The Eagles are rightfully underdogs against the Chiefs on Sunday. Kansas City is the better team, and they have the advantages of being at home with a few extra days of rest and preparation. But this is the NFL, where upsets happen. And there are a few reasons why the Eagles could pull it off.
Kansas City’s play against New England is not sustainable
The Chiefs win last Thursday was only the second blown 8+ point lead by the Patriots at home since 2001, the other being the Eagles upset win in 2015, and we all know that game was a fluke. This game was a sum greater than its parts: they lost the turnover battle (though it was just 1-0); came from behind having trailed 17-7 midway through the 2nd quarter; they committed 15 penalties for 139 to New England’s 6 for 55; got most of their yardage in big chunks, with over half of Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill’s total yardage coming on 3 plays; and were poor on 3rd down, converting on just 36% of attempts. Individually, none of those are restrictive or unusual. But combined, they shouldn’t add up to a win, and they aren’t sustainable.
In some ways, that actually benefits the Chiefs. They should improve on third down and commit fewer penalties. But they won’t be winning week in a week out with multiple 50+ yard scores. And Alex Smith is not going to play out his mind every game.
Alex Smith’s play is also not sustainable... except where it is
Smith had a great game last Thursday against the Patriots. A great game. Four touchdowns, no turnovers, 368 yards, 80% completion percentage. It’s almost certain he will not be repeating that on Sunday. It was one of the best games of his career in a career of averageness. It was his 2nd best game of his career by touchdowns passes and yards, 4th best by passer rating, 7th best by yards per attempt, and 8th best by completion percentage. With few exceptions QBs who weren’t already great don’t sustain great opening day performances.
And he’s probably going to get sacked a few times. For his career, Smith has been sacked on 7.9% of his drop backs, and 7.5% as a Chief. Against the Patriots he took 3 sacks for, fittingly, a 7.9% sack percentage. For Smith, taking a sack is better than risking an interception, and on Sunday he’s going to face one of the best pass rushes in the league. We can expect the bad of Alex Smith to remain constant, and the great to return to normal.
The Eagles should have the edge in the red zone
Last season, the Chiefs had the 3rd worst red zone offense. If Kareem Hunt is the real deal, and he probably is, Kansas City won’t be terrible in the red zone this year. But it’s a long way from terrible to good, and they’ll be facing last year’s 3rd best red zone defense, and there’s no reason to expect that the Eagles will be significantly worse this season. It’s highly unlikely the Chiefs, who went 3 for 3 against the Patriots, are perfect in the red zone again.
The Eagles WR might actually have an advantage
Eric Berry is done for the season with a torn Achilles. That’s a big hit to the Chiefs defense, who now have a secondary with some holes in it. Berry was replaced by Daniel Sorensen, who will be getting the second start of his career on Sunday. Opposite Marcus Peters is Terrance Mitchell, who is on his fourth team in as many years. (Spider graph alert!) Expect Torrey Smith to test Sorensen and Mitchell, he should have success.
It’s on tape
One reason the Chiefs blew out the Patriots was they opened the playbook up with some exotic plays. It worked great, and wrinkles like this can carry a team for weeks. But it can’t do it for a season. The go-to example is the 2008 Dolphins with the Wildcat, which Miami unveiled in an upset of the Patriots, then added a new look to it each week over the next few games. But the Dolphins only went 2-2 after unleashing it on the NFL, then everyone picked it up and by the middle of the 2009 season the Wildcat was effectively dead. Criticisms of NFL offenses being too boring and similar ignore that when genuine creativity is brought to the league, it’s just a matter of time before either the rest of the league either finds a way to render it obsolete, or everyone incorporates it and the advantage is lost.
When a new addition to an offensive playbook is taking the ball out of the QB’s hands, such as Kelce taking a snap, or from an unusual formation that can tip a defense, such as the Chief’s 32 personnel, it will eventually fizzle out. And last week wasn’t the debut of the Chiefs inverted veer option, they ran it last year in November, and in their playoff loss to the Steelers. So some of this already on tape. And the extra time off the Chiefs have had might work to their disadvantage: the Eagles have had three extra days to study.
If I was a betting man, I’d take the Chiefs. They’re at home, which is advantage, as is Andy Reid having extra prep time. Tyreek Hill is maybe the worst matchup for the Ronald Darby-less Eagles secondary. Even with Berry out, they’re still a dangerous defense with their front seven and Marcus Peters. But anything can happen and the Chiefs are going to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were burned along the way.