Super Bowl 57 is less than a week away and with all the star power that comes with two No. 1 seeds clashing, this championship could easily be decided by some lesser-recognized players on both sides or some secondary skillsets from key players.
I will try and shine a betting light to some possible unheralded X-Factors for Sunday’s Big Game. I'm looking at some players or skills that might be slipping the attention of many, which in turn could potentially return some value in their Super Bowl player prop markets.
I break it all down in my best Super Bowl picks below.
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Eagles vs Chiefs Super Bowl X-Factors
Bolton's increase in tackle opportunities
Nick Bolton finished second in the league in tackles per game this season at 10.21. He plays all three downs on the weak side and could be racking up tackles Sunday.
Despite the Philadelphia Eagles cruising to two easy victories in the postseason, their offense has run 69 and 70 plays in those games, which is a big number when we consider Tampa led the league in plays per game at 68.8.
This is also one of the fastest offenses in terms of seconds/play in the first half and in one-score games. Bolton and this defense could have plenty of tackling opportunities.
Another edge I see in Bolton’s tacking output —which currently sits at 10.5 — is the running tendencies of the Eagles. Against the 49ers, the Eagles ran over 80% of their run plays to the weak side (Bolton’s side) and per Next Gen Stats, have generated almost twice as much rushing EPA (+33.3) on weak-side running back runs this season.
Not only will Bolton see a ton of plays, but a majority of them could be coming his way. The injuries to fellow linebacker Willie Gay and corner L’Jarius Sneed could also create more positive tackle opportunities.
It might not correlate to the Kansas City Chiefs winning, but Bolton will see more tackle opportunities Sunday and he should easily hit this double-digit number.
Nick Bolton Prop: Over 10.5 tackles + assists (-105)
Pacheco's passing role
Looking at the other side of the ball for the Chiefs, it’s hard not to worry about the health of the team’s receivers. JuJu Smith-Schuster is listed as questionable with a knee injury, Mecole Hardman has been put on IR, while Kadarius Toney is also questionable.
Smith-Schuster and Toney will more than likely suit up, but at less than 100% vs. the No. 1 DVOA pass defense and Travis Kelce likely getting a lot of attention, will Patrick Mahomes have to look elsewhere in the air Sunday?
The Chiefs’ running backs have an 18% target share on the year and we know this offense loves getting the RBs involved in the passing game. However, with Jerrick McKinnon being overused late in the season and averaging under 2.3 yards per touch in the postseason, I’m betting on Isiah Pacheco to continue his duel-threat role after an impressive showing vs. the Bengals.
The rookie running back posted season-highs in snap share (57%), targets (six), catches (five), receiving yards (59), and routes run (26) vs. Cincinnati in the AFC title game. This is a young back who wasn’t used heavily early in the season and has plenty of gas left in the tank.
The betting market also agrees with me as his receiving yard total has moved from 13.5 yards to 16.5 and could close even higher.
Suppose Pacheco continues to soak up McKinnon’s passing role. In that case, the rookie could see plenty of opportunities in the passing game, and busting a big gain vs. an excellent Philadelphia pass rush is highly probable. Very few coaches know how to create great receiving opportunities for running backs better than Andy Reid.
Kansas City had 10 RB targets vs. the Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55 and another eight in Super Bowl 54.
I think there is a little more value in the Over 2.5 catches at +160 than his Over 16.5 yards but the yardage Over is a great pivot if the receptions fall below +130 or are unavailable.
Isiah Pacheco Prop: Over 2.5 receptions (+160)
It’s easy to look at the recent positive game scripts the Eagles have had in the playoffs and say that Kenneth Gainwell’s numbers are inflated.
That’s not entirely wrong, but when his total yard market sits at 32.5 yards when he’s gaining 6.06 yards per carry and 10 yards per reception since Week 16, he'll find a way to get involved in the offense on Sunday.
Looking at how Nick Siriani used his running back rotation in the first half of both playoff games, we see Gainwell receiving the majority of the third-down work but still carried the ball three times on third down. He gets the two-minute drill work and is a threat in the passing game with 16 catches in his last eight games.
Taking Gainwell’s total yards gives us more outs as his usage as a runner and a receiver is hard to predict. The No. 2 back could top this total solely through the air as the Chiefs allow the most receptions (6.6) and receiving yards (47.4) to opposing running backs in the league.
If Gainwell can get a handful of carries, he could play a bigger role in this game than the books are projecting with his yardage totals.
Kenneth Gainwell Prop: Over 32.5 rushing + receiving yards (-114)
Opportunity knocks for Gardner-Johnson
With Patrick Mahomes’ passing attempt total getting close to 40, it's clear the books are expecting another high-volume game from the Kansas City quarterback.
He’ll be facing the No. 1 DVOA defense that has a pair of Top-10 cover corners in Darius Slay and James Bradberry. It’s tough to expect Mahomes and Reid to target these two corners, especially with the health of the KC receivers.
That could lead to more big-play opportunities for the safeties of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps, who are both paying big money for an interception and could see plenty of a heavily-targeted Travis Kelce.
The two safeties both rank outside the Top 30 at their positions in terms of coverage, per Pro Football Focus, and free safety Gardner-Johnson leads the team in interceptions with six on the season.
To add to this, Mahomes has just seven postseason interceptions but four of those have come in his two Super Bowl games, where he tossed a pair of picks in each of them.
Mahomes will also only be three weeks since sustaining his high-ankle sprain — which is a 6-8 week injury — and his scramble production will be limited. That means more staying in the pocket and facing an uncomfortable Philadelphia pass rush that led the league in sacks and finished second in pressure percentage.
These safeties — especially Gardner-Johnson — will have plenty of opportunities to make a big play Sunday, and CGJ paying a lofty +725 (bet365) to record an interception is worth the price of admission and a great low-risk, high-reward play for bettors.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson Prop: To record an interception (+725)