Super Bowl LVII matchups, analysis and prediction
Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer breaks down the matchups between the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs and the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles for Super Bowl LVII, which will be played Sunday in Arizona (3:30 p.m. PST, Fox):
Chiefs run offense vs. Eagles run defense
Isiah Pacheco has made a difference in Kansas City’s running game. Jerick McKinnon is a solid allaround back and willing pass blocker. A healthy Patrick Mahomes is a big part of the running game, but he’s hampered by that bad ankle. He did run when he needed to against the Bengals, including the pivotal scramble when he was hit out of bounds. The Eagles struggled against the run early in the season but responded by adding defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph, which helped plug the holes. Philadelphia doesn’t have a stone-wall run defense but doesn’t really get run over. Middle linebacker T.J. Edwards does a good job. If you’re going to run on the Eagles, it’s best to run around the edges. EDGE: CHIEFS
Chiefs pass offense vs. Eagles pass defense
If you’re listing the most dangerous red-zone threats in NFL history, Travis Kelce has to be in the conversation. Marquez Valdes-Scantling isn’t a high-volume guy who’s going to catch a bunch of passes, but he can reel in the big one. By the end of the Bengals game, the Chiefs were without four of their top six receivers. Most are likely to return, although it’s difficult to imagine Mecole Hardman (hip) will be healthy enough to make an impact. The Eagles have an excellent pass defense, which they didn’t have last time they were in the Super Bowl. James Bradberry and Darius Slay are both Pro Bowl corners. Nickel corner Avonte Maddox is good when healthy, although he has been battling a late-season toe injury. Philadelphia plays a lot of zone so it gives up some completions underneath. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson missed five games with a lacerated kidney but still finished tied for the league lead with six interceptions. The Eagles also racked up a franchise-record 70 sacks, so opposing quarterbacks tend to rush their throws. EDGE: EAGLES
Chiefs run defense vs. Eagles run offense
Philadelphia has the best offensive line in the league and that paves the way for an excellent ground game. Not many teams run on San Francisco, but the Eagles did. The tight ends block well too. Running back Miles Sanders had a career year, and understudy Kenny Gainwell has rounded into a reliable back who plays well in big games. Boston Scott is one of those do-everything backs who won’t blow you away but can get the necessary yards. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is a big part of the run offense, too, although the Eagles have dialed that back since his shoulder injury. He’s so strong and fast. He’s not quite Lamar Jackson-fast, but he’s close. The Chiefs haven’t been terribly consistent with their run defense, although they score so much that opponents are usually throwing to keep up. Chris Jones is a factor in the run defense. Nick Bolton is a good tackler, and fellow linebacker Willie Gay is intermittently good against the run. The physical corners are too, as that’s a requirement in a Steve Spagnuolo defense. EDGE: EAGLES
Chiefs pass defense vs. Eagles pass offense
High marks for the Philadelphia pass offense this season, although it hasn’t been as good since Hurts suffered a shoulder injury. Hurts missed some throws against San Francisco, including A.J. Brown deep. The two weeks of rest should help. With Brown, DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert, the Eagles have a receiving trio that’s as good or better than any in the NFL. Quez Watkins has great speed, but he tends to get pushed around at the line of scrimmage and he’s been less of a factor lately. The Chiefs were second in the league in sacks to Philadelphia, so they can get after the passer. Jones is having an unbelievable season. Typically, he plays inside, but he can line up on the edge too. Three of Kansas City’s top four corners are rookies, and the veteran in that group, corner L’Jarius Sneed, left in the first quarter of the Cincinnati game with a concussion. Those rookies held up well against Joe Burrow. Sneed’s a good blitzer, and he tends to travel with the opponent’s best receiver, so Kansas City wants him back. EDGE: EAGLES
Other than kicker Jake Elliott, special teams have been a weak spot for the Eagles all season. They made mistakes that really would have mattered had they not been so dominant otherwise — two fake punts converted against them, blocked kicks, long runbacks, dumb penalties . ... That seems to have improved of late, except a miserable performance in the NFC championship game by new punter Brett Kern. The Eagles could be getting Arryn Siposs back, however. His practice window was opened on injured reserve and the punter is eligible to be activated for the Super Bowl if healthy. He has been sidelined since suffering an ankle injury against the New York Giants on Dec. 11. The Chiefs played well against Cincinnati, but their special teams have been pretty blah most of the season. The normally reliable Harrison Butker suffered a high-ankle sprain in the season opener and has struggled since, missing six field goals and three extra points. But he’s been better lately and kicked the winner against Cincinnati. Punter Tommy Townsend has had a good season. EDGE: EAGLES
Nick Sirianni has a young, energetic staff that relates well to the players. He’s playful and mugs for the cameras, something you didn’t see with previous coaches such as Reid, Chip Kelly or Doug Pederson. The demonstrative Sirianni’s almost like a player. Both Eagles coordinators, Shane Steichen (offensive) and Jonathan Gannon (defensive), have been candidates for head coaching jobs. Andy Reid is terrific coming off a bye week and should be able to draw up an effective game plan, especially in light of Mahomes’ injury. But seasoned as he is, Reid is 1-2 in Super Bowls. He is 1-1 with Kansas City and 0-1 with Philadelphia. EDGE: CHIEFS
Three Chiefs you should know
— FRANK CLARK, defensive end: There’s been so much attention given to Jones that people tend to overlook Clark, who is third on the all-time list of postseason sacks with 13 1/2. He’s close to tying Bruce Smith for second place.
— JAYLEN WATSON, cornerback: He’s a rookie seventh-round pick who has come up with some big interceptions, one in each of the playoff games and a 99-yard pick-6 against the Chargers early in the season.
— JERICK McKINNON, running back: He’s an experienced back with good hands out of the backfield and a capable blocker. The Chiefs are going to need that against a Philadelphia team that had 70 sacks this season — and with a compromised Mahomes.
Three Chiefs who must come through
— CHRIS JONES, defensive tackle: It’s hard to see the Chiefs winning without a big game from Jones. He had a career-high 15 1/2 sacks this season along with four pass deflections, two forced fumbles and 17 tackles for loss.
— ISIAH PACHECO, running back: He’s got a physical style the Chiefs don’t have in their other backs. He’s not a great receiver and they don’t put a lot of trust in him as a pass blocker, but he runs hard between the tackles.
— HARRISON BUTKER, kicker: The Chiefs were bleeding points this season, missing field goals and extra points. Butker has been plenty reliable in years past, but was less so this year. He’s been better lately, though, and needs to keep that up.
Three Eagles you should know
— T.J. EDWARDS, linebacker: He’s an important part of the defense. He’s OK but not great in coverage but he’s really good at stopping the run and directing the defense. After playing 64% of the snaps last season, he has been on the field for virtually every defensive snap this season.
— KENNY GAINWELL, running back: A change-of-pace back who hits the hole really fast. He has become a factor in the playoffs, with 12 carries (for 112 yards) against the New York Giants and 14 carries against the 49ers. The Eagles are going to have a problem keeping Miles Sanders this offseason, and Gainwell looks to be his replacement.
— AVONTE MADDOX, cornerback: The Eagles need to do something to neutralize Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and, as the slot corner, Maddox figures to play a role. He’s a small but aggressive and heady player although he has battled a toe injury suffered late in the season.
Three Eagles who must come through
— A.J. BROWN, wide receiver: Brown really changed the offense this season. He’s been dealing with a bum ankle and hasn’t looked at his best lately. The Eagles need him to have a big day, maybe not 100 yards but more than the 28 he had against the 49ers.
— HAASON REDDICK, linebacker: Reddick was phenomenal in the NFC title game, with a forced fumble, fumble recovery and two sacks. He will be key, especially with Patrick Mahomes slowed by a high-ankle sprain. He has to get the Chiefs quarterback off his spot and make him uncomfortable.
— LANE JOHNSON, right tackle: When healthy, Johnson is the best right tackle in football. He’s dealing with a severe groin injury that requires surgery but after a few weeks of rest came back to play through pain in two playoff games. Kansas City has an excellent defensive front, so the Eagles need Johnson to hang on for one more game.
Mahomes is the big wild card, but that ankle injury is a problem, especially against an Eagles defense that set a franchise sack record this season. That Philadelphia secondary is smothering, too. It’s always scary picking against Kansas City, but the Eagles are the more complete team and have more ways to move the ball. That gives them the edge.
— EAGLES 28, CHIEFS 23