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Which Stars Are Going To Blow Up In Super Bowl LVII?

The teams are set for Super Bowl LVII, and now it’s time for the longest two weeks in sports — the wait between the NFL’s conference championships and the Big Game itself. One upside of the layoff, however, is the chance it will give fans to get to know the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles inside and out. So with that in mind, we wanted to highlight a handful of the key players on each side of this matchup who are certain to play a central role in determining the outcome.

Philadelphia Eagles

QB Jalen Hurts

Any discussion of the Eagles’ Super Bowl flight has to begin with Hurts, Philadelphia’s field general and one of the league’s five MVP finalists. The Eagles are 16-1 in games Hurts has started this season (including playoffs) and they are scoring a league-best 29.5 points per game in those starts.1 But what really has enabled Philadelphia’s rise to the edge of a championship has been Hurts’s individual passing improvement this season, one of the largest year-over-year leaps in performance by any young Super Bowl QB since the merger:

Hurts is one of the Super Bowl’s most improved young QBs

Change in passer rating index from the previous season for Super Bowl starting QBs in their age-26 season or younger, since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger

Player Season Age Team SB Yr. Prev. Yr. Change
Drew Bledsoe 1996 24 NWE 109 79 +30
Joe Burrow 2021 25 CIN 123 98 +25
Jalen Hurts 2022 24 PHI 118 94 +24
Cam Newton 2015 26 CAR 115 92 +23
Bob Griese 1971 26 MIA 129 107 +22
Dan Marino 1984 23 MIA 141 125 +16
John Elway 1986 26 DEN 106 94 +12
Patrick Mahomes 2020 25 KAN 122 117 +5
Troy Aikman 1992 26 DAL 118 114 +4
Terry Bradshaw 1974 26 PIT 90 88 +2

Passer rating index scales a QB’s passer rating to the league environment such that 100 is average and 15 points in either direction represents +/- 1 standard deviation of performance.


Before this season, Hurts was merely a solid starter, with roughly a league-average passer rating index (according to, and the Eagles went 8-7 in his starts. But in 2022, Hurts improved his index by nearly 25 points, rising to become one of the league’s most efficient passers — and in turn, Philadelphia’s offense, which had been decent but not great last year, ended up ranking second in scoring. (This mirrors the same sudden, championship-caliber improvement we’ve seen from other young Super Bowl signal-callers over the years, most recently with Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow last season.) Add in Hurts’s 760 rushing yards with 13 rushing TDs — easily the most among QBs — and you can see why he made this Philly offense nearly impossible to defend all season long. Without Hurts giving the Eagles such a dramatic upgrade under center, it’s hard to imagine them soaring anywhere near as high as they have this year.

WR A.J. Brown

As impressive as Hurts’s growth has been in leading Philadelphia’s offense, he has hardly done it alone. For one thing, he was supported by a balanced system that featured the league’s second-best run-blocking offensive line (according to ESPN’s win rate statistics) and a multi-pronged rushing attack led by Miles Sanders — one of only five runners with at least 1,200 yards and double-digit TDs this year. Even more importantly, Hurts had an improved group of receivers to target, headlined by the huge addition of A.J. Brown in a trade from the Tennessee Titans. During his first season as an Eagle, all Brown did was tie for third in the league in receiving TDs (11) and rank fourth in yards (1,496), giving Philly its most prolific receiver by yards per game since Mike Quick in 1983. But that’s only scratching the surface of what Brown brought to this offense.

A.J. Brown catches the ball downfield, and he runs with it

Top 5 NFL wide receivers in completed air yards and yards after the catch per route run during the 2022 regular season

Player Team CAY/Rt Player Team YAC/Rt
Tyreek Hill MIA 2.40 Deebo Samuel SF 1.37
Chris Olave NO 1.99 Cooper Kupp LAR 1.25
Stefon Diggs BUF 1.91 Amon-Ra St. Brown DET 1.13
Justin Jefferson MIN 1.77 A.J. Brown PHI 1.06
A.J. Brown PHI 1.74 Rondale Moore ARI 1.06

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

If you look at yards per route run — a great measure of production per opportunity for receivers, since it blends the ability to get downfield, get open and reliably catch the ball — only Miami’s Tyreek Hill ranked ahead of Brown this season. And what sets Brown apart is that he is also one of the best at running after the catch, particularly after adjusting for where he is catching it. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Brown was fifth-best in the NFL at gaining more yards after the catch than expected per reception. Basically, Brown gave Philadelphia a unique threat that defenses needed to respect before, during and after the ball was thrown — and that opened up chances for his teammates to shine. For instance, fellow wideout DeVonta Smith continued to blossom alongside Brown, notching 1,196 yards while using the extra operating space to post one of the highest catch rates ever for a player with that many yards. And for his part, Hurts went from completing a smaller share of his passes than expected to ranking fourth in completion percentage above expected while throwing to his revamped receiving corps.

DE Haason Reddick

When the Arizona Cardinals drafted Haason Reddick with the 13th pick in 2017, they did so assuming Reddick was too small to rush the quarterback. Instead they envisioned him as an inside linebacker, a position Reddick had never played in college, and one of the least valuable position groups in the NFL. It took Reddick demanding a position change back to edge rusher in his final season in Arizona2 for his career to finally flourish. Since 2020 Reddick has registered 39.5 regular-season sacks, third most in the NFL over that span behind only Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt.

When the Eagles signed him as a free agent prior to this season,3 making him the 17th-highest-paid edge rusher in the NFL, they certainly expected him to get after the quarterback. But they couldn’t have expected the season Reddick and the rest of the defensive line put together in 2022. 

The Eagles improved from 31st in the league (29) in sacks in 2021 all the way to first (70), the largest year-to-year improvement in NFL history. Four different Eagles finished the regular season with 10 or more sacks — also an NFL record. For his part, Reddick led the league with 18.5 sacks created, was tied for second in sacks (16) and finished the season second in overall pass rush win rate. And despite the prolific totals put up by his teammates, Reddick wasn’t just padding his numbers: He was out there beating double-teams at a near league-leading rate.

Double-teams didn’t hinder Reddick’s elite sack production

Top 5 NFL pass-rushers in defensive sacks and pass rush win rate versus double-teams during the 2022 regular season

Player Team SACKS Player Team PRWR
Nick Bosa SF 18.5 Trey Hendrickson CIN 24.1
Haason Reddick PHI 16.0 Justin Houston BAL 23.5
Myles Garrett CLE 16.0 Haason Reddick PHI 22.9
Chris Jones KC 15.5 Aaron Donald LAR 20.3
Matt Judon NE 15.5 Samson Ebukam SF 17.2

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

CB Darius Slay

The Eagles run a version of Vic Fangio’s defense and rely heavily on Cover 4 — or Quarters — coverage, where four defensive backs split the responsibilities for covering the deep part of the field. In those coverages Slay was typically asked to play man-to-man, or “man match4 on the left side, and he did a good job: Slay ranked 17th in the league in man coverage on 101 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus

But where Big Play Slay really shined was when he was asked to play zone and cover a full third of the deep part of the field. In these Cover 3 defensive looks, Slay was the best defender in the NFL, according to PFF.

Slay is dangerous when he can keep his eyes on the quarterback while dropping into coverage, and the Eagles like to run “inverted” coverages where deep defenders switch roles. On these calls, the Eagles turn what looks like a four-deep, three-under coverage pre-snap into a three-deep, four-under coverage post-snap to help take away the short and intermediate routes. With Patrick Mahomes’s ankle injured and the Eagles pass rush elite, Philly may want that extra defender underneath in the Super Bowl to defend against short, quick passes. If they do, they can rely on Slay to do his job and lock down his third of the field.

Kansas City Chiefs

QB Patrick Mahomes

For the next few weeks, the entire focus of the football world will be on one body part: Patrick Mahomes’s right ankle. The 2022 MVP favorite sprained it against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the divisional round, hobbled to the finish of that game, and then gritted his way through the pain in the AFC title contest. But while Mahomes picked up the most important gain of the game with his feet, he was limited to eight rushing yards in the game and it’s a safe bet that his trademark mobility could be hampered against the Eagles as well. But will that matter? One of the many special things about Mahomes is that he can beat you as a pocket passer every bit as well as he can using his improvisational magic. Since his debut as a starter in 2018, Mahomes’s overall wizardry has made him the NFL’s best quarterback by Total QBR — but he actually ranks higher in QBR from within the pocket (No. 2) than outside the pocket (No. 3) over that span, and his raw QBR between the two categories has been essentially identical.

In the pocket? Running around? Mahomes can beat you any way

Total QBR for each full season of Patrick Mahomes’s NFL career, split by whether he was in the pocket or outside the pocket

Season Games Inside Pocket Outside Pocket Overall
2018 16 80.5 87.3 80.3
2019 14 77.0 66.6 77.7
2020 15 75.0 89.8 78.1
2021 17 67.9 53.2 67.7
2022 17 73.1 64.9 77.6
Career 79 74.6 76.2 76.3

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Perhaps that helps explain why the Chiefs’ record when Mahomes isn’t a factor with his legs — an .818 winning percentage when he is their primary QB but has single-digit rushing yards — is actually slightly better than their .776 winning percentage when he cracks double digits on the ground. The best part of having Mahomes at QB is that when a defense (or an injury) limits one aspect of his brilliance, his Plan B is still better than just about anyone else’s Plan A.

C Creed Humphrey (and friends)

Of course, we have seen the limits of Mahomes’s greatness when the protection in front of him completely breaks down. (The highlights from Super Bowl LV can be hard to watch for that reason.) And the Eagles pose a particular risk for a repeat of that performance, given that they recorded the third-most sacks in a season in NFL history. But for a team known for its explosive skill-position talent, one of the Chiefs’ most important weapons is their ability to block would-be pass-rushers in the trenches, starting up the middle.

According to ESPN’s pass block win rate metric, the highest overall success rate for any pass blocker in the entire league this season belonged to center Creed Humphrey, who sustained his block for at least 2.5 seconds in 97.9 percent of encounters with opposing pass-rushers. But Humphrey was merely the strongest link in a very strong chain, as the second-best pass block win rate (96.9 percent) also belonged to a K.C. lineman — guard Joe Thuney. And so did the seventh-best, for that matter, with guard Trey Smith (95.9 percent). The NFL average for tackles is lower than for centers and guards, but both bookends on the Chiefs line — Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie — were above average for their position as well.

The Chiefs kept opposing pass-rushers at bay

Best pass block win rates for NFL teams during the 2022 regular season

Team W L Win Rate
Kansas City Chiefs 349 118 74.7%
Chicago Bears 259 121 68.2
Cleveland Browns 303 145 67.6
Buffalo Bills 306 148 67.4
Green Bay Packers 240 122 66.3
Baltimore Ravens 246 127 66.0
Pittsburgh Steelers 313 169 64.9
Seattle Seahawks 302 180 62.7
Denver Broncos 283 171 62.3
Las Vegas Raiders 308 187 62.2

A pass block is classified as a “win” when a lineman sustains his block for 2.5 seconds or longer.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

As a result, the Chiefs’ offensive line had the No. 1 pass block win rate in the league, with the gap between them and the No. 2 Chicago Bears roughly equaling the gap between the Bears and the No. 12 Eagles (of all teams). And with Mahomes hobbled against the fearsome Philadelphia pass rush, the stalwart Kansas City blockers could be the antidote to one of K.C.’s biggest potential trouble spots.

DE Chris Jones

As impressive as Reddick’s 2022 season was, Chris Jones’s might have been better. Why? Well, for one he plays a different position (interior defensive line), which typically doesn’t lend itself to sacks — unless your name is Aaron Donald. Yet Jones notched just a half-sack less (15.5) than Reddick on the season. 

Second, Jones did it without the supporting cast that Reddick enjoyed: Rather than four rushers with 11 or more sacks, the Chiefs trotted out Jones and three other players with six or fewer.5. Teams could game plan for Jones in ways they couldn’t against Reddick.

But perhaps most impressively, Jones nearly matched Reddick’s production while being double-teamed over five times more often (251 vs. 48 for Reddick). In fact Jones was double-teamed more than any other player in the league. 

Chris Jones punishes opponents who don’t double-team him

Top 5 NFL pass-rushers in pass rushes versus double-teams and pass rush win rate versus single-teams during the 2022 regular season

Player Team PRvDT Player Team PRWR
Chris Jones KC 251 Micah Parsons DAL 37.8
Jeffery Simmons TEN 231 Aaron Donald LAR 34.0
Dexter Lawrence NYG 208 Myles Garrett CLE 34.0
Grady Jarrett ATL 208 Chris Jones KC 32.0
B.J. Hill CIN 204 Brandon Graham PHI 30.8

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

It wasn’t like teams had much of a choice, either. They doubled Jones because they had to — because when they didn’t, he wrecked the game. Jones’s pass rush win rate versus single-teams was the fourth-highest in the league. That kind of production from the middle of the line is rare, and against a Philly offensive line that’s one of the league’s best, the Chiefs will need “the most unstoppable man in football” to show up big.

CB L’Jarius Sneed

Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed was a key part of an underrated Chiefs defense all season. Typically lining up across the opposing team’s top receiver, Sneed tied for the team lead in interceptions with three, and led all Chiefs in passes defensed with 11. Among NFL cornerbacks, Sneed ranked seventh in PFF WAR, a measure of how many wins a player adds to the team.

What may surprise, particularly given Jones’s exploits in 2022, is that Sneed was the third-most valuable Chief this season according to PFF WAR, trailing only Patrick Mahomes (shocker) and tight end Travis Kelce.

Sneed was one of the most valuable Chiefs in 2022

Kansas City Chiefs players ranked by Pro Football Focus wins above replacement during the 2022 regular season and playoffs

Rank Player Pos Snaps WAR
1 Patrick Mahomes QB 1,225 4.63
2 Travis Kelce TE 1,027 0.60
3 L’Jarius Sneed CB 1,169 0.48
4 Chris Jones DI 1,019 0.44
5 Creed Humphrey C 1,275 0.36
6 Justin Reid S 1,238 0.33
7 Trent McDuffie CB 809 0.29
8 Joe Thuney G 1,136 0.28
9 Nick Bolton LB 1,245 0.24
10 JuJu Smith-Schuster WR 855 0.21

Source: Pro football focus

In the AFC championship game, Sneed suffered a concussion while tackling Bengals running back Samaje Perine early in the first quarter, leaving his availability for the Super Bowl in question. If PFF WAR is any indication, losing Sneed is no small thing. If he’s able to play, his skills will surely help the Chiefs game plan to stop A.J. Brown and the rest of the Eagles passing attack. And if he can’t go, Jones and the rest of the Kansas City pass rush is going to have to conjure up a repeat of their performance in the AFC championship game, where they pressured Joe Burrow relentlessly to help cover for the loss of their best defensive back. Only this time they’ll be going against one of the most dangerous mobile quarterbacks in the league, potentially without one of their most valuable players.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.


  1. That’s with a minimum of five starts; the New England Patriots scored 33.5 PPG in Bailey Zappe’s pair of starts this year.

  2. Arizona declined his fifth year option in May, prior to the 2020 season.

  3. He spent the 2021 season in Carolina.

  4. In man match, when Slay has the responsibility to defend deep, if the receiver runs a shorter route, Slay doesn’t follow.

  5. George Karlaftis was second on the team with six sacks. Frank Clark and Michael Danna had five each.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Josh Hermsmeyer was a football writer and analyst.


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