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January 28, 2023

Mailbag: If the Eagles reach the Super Bowl, would the Chiefs or Bengals be the more ideal opponent?

Eagles NFL
012923PatrickMahomes Sam Greene/USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Mahomes is still pretty good.

Earlier this week, we solicited questions for an Eagles mailbag via Twitter. Thank you as always for doing half the work for me. This is Part II of a two-part mailbag (Part I here).

Question from @Austin_Jon: Can’t wait for the rooting guide this week.

If you're a regular reader you know that we take a look at the non-Eagles games on the NFL schedule each week and try to determine how the Eagles will benefit from the outcomes of those games. I'm not publishing a rooting guide this week, because it's really just a matter of who the more ideal opponent would be in the Super Bowl, should the Eagles take care of their own business on Sunday against the 49ers. So let's do that here.

To begin, I believe that the Chiefs and Bengals are very evenly matched. I picked the Chiefs to advance to the Super Bowl on the premise that Patrick Mahomes being hampered by his high ankle sprain is less concerning to me than the Bengals missing both starting offensive tackles and their starting LG against a Chiefs defense that had 55 sacks in 2022.

The sense that I have gotten from Eagles fans is that they have a very healthy respect for Joe Burrow and his game, and would rather face the Chiefs. I definitely agree that Burrow is awesome, but when did Mahomes suddenly become chopped liver? That dude is going to win the MVP award. But also, just peeking ahead a bit, I love some potential Eagles-Bengals matchups, notably:

  1. The Eagles' defensive line vs. the Bengals' offensive line is a mammoth mismatch.
  2. The Eagles' receivers against Eli Apple and the Bengals' corners.

And I also think that the Eagles are equipped to slow down the Bengals' best feature, which is their wide receiver trio of Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. I think the Bengals would be the better matchup.

Question from Hardeyes: I am a nervous wreck already. Please tell me - based on facts - that it will be OK on Sunday. Thank you, I will continue curling up and hyperventilating now.

I am certain that the Eagles are the better football team. They objectively have the better quarterback (by a mile), the better offensive line, the better defensive line, better receivers and better cornerbacks. I also like a number of the matchups in this game in favor of the Eagles, both when the Eagles have the ball, and when the 49ers have the ball

There's good reason to be semi-confident that the Eagles will win. If these teams played 10 times, I think the Eagles would win, like, seven of them? If that's right, then obviously, that would mean that the Niners would win three. Can the Eagles lose this game? Of course they can! The possibility of losing is why sports are fun. If we already knew the outcomes then there would be little reason to watch. So you may have to stay curled up with a paper bag for a while.

Question from Jeffrey (via email): Philly has been rotating defensive linemen all year. Are we starting to see the effect as opposing offensive lines are more fatigued and injured? Over the last eight games or so, they have been averaging over five sacks per game?

I think that the Eagles' defensive line health could be a significant, under-discussed advantage in this game. In Week 18 against the Giants, Haason Reddick (50 snaps) Brandon Graham (44 snaps), Javon Hargrave (41 snaps), and Fletcher Cox (39 snaps) led the defensive line in snap counts. Nobody else had more than 24 snaps played.

Then the Eagles had a bye, and then they blew out the Giants in the wildcard round. In that game, no defensive linemen played more than 36 snaps. And then they got an extra day of rest because they played on Saturday. They'll be fresh.

Question from @papatango: This year, how did the Eagles' offensive line do against defensive lines ranked similarly to the 49ers?

The Eagles have faced their share of really good pass rushers this season. They saw Micah Parsons twice. They faced Alex Highsmith, Cameron Heyward, J.J. Watt, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen twice, Montez Sweat twice, Danielle Hunter, Za'Darius Smith, Yannick Ngokoue, Jerry Hughes, Cameron Jordan, Preston Smith, DeForest Buckner, Jeffery Simmons, Dexter Lawrence twice, etc. 

They also face Haason Reddick, Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat, and Fletcher Cox in practice every day, and they saw Myles Garrett for a few practices during the summer. They have seen their share of dudes. This is a good Niners front, but they're not the '85 Bears. So I guess, simply put, I'll just say that the offensive line hasn't really had an obviously bad game this season that I can recall, and I don't think they'll start now.

I also know that the coaching staff will be ready for this group, specifically Nick Bosa. One of my favorite answers from Nick Sirianni this season was the following exchange, before the Vikings game:

Jimmy: "When you're facing a team like this that has two really good edge rushers, I think for other teams the talk of the week might be how you're going to block those guys, but that doesn’t really happen here with Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata. How much of a luxury is it to not really have to worry about that as much as other teams?"

Nick: "Obviously we're very talented on the offensive line and those two guys do a great job. I just continue to see Jordan get better each week that I've been here. And then you guys know what I think of Lane. Lane is the best right tackle in this league. To me, I wouldn't take anybody else. I don't even think it's particularly close.

"So obviously you go in and you think, all right, who are their best players and how do we make sure that they don't beat us? You do that offensively, defensively, and special teams-wise. Of course, with us we're like, Lane is one of our best players, too. So, good. We'll be all right there. But that doesn't mean we still don't have plays in to help out the edge when we need to.

"So, it's a little bit, yes, we're very comfortable with our personnel, but we also throw some help at them every now and then. So that's something that's always been on our mind as soon as I got into this league, and it's because of good coaches I've been around, is how are you going to stop the guys that can wreck the game. Defensive end is the first place you always look. 

"You look at corner and defensive end more than anything in my mind as an offensive coach. Defensive end, when I was in the AFC West when I was with the Chargers, everybody had two good ones, right? The Raiders at the time had Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack. The Chiefs had Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. The Broncos had Von Miller and they had DeMarcus Ware.

"So we had to be on that. And no offense to our tackles at the Chargers, but they weren't like the guys we have here. I remember one time, quick story, that [former Chargers head coach] Mike McCoy came in and said to Frank [Reich] and I, did you guys think about Khalil Mack today and how you're going to help protect against him?

"I looked at Frank because we had just spent so much time talking about Khalil Mack every single play. I looked at Frank, Frank looked at me, I looked back at Mike and I said, ‘Mike, his grandma, his mom, and his girlfriend didn't think about him as much as we thought about him today, to answer your question.'"

So, yeah, they'll have a plan.

Question from phinphood9: Can you have any takeaways from watching last years film against the Niners?

There were a bunch of different players in that game, compared with this year, but yes, I think there are certainly some things worth trying offensively if they worked last year, and correcting some of the things that went sideways. Shane Steichen was asked a version of this question earlier this week, and one of his takeaways watching the film from that game was just how much better the Eagles are now.

"I think we as a team being together, we've grown as a team, just like fundamentally, details more than anything, looking at little things that like I'm like, oh, shoot, we've done that better this year," he said. "So, I think just within the scheme of what we're doing, the repetitions of what we're doing and how we're doing it and how we're teaching it. Like I always say, the more you do it, the better you're going to get at it, and I think the details of how we're doing it is a lot better."

One play from that game that stands out was a touchdown reception by Jalen Reagor that got wiped off the board because Reagor stepped out of bounds on his route. Remember this?

That game is probably an Eagles win if they have A.J. Brown instead of Reagor.

Question from @vonar_town: If the Eagles win this game, which one player (aside from the obvious answer of Jalen Hurts) is going to be talked about as the reason?

I think that the Eagles are going to have some favorable matchups against Niners CB2 Deommodore Lenoir. My suspicion is that the Niners will have Charvarius Ward follow Brown, and they'll take their chances with Lenoir on DeVonta Smith. If so, Smith will get his share of opportunities to make plays, and even if Ward trails Brown, Brown is the better player, and the Eagles shouldn't necessarily shy away from that matchup.

I think this is a game that Smith and Brown have to make a half dozen or so important plays. 

Question from @thenerdtrucker: Why does Kyle Shanahan display the characteristics of a coward when he's a offensive "genius?"

Shanahan is an excellent coach in terms of developing a scheme and game plans, but he's not an aggressive decision maker. As Tommy pointed out in his excellent game preview, Sirianni added more win probability on in-game decision making for the Eagles this season than any other head coach did for their respective teams:

Honestly, I'm surprised Shanahan is as high as 14th on that list.

Question from vbeats10: Best road trip snack?

Right off the bat, I'm eliminating anything that falls into these four categories:

  1. Snacks that can melt.
  2. Snacks that are going to leave residue on my hands, and will necessitate excessive napkins.
  3. Snacks where there is messy trash left behind.
  4. Snacks that are going to produce crumbs.

I've mentioned in the past that my favorite ice cream topping is crushed up pretzels, specifically Herr's extra thin pretzels in the blue bag. They also make for a good road trip snack. If you're looking to do a long drive without stopping for an actual meal, a filling snack is a soft pretzel, even if they violate rule No. 4 above (salt falling off the pretzel).

Question from killakow: Power ranking of embarrassing visiting fan behavior (e.g. Vikings fans at the art museum). Does not necessarily have to be Eagles-exclusive.

I put a lot of thought into this, and it's been difficult coming up with a lot of good examples, particularly if we're limiting it to "visiting" fans. For example, these dorks from San Diego didn't visit, I don't think:

Man, that makes me cringe every time.

The visiting Vikings fans for the last Eagles NFC Championship Game would be on that list. I remember they were claiming to have "taken over" Philly, with this video serving as the prove of said takeover:

The overhead shot of these nerds was always funny to me (📷: BGN): 


There's like 75(?) people there, lol. Oftentimes when I'm on the road for some regular season game in October, there are a couple dozen Eagles fans quietly having breakfast in the lobby of my hotel.

The Niners are partaking in this lameness as well. #49ersInvasion:

Nothing says cool like waiting for the doors of Xfinity Live to open.

Anyway, I don't have the time to properly address this important question ahead of the NFC Championship Game, but I just wanted to put it on the record so I'm reminded to give it the attention it deserves at a later date.

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