FOX Sports NFL Writer
We’re still more than a week away from Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, which means we have plenty of time to break down the data.
I ran my models to bring you my favorite betting odds a week before the Super Bowl. My goal for this weekly column is to always bring you nuggets that you didn’t know before reading this article.
Let’s take a look at my favorite edges so far, with odds courtesy Bet FOX.
Bringing the data that matters closer
When looking for matchups to predict game outcomes, and the Super Bowl is no different, many analysts could look up season rankings for each team found on several different websites.
Personally, my approach for years has been to get the play-by-play data myself and build my own models and tools to analyze and analyze what’s most important.
But in this Super Bowl, more than most, I would caution against using full-season stats that are compiled using all four quarters of each game.
One of the biggest topics you’ll hear heading into this Super Bowl is “who did they play?” and applies to both teams. The Eagles played the easiest schedule of opponents this year. The Chiefs played the fourth easiest schedule of opponents this year.
Because both teams were elite to begin with, as a result of the easy schedules, the Eagles led at halftime by an average of 7.1 points (best in the NFL) and the Chiefs led by an average of 4.5 points ( fourth best). The Eagles led by an average of 8.7 points entering the fourth quarter (second) and the Chiefs by an average of 7.4 points (fourth). Those Eagles’ advantages were even more pronounced if you take out the two games Jalen Hurts didn’t play.
Teams tend to maintain an identity early when looking to generate leads. But there can be a lot of difference in what a team does after gaining that lead.
For the Eagles, the term “turtle up” may explain their second half philosophy. Philadelphia was the fifth team with the most first down passes in the first half of games. This fell to the third team with the most runs in the top tiers of the second half of games.
Here is a graphic illustration:
They stand alone as one of the more conservative teams with an edge in the second half of games.
The Chiefs, as you can see, are the team with the most passing on first downs in the first half of games, but dropped to a league average rate in the second half.
Looking at the fourth quarter alone, let’s examine where the heads stand there:
The Chiefs fall to the bottom 10 in passing percentage (25th). And the Eagles get even more conservative, dropping to 32nd, the NFL’s fewest passing team.
The reason both teams are changing their strategies late is one element and one element only: their advantages in games.
Back to the Eagles, here’s where they rank statistically in the first half of games versus the second half:
- First part: Fifth in third-party avoidance, second in EPA/gaming
- Second half: 19th in third-down avoidance, 22nd in EPA/game
The Eagles literally dropped from 2nd to 22nd in EPA/game between the first half and the second half. They were extremely quick to pack things up and try to finish the game quickly. This was a common occurrence long before Hurts’ shoulder injury in Week 15. In Weeks 2 and 3, for example, this team led 24-7 and 24-0 at halftime and didn’t score a single single point in the second half and won each. game by more than 15 points.
But this is not just an offensive phenomenon. When teams lead by a lot at halftime or in the fourth quarter, they also play defense differently.
For example, the Eagles were the best defense in the NFL in the first half of games, but fell to seventh in the second half. The Chiefs defense was slightly above average in the first half (15th), but when teams tried to rally them in the second half, they gave up more production and dropped to 20th.
Bottom line: This Super Bowl, more than most, looking at where these teams rank and how they perform by situation and period of play will be far more valuable than looking at the standings or full game data.
Trench play is massive in a Super Bowl
Here’s a list of the offenses that gave up the most pressure in the Super Bowl since 2015 and the results:
- 2021 – Bengals (43%) – lost to the Rams
- 2020 – Chiefs (55%) – lost to the Buccaneers
- 2019 – Chiefs (41%) – beat the 49ers
- 2018 – Rams (44%) – lost to Patriots
- 2017 – Patriots (41%) – lost to Eagles
- 2016 – Falcons (56%) – lost to Patriots
- 2015 – Panthers (49%) – lost to Broncos
It’s a 1-6 record. This is not the end all for a Super Bowl. But a defensive line that can negatively impact passing attacks in the Super Bowl has gone a long way toward a team’s Super Bowl success.
Several factors influence the pressure. How strong a quarterback’s offensive line is and how quickly the quarterback throws the ball are two of the most key elements.
As surprising as it may be, on the season Hurts is throwing just 23% of his passes when holding the ball for more than three seconds. That’s the 25th most in the NFL. And 58% of his passes are thrown in 2.5 seconds, which ranks fifth.
Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes holds the ball for more than three seconds on 34% of his passes (sixth most) and 51% of his passes are thrown within 2.5 seconds (12th most).
From an offensive pressure perspective, the Eagles offensive line allowed pressure on 30% of Hurts’ dropbacks (8th lowest), while Mahomes was pressured on 34% of his dropbacks (16th most) .
From a pressure defense perspective, the Eagles posted a pressure rate of 39% (second most) while the Chiefs ranked seventh (36%). Only 21% of dropbacks against the Eagles resulted in a QB holding the ball for more than three seconds before passing (second-lowest rate), while that rate was 28% against the Chiefs (20th-lowest).
Mahomes has shown his ability to overcome pressure and still win a Super Bowl (the only quarterback to be pressured more than his opponent and still win a Super Bowl since 2015). But it’s far from ideal circumstances, and the Chiefs need to figure out a way to put more pressure on Hurts if they want to see Super Bowl success.
They are the bosses‘ real defensive improvement?
There are peaks and valleys for every team in every season. Some periods of strong performance and other periods of weak performance.
Both offenses have been spectacular all season. As we can see in the chart below, both have ranked atop the NFL in EPA/game through the first nine weeks, as well as since Week 10:
But one of the less discussed elements of the Chiefs down the stretch has been the improvement of their defense.
Through the first nine weeks of the season, the Chiefs’ defense ranked 26th in EPA/game allowed. However, as of week 10, they are in seventh place. Compare a defense like the Eagles, which has consistently been the best in the NFL, to the Chiefs:
So the question to ask is, is this improvement real or is it because of his schedule?
A key element has been his improvement in pass defense, which has been partly due to his schedule and partly due to his philosophy.
In the first half of the season, the Chiefs defense ranked 25th in EPA/pass and 21st in EPA/rush. In the second half of the season, they improved to 10th against the pass and 10th against the run, showing the biggest improvement in their pass defense (from 25th to 10th).
One thing that stands out defensively during this run is how they’ve played with lighter boxes in general.
In the first half of the season, the Chiefs played more than seven defenders in the box on 60% of their first-half kickoffs (10th-highest rate) and 59% of their first three quarters (19th-highest rate high).
In the second half of the season, they played with more than seven box defenders on just 48% of the opening plays in the first half (sixth lowest rate) and 51% of the first three quarters (fifth lowest rate ).
Last week against Joe Burrow’s Bengals, the Chiefs played more than seven box defenders on just 30% of the Bengals’ first downs in the first three quarters.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the Super Bowl.
If the Chiefs inevitably play heavier boxes more often against the Eagles, it will certainly affect their pass defense, which had improved substantially by playing more coverage.
But if the Chiefs are going to try to stop the Eagles with a lighter box count, as they’ve been playing more often in the second half of the season, the Eagles need to feel the runs and make them pay. And that could provide a rushing boost for Miles Sanders, in particular, whose rushing yards are 58.5 yards. When Sanders is hit at or behind the line of scrimmage, he averages 2.4 yards per carry. But when he can cross the line of scrimmage without contact, he averages 6.7 yards per carry. And the Chiefs contact running backs at the line or behind the line on just 37 percent of snaps, the third-lowest rate in the NFL. That rate is unlikely to increase unless the Chiefs play more men in the box.
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