Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! In years past, I have typically published my Super Bowl prediction article about 2-3 days before the big game and I have to be honest, this is not an easy article to write. I still feel the 49ers should be playing in this game if not for the refs thinking Devonta Smith caught the ball early in the NFC title game (and Kyle Shanahan should have challenged the call or at least call a timeout to mull over the challenge decision!), if not for Brock Purdy getting hurt which ruptured his UCL in his throwing elbow, if not for being stuck with a 4th string QB who was eventually knocked out of the game with a concussion, if not for being forced to go back to Purdy who could not throw the ball, if not for the dumb penalties that came out of the extreme frustration the 49ers players felt as the game wore on, and so forth. The ending was a total implosion that was extremely uncharacteristic of a team that had played with a lot of class and looked very poised to finally end its 28 year Super Bowl drought.
I have been a die hard football fan since the 1988 season which coincided with the 49ers 3rd Super Bowl victory against Cincinnati. I have witnessed 8 NFC title losses (the 49ers seem to lose often in the penultimate game of the year!) and even though all of them stung when they happened, none of them stung more than the one two weeks ago. This was a team that had a championship quality defense and an offense that finally found an identity thanks to the Christian McCaffrey trade and Purdy's impressive run behind center. The Super Bowl storyline with Purdy would have been amazing: rookie QB who was the last pick in the draft playing in his home state and going up against the best QB in the NFL. I suppose we will have to wait until next year for that storyline assuming Purdy makes a full recovery from his elbow surgery and beats Trey Lance for the starting QB position during training camp.
I can go on and on about the 49ers but one must move past that NFC title calamity and focus on what I consider a national holiday. I have heard people in the Bay Area not showing any interest in the Super Bowl. Perhaps they will have it on in the background while getting a head start with spring cleaning. Perhaps they will do some shopping at the mall since the stores should not be too busy. Perhaps they will head up to the snow since the slopes will be lonely. I will admit that in the years the 49ers lost in the NFC title game, I never got amped up for the Super Bowl but I still watched it. In fact I probably watched the game more closely than any of the other Super Bowls since I wasn't hosting a party or going to another party where are copious amounts of food and booze and plenty of cheer. Still, I love football and today is a celebration of that sport. No other event draws a larger TV audience and some could say that the Super Bowl rivals holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas when it comes to bringing people together.
Whatever you are doing today, enjoy it and have faith that the 49ers will get back to the Super Bowl and win it! For now, let's break down the game at hand!
Super Bowl LVII Analysis
When I slice and dice this game, it's not easy picking the winner. Both Kansas City and Philadelphia are evenly matched. Interestingly they had 5 common opponents and played them in the same locations: at Arizona, home against Jacksonville, at Indianapolis, at Houston, and home against Tennessee. KC went 4-1 in those games and Philly went 5-0. KC's point differential was +39 while Philly's was +49. KC lost to Indy (20-17) and Philly barely won (17-16). FYI, both QBs were healthy for that game. In terms of 3rd conversion rate, red zone efficiency, and time of possession, the offenses for both KC and Philly are very close. In fact, their percentages are within 3 percentage points of each other. See below.
3rd down conversion rate: KC 2nd (48.86%) and Philly 4th (46.61%)
Red zone efficiency: KC 2nd (70.51%) and Philly 3rd (68.57%)
Time of possession: Philly 8th (51.97%) and KC 11th (50.22%)
We can look to the defensive stats with those metrics next but I won't. If you are looking for a deeply analytical article, I would suggest Bill Barnwell of ESPN who totally geeks out on the NFL stats. Give yourself a good hour to read his prediction article. It is fascinating how deep he dives with the numbers!
Of course Philly had a great defensive season recording 70 sacks during the regular season and allowing the least passing yards. The Chiefs haven't been too bad themselves. While they did allow the most passing TDs this season, they allowed the 8th fewest rushing yards and have looked great since their Week 8 bye. In fact, the the Chiefs forced 16 turnovers during that 11 game stretch going 10-1 and have forced exactly 2 turnovers per game in the last 4 games. Also, no team surpassed 30 points against them and five times the Chiefs allowed fewer than 20 points. In the previous 7 games, each time the Chiefs allowed at least 20 points and forced a total of 8 turnovers with 3 of them coming in one game (the 49ers previous loss before the NFC title game).
So what change was made after the bye week? The addition of rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie to the starting lineup. He was the Chiefs first round pick last year and McDuffie was a star in both high school and college. He played for acclaimed southern California high school programs like Mater Dei (perennial state champion contender with several state titles) and St. John Bosco (a team that won the state title last year and ranks as one of the best teams in the nation). Then he went on to the University of Washington where he started 11 games during his freshman year and made the All-PAC 12 team in his junior year before declaring for the NFL draft. His pre-draft measureables were impressive with a 40 yard dash time of 4.44 seconds and a vertical jump of 38.5 inches.
McDuffie went on the IR after Week 1 and didn't return until the bye week. During McDuffie's absence, the Chiefs were thrashed by the some of the NFL's marquee WRs, especially those who are physically imposing. See below.
Week 2: Mike Williams (6'4" 218 lbs) 8 receptions, 113 yards, 1 TD
Week 4: Mike Evans (6'5" 231 lbs) 8 receptions, 103 yards, 2 TDs
Week 5: Davante Adams (6'1" 215 lbs) 3 receptions, 124 yards, 2 TDs
Week 6: Stefon Diggs (6'0" 191 lbs) 10 receptions, 148 yards, 1 TD
Since McDuffie's return in Week 9, only two other WRs cracked 100 yards against KC (Christian Kirk in Week 10 and Josh Palmer in Week 11) but of course that was still early in the season for McDuffie. Keep in mind that the Chiefs faced the Bengals twice after the Week 8 bye and neither Ja'Marr Chase nor Tee Higgins cracked 100 yards. Same can be said about Davante Adams who faced the Chiefs again late in the season.
Another interesting thing to consider is Jalen Hurts' splits between man and zone defense. Hurts is one of the best against zone. In fact, his DVOA (a metric published by Football Outsiders and is considered one of the most reliable metrics out there for both individual and team performance) ranks 2nd after Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence. Hurts DVOA ranking versus man defense plummets to 20th. The Chiefs played Lawrence twice this season. In the Week 10 match, Lawrence completed 29 out of 40 pass attempts for 259 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs good for a QB rating of 106.1. Fast forward 10 weeks to the divisional round of the playoffs when the Jaguars and Chiefs played each other again and here is how Lawrence performed: 24 completions out of 39 pass attempts, 217 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT for a QB rating of 74.4.
Teams tend to play zone more often than man so I anticipate that the Chiefs won't change things up all that much in the Super Bowl. While it would be wise to dial up more man defense given that Hurts struggles against such a defensive scheme, I think the Chiefs can perform just fine with either type of defense where their splits between man and zone were not as pronounced as they were for Hurts.
Earlier I discussed that the Chiefs had some issues earlier in the season when playing against physical WRs and AJ Brown is such a WR (6'1" 226 lbs). However, since Hurts injured his shoulder in the Bears game during Week 15, Brown has not had much success. In that Bears game, Brown caught 9 balls for 181 yards. In fact, he had scored 10 TDs in the prior 13 games. Since Hurts' injury, Brown has had just one game over 100 yards and only 1 TD. The playoffs have been even worse for Brown: 3 receptions for 22 yards against NYG and 4 receptions for 28 yards against SF. True, the Eagles blew through the playoffs to get to this point so they didn't need to pass the ball all that much but in a game that could turn into a shootout, the Eagles will need their passing game clicking and I am not sure if Hurts' shoulder is right.
One could point to Mahomes' ankle. After all, high ankle sprains take 4-6 weeks to heal completely and it was 3 weeks ago when Mahomes injured it. However, he looked fine in the AFC title game and has had two extra weeks of rest. Plus he has practiced in full in the lead up to the Super Bowl. Mahomes still has a laser cannon for an arm and does well against both man and zone defenses. Where Mahomes is especially lethal is the short stuff such as screens, goal line formations, and facing combination schemes. Mahomes' numbers in those situations are impressive: 19 TDs, 1 INT, 79.5 completion %, and a QB rating of 127.3. Of course QBs will perform better when passing the ball in short yardage situations but remember that Mahomes has arguably the best TE in NFL history with Travis Kelce and about 7-8 other WRs he can connect with high accuracy. Double or triple team Kelce and Mahomes will find other ways to beat you, especially in tight yardage situations. Mahomes doesn't need too much mobility for those plays, just a rocket cannon and a quick release which he has. I expect the Chiefs to run several short yardage plays in order to neutralize the Eagles exemplary pass rush.
The Eagles of course run the ball very well and have an impressive offensive line but the Chiefs have a good offensive line too and a stable of healthy RBs. Whatever the Eagles can do, the Chiefs can do just as good or better. May I aslo add that the Chiefs have a perennial Pro Bowler on the defensive line in Chris Jones. I would argue that the top 3 players in this game are Mahomes, the younger Kelce, and Jones, with a whole bunch of Eagles players to follow. Philly has depth but not quite the star power of KC.
By now it's clear where I stand on my prediction if you have made it this far! Yes, on the surface these teams are evenly matched but as you peel off the layers, I keep finding reasons why the Chiefs win and the Eagles don't. Need more reasons?
The Eagles did not play the stiff competition in the AFC. KC had to play Buffalo and Cincinnati and a whole bunch of other stud QBs where Philly has never seen an offensive juggernaut like KC or a QB even half as good as Mahomes.
And experience matters. I love Nick Siriani. He will be very successful but it's Andy Reid's time. No one is better after a bye week and Reid could become the 14th head coach to win at least two Super Bowl titles. You read that right ... 13 other coaches have won at least two Super Bowl trophies. That amounts to 32 championships out of 56. There is a reason for that dominance, experience matters!
Expect this game to be close and entertaining. It's the least I can ask for after watching the 49ers season go up in smoke two weeks ago.
Prediction: Kansas City 28 - Philadelphia 24. MVP: Patrick Mahomes.
Again, Happy Super Bowl everyone!