung toward the Eagles.
In the eyes of many, Kansas City is the superior team.
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Patrick Mahomes can complete his NFL MVP campaign with a win at Super Bowl LVII, adding to his already impressive career resume.
Mahomes managed to will the Chiefs past the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game with one good leg. Now that tender ankle will get two weeks to heal, and he can expose the Eagles’ suspect defense.
He’s by far the league's best quarterback and presents a rare challenge to Philadelphia, which was gift-wrapped the weakest passing opposition entering the season, as noted in my QB strength of schedule. The Eagles haven’t needed to tackle many elite passers en route to the Big Game. And when they did, those foes piled up the points.
They defended against only three quarterbacks ranked in the top 10 in EPA+CPOE (expected points added + completion percentage over expectation): No. 8 Dak Prescott, No. 9 Jared Goff, and No. 10 Trevor Lawrence. Those three opponents scored a combined 96 points against Philadelphia.
The Eagles’ pass rush and deep zone coverage doesn’t allow for big passing plays, and the unit keeps everything in front of it. But that's been happening against middle-to-bottom tier air attacks most Sundays. Now Philadelphia's defense takes on the QB who sits near the top in just about every passing metric, including things like luck rating and clutch index.
Quantify it however you want, but Mahomes’ numbers don’t lie. And then there’s the qualitative matters that come with being the best player on the field: his mad-dash scrambles for first downs, his sidearm slings under pressure, and his 16 career fourth-quarter comebacks and 17 game-winning drives, according to Pro Football Reference.
Jalen Hurts is a great quarterback. But he’s no Mahomes.
Don't doubt the defense
The Chiefs' defense has been following a similar path the past few seasons. It puts up awful regular-season stats for the first three months before starting to grow fangs during the final stretch.
The Chiefs ranked 22nd in EPA allowed per play over the first 13 weeks. Across the last five regular-season games they were 12th in that advanced metric, and the Chiefs just held Jacksonville and Cincinnati (two top-10 EPA offenses) to 20 points a piece in the playoffs.
Kansas City boasts a solid defensive line that’s able to generate pressure on passers without the need for extra bodies. The team cooked up the fifth-highest pressure rate per dropback. That led to 55 sacks, second overall behind the Eagles.
Philadelphia's offensive line has done a good job and sits 12th in pass block win rate, according to ESPN (62%). But the team also keeps pass-rushers honest with a steady run game, and Philadelphia will be forced to pass if the Eagles’ defense buckles against a top-tier Kansas City offense.
From there, the Chiefs’ outstanding defensive line can go to work, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can turn up the heat with more blitz calls. Hurts hasn’t faced much pressure under center in 2022-23 (only 18.3% of dropbacks), but he's struggled when needing to deal with it.
Hurts ranks 36th among all starting quarterbacks when under pressure (54th in passer ranking), according to PFF. He completes only 45% of his passes while averaging 5.5 yards per attempt, and the Pro Bowler has recorded four touchdowns to two interceptions when under duress.
Add in the ear-popping, jaw-cracking pressure of playing on the global stage, and Hurts may find himself forcing throws and making mistakes at the worst time.