The Kansas City Chiefs remain a slight underdog at most Missouri betting sites to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. However, the Chiefs have a quarterback in Patrick Mahomes who is 6-3 SU as an underdog in his career, and he has thrown 30 touchdown passes in those games.
The Chiefs arguably do not come ahead better at any positions but quarterback and a tight end with Travis Kelce, but they have experienced everything in big games from huge comeback wins to getting smacked 31-9 in a Super Bowl to blowing a 21-3 lead at home and winning the tight ones on the final drive.
Not only do the Eagles need to prove they can beat a good quarterback, but they have to show they can beat the best one in this game even if Mahomes is not 100%.
Here are the three keys for the Chiefs to beat the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, February 12, 2023 – 06:30 PM EST at State Farm Stadium
1. Protect Patrick Mahomes at All Costs
Opponent's Formula to Slow Down Mahomes
Go figure, the quarterback on the bad ankle must slay the dragon of the No. 1 pass defense with 70 sacks in the Super Bowl. Some real final boss stuff here, but let’s tell the story of how this ankle injury against this opponent could actually lead to a good game for the Chiefs.
Ever since Patrick Mahomes won Super Bowl MVP to close the 2019 season, there has been a search for a blueprint to slow him down. Based on the last three seasons, there is a trend that has emerged, but few teams are capable of pulling it off.
You have to make him hold the ball longer than he wants to while getting as much pressure as possible without blitzing. That will work against any quarterback, and it is harder to do than it sounds, but it is really important to do this to Mahomes.
By making him hold the ball longer, you tempt fate by making the game more volatile. He might hit more big plays, but you also can get more sacks and interceptions this way. You also do a much better job of forcing an incompletion. Here are the splits for Mahomes for the last two seasons from Pro Football Reference:
- Mahomes with under 2.5 seconds to throw: 75.5% complete in 2021 and 78.2% complete in 2022.
- Mahomes with over 2.5 seconds to throw: 52.8% complete in 2021 and 53.9% complete in 2022.
Mahomes’ 2020-2021 Background
In Mahomes’ two losses in 2020, the Raiders and Buccaneers both made him run around to the tune of nearly 500 yards behind the line of scrimmage before he released the ball or took a sack. That was mostly with just a four-man rush too.
Now early in 2021 when the Chiefs started 3-4, they were awful on defense and killing themselves on offense with turnovers and unlucky bounces. The Bills (38-20) and Titans (27-3) also blew them out, which is such a rarity for this team.
But in Mahomes’ last five losses since late in 2021 after they got back on track, teams have made him hold the ball an average of over 3.0 seconds per throw in every loss, according to Next Gen Stats. That is above his usual average of 2.85 seconds.
The Bengals were especially good at doing this, which accounted for three of those five losses as Mahomes would hold the ball for 3.2 or more seconds against them. In the 2021 AFC Championship Game, the Bengals switched to a three-man rush in the second half on 45% of the plays, and Mahomes ended up taking four sacks in the fourth quarter and was intercepted in overtime.
What Changed in 2022?
Something had to change in this year’s AFC Championship Game with Mahomes nursing the ankle sprain. While he was not super-fast with the ball, his average time to throw was down to 2.94 seconds, a better number for this offense.
But maybe as luck would have it, the fastest time to throw game of Mahomes' career was 2.32 seconds against the 2021 Eagles when he threw five touchdown passes. The Eagles were in love with zone coverage and giving up short throws last year, but Mahomes feasted on those opportunities and put up 42 points.
In his career, Mahomes is 46-4 (.920) when his time to throw is under 2.9 seconds and 14-10 (.583) when it is above 3.0 seconds.
Protecting Mahomes' Ankle Injury
Mahomes only had two games this season where he was under 2.6 seconds: Week 1 vs. Arizona (2.55 seconds) and Week 7 vs. San Francisco (2.59 seconds). That’s one game in State Farm Stadium, the site of Super Bowl LVII, and another against the top-ranked defense. Not bad prep for this matchup.
Even if the Eagles get a few sacks in this game, it is not the end of the world for the Chiefs. We know Mahomes can convert on third-and-long if necessary.
Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton both took six sacks against the Eagles and still won those games. Prescott even threw a pick-six in his game, but he still completed 27-of-35 passes with six drops. He converted a third-and-30 in the fourth quarter.
Mahomes, even at less than 100%, is easily the best quarterback the Eagles will have faced this season. The 2022 Eagles may have sack numbers like the 1985 Bears, but this defense is not the 1985 Bears. The main thing is for the Chiefs to reduce the hits and pressures on Mahomes and make sure he does not aggravate the ankle injury during the game.
If they can do that, then they have a great shot to win this game. But they have to make sure the ball is coming out on time for Mahomes, who is not scrambling for his life as he did in his last Super Bowl appearance. He may not need to get the ball out in 2.3 seconds like he did last year against the Eagles, but it needs to be a decent number or someone like Haason Reddick is going to wreck another game and maybe win Super Bowl MVP honors.
2. Do Not Lose the Turnover Battle
The Chiefs do not need to play great defense in this game to win. The thing they cannot do is hang the defense out to dry with bad turnovers that lead to short fields and easy points for the Eagles.
The Giants did this early against the Eagles in the divisional round. Two fumbles by the San Francisco quarterbacks in the first half killed the 49ers - as did dumb penalties to extend drives - in the NFC Championship Game, especially since the Brock Purdy fumble included his elbow injury.
The Eagles had actually gone seven straight games without forcing multiple turnovers prior to collecting three San Francisco fumbles. So, for all the hype with 70 sacks for this defense, it usually does not collect turnovers at an absurd rate.
But turnovers have been an issue for the Chiefs this year, and it helps explain why so many of their games have required comebacks or finished really close despite the spread.
The 2022 Chiefs were minus-3 in turnover differential with 23 giveaways and 20 takeaways. Only 6-of-56 Super Bowl champions were minus 3 or worse in turnover margin in the regular season. Four of those teams played before 1988, and the last two were the 2015 Broncos (minus-4) and 2007 Giants (minus-9).
Protect the Ball and Get Takeaways Instead
In the postseason, the Chiefs are plus-3 with a pair of takeaways in each game and only one turnover when Mahomes just lost the ball at midfield against the Bengals. That is the kind of unforced error they must avoid this time. No muffed punts either as the Chiefs like to do that as part of their obligatory fumble most weeks.
But the defense has actually forced multiple takeaways in four straight games, the second-longest streak during the Mahomes era. The Chiefs had a seven-game streak last year, so they can do this one more time.
- Since 2018, the Chiefs are 58-8 (.879) when neutral or winning the turnover battle – the best record in the NFL.
- Since 2018, the Chiefs are 16-13 (.552) when losing the turnover battle – still the only team above .400.
Many Super Bowls turn on a turnover. The last 22 Super Bowls have all had at least one interception thrown. In two of the Eagles’ three losses this year, they turned the ball over four times (Washington and Dallas). Gardner Minshew also threw a pick-six in the fourth quarter against the Saints in the last loss for the team.
Maybe it is a fantastically-played game without any turnovers, but chances are someone is going to mess up and a defense is going to take advantage. Instead of shutting the Eagles down entirely, the Chiefs can win this game by protecting the ball and getting a couple of takeaways on defense while allowing 20-to-24 points.
3. Someone Besides Travis Kelce Steps Up
We knew that without Tyreek Hill this year, Travis Kelce was going to have to be even better as the featured receiver. That does not necessarily mean more production, though he did have a career-high 110 catches and 12 touchdowns.
But he would still have to produce even though defenses could throw their best at him every week without a rare talent like Hill to worry about. Kelce delivered anyway and he has been great in the postseason with at least 75 yards in eight straight playoff games, an NFL record.
Kelce figures to be a huge part of the game plan against the Eagles, who thrive with their corners shutting down just about every receiver not named Terry McLaurin this year. However, the Chiefs can line up Kelce at tight end and the slot and feature him that way, which should be a plus against this defense.
The Eagles allowed the 14th-fewest receiving yards (801) to tight ends this year, just behind the Chiefs (792). But how many tight ends really compare to Kelce in 2022, and how many did the Eagles play? It is not like George Kittle looked incapable of doing damage in the NFC Championship Game. He just did not have a quarterback to throw him the ball.
However, when these teams met last year, the Eagles held Kelce to his fewest yards (23) since the 2018 AFC Championship Game. He had 6 targets and 4 catches in the game. Not only was Kelce quiet, but every Chief was held under 25 receiving yards except the player no longer there: Tyreek Hill, who had 186 yards and three touchdowns.
A Receiver Must Step Up for Mahomes
One thing the Chiefs did really well that game was rush for 200 yards, something they have only done one other time in Mahomes’ 93 starts. About the only thing the 2022 Eagles do not do well is stop the run, so maybe some of the slack can be picked up by the running game with Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon.
But one of these non-Kelce receivers is going to have to step up for Mahomes with the injury situation unclear for JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, and Kadarius Toney, who all left Sunday’s game with an injury. It was Marquez Valdes-Scantling who had his best game of the season with 116 yards and a touchdown. But a mistake-prone, vertical receiver like MVS is not a good matchup for these Eagles, who limit the big plays.
Pacheco had 5 catches for 59 yards against the Bengals, by far his best-receiving game of the season. Maybe they can go back to that in this matchup.
It would be a real bummer if the Chiefs made it to the Super Bowl with the No. 1 offense, only to let a tough matchup and a lack of healthy options let them down so that people can say the Hill trade cost them a ring. But that could be what happens here if the Chiefs do not scheme receivers open and get a run game going to help Mahomes.
Sometimes a Super Bowl is won with the help of an unexpected hero like David Tyree (2007 Giants) or Jacoby Jones (2012 Ravens). Valdes-Scantling was that guy for the Chiefs against the Bengals. We will see if they can find another in the Super Bowl.
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