With eerily identical regular season stats, the Chiefs and Eagles face off in Arizona this Sunday. Our expert breaks down what to watch for — and bet on.
"I'm surprised the game isn't [Eagles] 3, to be honest with you. I'm very surprised." – legendary gambler Billy Walters, this week.
The best team from each conference square up with identical records (16-3), season points scored (546), yards per carry (4.6) and even an All-Pro Kelce brother on the roster.
However, both teams' seasons have taken different trajectories as the Eagles steamrolled their way to an 8-0 start but the Chiefs didn’t assume the No.1 conference seed until week 10.
Let’s start with the Chiefs and an important talking point - Patrick Mahomes’ ankle. Only three weeks removed from a high ankle sprain and two weeks from severe discomfort in the AFC Conference Championship win over the Bengals, it’s entirely possible Mahomes has limited mobility or is at risk of re-injuring the ankle mid-game. Without this doubt, it’s probable the Chiefs would be 1.5-point favorites on the spread, at the very least.
The Chiefs' downgraded run game isn’t going to be the difference maker against a vastly improving Eagles run D who were ranked last in the NFL mid-season so it’s on All-Pro, future Hall of Famer, probable GOAT Mahomes to carry the load against a statistically-impressive Eagles D. Mahomes has recorded elite performances against top-10 pass defenses this season. Among a multitude of impressive stats, when the league average for 3rd-down conversions is 28.8%, Mahomes is 58.1%.
On the other side of the ball, this is the best defense Mahomes has played with as the return of Trent McDuffie, the improvement of the rookie starters and DC Spagnuolo’s confidence in the secondary allowing more blitz packages has resulted in an overall defensive jump from 25th to 10th in the NFL. Also, the Chiefs preference to play zone coverage should cause problems for Jalen Hurts.
It’s no secret that the Eagles have played impressively against one of, if not the weakest schedule in the regular season. The run game - mainly Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders - have faced six top-ten run defenses this season and posted impressive stats each time. Given QB Hurts damaged a shoulder late in the season and despite the presence of AJ Brown, the Chiefs are 4th best in the league against the pass on third downs so the Eagles should rely on the ground game against the Chiefs’ light boxes.
Even on defense, the Eagles have excelled against poor offensive lines during the weak schedule posting record sack numbers for the season. However, Mahomes isn’t only elite but elite at avoiding sacks which could negate this perceived Eagles strength, ankle-permitting.
So, is Mahomes' ankle stronger than Hurts’ shoulder? Does the superior quarterback win as an underdog? Will the Chiefs pass or the Eagles rush offense prevail? Either way, it’s going to be fun finding out on Sunday.