It’s finally here.
The Kansas City Chiefs have accomplished their big goal: defeating their arch nemesis — the Cincinnati Bengals — to reach Super Bowl LVI. 30 NFL teams don’t reach this point every season — and 31 teams go home without the Lombardi Trophy.
We should appreciate that in this era of Chiefs football, the team has reached the championship for the third time in four years. But we should not be complacent, either. The Chiefs aren’t done. This Super Bowl has significant implications for the legacy of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid — and what may eventually be considered a Chiefs dynasty.
This matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles is exactly what the Super Bowl is supposed to be: the top teams from both the AFC and NFC facing off for the title. Both squads are reasonably healthy. There are lots of narratives out there that Philadelphia has a better roster — that is, if you exclude quarterback Jalen Hurts. To me, that’s like saying to Andy Reid, “I have the better cheeseburger — except for the burger part.”
For either team to win, the best effort from the whole team will be required. But it’s silly to discount the coaching and quarterback advantage that Kansas City will have on Sunday night.
Here are a few other Chiefs who might be trending as we head into a legacy-defining Super Bowl Sunday.
Wide receiver Kadarius Toney: Against the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game, the Mahomes’ first deep shot was a beauty that Toney was barely unable to haul in for a touchdown. Mahomes targeted him twice more in the next two drives before the wideout left with an injury. Kansas City targeted Toney on three of his four offensive snaps, indicating he was going to be a huge part of the game plan against an aggressive defensive front — one where yards-after-catch would be critical. The Eagles present similar challenges for the Chiefs' offense — so Toney is once again likely to be one of the team’s offensive keys. If the team can get him involved early — and he can stay healthy enough to finish the game — Toney’s ability to break tackles and make plays across the field (both horizontally and vertically) could once again demonstrate why Kansas City has the league’s best offense.
Defensive back L’Jarius Sneed: We’re bullish on another player just coming back from injury — and this one might just be the key to the Kansas City defense. Sneed left the AFCCG on the game’s first drive. Now, however, he’s cleared the concussion protocol and should be good to go for Sunday. In recent weeks, Sneed has often followed the opposition’s best receiver — but in this game, his talents might be best used back in the slot. In the postseason, the team’s trio of
rookie first-year cornerbacks (Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson) have proven their ability against some of the league’s best receivers. It might be time to trust them against Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith — allowing Sneed to be the roving playmaker he’s proven to be. Sneed’s ability to blitz, cut down ballcarriers on screen plays and help force turnovers could lead to some game-changing plays that give Kansas City that one extra drive they need to bring home the hardware.
EDGE Frank Clark: The Closer. The Shark. Call him what you will — but Clark is back in prime form this postseason. He’s moving up the all-time rankings for postseason sacks and giving golden sound bites both before and after each game. The Eagles boast football’s best offensive line, but there are weaknesses that can be exploited. Clark could be critical in providing the quick, outside pressure that can keep Hurts uncomfortable. The Chiefs don’t have a lot of speed rushers, so they’ll depend on Clark more than ever. Even if he doesn’t log multiple sacks on Sunday, Clark can force Hurts to step up into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Chris Jones and his teammates on the interior, who may find more success against Philadelphia’s guards. Watch how Clark gets off of the line of scrimmage on Sunday night. If he’s not being asked to “play contain” (which is possible), he’ll be creating havoc by timing the snap and flying upfield.
Others trending in the right direction: Running back Isiah Pacheco, cornerbacks Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams and Trent McDuffie, wide receivers Skyy Moore and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, defensive tackle Chris Jones, safety Bryan Cook, placekicker Harrison Butker and punter Tommy Townsend.
Right tackle Andrew Wylie: We can be optimistic about how this offensive line will hold up against an insanely talented and deep Philadelphia front. But I suspect that the Eagles will be looking for the weakest link — so they may try isolating Haason Reddick on Andrew Wylie as much as they can. Reddick is a game-wrecker who collected 16 regular-season sacks — and already has 3.5 in the postseason. His particular brand of speed rush on the edge is going to be difficult for both Kansas City tackles to contain — but if he doesn’t get enough help, Reddick is a particularly impossible matchup for Wylie.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster: The team’s presumptive No. 1 wideout is in a dry spell. Smith-Schuster had one catch for seven yards before getting hurt against the Bengals. His last significant performances came in mid-December against the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos. Since then, the targets simply haven’t been there. But if if he’s healthy enough to be a full-go on Sunday, the matchup against the Eagles is a good one for him. As good as the Philadelphia defense is, they can be beaten in the middle of the field — and on the sidelines in the intermediate areas. That’s where Smith-Schuster thrives. He wants to stay in Kansas City, but he also wants to get paid. Both things might depend on him turning things around on the biggest stage.
Running back Jerick McKinnon: The most valuable running back in pass protection has provided less offensive production in the postseason. His four carries against the Bengals netted one total yard. His four targets netted two catches and seventeen yards. After scoring nine touchdowns in the final six games of the season, McKinnon hasn’t sniffed the end zone in the playoffs. With the return of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, it will be interesting to see if Reid calls his number in the passing game — and for the change-of-pace carries when Isiah Pacheco needs a breather. If so, his touches will come at McKinnon’s expense.
Others trending in the wrong direction: Running back Ronald Jones, linebacker Darius Harris and fullback Michael Burton.
Value (Sleeper) pick: Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire
I’ve seen the tweets from Chiefs fans who were hoping that Clyde Edwards-Helaire wouldn’t be activated from injured reserve. After he was activated, I saw people hoping he would be a healthy scratch in the Super Bowl. But why would we not want to see every healthy skill-position player when Kansas City plays for the Lombardi Trophy? I understand that it’s been a while since we’ve seen Edwards-Helaire on the field — and it ‘s been since a few games before then that he was really being used to the best of his ability.
But let’s remember: early in the season, he was a red-zone weapon. He collected five touchdowns in the first four games — the same number that Pacheco had in 11 regular- season matchups. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and nearly nine yards per reception. Those may not be startling numbers, but they’re not drastically different from Pacheco’s 4.9 per rush and 10 yards per catch. Worried he can’t do it against the NFC Champions? Against the Eagles, Edwards-Helaire had 13 carries for 102 yards and had a receiving touchdown. Nobody is advocating for Edwards-Helaire to be the starter — but he can help in a supporting role. Line him up as a receiver. Draw up some goal-line plays for him. Feature him on screens. We might just be surprised about how much he could help on Sunday.