As the Philadelphia Eagles watch film this week, they can only suppress emotions so much.
Sure, nine months have elapsed since their 38-35 Super Bowl LVII loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Time has calloused some scars. The determination to view film through the lens of this week’s game plan helps. And the Eagles’ 2023 season success makes last year’s disappointment less bitter.
The Eagles enter their “Monday Night Football” visit to the juggernaut Chiefs with an 8-1 record, their second consecutive season at that clip. The last three teams to win at least eight of their first nine games in back-to-back years won the Super Bowl the latter campaign.
That tantalizing hope – that this year, the Eagles can hoist the Lombardi Trophy rather than glance across the field at it – drives Philadelphia. It also shapes the lens through which the Eagles should view this game.
“I know there’s a lot of us that do have that sting still on us, but if we take care of business this year, all that will be over when we’re holding that trophy,” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham told reporters Thursday. “Last year was last year. They can’t give that ring back, so we can’t even worry about that. It’s about the next one.
“So right now, this is a stepping stone to get where we want to go.”
If rematching the Chiefs is one of 17 regular-season stepping stones for the Eagles, then let’s recognize that not all stepping stones are created equally.
This week’s game poses the biggest test of the Eagles’ regular season, followed closely only by the Dec. 3 NFC championship rematch against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Chiefs would benefit from a win this weekend. But a victory would mean more for the Eagles’ psyche than that of the Chiefs. The Eagles know they’re a well-coached, well-run, talented organization capable of outplaying any NFL opponent. But after the Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs, Philadelphia needs to show it can slay the dragon.
The opportunity is relatively fortuitous: The Chiefs and Eagles are only guaranteed a faceoff every four years. But Philadelphia lucked out to find itself with a chance to prevail when the record stakes may be lower but the psychological stakes plenty high. Postseason games hinge on momentum more heavily than Week 11 matchups. This week’s game, even if on national television, arguably presents a more balanced look at how the teams’ talent stack up.
“I don’t buy into Super Bowl revenge games,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “Nothing that goes out there and happens on Monday night is going to at all change or make different what happened last year.”
But it might teach us something about what will happen this year.
How do these Eagles, Chiefs compare to Super Bowl versions?
On the surface, the Super Bowl rematch again features the cream of the crop from each conference. The Eagles hold sole possession of first place in the NFC at 8-1. The Chiefs, at 7-2, lead the Baltimore Ravens in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
But peel back each team’s first 10 weeks, and these Chiefs and Eagles teams don’t fully resemble their predecessors.
The Chiefs’ offense has slipped from No. 1 in points per game, yards per game and yards per play during the 2022 regular season to 13th, eighth and fifth, respectively. Kansas City’s defense has improved from No. 16 in points allowed to tied for second; from 11th and eighth in yards per game and yards per play allowed to fourth and fifth.
The Chiefs’ overall DVOA has risen from fourth to third as the defense rose 11 spots and the offense fell five.
The Eagles, meanwhile, have fallen from second in offensive DVOA to ninth, in large part because they’ve fallen from fourth fewest turnovers to 18th. Their defense has fallen from second overall to 14th, from the seventh-stingiest scoring defense to the 18th.
Philly’s overall DVOA has fallen from second to ninth, hurt most by a defensive plunge from third to 19th.
What does all of this mean for the rematch?
It’s not surprising that BetMGM puts the over/under at 45.5 total points scored even as the teams combined to score 72 points in a 2021 game and 73 in last season’s Super Bowl. The Eagles’ mistake-prone offense will face a tighter Chiefs defense. The Chiefs’ stalling offense will face a still-powerful defense.
The corresponding dips of units that will take the field at the same time should keep this game competitive. But season data, which admittedly does not account for human and emotional variance, points to a lower-scoring affair.
“It could be high-scoring, it could be low-scoring,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “But two teams that usually find a way to get a win, playing on ‘Monday Night Football’ in front of the whole world, it’s gonna be a great game. I’m glad it’s at Arrowhead.”
The Chiefs are 2.5-point favorites at home, per BetMGM.
The time is ripe for Eagles first-round rookie defensive tackle Jalen Carter to swarm Mahomes, preventing Mahomes from connecting with his thin stable of weapons. Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, meanwhile, can take the contract extension he’s received since the last matchup and see if he can contain also-extended Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.
“If we’re able to limit how many yards he gets per carry, then I think we’re doing something good,” Jones said Thursday. “Force hands in his face and take him down on the passing game, get around him, overcrowd him. They’ve got such a good offensive line that’s done really, really well so far this year.
“Got to come up with schemes and everything to affect Jalen Hurts.”
Sirianni gives Eagles a lesson on motivation
As Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni prepared for this game, he watched the Chiefs’ earlier contests from this season. And he watched his recents faceoffs against head coach Andy Reid, whose Chiefs have gone 4-0 against the Eagles since Reid was hired by Kansas City in 2013. (Reid coached the Eagles beforehand, from 1999-2012).
So Sirianni, naturally, watched the Super Bowl.
He thought to himself at some moments: Oh, man, that was a really good play. On other moments, Sirianni says, he reverted to wishing he could have a call back. But Sirianni reminded himself: His task this week is not to reorchestrate the best hindsight play calls for the Super Bowl he lost. His task is to learn from that game, and all others, to improve.
“We wouldn’t be doing our job if that game … didn’t influence us for our future,” Sirianni said. “If we only use that game to develop and to get better, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.
“You use every game you’re involved in to get better.”
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The Eagles learned from their Super Bowl how Hurts’ dual-threat play-making ability translates to the biggest stage and how his connections with receiving tandem A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith can withstand a well-coached, well-drafted defense.
They learned – or better yet, were reminded – how Mahomes is always still in the game and thus the margin for error is miniscule. Hurts produced more positive output than any player on Philadelphia that afternoon; still, his lone fumble in the second quarter gifted the Chiefs seven points when Kansas City linebacker Nick Bolton returned the scoop-and-score 36 yards for a touchdown.
The Eagles lost by three points.
Will the Chiefs again remind Hurts how costly his creeping turnover trend is? Kansas City’s defense has already recovered eight fumbles in nine games, trailing only the Los Angeles Chargers this season.
“When you have the opportunity to play in those big games, you have the opportunity to be in those big moments, there’s always a ton you can take away from,” Hurts said. “That moment is no different from Week 1, Week 5, Week 10 this year. You take what you take from it. You grow.
“Everything is a true lesson.”
Each player and coach in Philadelphia may take that lesson into Monday night’s game differently than their colleagues. Sirianni acknowledges the spectrum of emotion that could fuel his team this week and makes space for any heightened energy his players can channel positively.
Lamenting last year’s Super Bowl loss? The Eagles don’t have time for that. Emphasizing how powerfully a rematch win could spark this year’s pursuit? That, on the other hand, might work. Sirianni worries less about what fuels his players’ emotions and more about whether those emotions fuel the work ethic and mental toughness to chase the next.
“If the motivation is distracting you, then don’t use it,” Sirianni said. “But if you can use that for extra motivation, then go ahead.
“By all means, use it.”