This year’s Super Bowl will be about the matchups between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. Looking past the elite quarterbacks both teams have, here are the top 5 X-factors for Super Bowl LVII:
1. Chris Jones, Chiefs
We’ve seen Chris Jones on full display as an X-factor all season long as one of the top defenders in football. We saw him being lined up all over the field — outside, inside — and what he did against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game was a clinic. He recorded the first two sacks of his postseason career, but more importantly, he harassed Joe Burrow the entire game. He is a big guy who can get in the face of Jalen Hurts, get pressure up the middle, flush him to the left or to the right, and disrupt his timing. That is the most important thing with quarterbacks who want to get the ball in and out of their hands, and Jones has done it better than any interior lineman this season.
He is a special, special player, and is the primary reason the Chiefs’ defense is where it’s at and that we even think of it as a defensive threat. I know they have other pass rushers, but if Jones gets loose, look out, Eagles fans, it’s going to be a long afternoon.
2. A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Eagles
I can’t pick just one so I’m going with the wide receiver tandem of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Neither one has had an impressive postseason run, particularly Brown, but one of these guys – if not both – will have to step up at some point in this game to allow their team an opportunity to be within striking distance or take off and win.
3. Travis Kelce, Chiefs
Normally, a star player such as Travis Kelce wouldn’t be considered an X-factor, but he’s been dealing with a back issue. We all know the importance of Kelce and what he provides to the Chiefs. When 100 percent healthy, he is one of Kansas City’s most important pieces. If he is not healthy, the guy the Chiefs relied on last week was Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has been huge and has played in big moments. He understands what is expected of him. We don’t see him every single week topping the stat sheet, but when his number is called, he usually makes the play. And with the injuries the wide receiver corps has endured, he has been the one constant, available guy for Patrick Mahomes, and we saw it on full display in that AFC title game.
4. Haason Reddick, Eagles
The Eagles’ pass rush is everything, and Haason Reddick was a huge part of why the Eagles’ NFC title victory over the 49ers was non-competitive. Reddick has been the leader of a Philadelphia pass rush that has been historic the entire season. If the Chiefs can’t slow Reddick down and allow Mahomes to have time to throw the ball downfield, it will be a long afternoon for them.
5. Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles
When you look at what the Eagles have done in the postseason, it’s been all about their running game. So why Gainwell and not Miles Sanders? I believe Gainwell is the runner who gives them that extra pop. He is more effective in the passing game, and he’s playing with a little bit more urgency. When he gets in, it’s almost like when we watch the Dallas Cowboys with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, he just has that explosive play opportunity every single time he gets his hands on the ball. I like what I’ve seen out of him, a young guy who’s been playing very, very well for the Eagles in establishing their running game, which is the reason they’ve coasted through their two playoff games.
Greg Jennings is a former NFL wide receiver who played for the Packers, Vikings and Dolphins. A two-time Pro Bowl player, Jennings was a member of the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV championship team and is inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter @GregJennings.