There’s a question hovering around Super Bowl LVII, floating high above the rest when it comes to Kansas City Chiefs.
They’re the team that has it all, from the franchise quarterback and his top weapon to a veteran coaching staff and a management team unafraid to rebuild on the fly. They’ve won it all, too, with Patrick Mahomes taking the team to the promised land in February 2020 and now bringing the club to its third Super Bowl appearance in the last four years. They’ve appeared in five consecutive AFC Championships and the scariest thing about them is that this year’s team might actually be the best one yet.
So, the question is: Can we call these Chiefs a dynasty? Win another title, and that question might just have an easy answer.
In the meantime, here are the five biggest questions facing the Chiefs right now as they prepare to take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII this Sunday:
1) Can Kansas City slow down Philadelphia’s dominant run game?
No team ran the ball more or scored more rushing touchdowns than the Eagles did this season, and it’s become frighteningly clear through two playoff contests so far that their impressive 17-game output was all just one big practice run for the main event. Philadelphia’s averaged a whopping 208 rushing yards per game through two post-season outings with seven touchdowns to show for it.
So, can Kansas City slow it down? They allowed the sixth fewest rushing touchdowns in 2022 and finished the year with the eighth-ranked rushing defence in terms of yards allowed on the ground (107.3 per game, on average). They’ve allowed one rushing touchdown in each playoff game, but have mostly held opposing running backs in check – Jaguars RB Travis Etienne Jr. is the lone RB to have run for more than 40 yards against them this post-season.
Half the battle to stop the run will be finding a solution to slowing down Jalen Hurts, who’s run in one TD in each of his playoff outings this year. He’s proven himself to be the ultimate dual-threat QB this season, leading all QBs – and most running backs, too – in regular-season rushing touchdowns (13).
There’s a secondary question tucked in here, as stopping the run game is only half the battle. So dominant is Philadelphia’s four-pronged rushing attack, you’d almost forget about the pair of star receivers capable of breaking a game wide open. Philadelphia was the only team to finish the regular season with two wide receivers in the top 10 of receiving yards, and after a relatively quiet performance against San Francisco’s top-ranked defence in the NFC Championship A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith could feast against the Chiefs.
Kansas City’s season-long struggle to defend through the air, a weakness often concealed by the overwhelming strength of their own passing game, is most prevalent in the most dangerous situations. The Chiefs allowed the most passing touchdowns this season (33) and their red zone defence ranked 30th in the league this year.
2) Can Patrick Mahomes’ bodyguards keep him upright against the Eagles’ best-in-class pass rush?
In February 2021, the football world watched as Patrick Mahomes ran for his life against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ all-star group of pass rushers, his porous and injured offensive line unable to offer him much in the way of shelter from the storm.
As terrific (and terrifying) as Tampa’s pass rushers were that year, this year’s Eagles squad is even better. Lucky for Mahomes, his offensive line is, too. Of the five men manning the line in Super Bowl LV, just one remains after Chiefs GM Brett Veach spared no expense revamping the group in the 2021 off-season. Two years later, Kansas City boasts one of the finest o-lines in the league. Perhaps the only one capable of countering a pass rush that saw four players hit double-digits in sacks en route to a near-historic 70 sacks in the regular season.
With Mahomes’ mobility in question after the QB suffered a high-ankle sprain last month against Jacksonville, the importance of his offensive line standing strong is even higher.
The biggest question along the Chiefs’ o-line hovers over the lone holdover from Super Bowl LV, Andrew Wylie. He gave up nine sacks this season – more than a third of the 26 allowed all year by this group – and will be going up against the Eagles’ most dangerous linebacker, Haason Reddick, who led the Eagles in sacks this year with 16 and essentially ended the 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes two weeks ago with a pair of sacks.
3) Can Chris Jones continue his game-breaking ways?
While Philadelphia certainly has the edge in terms of depth at the position, the biggest individual threat when it comes to pressure just might be wearing red. That’s Chris Jones, whose 15.5 sacks on the season tied his previous personal best and landed him just a half-sack shy of Haasan Reddick’s second-place count behind Nick Bosa.
Jones sacked Joe Burrow twice in the AFC Championship. Part of what makes the defensive tackle such a threat is his versatility – he’ll line up all over the defensive line, which will keep the Eagles on their toes as they try to keep Hurts on his feet.
Jones’ presence also opens the door for other Chiefs like Frank Clark and rookie George Karlaftis to make their mark, with Jones setting the tone.
4) What trickery will Mahomes and Kelce get up to?
There are players that shine in the regular season, and then there are stars that step up in the biggest moments of the playoffs. Travis Kelce is both. And amid a rotating cast of receivers all taking turns in the spotlight after the departure of Tyreek Hill, Kelce is the constant.
Kelce and Mahomes have combined for 13 post-season scores over the course of their playoff careers together, including one in each of this year’s playoff games (Kelce also caught a TD pass from backup Chad Henne this post-season). This soundbite from Mahomes says it all:
Kelce’s presence as Mahomes’ safety net and biggest playmaker every single down opens the door to the Chiefs’ other threats, their by-committee approach to replacing Tyreek Hill causing headaches for opposing defences every week. They’ll now give the Eagles’ dynamic pass defence its first (and only) real test this post-season after it coasted through the first two games.
5) Will Andy Reid open his playbook to the run game?
When you’ve got Patrick Mahomes throwing the ball, it’s no secret that passing will always take priority. But there are a handful of factors – whether Mahomes’ mobility is affected by his ankle sprain, Philadelphia’s ability to apply quick pressure, the Eagles’ elite secondary smothering Mahomes’ weapons – that suggest now would be the time to bust that playbook wide open and call in some more run support.
Through two games, Philadelphia hasn’t given up any scores through the air. The lone two touchdowns scored against them have come from opponents’ running backs. As strong as their pass defence is, Philadelphia’s put up average numbers against the run, even ranking in the bottom half of the league in some categories. Look at their regular-season losses, few as they were, and you’ll see at least one rushing TD against in all three.
The Chiefs have yet to score a rushing touchdown through two games this post-season – the Eagles, meanwhile, have seven! Kansas City have also averaged 93 yards a game compared to Philly’s 208. The emergence of rookie Isaiah Pacheco, who leads the team in rushing yards (830) by a pretty wide margin and has five TDs this year, has added another dimension to this offence while Jerick McKinnon’s increased use as a short-pass receiver gives Mahomes more options when left scrambling.