By: Lucas Kochevar
The Kansas City Chiefs are heading to the Super Bowl! The Chiefs managed to win a game that came down to the wire against the Cincinnati Bengals and find themselves in the big game for the third time in five seasons. Patrick Mahomes still had his fastball, despite the high ankle sprain. He threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns against a Bengals defense that has been playing it's best these past few weeks. The defense for Kansas City also stepped up big time slowing down Joe Burrow. When they needed a crucial stop at the end of the game, Chris Jones stepped up to get his second sack of the game. A Skyy Moore punt return was monumental in setting up the Chiefs for a game-winning drive. After a big third down conversion and critical defensive penalty, Harrison Butker set-up for an easy field goal and he was money with the kick. Now, the Chiefs look to try and cement their place in history as a modern day dynasty against the Eagles.
The Road to Phoenix: Chiefs Edition
The Kansas City Chiefs have been wreaking havoc in the AFC for years now. The Andy Reid era of Kansas City has been remarkable with the amount of success in the regular season and postseason, especially since the arrival of Patrick Mahomes. The now two-time MVP single-handedly changed the expectations of the Chiefs and has elevated the franchise to a level they haven't seen before. They suffered a heart-breaking loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots in Mahomes' first year, but they bounced back with the gigantic Super Bowl win over the 49ers. Since then, they lost in the big game to Tampa Bay and they lost to Cincinnati in the AFC championship game last year. The Chiefs are looking to prove they weren't a one-hit wonder and this Sunday will put that claim to the test.
The Chiefs underwent an offseason of change with their most threatening weapon on offense with Tyreek Hill being traded to the Dolphins. He was a cheat code and unlocked a level of explosiveness in the offense. With him gone, the Chiefs decided to pivot to reliable free agent wide receivers in Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdez-Scantling. They eventually traded for Kadarius Toney, while Jerick McKinnon and Isiah Pacheco became big threats out of the backfield. Meanwhile, the defense was steady, despite one of their big leaders leaving in Tyrann Mathieu. Free agent addition Justin Reid filled in well and Kansas City ended up boasting a 14-3 regular season record. The Chiefs weren't entirely in a good rhythm, but they were still 4-2 after six weeks. The big momentum changer in my opinion was the game against the 49ers, where they won 44-23 on the road. The Chiefs man-handled the 49ers and this sparked a stretch of winning 12 of their last 13 games, including the playoff wins over Jacksonville and Cincinnati. Watching this version of the Chiefs has really put into perspective how critical it is to have a strong upper brass. General manger Brett Veach has done a wonderful job replacing the talent that's left and Andy Reid has done well playing to the strengths of the players Veach brought in. Those two being in lockstep has lead to this consistent success that Kansas City has had. Overall, the Chiefs are one of the best franchises over the past decade and the Super Bowl against Philadelphia could raise their status even higher among all-time dynasties.
The Key Players in this Game
The Chiefs have a number of under-the-radar guys that could end up being huge in this game. For the offense, I think the Chiefs offensive line, with center Creed Humphrey in the middle, will be huge. The Chiefs struggled mightily in their Super Bowl matchup versus Tampa Bay a couple years ago because of their offensive line. Now, they face off against a team that recorded the most sacks in the league by a comfortable margin. The Chiefs revamped that entire unit and they're completely different than the one that played in the Super Bowl. According to Shane Haff on twitter, Humphrey and his two other guards have allowed only three sacks this seasons. They've been instrumental in allowing the Chiefs offense to feel comfortable all season long, understanding that Mahomes has the time in the pocket. Humphrey also was the highest graded center per PFF with a grade of 89.9. Humphrey will need to be on his game directing this unit with how dangerous the Eagles defensive line is. Outside of reading the defense for blitzes, he'll have to pay attention to Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave in the middle. It'll be a big task, literally, but he'll need to be effective in order to protect Mahomes.
The Chiefs defense isn't a star studded defense outside of a few names, however, they have a number of guys that play their role in DC Steve Spagnuolo's defense. I think the Chiefs big impact guy on this side of the ball is rookie edge rusher George Karlaftis. The rookie out of Purdue, somehow, fell down to the Chiefs in the first round. He managed to get six sacks this year, which placed him third out of all rookies. He managed to get a sack in their playoff win against Cincinnati, which was crucial against a guy like Burrow. They'll need that same energy this Sunday against Jalen Hurts and co. Keeping Hurts contained will certainly be a team effort, but it all starts along the D-line. It'll also be a challenge for Karlaftis since he's facing one of the absolute best tackles in the league in Lane Johnson. The stage will be set for the young rookie and the Chiefs will need everyone to contribute on defense to slow down the Eagles
How to Win the Game: Chiefs Edition
The Chiefs are entering this game as an underdog in the betting market and it's an understandable spread. On paper, the Eagles have a better roster, but the Chiefs have certain guys that turn it on when the spotlight is on. Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes will craft a game plan that can attack the linebackers of the Eagles. I think the running backs I mentioned earlier on with Pacheco and McKinnon will play a huge role in the passing game. The obvious game plan heavily involves tight end Travis Kelce as well. On defense, they have to be able to contain the passing attack, especially Devonta Smith, whose been a breakout player for the Eagles lately. The Eagles run game will be there, no matter what and the Chiefs should try to focus on shutting down one aspect of the Eagles offense. The Chiefs will need to ride Patrick Mahomes to the finish line, even on a tough ankle. He's one of the most talented players I've ever seen with my two eyes and I think he'll show up. Kansas City will have their hands full for 60 minutes on Sunday and they'll need to be guided by their leadership to achieve the goal of winning the Lombardi trophy.
Photo via Kevin Sabitus, Getty Images, Shane Haff via twitter.com/HAFFnHAFF_TPL/status/1623713337077862404?s=20&t=pD0awH3e1lTrSaKiVdf5tA, PFF via www.pff.com/nfl/grades/position/c