When I was a kid (you can go ahead and scroll if you wanna skip storytime), everyone picked a Super Bowl team and went to school and told all their friends. And enemies. That was the team you would be rooting for, and surely if your team won, your fan prowess would be recognized and admired by friend and foe alike.
Maybe it’s because I picked the Bills 4 years in a row, which is a true story, but I grew tired of picking a team. As I got into fantasy football, my football fandom waned and the playoffs became less interesting because they weren’t my playoffs. It was just winter football and I was too busy with high school and all 7 years of college. No, I’m not a doctor.
What pulled me back into football was… football. The Xs and Os, the strategy, the narratives of people reaching and exceeding potential. In a way, I stopped being a fan in the traditional sense. I barely recognize rivalries for anything more than their potential for a good story. I genuinely enjoy watching every team play unless Wentz is starting for the Commanders.
I say all that because I’ve been asked multiple times who I’m rooting for on Super Bowl Sunday. As corny as it sounds, I’m rooting for great football. And that’s it. I’ve gone back and forth multiple times just to pick a winner for this blog. Both teams are incredibly deserving, and really any of the 4 teams playing on Championship Sunday had the talent to win it all.
Fair warning that in order to get into a more nuanced discussion of what I consider the most important clashes of the game, I likely won’t talk about all the great players we’re in line to see. There’s just too many.
Super Bowl Sunday, February 12
Philadelphia Eagles v. Kansas City Chiefs, 5:30-ish pm
Prediction: 27-26 Eagles
KC Offense v. Philly Defense
I still don’t get this don’t let Travis Kelce beat you talk. Yes, he’s a dominant player, possibly the best TE in the league, first ballot HOFer and he’s almost unstoppable in the red zone. But between the 20s? He’s still good, but any worthwhile defense should have 7-8 guys quicker and faster than him on any play. That’s not a knock on him; it’s the reality of playing a position where he also has to be big enough to block DEs.
Point is, he can have all the 6 yard catches he wants. I actually think the Bengals tried too hard to take him out of it last week, and the result was MVS torching them. Jacksonville practically let Kelce run free, which many claim is the reason they lost, but I think doing that is what kept them competitive in a game in which they were completely outmatched.
You just can’t answer a question like “How do you stop the Chiefs offense?” You don’t. You contain it, which starts by taking the top off, then containing the run. Everything in the middle is Turnover Country, where you trust your back 7 or 8 guys who are faster and quicker than the TE to know when to go for the quick tackle or take a shot and jump a route. Could jumping a route lead to a Chiefs big play down the field? Of course, which is why actually stopping them requires perfection. Perfect call, perfect read, perfect jump, perfect hands. And because that perfection is all but impossible, they will score points.
So if I’m Philly, Travis Kelce can go ahead and have 18 catches for 92 yards, as long as the second-most productive receiver on the Chiefs offense is a back. Which reminds me, don’t forget to contain the run, too. Sounds easy, unless Isiah Pacheco just happens to be really, really ridiculously good. Oh, right, he is. Gonna take a crazy good defense to keep all this in check.
Guess what? Philly is a crazy good defense, ranked #1 overall by Pro Football Focus, thanks to having the best pass rush and the 2nd-best coverage. Their D-line is rotating in guys who would be every-down starters on other playoff teams. Hasson Reddick is a game-wrecker who was overshadowed all year by guys like Parsons and Garrett and Bosa the Younger. But last week he showed up and delivered a performance that won’t be forgotten, especially by Brock Purdy (Paragraph Purdy Drop #1).
The one concern I had with Philly’s defense before the playoffs was the way their turnover production dipped in the later half of the season. But they’ve taken care of business in the playoffs. Only 1 against the Giants, but that game was over so fast and they played conservative the entire 2nd half. Then they had 3 against the Niners while playing at such a high level it felt like Philly had 13 guys on defense. They were everywhere. They need to be again, because the one area they mildly struggled was against the run. And again, Isiah Pacheco is really, really ridiculously good.
Philly Offense v. KC Defense
Of all the reasons Howie Roseman is by far the best GM in the league, including his shrewd, Madden Franchise-like fleecings of the rest of the league, take a look at this offense. And then consider that they drafted 10 of those 11 starters, including the entire offensive line. This is such a cohesive unit that knows each other and is anchored by guys who, to paraphrase Ray Lewis, skip the parties and sit at home with the clicker in hand. Their entire offensive line has known no other NFL offensive line but each other, and that means something.
I don’t know if Jalen Hurts will ever get the credit he deserves for how he’s led this offense, but I’ve tried to do my part in delivering that credit wherever possible. It’s obvious to anyone looking for the nuances in the game that he’s not just throwing and running when told to throw and run. This guy knows this offense inside and out, and by gameday, he knows the defense he’s facing inside and out. He puts his team in the best position by utilizing every ounce of talent from every talented player around him.
KC’s defense may not be the PFF-best, but they were 5th, and they’ve got some studs. Chris Jones may be the top game-wrecker around. Frank Clark has streaky dominance; he’s never really gotten back to his form in Seattle, but this has been his best year in KC. And streakiness from a player with his talent has a way of changing games. The secondary solidified throughout the season thanks to a fantastic rookie year from 7th round corner Jaylen Watson, who went just 18 picks ahead of Brock Purdy (Paragraph Purdy Drop #2).
The issue here is depth. It’s not that they don’t have decent guys to rotate in, it’s that decent isn’t gonna cut it in the Super Bowl. Jones can’t play every snap, and I’m certain Philly’s dominant offense line and running game will be paying close attention to every time he takes a breather. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a special playbook for those moments. There are a handful of plays that determine a winner; if Philly wins, don’t be surprised if 2 or 3 of those plays happen with him on the sideline.
Maybe you think I’m overselling Chris Jones. I promise you, I’m not. Besides what I saw with my own eyes on the field, he was also the top PFF pass rusher and 2nd-best run defender for interior D-lineman. Outside of the QBs, he may be the single-most important player on the field on Sunday, meaning his success or failure will be a crucial factor in the outcome of the game.
The trenches. Offensive line. Defensive line. Where football games are so often won or lost. KC is really good on both sides of the trench. Philly is better. Wherever you may see a slight advantage for KC at this position or that position, having the advantage at the heart of every play gives them the edge. Just barely.
FOOTBALL! LET’S GOOOOOO!!!