The Super Bowl is where a relative nobody can become a household name, where names like Malcolm Butler and David Tyree transform from obscurity to an association with football’s biggest stage, forever.
The stars will attract the attention and have the most impact on Super Bowl 57 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. The X-factors, however – the ones the majority of the 100-plus-million viewers do not know – will also play pivotal roles in determining who lifts the Lombardi Trophy.
For NFL fans, especially supporters of the Chiefs and Eagles who follow their teams closely, these players are not unheard of. They have been there every week, making winning plays for winning teams.
Super Bowl Central: Super Bowl 57 odds, Eagles-Chiefs matchups, stats and more
They are not Patrick Mahomes or Jalen Hurts or the Kelce Bros. They are the Super Bowl X-factors.
Javon Hargrave, Eagles DT
By now, people are aware of the Eagles’ vaunted pass rush. The postseason has continued the breakout party for Haason Reddick, who is gaining well-deserved attention as one of the most consistent rushers in the league. Josh Sweat racked up 11 sacks during the regular season and veterans Fletcher Cox (11 sacks) and Brandon Graham add depth to the attack.
Mahomes will have to step up in the pocket to give his offensive line help and allow for downfield plays to develop. An interior rush by the Eagles will go a long way in making that difficult, too. That is where Javon Hargrave comes in.
Hargrave, who turned 30 this week, plays on the interior of the defensive line, but recorded a career-high 11 sacks in 2022. He notched 16 quarterback hits.
Hargrave and his fellow defensive tackles will be matched up against the strength of the Chiefs’ offensive line, the interior, highlighted by center Creed Humphrey and left guard Joe Thuney. Keeping Mahomes honest in the middle of the pass rush will be key.
Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles RB
Philadelphia’s ground game has been the hallmark of the offense, especially since Jalen Hurts’ shoulder injury in December. Most of the work rushing the ball to that point was done by Hurts and running back Miles Sanders.
From Weeks 13-18, Gainwell had 15 carries total despite seeing more targets in the passing game. Head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen called upon Gainwell more often in the playoffs. Against the New York Giants in the divisional round, the 2021 fifth-round draft pick rushed for a career-high 112 yards and a touchdown. He carried 14 times in the NFC championship game. It helped that both contests were blowouts, but Gainwell was running with purpose.
Sanders could very well receive the lion’s share of carries. Gainwell, though, looks like a player improving with each game.
Andrew Wylie, Chiefs RT
Wylie’s primary objective against the Eagles? Stop Reddick. Simple enough, right?
Chiefs coach Andy Reid will be sure to give Wylie help in the protection schemes – whether it’s with an explicit double-team or other creative ways to get the ball out quickly.
Mahomes’ ankle injury will make the play of Wylie and left tackle Orlando Brown stand out that much more.
Nick Bolton, Chiefs LB
The Chiefs went ‘local’ with their second-round pick in the 2021 draft, selecting Bolton out of Missouri. In his second season in the league, Bolton became the Chiefs’ most prolific tackler (180 total) with nine tackles for loss. He also added a pair of interceptions and seven quarterback hits.
Against the Eagles, Bolton will have to be all over the field to contain the Philadelphia rushing attack. Making life on the ground difficult will force the Eagles to rely more on the passing game and become more one-dimensional.
The Eagles’ offensive line is the best in the league, so Bolton will need help up front. It will be up to him to clean up the play, fill the gaps and prevent the Eagles from becoming too comfortable running the ball.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.