2023 Super Bowl prediction: Our pick against the spread
By David Hill
Super Bowl LVII is expected to be one of the closest championship games in recent memory, contested between two powerhouse, top-seeded teams — the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles — with some eerily identical bona fides. For the first time, both Super Bowl teams enter the game having compiled the same number of points over the regular and postseason (546) and the same win-loss total over both (16-3).
There’s a massive betting market for this game, with the American Gaming Association estimating that $16 billion will be wagered in the United States alone. The sheer volume means the sportsbooks usually end up fairly close to a true 50-50 proposition on the point spread and total.
But the Super Bowl prop bets offered on nearly every possible statistical outcome can add some insight into the nitty-gritty of the matchup. The markets try to identify the likelihood of certain player performances based on a season’s worth of data. The odds of Patrick Mahomes’ throwing an interception to the Eagles’ turnover-inducing defense, for instance, or the chances that Jalen Hurts will run for a touchdown, offer a pretty clear window into both teams.
Any insight helps. This column finished the season at a 52% success rate against the spread, but all of those games were a mere prelude to this one.
Last week’s record: 1-1 | Overall record: 142-131-10
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles
6:30 p.m. Eastern, Fox
Line: Eagles -1.5 | Total: 50.5
The line for the game opened at Kansas City -2.5 and swung to Philadelphia -2.5 within fifteen minutes. Since then, it has stabilized, somewhat, in the range of the Eagles laying 1 to 1.5 points.
The minor statistical advantage anticipated for Kansas City was somewhat dulled by injuries to the team’s starters, top among them the ankle sprain Mahomes has contended with since Jan. 21. Coach Andy Reid said that Mahomes wasn’t yet 100%, but the quarterback has rehabbed enough over the past two weeks that he practiced this week with no restrictions.
Though the team placed receiver Mecole Hardman on injured reserve, both JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle/hamstring) were expected to play Sunday and starting cornerback L’Jarius Sneed was cleared from concussion protocol.
Kansas City is expected to maintain an edge on offense over Philadelphia: Even with a hobbled Mahomes going up against the Eagles’ opportunistic defense, the market has set the total for this Super Bowl at 50.5 points, a sign that the adage about defenses winning championships doesn’t carry much weight here.
Odds are on Mahomes passing for more yards than Hurts — 292.5 to 238.5 — and the expectation is that a lot of Kansas City’s air yards will come on passes caught by Travis Kelce, whose receiving total might actually be set a bit low at 79.5 yards.
By comparison, the Eagles’ exceptional receiving duo of DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown are each expected to catch more than 60 yards this week. But Hurts’ performance has been a bit more difficult to forecast, in part because of his versatility.
His line for rushing yards this week is 50.5, close to his season average, which is skewed by a few big games. Hurts put up as many as 157 yards, in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers, but as few as 10, against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8.
The books have set Miles Sanders’ rushing yards at 62.8 and Kenneth Gainwell’s at 24.6. If Hurts adds another 50 to that, Kansas City’s defense has a real problem: They went 2-2 in games in which the spread was less than a field goal and in those two losses (to the Bills and the Bengals), Kansas City’s opponents exceeded the 107.3 yards-per-game average the team allowed this season.
That superior defense the Eagles will field against Kansas City has a number of talented personnel that can rotate in and out. They are the most formidable defense in the league, this season having racked up 70 sacks, including 16 from linebacker Haason Reddick, who also tied for the league lead in forced fumbles. He was the sixth-most favored game MVP candidate as of Wednesday. With James Bradberry, Darius Slay and C.J. Gardner-Johnson roaming in the secondary, the Eagles can put a lid on the big passing plays.
The problem is it may not be enough. Mahomes has already had the lowest depth of target this season of his entire career, with fewer than 10% of his passes at more than 20 yards. He’s brought this team to the Super Bowl with a tighter, closer offense and a higher success rate. And Kansas City has the best pass blocking offensive line in the league. Joe Thuney and Creed Humphrey are both first in the league in pass block win rate at their respective positions.
The biggest knock against the Eagles, however, is also the data point most outside the team’s control: Theirs was rated the third-easiest schedule in the NFL. In what was expected to be the Eagles’ most significant challenge of the season, the San Francisco 49ers played essentially without a quarterback in the NFC championship game. Though Philadelphia has dominated its opponents, skeptics may not believe the Eagles can win simply because no data exists for the team besting such a tough opponent. Yet.
The outcome of the championship game is a tough call, as it should be. How does anyone choose between the two top-seeded teams with two of the best quarterbacks, defenses and head coaches in the NFL?
Nick Sirianni, the analytical head coach of the Eagles, is confident and aggressive in his playcalling, particularly on fourth down. But in the biggest game of the season, with two weeks to prepare a game plan, it’s hard to pick against Andy Reid, who has a 28-4 career record when the team is coming off a bye (4-0 off a bye in the postseason with Mahomes).
Kansas City has experience, the best quarterback in a generation, and a point and a hook to boot. This column made it this far riding with the underdogs: Let’s do it one last time. Pick: Kansas City +1.5