NFL

Super Bowl LVII: Storylines abound in battle of Chiefs and Eagles, but under-the-radar battles could decide Lombardi's destination

By Sports Desk February 06, 2023

Outside of the World Cup and the Olympic Games, no sporting event commands attention quite like the Super Bowl. 

The build-up to an opening kick-off witnessed by a cavalcade of television and smartphone cameras is a week-long celebration of North America's dominant professional sport, a seven-day period in which talking heads agonise over every storyline in the only game of the year that doubles as a de-facto national holiday in the United States.

On occasion, such storylines may be contrived in a bid to create excitement for a matchup that does not instantly capture the imagination. Yet the modern NFL is one spoilt by the number of captivating contenders that reside in the league, and commissioner Roger Goodell could not have asked for a more enticing Super Bowl clash than the one that will take place in Arizona on Sunday.

Indeed, the meeting between AFC Champions the Kansas City Chiefs and NFC Champions the Philadelphia Eagles is one positively teeming with storylines that make Super Bowl LVII a game worthy of the ceaseless hype it will receive before Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Co. settle matters on the field in their fight to secure the Vince Lombardi Trophy. 

Mahomes and Hurts are poised to make history with their duel at State Farm Stadium. Their matchup is the first in the Super Bowl between two black starting quarterbacks and, by the time the Chiefs and Eagles have taken the field, one of them will likely have been crowned as MVP — both are finalists for the league’s most prestigious individual honour, which will be announced at a ceremony in Phoenix on Thursday.

Theirs is a battle between a signal-caller who is by this point established as the gold standard of his generation, with a prospective second MVP for Mahomes just reward for a campaign in which he threw for 50 passing touchdowns and over 5,000 yards in the same season for the second time in his career, and a quarterback who seems to be in the midst of an unexpected rise to the elite after startling growth in his second full season as a starter.

Yet both head into the game with plenty to prove. Mahomes will consider it past time to end his wait for a second Super Bowl title after breaking the hearts of the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, while there will be many still questioning whether Hurts can excel against this calibre of opposition. The Eagles went 14-1 with him as the starter in the regular season but faced only six teams who finished the year with a winning record. So far in the postseason, they have blown out an overachieving New York Giants team and seen a mouth-watering NFC Championship Game with the 49ers reduced to a no-contest after injuries left San Francisco with no healthy quarterbacks.

But questions about the opposition Hurts has faced do nothing to detract from the quality of his overall play. He has performed extremely impressively as a deep-ball thrower, with his passer rating of 112.1 on passes of 21 air yards or more the fourth-best among quarterbacks with at least 25 such attempts. The Eagles have utilised Hurts’ running ability to devastating effect as he has rushed for 13 touchdowns, while the Philadelphia quarterback ranks fourth in yards over expected in true passing situations (among quarterbacks with at least 100 such throws).

Mahomes is second by the same measure, illustrating this game’s status as a legitimate matchup between two of the very best at the game’s most important position.

Both Mahomes and Hurts will depend heavily on a man named Kelce as they look to guide their team to glory, with Travis and Jason becoming the first brothers to play against each other in the Super Bowl. Tight end Travis Kelce became the undisputed top option in the Kansas City offense in the wake of the Tyreek Hill trade and added another hugely impressive season to a Hall of Fame resume. 

His campaign featured 1,338 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns with his 19 receptions of at least 20 yards the most of any tight end and the seventh-most in the NFL. The impact of an offensive lineman can sometimes be less tangible, but no center in the league makes their presence as obvious as Jason Kelce, the engine to an Eagles line that ranks first in pass block win rate and second in run block win rate, according to Stats Perform data.

Both Kelce brothers were drafted by Andy Reid, Jason picked in 2011 when the 64-year-old was Eagles head coach, with Travis then selected in his first year in Kansas City in 2013, a tenure in Philadelphia defined by frustrating near-misses coming to an end in 2012.

Reid lost three successive NFC Championship Games with the Eagles between the 2001 and 2003 seasons before finally getting them to the Super Bowl in the 2004 campaign, with his time management skills vehemently criticised in a loss to the New England Patriots.

He got back to the NFC Championship Game one more time with Philadelphia in the 2008 season, but never did so again following a loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Though his triumph with the Chiefs four years ago will obviously have softened the pain of seeing the Eagles get over the hump without him in the 2017 campaign, a contest between a man who could never quite get job done in Philadelphia and a coach in Nick Sirianni who is a game away from winning the Super Bowl in his second season is a fascinating plot point in a heavyweight encounter. 

Such will be the attention on messrs Mahomes, Hurts, Reid and the brothers Kelce that some of the critical battles on which the destination of the Lombardi could hinge may well fly under the radar.

Chief among them will be the fight in the trenches. Defensive Player of the Year contender Chris Jones has led the way for a Kansas City defensive line that has tallied 18 quarterback hits in the postseason, tied for the most among 2022 playoff teams. However, he and his team-mates up front will be tested not only in defeating the blocks of the Philadelphia offensive line but in tempering the aggressiveness by which Steve Spagnuolo's defense has come to be defined against a diverse Philadelphia ground game that is well-equipped to use it against Kansas City.

In comparison to Jones, Kansas City’s young secondary is an underrated aspect of the Chiefs’ roster. The Chiefs' defense ranks 11th in open percentage allowed, though the prospective return of cornerback L'Jarius Sneed from a head injury will be key to their hopes of limiting the impact of the Eagles' star receiver duo of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, who rank 11th and 13th respectively in combined open percentage across man and zone coverage. 

Sneed has lost just 22 of his 76-man coverage matchups. Only four players to have faced 75 such matchups have allowed a receiver to get open less often.

Stopping the Eagles is of course only half the battle for Kansas City and, for as frequently as 'Mahomes magic' has rescued the Chiefs, he cannot do it alone.

Encouragingly, the Chiefs rank ninth in rushing offense in Stats Perform's Efficiency Versus Expected metric and are going against an Eagles defense 21st by the same metric against the run.

The Eagles largely shut down the 49er run game in the NFC Championship Game, but that was primarily due to the fact the Philadelphia defense could focus solely on stopping the ground attack with the threat of the passing game removed.

With Philadelphia having played an offense that was reduced solely to running the ball, the Chiefs will have received an in-depth look at how the Eagles fit their defense to stop the rush, potentially improving their odds of finding weaknesses in that area and taking advantage of them.

Mahomes remains the primary weapon and most will expect and want to see a bewitching duel between and the top two MVP candidates. Yet the Super Bowl can throw up unexpected heroes and, though there are bonafide stars and storylines aplenty, the post-game tales could well be of the job the Eagles did on Jones, how rookie Isiah Pacheco gashed Philadelphia’s run defense or how Sneed and Jaylen Watson kept Brown and Smith at bay. There's plenty of intrigue beneath the surface in a potential all-time classic.

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  • One dead and more than 20 injured in shooting near Kansas City Chiefs parade One dead and more than 20 injured in shooting near Kansas City Chiefs parade

    One person has died and more than 20 others have been injured after shots were fired near the scene of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade.

    A video on social media showed armed officers rush into Union Station on a day supporters gathered near the building at the end of the parade route to celebrate Sunday’s victory with the team’s players and staff.

    The Kansas City Police Department said at least 22 people suffered gunshot wounds, including the fatally injured victim, and confirmed three people had been taken into custody.

    Radio Station KKFI said on social media that one of their presenters, DJ Lisa Lopez, was killed in the shooting.

    KKFI said in a statement: “Our hearts and prayers are with her family. This senseless act has taken a beautiful person from her family and this KC Community.”

    Kansas City Police Department chief Stacey Graves said at a press conference: “At the conclusion of the Chiefs’ rally today, there were shots fired on the west side of Union Station.

    “Immediately, officers responded to the area, took two people into custody and also immediately rendered life-sustaining aid to those victims.”

    At a later briefing, she added: “We have confirmed there is one deceased person. Our gunshot total has went up to 22.

    “Right now, we’re still working on the total number of victims. This is still an active investigation.

    “We do have three persons detained and under investigation for today’s incident.

    “Our investigators are working with all of the surviving victims to connect them with loved ones. We are also working to identify our deceased victim so we can notify their family as soon as possible.”

    The Kansas City Chiefs confirmed their players, coaches and staff were all safe and accounted for.

    “We are truly saddened by the senseless act of violence that occurred outside of Union Station at the conclusion of today’s parade and rally,” the team said in a statement.

    “Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and all of Kansas City.

    “We are in close communication with the Mayor’s office as well as the Kansas City Police Department.

    “At this time, we have confirmed that all of our players, coaches, staff and their families are safe and accounted for.

    “We thank the local law enforcement officers and first responders who were on-scene to assist.”

    Kansas City players and staff were celebrating beating the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas on Sunday to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions in 19 years.

    Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes took to social media, saying: “Praying for Kansas City.”

    Travis Kelce wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying: “I am heartbroken over the tragedy that took place today. My heart is with all who came out to celebrate with us and have been affected. KC, you mean the world to me.”

    Linebacker Drue Tranquill posted: “Please join me in prayer for all the victims in this heinous act. Pray that doctors & first responders would have steady hands & that all would experience full healing.”

    Offensive lineman Trey Smith thanked first responders, adding: “You’re the ones who should be celebrated today.”

    A statement from the NFL read: “We are deeply saddened by the senseless shooting that occurred today near the end of the rally in Kansas City for the Chiefs. Our thoughts are with the victims and everyone affected.

    “We are grateful for the quick and thorough response of law enforcement and emergency personnel.”

    Earlier, the city had been in party mode as Super Bowl MVP Mahomes and team-mate Travis Kelce took centre stage on a platform near Union Station.

    Mahomes had told a cheering crowd the Chiefs were going for a “three-peat” next season while Kelce led the supporters in some chanting.

  • One person dead and over 20 injured in shooting near Kansas City Chiefs parade One person dead and over 20 injured in shooting near Kansas City Chiefs parade

    One person has died and more than 20 others have been injured after shots were fired near the scene of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade.

    A video on social media showed armed officers rush into Union Station on a day supporters gathered near the building at the end of the parade route to celebrate Sunday’s victory with the team’s players and staff.

    The Kansas City Police Department said at least 22 people suffered gunshot wounds, including the fatally injured victim, and confirmed three people had been taken into custody.

    Kansas City Police Department chief Stacey Graves said at a press conference: “At the conclusion of the Chiefs’ rally today, there were shots fired on the west side of Union Station.

    “Immediately, officers responded to the area, took two people into custody and also immediately rendered life-sustaining aid to those victims.”

    At a later briefing, she added: “We have confirmed there is one deceased person. Our gunshot total has went up to 22.

    “Right now, we’re still working on the total number of victims. This is still an active investigation.

    “We do have three persons detained and under investigation for today’s incident.

    “Our investigators are working with all of the surviving victims to connect them with loved ones. We are also working to identify our deceased victim so we can notify their family as soon as possible.”

    The Kansas City Chiefs confirmed their players, coaches and staff were all safe and accounted for.

    “We are truly saddened by the senseless act of violence that occurred outside of Union Station at the conclusion of today’s parade and rally,” the team said in a statement.

    “Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and all of Kansas City.

    “We are in close communication with the Mayor’s office as well as the Kansas City Police Department.

    “At this time, we have confirmed that all of our players, coaches, staff and their families are safe and accounted for.

    “We thank the local law enforcement officers and first responders who were on-scene to assist.”

    Kansas City players and staff were celebrating beating the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas on Sunday to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions in 19 years.

    Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes took to social media, saying: “Praying for Kansas City.”

    Linebacker Drue Tranquill posted: “Please join me in prayer for all the victims in this heinous act. Pray that doctors & first responders would have steady hands & that all would experience full healing.”

    Offensive lineman Trey Smith thanked first responders, adding: “You’re the ones who should be celebrated today.”

    A statement from the NFL read: “We are deeply saddened by the senseless shooting that occurred today near the end of the rally in Kansas City for the Chiefs. Our thoughts are with the victims and everyone affected.

    “We are grateful for the quick and thorough response of law enforcement and emergency personnel.”

    Earlier, the city had been in party mode as Super Bowl MVP Mahomes and team-mate Travis Kelce took centre stage on a platform near Union Station.

    Mahomes had told a cheering crowd the Chiefs were going for a “three-peat” next season while Kelce led the supporters in some chanting.

  • One person dead and multiple injured in shooting near Kansas City Chiefs parade One person dead and multiple injured in shooting near Kansas City Chiefs parade

    One person has died and there are multiple injuries after shots were fired near the scene of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade.

    A video on social media showed armed officers rush into Union Station on a day supporters gathered near the building at the end of the NFL side’s parade route.

    The Kansas City Police Department confirmed that one person had died and two armed people had been taken into custody following the incident.

    Kansas City Police Department chief Stacey Graves said at a press conference: “At the conclusion of the Chiefs’ rally today, there were shots fired on the west side of Union Station.

    “Immediately, officers responded to the area, took two people into custody and also immediately rendered life-sustaining aid to those victims.

    “We’re still gathering information on the number and the status of victims. We know that one of the victims is deceased.

    “Right now, we have up to 10 to 15 injured. We do not have an exact number of people who were victims of a gunshot wound.

    During the press conference, it was announced that the Kansas City Chiefs had confirmed all their players, coaches and staff were safe and accounted for.

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