The 10 most important players in the Super Bowl

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Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts speaks to the media during the team’s media availability prior to Super Bowl LVII.

Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts speaks to the media during the team’s media availability prior to Super Bowl LVII.
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Game time is getting close. The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles are through taking in the totality of the Super Bowl experience. They both traveled to Arizona with the intent to win.

One game for it all, the only major American professional sport that is decided this way. It makes for great parties, and monster television ratings. In a single-game elimination, it takes only a few plays to swing the contest.

Here are the players most likely to make those plays.

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He’s the best, around. Seriously though, this has been the season in which Mahomes — who was voted league MVP — gently reminded the football world that there is no one better at that position than he. Mahomes still digs the long ball, but is more comfortable than ever in maximizing shorter completions.

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His high ankle sprain is the biggest story of the game. When he steps on the field Sunday it will have been three weeks since he suffered the injury. High ankle sprains usually take much longer to heal than that, but gritted through the pain and brought the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. They need one more three-hour evening of magic from him, and then he can stay off that leg until Labor Day if necessary.

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The other starting quarterback, and MVP runner-up. A player who was pulled at halftime of a National Championship Game for a freshman. This after losing only two games in two years as a starter. He was named the starter for the Eagles after Week 12 of his rookie year in 2020. The road has been rocky, but throughout the 2022 season, he has played outstanding football.

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As well as he has played, there are also questions about his health. He injured his throwing shoulder near the end of the regular season and it hasn’t been tested since. The Eagles beat the New York Giants backups in the final game of the regular season, then ran through the starters in the playoffs with their running game. They relied on the run again against the San Francisco 49ers who had to play the entire second half with a quarterback who had a torn UCL in his throwing elbow.

In order for the Eagles to pull this out, Hurts’ arm is going to have to be capable of an excellent performance.

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The best offensive weapon on both offenses. As great as Derrick Henry has been for the Tennessee Titans, we have seen what that offense looked like with their best receiver now in Philadelphia.

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Strong, quick, and dependable. If Hurts needs a big play he knows where to with the ball. A dependable veteran wide receiver who has played in quite a few playoff games. If he romps through the Chiefs’ secondary all night, the Eagles’ offense will have no problems.

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First, great news: He cleared concussion protocol. He left the AFC Championship Game early in the fourth quarter with a head injury and did not return.

With the Bengals’ dominant wide receiver corps, it appeared that the Chiefs’ defense was in trouble during the AFC Championship game. Eventually, the Bengals lost several pass-catching options due to injury, but their biggest problem was their banged-up offensive line. Burrow was under attack all day and not able to exploit a young defensive backfield without its top cornerback.

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The Chiefs’ defensive backs won’t be able to rely on the same pass rush on Sunday. Not only is the Eagles’ offensive line intact, but it is also one of the best in the league. The Chiefs are going to give up some plays because of that line. In order to make just enough plays to win this game, Sneed is going to have to play outstanding football all night.

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Mahomes’ No. 1 target. He’s not out there giving defensive backs peace signs as he streaks down the sideline like Tyreek Hill, but he is still a matchup nightmare. In two playoff games this season he has hauled in three touchdown passes. When a star quarterback is ailing like Mahomes has been for most of this Chiefs’ playoff run, it’s nice to have a dependable escape hatch like Kelce.

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What the Chiefs need from him is of course to continue to produce in the red zone, but also make catches that extend drives. Their defense is in for a battle against the Eagles’ bulldozer of an offensive line. They can’t run the ball like the Eagles, and Mahomes will not be able to rely on those six- to 10-yard scrambles to move the chains. Kelce must keep drives going with timely third-down catches to allow the defense to catch their breath from time to time.

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While Mahomes’ mobility will be limited, the way that he feels the pass rush coming from the outside, he will be able to deal with it as long as the tackles put up a good fight. What can turn this game for the Eagles is if they can pressure Mahomes up the middle, and they have just the defensive line to do it. Four Eagles’ defenders have recorded double-digit sacks in the regular season.

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Mahomes would struggle behind flushed out of the pocket from the middle if he was healthy. Without his usual mobility, that type of pressure can crush this offense. Humphrey was a two-time Big 12 offensive lineman of the year in three seasons at Oklahoma. Since the Chiefs drafted him in 2021, he has started every game, and also made his first Pro Bowl this season. He is young, but he has produced consistently for the Chiefs. Now he is about to face his toughest professional test, and he better pass with flying colors.

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One of the defensive linemen that Humphrey is going to have to help contain. Josh Sweat and Hasson Reddick get most of the hype, but Hargrave is an anchor for the Eagles’ defense. He’s been a productive player since his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he has been a terror since arriving in Philadelphia.

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According to Next Gen Stats, Hargrave has the highest pressure rate of any defensive tackle since Week 11. With 11 sacks on the season, the Chiefs’ coaches need to attach a police siren to the helmet of whoever was playing his role on the scout-team defense this week. If the Chiefs cannot control his pass rush, they have no chance of winning this game.

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If it wasn’t for the fact that Mahomes was playing on one leg, he would deserve to be the MVP of the AFC Championship Game. He was in Joe Burrow’s face all night long. He made the Bengals’ offensive line look every bit like there were several backups playing.

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The best defensive tackle during the 2022 season is going up against a far tougher task on Sunday. This Eagles’ offensive line is as good of a unit as there is in this league. It’s why they are able to run the ball so well.

The Chiefs will not make every play, but some game-changers will be needed at the right time. Jones will have to be the best person to make those. With Aaron Donald hurt for much of this season, Jones has been clearly the premier defensive tackle in the NFL. For the Chiefs to win on Sunday, he is going to need to play like Aaron Donald did in last year’s Super Bowl.

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As good as it gets in the NFL at center. This is his 12th NFL season, and he was named first-team All-Pro for the fifth time in his career. A future Hall of Famer for sure.

He is going to find himself nose-to-nose at times with Jones in this game. When he’s not head up against the best defensive tackle he has seen all season, Kelce had better know where he is at all times to get his line in the correct spots.

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The Eagles have the edge on the Chiefs’ defensive line. However, the Chiefs’ offense is too good for the Eagles to rely on the run all game. The Eagles are going to have to pass block, and have to find a way to keep Jones at bay as much as possible. That means the best center in the NFL had better be ready to win his best-on-best battles.

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His leg has been one of the most important parts of the Chiefs’ success in recent years. Yes, Mahomes and Tyreek Hill got the Chiefs into field-goal range in 13 seconds late in the fourth quarter of that Divisional-Round game last year, but it required a 49-yard make from Butker to send the game into overtime.

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This season has been Butker’s worst as a placekicker. He only converted on 75 percent of his field-goal attempts — a career low. During the playoffs though, the old Butker has come back. He has been successful on every extra point and field-goal attempt, and that includes two huge 50-yarders against the Jaguars when Mahomes was hobbled.

The Chiefs’ offense is mighty, but a big reason why is when they need Butker’s leg, he comes through for them. They are going to need the best of him on Sunday.

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