February 07, 2023
What's the biggest difference between this trip to the Super Bowl in Phoenix compared to what went down in Minnesota in Super Bowl LII to Brandon Graham?
"It ain't as cold as it was out there," Graham joked when speaking with reporters during the Super Bowl Opening Night festivities on Monday.
While Philadelphians will play the underdog card at every turn, these Eagles aren't quite the same. The Eagles are currently 1.5-point favorites over a vaunted Chiefs team that features soon-to-be multiple-time MVP Patrick Mahomes and all-time great offensive coach Andy Reid. The Birds have outscored their opponents 69-14 so far in the postseason. Gone are the days of Chris Long and Beau Allen rocking German Shepard dog masks after squeaking out a win against a Wild Card Falcons team.
The 2022 Eagles are a well-oiled machine that are more versatile and explosive offensively than their 2017 counterparts with a defense that is somehow even more physical with the best pass rush in the league.
What remains the same to me, however, is the aura around the opposing Super Bowl QB. Tom Brady, even in his age-40 season, was still the NFL's premier quarterback when the Eagles squared off against Brady and New England in Feb. 2018. Brady won his third MVP award that season. If not for the franchise-altering Carson Wentz injury in Dec. 2017, an Eagles quarterback may have taken home that trophy, not Brady.
That feels akin to what is happening now with Mahomes.
With Brady coasting into retirement (again) and having a down season in 2022 by his GOAT standards, Mahomes is unquestionably the sport's greatest quarterback and is fast becoming one of the best to ever play the game. He'll assuredly win his second MVP award this offseason after a regular season that saw him lead the NFL in passing yards, passing touchdowns and QBR. He received 49 out of a possible 50 votes for First-Team All-Pro. It's a formality at this point.
Before Jalen Hurts's December injury, however, he was playing his way into being a legitimate MVP choice. Perhaps he wouldn't have won it, as his case didn't seem to have as much national support as Wentz's did in 2017, but it would not be the slam dunk that it currently is for Mahomes. The Birds might have won 15 or even 16 games if Hurts didn't miss time, too.
Whether it was the greatest ever in Brady's case or the greatest now with Mahomes, this Eagles front seven is going to need to come up with a big play to change the complexion of the Super Bowl. The Eagles are equipped to win a shootout against anyone, but Mahomes, who is still recovering from a high-ankle sprain he suffered in the AFC Divisional Round in January, is as unstoppable as they come when he's at his best.
Graham, of course, rose to the occasion and made that monumental play in Super Bowl LII, sacking Brady and forcing a fumble that halted the Patriots' comeback pursuit.
"The Eagles always want to have their guys up front and I know that they're going to bring in every year the best available at that position," Graham said about this stacked Eagles pass rush that recorded 72 sacks in the regular season, the second most by a team in NFL history. "Because you see how deep we are, how much we compliment each other and it's definitely been helping in these games and it always starts up front with who's knocking who off the ball, who's affecting who up front.
"We got a bunch of great guys that are healthy and excited to get after Mahomes this weekend."
When asked further about Mahomes, Graham said, "Anytime you play these great quarterbacks, you got to affect them because you can't have seven on seven because the line definitely has to affect anything that goes on in play. But I know we have a great d-line and we have to prove it each and every week. I'm excited because we do have a task we have to achieve going against Mahomes."
The Eagles have played Mahomes once prior. It was in a Week 4 loss in 2021, as Kansas City beat the Birds 42-30. Mahomes completed 80.0 percent of his passes, threw five touchdowns and was sacked just once. That was 16 months ago, but it feels more like 16 years ago with how different the Eagles' D is.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was just in his fourth-ever game as a DC. Haason Reddick, James Bradberry and C.J. Gardner-Johnson were all playing elsewhere. Graham was out for the season with an Achilles tear. Mahomes carved those Eagles to pieces, but this is a far different bird of prey come Sunday.
"I'm trying to go two for two," Graham said to reporters. He was talking about winning Super Bowls, sure, but it also rings true for stopping the best to do it at the quarterback position in the biggest of games. Graham and this pass rush are more than capable of coming up with that single, transformative defensive play yet again.
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