We have reached the final leg of our journey in the NFL.com Playoff
Challenge. The rest of this column will be devoted to DFS advice
and a strategic breakdown of Super Bowl LVII.
***Please click on this
link and listen to Jim Coventry of Rotowire and me for a thorough
preview of Super Bowl LVII.
NFL.com Playoff Challenge
NFL.com Playoff Challenge Roster
QB: Patrick Mahomes
RB: Miles Sanders
RB: Jerick McKinnon
WR: A.J. Brown
WR: DeVonta Smith
TE: Travis Kelce
K: Harrison Butker
With DraftKings' Showdown all that remains in DFS this week,
I want to use the rest of my time to provide my readers with the
kind of analysis one should expect in advance of the biggest game
of the year. A new wrinkle this year: I included each player's
captain price and flex prices. (Each position is sorted by my
DraftKings' projected point total.
Key for quarterbacks, running backs,
receivers and tight ends: P Yds - Passing Yards P TD - Passing Touchdowns INT - Interceptions Ru Yds - Rushing Yards Ru TD - Rushing Touchdowns Rec Yds - Receiving Yards Rec TD - Receiving Touchdowns Rec - Receptions
* - Dealing with an injury
Eagles - The majority of casual NFL fans have yet
to wake up to the fact that Hurts has greatly improved as a passer
and decision-maker over the last year. Among quarterbacks with at
least 200 drop-backs this season, Hurts (1.9 percent) trailed only
Justin Herbert (1.7) in turnover-worthy play rate, per Pro Football
Focus. He achieved that feat despite posting a top-12 aDOT (8.5)
and having the same average time to throw as Mahomes (2.85 seconds).
Working against Hurts are some efficiency metrics since his return
from his right shoulder injury. His expected points added (EPA)
per play has dipped from 0.24 to 0.07, which is about where Marcus Mariota was this season. Is this partially a result of Philly not
needing him very much in any of its last three wins? Of more concern,
his completion percentage over expected (the difference between
a quarterback’s expected completion percentage and actual
completion percentage) has fallen from 3.3 to -3.0, which is on
the same track as Justin Fields in 2022.
Kansas City needs to solve some fundamental issues to slow down
the Eagles' offense on Super Sunday. The Chiefs were right in
the middle of the pack stopping the run during the regular season
stopping the run (4.4 yards per carry) and probably need to load
up the box if they want to stop the league's fifth-ranked rushing
offense. Another important challenge Kansas City must address
is if it is willing to treat Hurts as an injured quarterback that
will only run in certain situations or as the same player whose
pre-injury dual-threat abilities had him in line for league MVP.
If it is the former, then the Chiefs will take their chances
that Hurts is the quarterback he has been all season under pressure
(5.5 yards per pass attempt versus 8.5 without pressure). They
will likely send the blitz regularly, understanding that A.J.
Brown and/or DeVonta
Smith could have a field day. Can DC Steve Spagnuolo reasonably
Watson and Trent
McDuffie to hold up in what would be mostly man coverage against
Brown and DeVonta Smith? If it is the latter, then Kansas City
has little choice to play zone - as most defenses do against high-end
rushing threats at quarterback - and hope Hurts does not have
enough patience to throw underneath to Smith and Dallas
Goedert all day long. The problem with that approach is Philadelphia's
offensive line is arguably the best in the NFL. Patience is not
a hard thing for a quarterback to keep if he knows his receivers
are better than the cornerbacks they are facing AND the offensive
line is a good bet to move the defensive line off the ball in
the running game consistently.
Chiefs - First, the good news. Mahomes' EPA/play
during the regular season was 0.30, which is considerably higher
than the level Hurts was playing at before his shoulder injury.
Now for the bad news. Although the Bengals did not push Mahomes'
limits in the AFC Championship, the question remains if his ankle
is healthy enough to be his usual playmaking self in the Super
Bowl. Not only did the Eagles register 70 sacks during the regular
season, but they were also able to pressure the quarterback on
25.5 percent of his drop-backs (only Dallas was better at 25.6).
The Chiefs counter with an offensive line that surrendered the
fifth-lowest adjusted sack rate (sacks divided by pass plays,
which include passes, sacks, and aborted snaps, adjusted for down,
distance, and opponent) at 4.8 percent.
There is more for Mahomes to worry about than Philadelphia's
ability to generate pressure; the fact the Eagles blitzed on a
relatively benign 22.1 percent of drop-backs during the regular
season, meaning the Eagles should regularly have seven in coverage.
Worse yet, James Bradberry (54.2) and Darius Slay (76.8) ranked
second and eighth, respectively, in the league in passer rating
allowed among cornerbacks who logged at least 500 coverage snaps
during the regular season. Slot CB Avonte Maddox (90.9) was slightly
more forgiving inside, but how much of that can be chalked up
to him not playing more than three games in a row all season?
It is hard to say Philadelphia has a discernible weakness anywhere
on defense, but the path of least resistance for most offenses
against the Eagles is isolating their running backs and tight
ends on Philly's linebackers and safeties. With JuJu Smith-Schuster
(knee) unlikely to be anywhere close to 100 percent, Kadarius Toney (ankle, hamstring) still recovering and Mecole Hardman (pelvis)
on IR, the Chiefs may have no choice but to rely on Travis Kelce
and Isiah Pacheco as much as they did in the AFC Championship.
Jerick McKinnon may need to take on a bigger role than he has
lately. Fortunately, Mahomes is no stranger to leaning on a tight
end or running back (McKinnon for most of the 2022 season).
Eagles - Philadelphia (4.66, sixth) surprisingly
ranked a shade below Kansas City (4.82, third) in adjusted line
yards in the run game, per Football Outsiders. That is one of the
few metrics in which the Eagles take a back seat to the Chiefs on
the ground, although some of that advantage is a product of defenses
respecting Mahomes and routinely giving KC a light box. In the 17
games that Hurts started and finished in 2022, Philadelphia ran
for at least 111 yards 14 times and at least 135 yards 12 times.
Kansas City surrendered at least 111 yards rushing nine times and
at least 135 yards four times. There is little evidence to suggest
the Eagles will not enjoy reasonable success on the ground, especially
when we consider how much the Chiefs struggled to beat the Titans
in Week 9 (172 yards rushing) against the one opponent that most
resembles Philly (albeit with a much worse offensive line, less
talent at receiver and a lesser quarterback). How much has KC's
defense changed since then?
The players that bettors want from this backfield largely depend
on what kind of game they expect Super Bowl LVII to be. Sanders
works primarily on early downs (combined 25 carries and zero receptions
on third and fourth down this season, 16 rush attempts and no
catches in the last two minutes of either half). Gainwell handles
most of the work on passing situations (11 catches in the two-minute
drill). As for Scott, 28 of his 59 touches during the regular
season came in games decided by at least 15 points.
Somewhat interestingly, Gainwell has logged more snaps (57-50)
this postseason than Sanders and just as many touches (29 apiece).
Sanders is not considered a strong blocker, which helps to explain
why Gainwell handles most of the work in the passing game. In
short, Sanders likely needs positive game script throughout to
reach his ceiling, although he has not exceeded 12 carries in
a game with Hurts starting since Week 14. Conversely, Gainwell
seems like a much stronger play if the Chiefs can keep it close
or hold a lead.
Chiefs - Pacheco's involvement in the passing
game in the AFC Championship was an unexpected yet pleasant development
for the rookie, who nearly doubled his previous season high in
passing-play snaps (29) and routes run (26). How does the expected
return of Clyde Edwards-Helaire affect him? Does it at all? Probably
McKinnon's rushing efficiency was never that great this season
- even during his five-week touchdown binge near the end of the
season - but it has bottomed out completely over the last three
games (32 yards on 17 carries). Pacheco was on the field for more
passing plays (29-22) and ran more routes (26-16) in the AFC Championship.
Was McKinnon dealing with a minor injury that the Chiefs conveniently
forgot to put on the injury report? Maybe Kansas City gambled
that it did not need McKinnon's blocking prowess against the Bengals?
Do not expect a repeat. The Chiefs will need McKinnon's presence
in the lineup this weekend to slow down the rush and will really
need him to be an option when Mahomes needs to improvise.
Kansas City has rarely ever been a team to pound the rock - Chiefs'
running backs totaled at least 20 carries only 10 times in their
19 games this season - and seem unlikely to hit that number against
a Philadelphia defense that will rotate Javon
Cox, rookie Jordan
Suh and Linval
Joseph on the interior of the defensive line. It would make
more sense to attack the edges, which is something Pacheco can
do if Reid and Bieniemy are interested in trying to maximize the
relatively few running plays they call.
Eagles - Brown and Smith were responsible for 84.2
percent of the yardage and accounted for 18 of the 22 receiving
touchdowns by a Philadelphia wide receiver during the regular season.
When we expand the criteria to the entire team, they collected 52.3
percent of the team's receptions, 61.7 percent of the team's receiving
yardage and 72 percent of the receiving scores. For those folks
interested in a prop bet that involves the first receiving touchdown
by an Eagle, it may also be helpful to know only five Philadelphia
players caught a touchdown during the regular season.
Somewhat interestingly, Smith has been a better player than Brown
in terms of passer rating on deep throws (122.3-101.6) and only
trails Brown 13-10 on deep catches. The major differences between
the two on deep throws have come in yards after the catch (144-40)
and touchdowns (7-2). In other words, Smith can win deep. The
two wideouts have posted incredibly similar numbers in the intermediate
part of the field (10-19 yards) and the short passing game (0-9
yards). Smith holds a significant edge (23-12) on targets and
catches behind the line of scrimmage.
Kansas City CB L'Jarius
Sneed, who is listed as questionable after not practicing
at all last week due to a concussion, is expected to play his
usual allotment of snaps. While he has seen more time in the slot
than on the perimeter this season, he has bounced inside and out
as needed most of the year. The Chiefs could use his 6-1 frame
to shadow Brown if they want, although that seems unlikely and
probably should not deter fantasy players from using Brown. Jaylen
Watson is a little bigger at 6-2, but he is not quite on the
same level as Sneed yet as a cover corner. Smith's most common
matchup figures to be 5-11 rookie Trent
For what it is worth, Brown hasn't topped four catches or 28
yards in either playoff game, which is somewhat a product of Hurts'
shoulder issue and reflective of just how dominant Philly has
been, lessening the need for the Eagles to throw it more than
25 times. The NFC Championship game ended a 10-game streak in
which Smith drew at least eight targets. Considering the likelihood
Kansas City blitzes more than usual, plays a ton of zone and how
often Philly may opt for quick passes (i.e. behind the line of
scrimmage), Smith could be set up for a big game.
Chiefs - Outside of whomever Kansas City plans
to use out of the slot (outside of Travis Kelce), it is hard to
find an avenue in which the Chiefs get much from their receivers.
The first problem is that JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle, hamstring) are still nursing injuries and Mecole Hardman (pelvis) is out. That leaves Marquez Valdes-Scantling
as the top healthy option, which is a sobering thought against
James Bradberry and Darius Slay. The one advantage Kansas City
has is if Toney's injuries are no longer a significant issue,
which seems unlikely since he did not practice all last week and
began this week with a limited session. A healthy Toney is dynamic
enough to occasionally uncover against Bradberry and Slay AND
make things happen after the catch.
A more likely scenario has Smith-Schuster taking the most slot
snaps among KC wideouts, which assumes his full practice Wednesday
(Feb. 8) was a positive sign. Working against him is the fact
he has not earned more than four targets or exceeded three catches
in any of the last five games. A less likely but plausible scenario
has MVS getting the most work out of the slot to take advantage
of his health and get him away from Bradberry and Slay. The Chiefs
could also decide to sacrifice their outside receivers and rely
heavily on Kelce and McKinnon in the slot to force Philadelphia
to play with one more linebacker or safety inside than it would
like. The best option would be to give Toney the most slot snaps
and take their chances that he can hold up all game. Why all the
love for Toney? Because KC loves him. Toney has run 98 routes
and played 133 snaps since making his debut with the Chiefs in
Week 9. He has been targeted 27 times on those 98 routes (27.5
percent) and added six rushing attempts, meaning he has been given
an opportunity to touch the ball on 24.8 percent of his snaps.
Kansas City's receiver injuries are making Moore and Watson somewhat
popular names among prop bettors this week. The problem with betting
on Watson producing anything of note is that his role is similar
to Valdes-Scantling's. He also plays considerably fewer snaps.
Watson plays primarily on the perimeter, so he is also a bad bet
against Bradberry and Slay. Moore stepped up in the AFC Championship
with three catches for 13 yards, but he needed seven targets to
get there. Since he spends about half of his time in the slot,
he should avoid Bradberry and Slay largely because he spends about
half of his time in the slot. However, does he have Mahomes' trust?
Considering he has topped 36 yards receiving just once, the answer
to that question would seem to be no.
Eagles - Perhaps the only major Philadelphia pass-catcher
who has not been all that affected by Hurts' injury is Goedert.
It makes sense if you think about it though. The Eagles have not
needed to throw deep much lately and Hurts probably is not capable
of dropping a lot of downfield dimes right now anyway. To that end,
only three of Goedert's 78 targets this season were 20-plus yards.
Another 20 targets were in the 10-19 yard range.
Philadelphia does not need Goedert to show up in the same Kansas
City needs Kelce to show up this weekend. What the Eagles do need
is for Goedert to find enough holes in the Chiefs' zone coverage
to discourage them from playing it as often as they probably want
to (so they keep their eyes on Hurts and the running game). Goedert
could push for 10 catches if KC's front seven can hold up decently
against the run and the expected zone coverage (not to mention
Hurts' bum shoulder) keeps Philly from throwing deep. It may not
be a likely scenario, but the Eagles will probably need to pass
more than 25 times in Super Bowl LVII. Bear in mind that even
though Philadelphia has attempted only 49 passes through two postseason
games, Goedert has still drawn 11 targets (22.4 percent target
share) and managed 10 receptions. Thus, Goedert could be very
busy if Hurts needs to throw 35 times.
Chiefs - The one concern Kelce supporters should
have entering this game is how well Philadelphia has defended
his position. Including the postseason, they have yet to give
up 70 yards to an individual tight end and have allowed three
total TDs. On the plus side, George Kittle (NFC championship,
albeit with Brock Purdy for most of the game), Pat Freiermuth
(Week 8) and T.J. Hockenson (Week 1) are probably the best tight
ends the Eagles have defended this year. None of them has anyone
like Mahomes as his quarterback and none of them is as important
to his offense as Kelce is to his offense.
Kansas City quarterbacks have attempted 80 throws this postseason.
Kelce has been the target on 25 of them. He is going to get his,
especially between the 20s. What the Eagles have to do is throw
the kitchen sink at him in the red zone, which includes bumping
him as he begins his route and bracketing him as much as possible
once he gets off the line of scrimmage. Kelce has done his fair
share of damage this postseason by going against the flow of the
defense on certain plays, so at least one Philly linebacker/safety
(Chauncey Gardner-Johnson seems like the best candidate) needs
to ignore the possibility of a run and focus all of his attention
on making sure he is always "under" Kelce. Forcing Kelce
to make plays over the head of Gardner-Johnson and down the field
beats the alternative, which could involve 15-plus catches if
the Eagles play too soft.
Key for defense/special teams units: PA - Points allowed TD - Defensive/return touchdowns TO - Total turnovers PA Bonus - Points allowed bonus for DraftKings
Defense / Special
*** Once again, Please click on this
link and listen to Jim Coventry of Rotowire and me for a thorough
preview of Super Bowl LVII.
Philadelphia does not need to change its recent recipe for success
much to win this Super Bowl, so long as its offensive line continues
to play at a high level. The Eagles may not set Super Bowl records
in terms of efficiency (their 4.6 yards per carry as a team during
the regular season ranked only 12th), but HC Nick Sirianni will
not hesitate to keep pounding away at the Kansas City front seven
in the unlikely event the Chiefs hold them in check in the first
half. Sirianni also has no issue going for it on fourth-and-short,
which is exactly how more coaches with elite offensive lines and
running games should operate. There is a real chance the Eagles
top the 172 rushing yards the Chiefs allowed to the Titans in
Week 9 (an attack led by Malik Willis) and try to limit the number
of possessions Kansas City has with an eye on limiting Mahomes'
impact on the game.
The Chiefs are what they are at this point. HC Andy Reid is going
to rely heavily on the passing game and they will go as far as
Mahomes takes them. It is hard to see what advantages they have
on the Eagles beyond Mahomes' ability to do the (near) impossible
at times and Kelce's ability to get open almost at will. Reid
will likely need to give RT Andrew Wylie help regularly as he
tries to slow DEs Brandon Graham and Haason Reddick off the edge.
Chris Jones will need to play one of the best games of his career
because the Chiefs will appreciate any defender that can get the
Eagles off-schedule offensively. LB Nick Bolton will need to diagnose
Philly's RPOs quickly and Kansas City's secondary will need to
minimize how much of an impact A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith have
on this game.
Super Bowl Prediction: Eagles 31, Chiefs 24
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He is also a high-stakes player who often appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, such as Sirius XM's "Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.