As this weekend’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles quickly approaches, we’ve arrived at a time on the sports calendar full of hyperbole, overreaction, and over analysis. Each team has managed an impressive run to get here, and with that, each team also has its own set of flaws. In many cases, perceptions around players or teams can be skewed by recency bias or hyperbolic imagination; for Super Bowl bettors, it’s important to avoid these pitfalls as well as we can.
Perception: Philadelphia’s run defense is a weakness
Reality: Now fully healthy, Philly’s front is formidable against the run
As of Nov. 17, the Philadelphia Eagles’ run defense ranked just 28th in the NFL while posting a tackling grade ranked 30th per Pro Football Focus. After Philadelphia’s first loss of the season at home versus Washington, Philly’s run defense was viewed as its fatal flaw. The Eagles allowed 12 rushing first downs in that game, and 152 yards rushing overall to a Commanders’ team that wasn’t exactly known for plowing through defenses. As a result, Washington held the football for more than two-thirds of the game clock and played keepaway with a lead late in the game. The Houston Texans, who finished the season just 3-13-1, picked up 168 yards rushing in a 29-17 loss to the Eagles just a week earlier. The Eagles’ run defense remained a topic of discussion amongst talking heads for weeks, and was the basis behind many a handicap that took the points with San Francisco in the NFC Championship.
Things broke Philadelphia’s way in clear and obvious fashion early in that game, rendering a lot of analysis from it relatively useless - but the Eagles could only play the hand they were dealt, and did they ever play it. After Brock Purdy’s injury, Josh Johnson’s obvious incompetence, and Josh Johnson’s eventual injury, the 49ers no longer had a quarterback available capable of throwing a pass downfield. The result was a San Francisco offense forced to run repeatedly, in as many creative ways as possible. If there was any offense capable of cobbling together drives that way, San Francisco would be a leading candidate with impressive, bruising ball carriers moving around the field in every direction. The Eagles stuffed them instead. San Francisco finished with just 81 rushing yards, 23 of which came on Christian McCaffrey’s touchdown run early in the game.
But what about when Philadelphia faced a healthier playoff offense, fresh off of a road win? The Eagles suffocated Saquon Barkley all night in the divisional round, too. The Giants finished with a middling 118 yards on the ground, but Saquon Barkley’s 39-yard run (while New York already trailed 28-0) made their numbers look much better than the production on the field actually was.
The reality is that with rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis back healthy and in the lineup and veterans like Ndomakung Suh and Linval Joseph in the fold after signing on late in the season, what was once a front seven known only for producing an excellent pass rush has become a lot more well-rounded. Since that Monday night loss to Washington, only one of Philadelphia’s 10 opponents has rushed for 130 or more yards.
Perception: The Kansas City Chiefs are an “over” team that wins despite its defense
Reality: The “under” cashes quite often in Chiefs games both in the playoffs and with high totals
That the Chiefs are an elite offensive team is no secret - they were the No. 1 scoring offense and passing offense in the NFL this season, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes just earned his second MVP award at Thursday night’s NFL Honors. Despite what felt like a consensus expectation that Kansas City’s offense would come back down to earth without Tyreek Hill at Mahomes’ disposal, the Chiefs were dominant with the football once again.
Patrick Mahomes playing at an MVP level helps, but the Chiefs replaced Tyreek Hill’s production with a bevy of different playmakers. Isaih Pacheco, despite being picked in the seventh round, accounted for 960 yards of total offense while averaging 4.9 yards per carry during the regular season. In the playoffs, Pacheco has bumped the average up to 5.5. Veteran running back Jerick McKinnon was a massive playmaker in the passing game as well, a guy who entering his age-30 season in the NFL had never caught more than two touchdown passes in a season. This year, McKinnon accounted for 803 yards of offense for Kansas City, 512 of which came through the air, and caught nine touchdown passes (second-most on the team behind Travis Kelce). The Chiefs have also deployed lightning-quick rookie Skyy Moore (250 total yards), speedster Mecole Hardman (345 total yards), and elusive late-season pickup Kadarius Toney to to help fill the void left by Hill. That, of course, is before mentioning Kansas City’s acquisitions (JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling) or league-best tight end Travis Kelce, all of whom played major roles in Andy Reid’s endlessly creative offense.
Kansas City has weapons everywhere, and an offensive line that is up to the task of making those weapons count. The Chiefs’ offensive line graded out as fourth-best in the NFL this season per Pro Football Focus, and third-best in adjusted line yards per Football Outsiders.
Despite the league’s best offense, though, Kansas City often avoids the shootout-type games pundits predict. Look no further than the AFC Championship game, a battle between two of the NFL’s top-5 passing offenses and top-7 offenses overall. Despite a total set in the high 40s, the under was the right side almost the entire night as Kansas City pulled out a 23-20 win.
The Chiefs’ playoff offense is high-flying when it needs to be, but is more often than not happy to take what the defense gives it, kick field goals when opportunities arise, and rise to the occasion late in games. Six of the Chiefs’ last nine playoff games have stayed under the total, and one of the exceptions was a game that went to overtime after a wild flurry of points in the final seconds (2022 Divisional Championship vs. Buffalo). Kansas City has yet to go over a total this postseason, instead bludgeoning both Jacksonville and Cincinnati with its pass rush. Overall, Kansas City has stayed under the total in four of its last five games dating back to Week 16 versus Seattle.
Unders are especially valuable in Chiefs’ games with higher-than-usual totals. In games with a total set at 50 or higher this season, Kansas City has stayed under eight of 11 times. For Philadelphia, Sunday’s Super Bowl is the first game they’ve played with a total set at 50 or above all season - and Philadelphia’s last four games have all stayed under as well.
While Philadelphia’s run defense is hardly the struggling unit it was early in the season, I’m still expecting Kansas City to try its luck running the football first. Philadelphia ought to do the same - after all, both teams rank top-6 in the NFL in adjusted line yards this season per Football Outsiders. The Eagles’ and Chiefs’ defensive fronts ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in sacks this season, so it figures that each team will look to stay ahead of the sticks behind two excellent offensive lines. With both sides potentially leaning on their run game, especially early, there is value to be had betting the under in the first half specifically. That way, we avoid the late-game back-and-forth that a game expected to be this close can quickly produce - and potentially take advantage of some conservative “don’t lose the game before you have a chance to win it” play-calling.
Best Bet: First Half UNDER 25.5 (-122) (BetRivers)
By Dalton Brown
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