The Super Bowl is one of the greatest events sports have to offer. It, unfortunately, also marks the official end of football season. After Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, there will be no more meaningful NFL games for seven cold, hard months.
So to carry you over one last time, let’s preview the final football game of the season the only way I know how. That’s right, it’s On Paper time.
While most of you Pride of Detroit regulars are familiar with how On Paper works, here’s a semi-quick explainer for anyone new to the site:
At the core of On Paper is the desire to compare units that will actually face each other. I’ve never understood the NFL previews that compare “Lions offense to 49ers offense: Advantage Lions.” Those guys don’t even play each other.
So On Paper is split up into four sections: one team’s passing offense vs. the other team’s pass defense, and the same with the run game. Then flip offense and defense for both teams.
For each team’s unit, I use a chart to compare their weekly performance to season averages. For example, if Jared Goff throws for 310 yards and a 98.0 passer rating, that seems like a pretty good day. But in On Paper, we put it in its proper context. So if that performance comes against the best defense in the league that is allowing just 220 yards and an 85.0 passer rating on the season, it’s a fantastic performance. Each weekly performance is charted, compared to season averages, and color coded. Beating weekly averages earn a green cell. Performing below averages earns a red cell. And if the performance is within 5 percent of averages, the cell is yellow.
Admittedly, I’m not entirely happy with the statistics used in each chart—yards, yards per carry, and passer rating—but those are the best available stats that are widely available both on a weekly and season-long basis. To make up for the limitations of those stats, I offer more meaningful stats in the text below each section.
At the end of each matchup, I offer an advantage on a scale of 0-to-5 based on both how lopsided the matchup is and how integral I believe it will be to the overall game outcome. There is no magical formula for this advantage. It’s a mix of data and feel. I know, it’s not the most scientific.
Alright, let’s get into it.
Chiefs pass offense (1st in DVOA) vs. Eagles pass defense (1st)
Let’s start with the marquee matchup of the game. We’ve got two top units in the league going up against each other.
We all know that Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL right now, and this chart clearly shows that. Not only do the Chiefs rank first in pass DVOA, but they’re also first (by a wide margin) in EPA per dropback, first in passer rating (104.7), and second in yards per attempt (8.1). Mahomes himself is fifth in QBR (71.2) and third in PFF grade (91.5).
As for the Chiefs’ offensive line, it’s borderline elite. The team ranks seventh in pass blocking PFF grade, first in pass block win rate, third in sacks allowed, but 15th in pressure percentage. Obviously, Mahomes’ mobility keeps the overall sacks down, but their only true weakness when it comes to pass protection is right tackle Andrew Wylie, who allowed 49 pressures per PFF—second most in the NFL. Look for the Eagles—specifically Haason Reddick—to target Wylie early and often.
The Eagles pass defense has been dominant all year—except for that weird six-game stretch toward the end of the regular season. But to put that into context: they only allowed over 200 net passing yards in just two of those games, and they were also dealing with some key injuries over that span. Starting cornerback C.J. Gardner Johnson missed a few of those games, as did starting nickel Avonte Maddox. Pass rusher Robert Quinn also sat out a handful of those games.
So I’m willing to just throw out most of that data, especially when you consider that out of that block of red cells, the Eagles have not allowed a passer rating above 90 the rest of the way.
What makes this pass defense great? Let’s start with the pass rush. They have four players with over 10 sacks in the regular season (Haason Reddick, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham, and Josh Sweat). They rank first in pass rush win rate, first in PFF pass rush grade, second in pressure percentage, and they had 15 more sacks than any other team in 2022.
The secondary is pretty darn good, too. Darius Slay, James Bradberry, and Avonte Maddox all rank in the top 25 in PFF grade for cornerbacks.
Advantage: Draw. I can’t in good faith give an advantage one way or the other. The Eagles defense is absolutely stacked, but this is Patrick Mahomes we’re talking about. Even if he’s only 80-85% because of his ankle injury, he’s still capable of magic. I do think the Eagles defense will have him on the run more than he’s used to, but it may not matter.
Chiefs run offense (9th) vs. Eagles run defense (21st)
The Chiefs rushing attack can best be described as efficient but not explosive. They aren’t capable of completely taking over a game—they rushed for over 170 yards just twice all season—but they averaged a very respectable 4.7 yards per carry (11th) and rank 10th in rush EPA.
It’s worth noting that they’ve improved considerably in the back half of the season when they moved to seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco as their lead back. Since Week 10 (vs. Jaguars), Pacheco ranks fifth in rushing yards (633) and 12th in yards per attempt (5.0).
Much like the Chiefs, the Eagles improved dramatically in the second half of the season. They were downright horrible against the run in the first two months of the season, but they’ve actually been very respectable since. In the last eight weeks of the regular season, the Eagles run defense ranks 15th in DVOA (they ranked 28th in Weeks 1-10).
That’s because the Eagles added a few run stuffers to help out the middle of their defensive line. They signed both Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh in mid-November and the results speak for themselves.
Advantage: Chiefs +1. I don’t expect Kansas City to run all over Philly, but they should be able to be efficient on the ground for much of the game—potentially setting them up for favorable down and distances. However, one thing to keep an eye out for: The Chiefs rank 31st in power (AKA short-yardage) success, but the Eagles defense ranks 32nd in stopping short-yardage situations, allowing an 80% conversion rate.
Eagles pass offense (9th) vs. Chiefs pass defense (20th)
*Games started by Gardner Minshew
The Eagles don’t heavily rely on their passing game (only six games of 250+ net passing yards), but when they do throw it, they’re efficient. Philly ranks seventh in EPA per dropback, third in yards per attempt (8.1), and sixth in passer rating (99.0). Personally, Jalen Hurts is third in QBR (73.3) and fourth in PFF grade (84.8).
You likely know by now, though, that the Eagles offensive line is their true identity on offense. No matter what statline you look at, this line is absolutely dominant. Four of five starters rank in the top 10 at their position. Left guard Landon Dickerson—the only one not in the top-10—holds a 70.9 overall grade and ranks 10th in pass blocking (77.8).
Overall, the Eagles rank 12th (??) in pass block win rate, first in pass blocking PFF grade, and eighth in pressure percentage.
Oh, and don’t forget Philly’s pair of talented receivers, with both A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith surpassing 1,000 yards this season.
The Chiefs pass defense was very bad to start the year, hence their shaky 4-2 start to the season. However, they’ve been on a really nice run over the past month, shutting down Geno Smith, Trevor Lawrence, and Joe Burrow in three of the past five games.
In fact, since Week 14, the Chiefs pass defense ranks eighth in DVOA. For Weeks 1-13, they had ranked 16th.
Overall, the Chiefs pass defense ranks seventh in yards per attempt allowed (6.7), but 28th in passer rating and 16th in dropback EPA.
Kansas City’s secondary is not full of household names, but they are a better bunch than they appear. L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie both rank in PFF’s top 25 cornerbacks and the Chiefs are sixth in the NFL in pass breakups (but just t-21st in interceptions).
Their pass rush can be formidable—just ask the Bengals—but it’s inconsistent. They rank fifth in pressure percentage and sixth in PFF’s pass rush grade, but only 15th in pass rush win rate. That said, they are second in overall sacks—so the production is there.
Advantage: Eagles +1. I believe the Chiefs pass defense is better than the DVOA stats suggest, and they’re certainly trending in the right direction. However, I think the Eagles offensive line will give Jalen Hurts plenty of time, and Philly should be able to move the ball somewhat consistently.
Eagles run offense (1st) vs. Chiefs run defense (15th)
This is one of those weird instances in which the chart seems incongruent with just about every other statistical measure. Not only do the Eagles rank first in run offense DVOA, but they’re also first in rush EPA (by double any other team) and sixth in adjusted line yards. I don’t love the rushing stats we use in our charts, so I’m willing to cede that the Eagles rushing attack is much better than it looks.
One thing the chart does signify, though, is how important Hurts is to the Eagles’ rushing attack. In the two games Minshew started, the Eagles had two of their worst rushing performances. Even just the threat of Hurts is enough to keep defenses honest and free up Philly’s set of average backs.
The biggest factor, though, is the Eagles’ offensive front. Philly ranks second in run block win rate, they’ve got the second-highest graded run blocking center in Jason Kelce, and everyone else on the offensive line ranks in the top 15 in that category, as well.
They’re also deadly in the red zone, as evidenced by their league-leading 32 rushing touchdowns this season (no other team had more than 24).
The Chiefs run defense is average after a decent start to the season, but the advanced statistics are all over the place. They rank dead last in run stop win rate, 18th in PFF run defense grade, and 16th in rush defense EPA.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones is their best run defender on the line, but just about everyone else is a far better pass rusher than run defender. In fact, their defensive line is giving up 4.47 adjusted line yards per rush—which ranks 21st and is worse than the Lions.
Advantage: Eagles +3. This is easily the most lopsided matchup in the Super Bowl, and it should be a grave concern for Chiefs fans. The Eagles offense starts with their rushing attack, and if the Chiefs can’t stop that, they may not be able to stop anything. The more successful the Eagles can run the ball, the more effective their RPOs will be, and no one runs more RPOs than Philly. I’m guessing this matchup has kept Chiefs coaches up late at night.
The Eagles come out with a +3 advantage, and that is all pretty much weighted by the last matchup. Doing extensive research on both teams, it’s honestly pretty clear to me that Philly is the better team on paper. Outside of their run defense, every unit ranks in the top 10, and they’re lucky to face a team that is just okay at running the ball.
But Patrick Mahomes is the ultimate equalizer. He won’t face many pass defenses more difficult than this one and his ankle injury will likely hamper him at least a little bit, but he’s overcome a lot of things in his young career. So I wouldn’t count the Chiefs out entirely.
Still, I have to go with the better team overall. Eagles 27, Chiefs 24.