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Super Bowl 57 preview, AFC-NFC title game reactions and more

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    Super Bowl 57 is set. The Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs will meet, and they won’t be hurting for storylines over the next two weeks.

    The Super Bowl doesn’t often match the NFL’s two best teams against one another.

    Super Bowl LVII has done exactly that.

    Only the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs went 14-3 this season. At quarterback, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. The former made First-Team All-Pro, the latter made Second-Team. The Eagles have seven Pro Bowlers. The Chiefs have six. Both teams had six All-Pros.

    In short, the game won’t be lacking for star power. It also won’t be lacking for headlines.

    While the media narratives will be about Andy Reid and his connections to both franchises, and the Kelce Bowl with Jason and Travis being prominent stars on each side, the reality is somehow juicier.

    Both Philadelphia and Kansas City are here because they’ve survived and thrived, enduring injuries to their quarterbacks along the way. Now, they square off in Glendale, Ariz., hoping to find one more victory and a Vince Lombardi Trophy along with it.

    There will be ample chatter about Mahomes and Hurts, but the ultimate decider of Super Bowl LVII will be happening in front of them. No teams were better up front than the Eagles and Chiefs, with Philadelphia leading the NFL with an absurd 70 sacks, including four different men finishing in double digits. For its part, Kansas City finished second in the league with 55.

    On the offensive lines, both teams are trotting out three Pro Bowlers and two All-Pros. Kansas City only allowed 26 sacks, ranking third-best. This includes a 3.8 percent sack rate, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being the only team better. Philadelphia surprisingly struggled in these areas, surrendering 44 sacks (T-20th) and a sack rate of 7.6 percent (24th).

    Another area to focus on? Big plays.

    The Chiefs and Eagles were two of the best in this area, with Philadelphia totaling 12.5 yards per completion, second only to the Miami Dolphins this year. Kansas City finished fourth at 12.1. Sirianni’s group also notched 80 explosive plays (20+ yards) while the Chiefs had 83, the two highest totals in football this year.

    Both were also fantastic offensively in the red zone and on third down, respectively ranking top-five in both categories. However, the Chiefs have been awful defensively inside their 20-yard line, ranking 31st (67.3 percent) compared to Philadelphia’s 12th-ranked unit. However, Kansas City has improved in the postseason, holding the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars to a 3-for-6 clip.

    With such evenly-matched teams, the difference will likely come down to who makes a few critical plays in the biggest moments, and who can execute situationally. In this matchup, even more than most, it’ll also be determined by which fronts win more often.

    For the Eagles and Chiefs, Super Bowl LVII has been a season-long dream.

    Now it’s a reality. An earned reality for both.

    Power rankings

    Top 10 Super Bowls of all time

    1. Super Bowl XXV – Giants 20, Bills 19
    2. Super Bowl XLII – Giants 17, Patriots 17
    2. Super Bowl XLIX – Patriots 28, Seahawks 24
    3. Super Bowl XXXIV – Rams 23, Titans 16
    4. Super Bowl XXIII – 49ers 20, Bengals 16
    5. Super Bowl XLIII – Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
    6. Super Bowl LII – Eagles 41, Patriots 33
    7. Super Bowl XXXVIII – Patriots 32, Panthers 29
    8. Super Bowl XXXII – Broncos 31, Packers 24
    9. Super Bowl XIII – Steelers 35, Cowboys 31
    10. Super Bowl III – Jets 16, Colts 7

    Quotable

    “The sun rose this morning and by the grace of God so did I. I’m disappointed but not defeated. Many people aren’t built for this but I know what it means to persevere and see it through.

    “It was an honor for me to coach those men in the Carolina Panthers locker room as the interim head coach. Players, coaches and staff, thank you for your hard work and dedication. I took pride in representing Charlotte, a great city that I love so much. Thank you to my family, friends and the community for your overwhelming support.

    “I do wish Frank Reich all the best. I will always be a fan of the Carolina Panthers Football Team.”

    – Former Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks on Twitter upon the news of Frank Reich’s hiring

    Reich is a fine choice for the Panthers (more on that below) but Wilks has to be crushed. After inheriting a tanking team, Wilks led his hometown team to a 6-6 record, the team finishing 7-10.

    Despite having poor options at quarterback, Wilks rallied the Panthers to respectability, pushing the NFC South until the penultimate week before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched.

    In 2018, Wilks was one-and done with the Arizona Cardinals, going 3-13 while being saddled with a horrid roster and rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.

    Wilks deserves another chance. A real chance.

    Podcast

    Random stat

    The Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota Vikings are the only teams to appear in a Super Bowl and lose in each appearance by double-digits.

    The Chargers have been only once, while the Vikings have made four empty trip.

    Info learned this week

    1. Bengals will be reliving a few critical plays in loss to Chiefs

    Joseph Ossai will forever be linked to one of the worst moments in Cincinnati sports history.

    Yes, it’s a harsh reality, but Ossai’s penalty on Mahomes’ scramble with eight seconds remaining put the Chiefs in field goal range, allowing Harrison Butler to drill a 45-yard field goal with only three ticks on the clock.

    But Ossai isn’t the only Bengals player who must wear the defeat.

    The patchwork offensive line was exposed in a way Buffalo couldn’t manage a week prior. It gave up five sacks, including 3.5 between Frank Clark and Chris Jones. Quarterback Joe Burrow also threw a pair of interceptions and accounted for only 6.6 yards per attempt on a night where Kansas City essentially started three rookies corners all game, and a first-year safety in Bryan Cook for much of the evening as well.

    Burrow was facing an inexperienced secondary with two elite weapons at his disposal. Mahomes was playing much of the game with Noah Gray, Marcus Kemp and Jody Fortson, all while on one ankle. Mahomes and the Chiefs somehow won.

    In the coming months, the Bengals have questions to answer. Do they keep running back Joe Mixon or release him to save $7.2 million? Will they bring back safety Jessie Bates and/or linebacker Germaine Pratt, two stars slated for free agency. Will they extend Burrow and receiver Tee Higgins, or will they wait?

    Despite a gut-wrenching loss, Cincinnati remains in terrific shape moving forward, but the future isn’t without a few tough questions.

    2. Kyle Shanahan must get credit and fault for Niners’ season

    Few coaches would have gotten their team to the NFC Championship Game having to start three quarterbacks, including a seventh-round rookie.

    It’s also true that few coaches would have left the challenge flag in their pocket on a game-changing play, and then blocked a top-tier pass rusher with tight ends on a long developing pass play.

    This is the story of Kyle Shanahan.

    Shanahan’s 49ers were drubbed in Philadelphia, but the story lies within the drubbing.

    On the game’s opening drive, Philadelphia faced 4th and 3 from San Francisco’s 35-yard line. Jalen Hurts heaved a prayer down the sideline, seemingly caught with one hand by receiver DeVonta Smith. Smith began frantically signaling for his teammates to get up and snap the ball.

    Shanahan should have immediately noticed this and thrown the challenge flag. It’s an enormous play, and worst-case scenario, it’s a lost challenge and timeout in the first half. The reward far outweighs the risk. Shanahan did nothing.

    Moments later, San Francisco lost quarterback Brock Purdy on the game’s second series when the scheme called for Haason Reddick — he of 16 regular-season sacks — to be blocked by backup tight end Tyler Kroft. The result was predictable. Reddick immediately got pressure, hit Purdy and forced a fumble.

    While the Eagles couldn’t capitalize, Purdy was knocked from the game with an elbow injury.

    Yes, the 49ers wouldn’t have reached the NFC title game for the third time in four years with Shanahan, who remains a brilliant offensive tactician. He also remains uneven with in-game situational duties, and it has haunted the 49ers time and again.

    Now, San Francisco moves forward with real questions. Is the quarterback of the future Purdy or Trey Lance? Is the odd man out traded this offseason? What happens with the defense now that coordinator DeMeco Ryans appears gone for a head-coaching gig?

    All questions the Niners hoped to worry about a few weeks from now. Not the case.

    3. Frank Reich is good hire, but Panthers need big piece

    Carolina is going back to where it all began.

    Last week, the Panthers hired Frank Reich to be their head coach, bringing in the man who started their inaugural game at quarterback in 1995. Reich, who spent five seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, now finds both a new start and the same problem; no quarterback.

    Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer understand the next task. Find a signal-caller at all costs. Carolina has the No. 9 overall pick and could move up with the treasure trove of draft capital amassed in the trade of running back Christian McCaffrey, which netted second-, third- and fourth-round picks this year.

    For Reich, this must be heavily weighing on his mind. In Indianapolis, Reich saw Andrew Luck shockingly retire after the coach’s first season with the Colts, and the organization never found his replacement. In short, Reich knows that without a quarterback, he’s sunk regardless of other circumstances.

    If the Panthers land the other portion of their battery, the rest of the roster is in good shape to become a favorite in the moribund NFC South.

    Carolina found a quality coach. Now for the quarterback.

    4. Cowboys, Kellen Moore go separate ways after four years

    Well, the Dallas Cowboys are making a coaching change, after all.

    While head coach Mike McCarthy is safe, veteran offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and the organization are splitting. Moore, 34, had been in his spot with Dallas since 2019, but after watching quarterback Dak Prescott toss an NFL-worst 15 interceptions in only 12 games, the Cowboys are moving on. McCarthy will call the plays in 2023.

    For Moore, it’s an interesting moment in his career. He’s long been seen by many in the NFL as a future head coach. Ian Rapoport of NFL media reported Moore is interviewing for Los Angeles Chargers’ coordinator opening, where he can work with Justin Herbert. That would be an ideal fit, and with a great season, could get him in a big chair at a very young age.

    As for the Cowboys, it’s a chance for McCarthy to become more involved with the offense, but does it serve as a detriment to his already questionable game management duties? The defense will be run by coordinator Dan Quinn, so no concerns there, but what of the sideline minutia that can become game-deciding? We shall see.

    5. Aaron Rodgers is the trade rumor that won’t die

    If you’re sick of the Aaron Rodgers drama come every offseason, know two things:

    You aren’t alone, but you’re going to deal with it like the rest of us.

    Rodgers and his Packers are once again at a potential breaking point, with Green Bay having gone 8-9 including a Week 18 loss at home against the Detroit Lions which kept it from the postseason. Rodgers has $110 million in guaranteed money coming to him over the next two years, and the Packers understandably might be happy to alleviate themselves of that bill while seeing what backup quarterback Jordan Love has before his rookie deal expires.

    As for the 39-year-old Rodgers, it’s time to leave if he wants to contend for one more title. The Packers are capped out, and about to lose some key contributors, potentially including running back Aaron Jones, left tackle David Bakhtiari, safety Adrian Amos, and receivers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard among others.

    For both sides, a trade makes the most sense. Now for a suitor willing to pay the right price.

    Two cents

    This hasn’t been a last few weeks to remember for the Denver Broncos and their beleaguered quarterback.

    In the midst of their coaching search, the Broncos have twice been rebuffed by University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. They also saw a top candidate in Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn announce he’ll stay at his post, while Niners defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans appears likely to be taking the head-coaching job with his former team, the Houston Texans.

    While all these misses aren’t only on Russell Wilson, he’s easily the biggest stumbling block for anybody taking the job. Can’t fix him? You’d better be renting.

    Beyond the aforementioned trio, there’s also Sean Payton. Payton was reportedly the favorite in Denver, with ownership’s deep pockets and the Broncos’ infrastructure exciting to the 59-year-old. However, that talk has cooled somewhat, and the realist remains Denver would need to send significant draft capital to the New Orleans Saints for Payton’s services, as he’s under contract there through the 2024 season.

    If Payton stays away and Ryan lands in Houston as many within the league expect, then what?

    The Broncos could offer the job to defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, who did a terrific job with his unit this season. At 42 years old, Evero has NFL been an assistant coach since 2007 with five teams, including 2022 with Denver.

    Denver could also consider one of Philadelphia’s coordinators in Jonathan Gannon (defense) and Shane Steichen (offense). Steichen, 37, is particularly interesting after watching Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts blossom from a question into Second-Team All-Pro status. Could he revive Wilson’s career?

    The Broncos might ultimately find someone terrific to fill their vacancy. But the sign has been up for more than a month, and Denver is struggling to rent the room.

    Inside the league

    While we wait for Super Bowl LVII, the NFL world sets its eyes on Mobile.

    Down in Alabama, the Reese’s Senior Bowl will be taking place this week, with FanSided there to provide coverage. It’s always a showcase for the best upperclassmen in the country.

    It’s also a week where the league starts ramping off for the offseason.

    There are considerable on-field talents to watch, as the draft process begins in full swing. This is the week where stocks begin rising and falling, with scouts, general managers and other personnel men watching every move on the field at South Alabama University.

    And, while free agency largely gets going at the Scouting Combine at the conclusion of February, talks will start in quiet corners of southern bars.

    One player to watch? TCU quarterback Max Duggan. Duggan led the Horned Frogs to the National Championship Game, throwing for 3,698 yards with 32 touchdowns against eight interceptions, while also notching 423 rushing yards and nine additional scores.

    If Duggan throws really well, he’ll earn some attention in a quarterback class largely defined by Will Levis, Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson.

    History lesson

    The Orange Bowl is the only stadium to ever host consecutive Super Bowls.

    In Super Bowl II, Miami was the host city when the Green Bay Packers throttled the AFL-champion Oakland Raiders, winning 33-14 in head coach Vince Lombardi’s final game as head coach of the club.

    The following year, it was Joe Namath and his New York Jets stunning the Baltimore Colts, beating them 16-7 in front of a capacity crowd.

    Parting shot

    Vic Fangio is a home-run hire for the Miami Dolphins.

    This season, Miami ranked 24thin scoring defense, allowing 23.5 points per game. In Fangio’s last 11 seasons as either a head coach or defensive coordinator with the Broncos, Bears and 49ers, his defenses have ranked top-10 in eight of those campaigns, including five times in the top three.

    Pairing the 64-year-old Fangio with a top, young offensive mind in Mike McDaniel is a coup for the Dolphins, who were limited by their defense all year. Now, expect Fangio to spin his dial with a multitude of subtle adjustments in coverage throughout the year, giving fits to the other AFC East quarterbacks.

    Fangio’s hire won’t get a ton of national attention, but it should. It could be the hire of the year.

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