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5 storylines to watch for a Super Bowl between heavyweights: the Chiefs and Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles' Haason Reddick, #7, celebrates after recovering a fumble in the NFC title game.
Tim Nwachukwu
/
Getty Images
The Philadelphia Eagles' Haason Reddick, #7, celebrates after recovering a fumble in the NFC title game.

Here comes the Super Bowl.

On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles will take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz. It's as close to a tossup as they come, with the Eagles favored by just 1.5 points.

This year's matchup is a battle of heavyweights. Both teams finished the regular season atop the standings at 14-3. Both were the #1 seed in their conference. And now, both have won two playoff games to arrive here in the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs have the best offense in the league, and they've got the presumptive Most Valuable Player in quarterback Patrick Mahomes. But the Eagles are the most complete team in football, and overcoming their league-leading defense will be a tall task.

The game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. ET. Rihanna will perform the halftime show. There will be a lot of commercials, some good, many bad.

And as for the football itself, here are some storylines you can follow:

These were the NFL's two best teams this year

The Philadelphia Eagles were the class of the NFL all season. They have lost only one game in which their starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts, played (and that game was something of an odd duck, with six total turnovers).

Their defense is formidable: Their pass rush is second to none, and overall, they allowed the second fewest yards of any team this year. On offense, they're much improved from last season. Hurts was already a running threat and has now made big strides in his passing game, and the addition of star receiver A.J. Brown has transformed their ability for explosive plays.

But the Chiefs are no lightweights.

In 2022, Kansas City had the best offense in the league, full stop. This is true no matter which way you slice it, be it the simplest measures (the Chiefs were #1 in points scored and #1 in yards gained in the regular season), or the stats cited only by analytics nerds (their offensive expected points added per play, 0.17, was almost double the second-place team).

And their defense has perked up from years past, led by All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones, who, as much as it is possible for one player to do so in a football game, singlehandedly dominated the Chiefs' previous matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

One big matchup to watch is the Eagles' pass rush vs. the Chiefs' offensive line

The game is won or lost in the trenches, the saying goes.

The Eagles have an imposing pass rush. Their pass rush, led by linebacker Haason Reddick, a dark horse Super Bowl MVP candidate, is the best in the league at getting to the other team's quarterback. The percentage of plays on which they sacked the quarterback – 11.5% – is the highest of any team in decades. (It was Reddick who easily shed his blocker to reach San Francisco's quarterback Brock Purdy, a play that ended with the Eagles recovering a fumble and Purdy forced to leave the game with an injured elbow.)

This is a problem for the Chiefs — specifically their tackles, Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie, the outermost of the five linemen, who have struggled at times this year. If the Eagles can get by them to get regular pressure on Mahomes, the Chiefs' offense could struggle to find a rhythm and move the ball.

On the other hand, no quarterback is better at avoiding sacks than Mahomes. He excels at sensing pressure and escaping the pocket. Because of that, the Chiefs are especially dangerous on the "play after the play," as tight end Travis Kelce calls it — in other words, when the original play breaks down, and Mahomes and his receivers make something up on the fly.

It's the first Super Bowl with two Black starting quarterbacks

No matter what happens on the field, this Super Bowl is already part of the history books. The big game has never before featured two Black starting quarterbacks. That's a legacy of decades of discrimination against Black men in football, and especially in the quarterback position.

Hurts and Mahomes, both of whom are Black, each spoke this week about the historic nature of the game and nodded to those who came before them in the long road to integrate the position. You can read more about that history here.

By the way, both quarterbacks are still on the mend from recent injuries.

Hurts sprained his throwing shoulder toward the end of the regular season, causing him to miss two games, both of which the Eagles lost. He's since struggled with the deep ball — although both of the Eagles' playoff wins were so decisive that it didn't much matter.

Meanwhile, Mahomes turned his ankle three weeks ago against the Jacksonville Jaguars and has been visibly affected since. "We'll see on game day how close to 100% I can be," he said this week.

Tight end Travis Kelce, #87, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, #15, celebrate after their Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC title game.
David Eulitt / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
Tight end Travis Kelce, #87, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, #15, celebrate after their Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC title game.

It's the first Super Bowl to pit a pair of brothers against each other

Many famous pairs of brothers have played in the NFL — the Mannings, the Watts, the Barbers, the Cunninghams — but none had yet squared off in the Super Bowl.

Now, we've got the Kelce Bowl: Jason Kelce is the All-Pro center for the Philadelphia Eagles, and his younger brother Travis is the All-Pro tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Both players are, arguably, the best in the league at their position. Both guys are beloved fan favorites. Their mom, Donna Kelce, wears a custom half-red, half-green jersey with Travis' #87 on the front and Jason's #62 on the back. She brought them cookies to Super Bowl media day.

The brothers invited their mom and dad onto their podcast last week to talk about what they were like as kids (Who was smarter? Who was more honest? What kind of food did they eat? Who's the favorite?). It's all exceptionally wholesome.

And it could guarantee Andy Reid's place in the Hall of Fame

In Kansas City, there's a lot of love for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid — and there's a lot of love for him in Philadelphia, too. Before he joined the Chiefs in 2013, Reid was coach of the Eagles for 14 seasons.

It was a transformative era for Philly. Reid took the Eagles to nine playoff runs and their second-ever Super Bowl appearance. But he never seemed to get them over the hump: The team lost in three straight NFC title games, then, when they finally won the fourth, lost in the Super Bowl. After a disappointing 4-12 season in 2012, the Eagles and Reid parted ways. (The Eagles have since mostly continued to be successful, winning the Super Bowl after the 2017 season, and of course appearing again this year.)

After he was fired, Reid was promptly hired by the Chiefs, who have since missed the playoffs only one year in the past decade and are now playing in their third Super Bowl in four years. Reid's Chiefs won it all in 2020. Winning a second ring this year could make him a lock for the Hall of Fame after he retires.

And he's a charming fella to boot: An offensive mastermind who devises bizarre trick plays; an anti-fashionista who's partial to floral Hawaiian shirts; a lover of cheeseburgers who likes to crack jokes about his weight. Facing his former team means facing a few players he helped to draft to the Eagles, so during media day earlier this week, he gave them all hugs. How can you not like this guy?

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.

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