Dynasties shouldn’t exist in the NFL in this day and age. The idea of a dynasty is simply antithetical to the way the league is set up: to promote parity and competitiveness at every turn.
The NFL established the salary cap in 1994 to even the playing field, and since then, it’s mostly worked. The league has only had two repeat champions (the 1997-98 Broncos and 2003-04 Patriots) and has had 15 of its 32 teams win a Super Bowl – and nine additional teams play in the big game.
If you’re 30 years old, there’s a 75 percent chance you’ve had a rooting interest in the Super Bowl during your lifetime. Those are pretty good odds for football fans (unless you support the Browns or Lions, which in that case you’re in for a lifetime of suffering).
Yet, a few teams have found ways to win consistently, despite the salary cap, roster turnover, and the simple fact you have to win a lot of close games to succeed in the NFL. The Chiefs and Eagles are the latest success stories: two franchises with recent Super Bowl wins returning for more in Super Bowl LVII. They both come to State Farm Stadium in Arizona with plenty to prove – and 100 million people watching.
There are lots of Hollywood storylines for this year’s big game, from Andy Reid playing his old team to the Kelce brothers facing off. But let’s talk about the teams as a whole, because their Super Bowl runs were not due to luck or poor officiating (sorry, salty Bengals fans) but instead years of organizational success coming to a head.
The Chiefs are in their third Super Bowl in four years, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has gotten Kansas City to at least the AFC Championship Game all five years as a starter. The Eagles, on the other hand, won the Super Bowl with backup quarterback Nick Foles, before trading away full-timer Carson Wentz in favor of another second-stringer, Jalen Hurts.
Now, most will say you’re not a dynasty until you’ve won three Super Bowls, so neither the Eagles or Chiefs are on the verge of reaching that status yet. But if they continue to win at this level, that question will come.
Even after the salary cap, the Patriots dominated the 2000s and 2010s. Since the departure of Tom Brady from New England, we’ve waited for a team to fill their void – that is, if the dynasty can still exist in today’s NFL.
The impressive thing about the Chiefs and Eagles franchises isn’t merely the fact that they’ve made smart decisions to get back to the big game. It’s that they’ve had to routinely make smart decisions in order to stay competitive – including winning the draft and free agency.
Neither team is loaded with players from their previous championship teams. Beyond Mahomes and Travis Kelce, most of the Chiefs’ roster did not play on their 2019 Super Bowl team – with first- and second-year players loaded across their depth chart. It’s been five years since the Eagles won their Super Bowl, and most of their skill players are gone: new quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and defensive backs.
I always say that your team is only as good as its last three drafts, as young players make up the majority of NFL rosters. The draft is meant to balance the scales, a form of Mario Kart in which the losers get the mushrooms in attempts to regain their competitive edge.
Mostly, it works. The draft is how the Bengals went from 2-14 to the Super Bowl in two seasons, drafting Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, and JaMarr Chase in consecutive drafts. It’s how the Cowboys became a defensive menace (Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs). It’s how the Jaguars (Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne) and Dolphins (Tua Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle) became offensive juggernauts.
But those teams thrived on top-10 picks and top-tier talent – Burrow, Lawrence, and Tagovailoa all led their college teams to national championships. That’s why the Chiefs and Eagles have broken the system, drafting well even while regularly making the playoffs (the only time either team has missed since 2016 was the Eagles in 2020).
Both teams have stayed competitive by filling out their rosters with fresh talent, while holding onto core pieces amid salary cap limitations. Yet, the Chiefs and Eagles have assembled their teams in different ways.
The Chiefs have built a great team around a historic talent in Mahomes. Every decision revolves around his strengths as a passer and innovator – maintaining strong pass blocking, a multitude of receiving options, and enough defensive talent to keep them in games. It’s not come without challenges: They traded Tyreek Hill and signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marques Valdez-Scantling to stay under the salary cap.
The Eagles, however, built the rest of their team first. Like in their 2017 championship season, they signed key defensive pieces in Haason Reddick, James Bradberry, and Darius Slay, they traded for wide receiver A.J. Brown and defensive end Robert Quinn for extra star power. With their best linemen staying put, they’ve created the optimal situation for a young, talented quarterback in Jalen Hurts to step in.
But the real story this season, especially with the Chiefs, has been their youth movement. Kansas City has had a whopping seven rookies make key contributions on offense and defense – including seventh-round picks Isiah Pacheco and Jaylen Watson. This team may be the Patrick Mahomes show, but they’re nothing without their diaper dandies.
If the Chiefs beat the Eagles on Sunday, the talk will be: Are the Chiefs under Mahomes and Reid the next dynasty? That’ll be two Super Bowl wins in four seasons, with plenty of reason for optimism: Their core will stay under contract and a handful of young players will still be on rookie contracts.
It’s only 2023, but there could already be talk of Kansas City being the team of the 2020s. But if the Eagles win it will be a whole different story.
The Eagles were the team that simply couldn’t get the big one for the longest time. Until 2017, they had never won the Super Bowl, despite numerous winning seasons and deep playoff runs. If they win Super Bowl LVII, it will be lightning in a bottle for a second time.
But that lightning in a bottle is by design. Recently, Philadelphia has reversed the curse by building their teams for cold January battles. In the 2000s, the team’s premier offenses simply wilted against more physical teams like the Buccaneers and Patriots. They’ve turned the corner by focusing on the trenches, cementing their roster with sturdy linemen Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Graham, and Fletcher Cox.
The result this season was 32 rushing touchdowns, the most in the NFL, and 70 sacks, the third-most in a season in league history. (Can you imagine how many times they’d sack Burrow if the Bengals had won the AFC?)
The Eagles have gotten better in three-straight seasons by fixing their weaknesses. Mediocre passing game? They got possession receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. A need to bolster their pass coverage? They got ballhawks Darius Slay and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The most pivotal offseason move, however, was signing Haason Reddick to a three-year, $45 million deal – a wise investment, as he’s been the team’s best pass-rusher (16 sacks) and defensive leader.
The Chiefs’ pass rush has been nothing to scoff at either, ending the season second in the league in sacks (albeit still 15 behind the Eagles). General manager Brett Veach has become the master at making draft steals. Defensive lineman George Karlaftis was expected to be taken in the top 15, before falling 30th to Kansas City. The previous season, Veach snagged offensive linemen Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith, two immediate starters, in the second and sixth rounds.
Kansas City’s investment in both its pass rush and pass blocking was a huge area of emphasis following the team’s shortcomings the past two postseasons. The loss of aging tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher doomed the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, while the failure to sack Burrow once in last year’s AFC Championship game proved costly (Burrow was sacked 18 times across the Bengals’ other three playoff games).
With improvements in the trenches, the Chiefs are well prepared for scrappy playoff battles against teams like the Eagles (even if their running game has been a bit suspect). But as both teams prepare to slug it out, what does the future look like for each?
I’d say pretty good. The Buccaneers, Rams, and Packers see their title windows start to close after maximizing their chances the past few seasons. The 49ers and Titans are only getting older, and the Bengals will soon be in salary cap hell. The Bills, Cowboys, and Chargers are formidable foes, but just don’t have the postseason formula down (at least yet).
The Bengals and Jaguars are going to continue to give the Chiefs fits in the playoffs, thanks to superb quarterback play and great situational coaching. To contend season after season, you have to set the standard from the top-down: Your GM must make the right moves for your team to contend, your coach must know how to use his talent and close out games, and you must get the best out of your skill players.
It’s no surprise that the Patriots stayed in the Super Bowl hunt for nearly 20 years under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Belichick worked his players harder than any other, conditioning them for the grind of the playoffs. As games went on, they got stronger, to the dismay of their opponents.
In the salary cap era, there’s simply too much roster turnover to keep winning with the same core. But New England always had a great offensive line to protect Brady, and its defenses always ranked in the top 10 in the league – replenishing the likes of Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour with D’onta Hightower and Jamie Collins.
The salary cap should’ve prevented the Patriots from winning 17 of 19 division titles and six Super Bowl titles under Brady. But winning wasn’t simply a formula in New England, it was a culture, an expectation, a way of life for the blue and red. (You also have to remember Brady took pay cuts to keep the team under the salary cap.)
Both the Chiefs and Eagles have produced winning cultures for their teams as well, and it’s helped them get to this year’s big game. They’ve built their rosters in diametrically opposed ways, yet ended up in the same place because of their salary cap hacks and winning know-how. It’s no surprise that the predictions have been mostly split down the middle: The Eagles have the deeper, more dangerous roster, but the Chiefs have the best coach and quarterback.
Regardless of who wins on Sunday, it’s probably too soon to be talking about a dynasty. Unlike the MLB, the NFL has specifically put procedures in place to keep the rich from getting richer – and (outside of the Patriots) they’ve been pretty effective over the past 30 years.
As Philadelphia and Kansas City prepare for the Super Bowl, it’s clear, however, that their championship runs are no surprise, but instead the result of years of planning and hard work. Now, let the best team win.
Featured Image Credit: Patrick Mahomes (Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today Sports), Jalen Hurts (Matt Rourke/AP)
Are you ready for some football? Get your Super Bowl party going with this Super Bowl LVII pump-up playlist: