Super Bowl LVII kicks off in Arizona on Sunday, February 12 at 6:30 EST. It's the Eagles vs. the Chiefs in what should be a high-scoring affair. Underdog Fantasy will have dozens of player-based higher/lower Pick'em projections. Use promo code 'UNDERBLOG' to match your deposit up to $100.
Super Bowl LVII point spread: Eagles (-2) with a 49.5 game total.
Bookmakers were split on what the opening line should be, but that truly doesn't matter all that much as limits are by far the lowest at the opening. Very quickly, the market sent the line to Eagles -2.0. Because it's a key number in the NFL, it'll be hard for the spread to hit -3.0 without Chiefs money coming in heavy. Ultimately, this spread belongs (and will likely finish) in the -2.5 to +2.5 range, though I could see positive Chiefs' injury news swaying the line slightly closer to a pick'em as we saw with Bengals vs. Chiefs. Either way, everyone expects this to be a close and relatively high-scoring game. The total sits at 49.5 points. Hell yes.
The Eagles (25.75 implied points) win with decision-making, trench play, and spending big on football's most valuable positions.
Led by C Jason Kelce (he has a brother if you haven't heard), RT Lane Johnson, and LT Jordan Mailata, Philly is PFF's No. 1 pass-blocking and No. 3 run-blocking offense. Their defensive pass rush had a 11.3% adjusted sack rate this year, too, multiple basis points ahead of Dallas (2nd, 8.9%). That's extremely impressive given the Eagles only blitz on 24% of snaps (15th), so let's shoutout these individual disruptors ... There were 90 defensive linemen this year with a pressure rate of 5.5% on at least 240 snaps. The Eagles have six of them!!! EDGE Brandon Graham (11.6% pressure rate), EDGE Haason Reddick (10.4%), EDGE Josh Sweat (8.6%), DT Javon Hargrave (7.7%), DT Fletcher Cox (5.6%), and EDGE Robert Quinn (5.5%). Oh yeah, that list doesn't include 2022 first-round DT Jordan Davis, Hall of Fame DT Ndamukong Suh, and run-stuffer DT Linval Joseph. Dogs.
We'll get to Jalen Hurts' passing development later, but a large part of his value is in short-yardage situations. The Eagles led the NFL in both carries within three yards to go (7.3 per game) and in success rate on them (71%). Their RBs have been fantastic (69%, 2nd), but Hurts' ability to QB sneak or run when the other team knows its coming is almost Cam Newton like. Among 32 players with 30+ short-yardage carries, Hurts' 78% success rate is the best in the NFL. Knowing this, Philly can turn 3rd-and-mediums into two down territories to set up a short-yardage first down. Until the NFL's rules change, expect the Eagles' short-yardage QB package to be the most underrated attack in the game.
Jalen Hurts went from 18th to 4th in EPA/play this year. His accuracy improved (18th to 5th in CPOE). His turnover-worthy plays improved (30th to 2nd). His YPA in clean pockets improved (24th to 6th). Even his time to throw in clean pockets sped up (40th to 24th), which is a sign he's seeing the field better. Of course, it helps when Executive of the Year Howie Roseman swaps out Jalen Reagor's 5.2 YPT for A.J. Brown's 10.3 during the offseason. That move alone unlocked the ceiling of the offense, but Hurts deserves a ton of praise for consistently getting better despite an echo of "move him to RB" critiques. What a story. Impossible to root against.
Coach Nick Sirianni has gone for it on 80% of the 4th-down opportunities that RBSDM.com's model said it was smart to go for it, by far the most in the NFL. He also will go for two when necessary and adapts his weekly offensive game plan to take advantage of opponent weaknesses. Simply put, Sirianni is one of the best coaches despite his opening press conference. His personal glow-up has been my favorite random postseason storyline. I loved him yelling at the sideline ref vs. the Giants and then staring back at the camera.
The Chiefs (23.75 implied points) win with the best quarterback of all time, a "stars and scrubs" roster, and veteran play calling.
This past season without OPOY candidate Tyreek Hill, Patrick Mahomes' EPA/play was +0.30, far higher than the likes of Josh Allen (+0.22), Jalen Hurts (+0.21), Joe Burrow (+0.17), Justin Herbert (+0.06), and any other stud QB you want to throw in. Despite a high ankle sprain, Mahomes' postseason EPA/play is an outrageous +0.23. Once again, better than just about everyone. It sounds dumb, but we can't get numb to this dominance. We're looking at an all-time great, and perhaps the best QB peak in the sport's history. Mahomes' 32 postseason passing TDs before turning 28 years old smash the next closest, Brett Favre, who only had 18... And unlike Favre, Mahomes doesn't scam the poor.
Trading a superstar like Tyreek (for cap space and a first-, a second-, two fourths- and a sixth-rounder) in the middle of a championship window was risky but smart, at least while Travis Kelce remains on record-shattering pace. Kelce set career highs in receptions (110) and touchdowns (12) this regular season, and has since beat those averages in the playoffs. It's not a surprise his back is spasming given the weight he carries because the Chiefs are taking "stars and scrubs" to the max. JuJu Smith-Schuster (PFF's WR56 out of 120 qualifiers), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR75), Skyy Moore (WR62), Mecole Hardman (WR59), Justin Watson (WR117), Kadarius Toney (WR20), and a 7th-round rookie RB "complement" Kelce. With that said, the lack of resources devoted to the skill group is countered by an offensive line that ranks top-7 in both PFF pass-blocking and run-blocking.
A similar "stars and scrubs" approach exists on defense with game-wrecking DT Chris Jones leading the way. According to ESPN's Seth Walder, Jones led all DTs in double team rate (68%) and pass rush win rate (21%) this year. Re-read that sentence again... Sheesh! Watching Jones vs. center Jason Kelce will be a treat, though watch for Jones to kick outside on plays, too. Aside from S Justin Reid and EDGE Frank Clark, the rest of the defense is reliant on rookie contracts, including three starting rookie CBs if L'Jarius Sneed (concussion) can't play.
This stars and scrubs roster can only win if the stars play like stars (check) and if the scrubs can be maximized by coaching (check). We all know about the oddities of Andy Reid's red zone offense and his 30-6 record after a bye week, so let's spend some time on DC Steve Spagnuolo. His Chiefs' defenses have finished 16th, 8th, 10th, and 6th in scoring since coming to Kansas City. He's known for a two-high defense that can dial up and dial down blitzes depending on matchup. His blitz rate has varied between 6th and 14th in the NFL each season.
Injuries are a big part of this handicap. It's early, but I expect Mahomes (ankle) to be near 100%, Kelce (back) to be near 100%, JuJu (knee) to be active, Mecole (pelvis) to miss, Kadarius (foot) to miss, Watson (illness) to play, and Sneed (concussion) to play. Ultimately, I think the injuries are overrated here, with JuJu and Sneed's statuses worth following closest. ... On the flip side, I don't think enough has been made about the Eagles' injuries. Hurts (shoulder) hasn't looked right since returning, and he was wincing late in the last game. Lane Johnson (groin) is at risk of a set-back, while LG Landon Dickerson (elbow) left last week in a brace. The Eagles OL is deep, but starters start for a reason. Ultimately, I think most say the Chiefs are at an injury disadvantage, but I think it's basically a wash, perhaps even in the Chiefs favor, as Mahomes' ankle seems to be improving while Hurts' recovery seems to have plateaued.
In his three games since returning from injury, Hurts' EPA/play has dropped from +0.24 to +0.07, which is identical to Marcus Mariota's mark this season. His completion percentage over expected has also fallen from +3.3 to -3.0, which is on par with Justin Fields' accuracy. On tape, I've seen him miss on more deep throws and not finished runs with his normal ferocity. Perhaps it's small sample noise. Perhaps it's that secretive throwing shoulder injury.
It's hard to find many negative metrics on Jalen Hurts, but there is one that sticks out, especially if his shoulder is bugging him like I think it is... success versus the blitz. According to Sports Info Solutions, Hurts is 28th in success rate and 29th in EPA/dropback against 5+ pass rushers out of 40 QB qualifiers. When pressured per PFF, his yards per attempt drop from 8.5 to 5.5, which is the fourth-biggest drop among 34 QB qualifiers only ahead of Zach Wilson, Jimmy G, and Lamar Jackson. Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo is known for turning up the heat with blitzes, and he'll have two weeks to cook. Of course, blitzing is a boom-bust decision. If they do bring the sauce, the Chiefs will be leaving their rookie CBs on an island against A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. That's not a fun assignment, but the reward does feel worth the risk.
Philly earned an easy playoff schedule by taking care of business all year, but it's still worth noting how easy the schedule has been all year long and how that makes them harder to evaluate. In their only games against top-8 EPA/play offenses, the Eagles have allowed 33 points to the Lions, 21 to the Jaguars, and 40 to the Cowboys with another 33 to the Packers when they got hot later in the year. Is the defense good? Hell yes. Is it beatable with a good offense? Also hell yes.
Speaking of defenses, there are two stats that caught my eye. 1) The Eagles' defense was third in percentage of drives ending in a turnover, a stat that typically regresses over time. Of course, pressures lead to turnovers and the Eagles are elite at creating pressure, but ultimately turnovers are one of the least sticky stats out there. 2) As is red zone touchdown rate allowed, where the Chiefs' defense ranks 30th this year. When teams have reached the red zone, they've been scoring at unsustainably high rates. Will that change against an Eagles offense that can kick your ass when the field tightens? Unsure, maybe even unlikely, but these are regression-able metrics I can't ignore.
That brings me to the deciding factor -- I'll take the points with Patrick MFin Mahomes and Andy Reid (30-6 off the bye). What we're seeing with Mahomes isn't normal. If he's close to 100% as I expect after seeing him move around fairly well last week, the EPA/play difference between the Chiefs (+0.17) and Eagles (+0.11) should matter more. Plus I've seen the Chiefs do this for five years. This Eagles offense being dominant makes sense given the roster but has only existed for this year. There are downside risks with game plans or random inexperienced decisions with Hurts that don't exist with Mahomes, who has seen and beaten every type of defense.
My last note is to look for some weird final scores here based on the Eagles' line of thinking. Philly was 31st in field goal attempts this year because of their 4th-down aggressiveness, and they went for two on four different occasions in the 4th quarter. Both are analytics-based decisions that can throw off traditional scoring numbers, something that probably isn't being properly accounted for with exact scores in those markets. I included how often each score happens based on if there was a two-point attempt below. Scores like 22, 25, 26, 28, and 32 catch my eye for Philly, hence my weird final score prediction above.