Listen up. I’m on a winning streak.
Ignore my 6-17 record in predicting Super Bowl winners, surely the worst of any knucklehead journalist who has consistently wasted entire workdays for more than two decades while writing 23 of these silly columns.
Forget that I once picked the wrong team for 11 consecutive years, picking against the Patriots every time, following my heart. How I wanted those cheaters to lose.
Don’t pay attention to the fact that I once picked the Buffalo Bills for three consecutive years, more predictions from the heart, even as Scott Norwood’s lost kick and Thurman Thomas’ lost helmet broke that heart.
Set aside my misguided analysis and muddled reasoning and all those bad, bad takes and focus on the only number in this column that really matters.
Counting last season, I’m 1-0.
I picked the Rams, and the Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals, and now I’m using the same rationale to keep this bandwagon humming.
I picked the Rams because they had, at the time, the better quarterback. The league is all about quarterbacks. No position is more important in any sport, in any other league, than that of NFL quarterback.
In picking the winner in Sunday’s Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, I’m looking only at the quarterbacks.
The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes is better than the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts. He’s more experienced. He’s more versatile. He’s more clutch.
The Chiefs win a close one, and Mahomes is the reason why.
Surely you want to debate this choice, and you’ve probably got plenty of statistics curated by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell. So do we. Let’s do this.
Mahomes has a bad ankle, you say.
Yes, but did you see his five-yard scramble that combined with an unnecessary roughness penalty set up the Chiefs for a last-second victory in the AFC championship game against the Bengals?
He’s not completely mobile, but he’s mobile enough to buy enough time to make something happen against an Eagles defense that does not do well against quarterbacks who buy time.
The Eagles ranked 30th in the NFL in QBR on throws made after the quarterback held the ball for four or more seconds. Mahomes, meanwhile, was the best quarterback in the league when holding the ball for four or more seconds.
The traditionally shoddy Chiefs offensive line can’t protect Mahomes for four or more seconds, you say.
Ah, but there is only one lineman left from that group that was bulldozed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Chiefs’ last Super Bowl appearance two years ago. This rebuilt bunch kept Mahomes upright long enough against the Bengals for him to complete 29 of 43 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
The Eagles have a better defense than even that Bucs team, you say.
You’ve got me there. Haason Reddick has been an unstoppable force for the best sacking team in football. But these Eagles ranked 21st against the run, and Kansas City can take some heat off Mahomes by giving the ball to its excitable kid running back, Isiah Pacheco.
The Eagles can just blitz Mahomes into oblivion, you say.
Yes, but over the last five years, Mahomes has an NFL-best 76.3 QBR against the blitz. Even with his nagging ankle, he has shown the ability to step out of trouble and turn muck into magic. Almost nobody sends the house at Mahomes — he has been blitzed on only 19% of his drop-backs in those five years — so here’s guessing the Eagles won’t try it either.
Hurts is in better shape to win this game, you say.
Yes, the young Eagles quarterback is amazingly tough and versatile. His 15 rushing touchdowns this season, including the playoffs, are the most in NFL history. He also led the NFL with 12 passing touchdowns that traveled 20-plus yards in the air. He can grind it out and fling it, and when you need him to gain one yard for a first down, he can sneak it. No quarterback in the league is better at having larger teammates push him through the line.
Oh yeah, and Hurts is a winner. He is 16-1 as a starter this season, including the postseason. Only Tom Brady and Joe Montana ever went 17-1 or better.
But here’s the thing. He’s not 100% healthy, and he’s 100% not accustomed to NFL playoff pressure.
Everybody talks about Mahomes’ ankle, but they’re forgetting that Hurts suffered a late-season shoulder injury that still seems to hamper him. He has thrown for only 275 yards in two playoff games while gaining fewer than four yards per rush. He says he’s fine. He doesn’t look fine.
Then there is the pressure, loads of which he faced as a college quarterback for Alabama and Oklahoma, but not so much in this postseason. While the Chiefs were pushed in two tough playoffs duels against Jacksonville and Cincinnati, the Eagles have easily soared over an outmanned New York Giants team and the quarterback-less San Francisco 49ers. The blowouts mirror a regular season in which the Eagles were so dominant that Hurts rarely had to complete a big-moment pass.
Get this: Hurts has thrown only 22 passes when trailing in the second half this season, which accounted for just 4% of his total passes. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the second-lowest percent of such passes in the last 45 seasons.
Bottom line: Hurts hasn’t had to win a game with his arm. Mahomes has won plenty of games with his arm. Mahomes has thrown 10 touchdown passes under pressure in playoff games since 2018, the most in the NFL by a mile. He has led three lead-changing drives in the final minute of a postseason game three times. Three times! That’s three times as many as any other quarterback during that span.
One more reason why Mahomes will rock and Hurts will relent: Mahomes was the best quarterback in football under pressure this season with the lowest sack percentage. Hurts ranked 23rd in sack percentage. And did you see how the Chiefs flattened the Bengals’ Joe Burrow?
This game will be decided at quarterback, and the daring superstar who joins Brady as the only quarterback to appear in three Super Bowls in his first six seasons is the pick here.
Mahomes becomes the first quarterback to win the regular-season NFL most-valuable-player award and the Super Bowl in the same season in 23 years.
The Chiefs win 30-24.
Now that you’ve made your annual prediction, I’m making my annual bet for the other team, you say.
Get in line.