High-level quarterbacks, a battle in the trenches, and key skill-position players highlight Super Bowl 57


Michael LaRocca

(From left to right) Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, Devonta Smith and Travis Kelce will look to make a difference for their teams in Super Bowl 57. (Photos from All-Pro Reels/Flickr) (Photoillustration by Michael LaRocca)

Alex Havardansky, Contributing Writer

It’s that time of year again in the NFL. Super Bowl Sunday is upon us and this year it is a clash between the league’s “best of the best.” Both No. 1 seeds in the NFC and AFC, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs, will be going toe-to-toe trying to make history. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is going for his second ring to officially cement his status among the NFL’s all-time greats, if he hasn’t done so already. 

Meanwhile, the Eagles are going for their second ring in franchise history and could become just the fourth team ever to win two Super Bowls in a six-year span with two different head coaches and quarterbacks. 

The question is: who has the edge? Both rosters have talent on every unit. But this game comes down to quarterback play, a battle between the offensive and defensive lines and one potential x-factor for both teams. 

The MVP Ladder on Display

Media pundits have said repeatedly that the MVP is a quarterback-only award. No matter how much football is a team game, the quarterback has become the most important position in a now pass-heavy league. This Super Bowl showcases two young quarterbacks at the top of the MVP ladder. 

For Patrick Mahomes, being in the conversation is nothing new, but this season may be his most impressive feat yet. After losing his all-pro receiver, Tyreek Hill, in a trade to the Dolphins, no one would have blamed Mahomes for taking a step back statistically. 

So how did he respond this year? Oh nothing crazy, just throwing for over 5,000 yards, 41 touchdowns, and leading the league with a quarterback rating of 77.5. All of this was done with a patchwork receiving core of players like Juju Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, and Marquez Valdez-Scantling. All of them are solid, but still, none are a true top target for a quarterback like Mahomes. 

Of course, it helps to have arguably the best tight end in the league in Travis Kelce, but it’s still an impressive feat nonetheless. Mahomes has once again asserted himself as the face of the league after taking home a well-deserved second MVP award.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts’ story feels like an embodiment of Philadelphia, like something straight out of a Rocky movie. He was doubted and counted out, but managed to go the distance and prove the critics wrong. After showing flashes of stardom in 2021, Hurts was brought back for a make-it-or-break-it year with the team as many in the media still questioned if he was “the guy” to lead the Eagles. Well, it’s safe to say he put those talks to bed. 

Hurts burst onto the scene this season having a near MVP year. His biggest improvement was as a passer; he threw for over 3500 yards, completed two-thirds of his passes, a 101.6 passer rating, and was fourth in the league in quarterback rating with a 66.3. 

He had a modest 22 touchdowns to six interceptions, but where Hurts remains a game changer is on the ground. This season, Hurts rushed for 760 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and a career-high 13 rushing touchdowns, bringing his total touchdown count to 35. He is a dynamic playmaker who up until spraining his shoulder against the Bears in Week 12 was the frontrunner for MVP. Fortunately for him, he was only sidelined for two games and has been playing ever since. 

A Battle in the Trenches

Every great quarterback needs an offensive line to give him time to throw the ball and let plays develop. These two teams have some of the best in the business. 

Both offensive lines have a combined six Pro Bowlers and are among the best in specific blocking categories. However, the true battle is going to come down to whether the Eagles ferocious defensive line can get after Patrick Mahomes and whether or not Kansas City can stop them. 

It’s the definition of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. The Eagles defensive line was the best at getting after the quarterback this season. They led the league in sacks by a wide margin with 70. That is 15 more than the next best team, coincidentally being the Chiefs.  Including the playoffs, they have 78 sacks and could potentially break the NFL sack record held by the mid-80s Bears if they get at least five on Sunday. 

That of course will be a tough task. The Chiefs, as said earlier, have three Pro Bowlers on their line in Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney and Creed Humphrey. What’s more, they are first in the league in pass block win rate, which means they are the best at guarding opponents’ pass rushers for 2.5 seconds or longer. Which of these units cracks first could determine the outcome of the game. 

An X-Factor for Each Team

While both of these teams are talented, they of course still have flaws, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Both teams have underrated aspects of their respective teams to attack the opponent’s weaknesses. 

For the Chiefs, while the Eagles are very good at getting after the quarterback upfront, they are a middle-of-the-pack team at stopping the run. They are 15th in the league in rushing defense which is where the Chiefs can take advantage. While they are a pass-heavy offense, they have running back Isiah Pacheco who could give them the edge. 

Despite being a seventh-round pick out of Rutgers, he has made his presence felt in the Chiefs backfield this season. He rushed for 830 yards this season with five rushing touchdowns and almost five yards per carry. If the Chiefs get into a situation where they need to control the clock, they could lean heavily on a power runner like Pacheco. 

For the Eagles, the formula is the opposite. The Chiefs pass defense is not great, they are currently 19th in the league against the pass. This is where the Eagles could take advantage with their passing attack, featuring receivers A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith. 

Brown set the Eagles single-season receiving record with just under 1500 yards and Smith came just shy of 1200 yards through the air and set the Eagles single-season receptions record with 95. This was the first duo in Eagles history to have over 1000 yards each. They also scored a combined 18 receiving touchdowns. The birds have relied on fast starts, jumping out to early leads all season. If they can handle Kansas City’s pass rushers up front, look for them to take advantage of the secondary with their weapons early. 

So which of these factors are going to make the biggest difference in the outcome? We’ll have to wait for those answers on Sunday