SPEED vs. speed, strength vs. strength, stars vs. stars. Super Bowl LIV is going to have it all with the San Fransisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs going head to head in a mouthwatering clash. Both teams ooze class and excitement, with each taking their own unique way of getting to the final game of the 2019 season. Two coaches on each side will be out to exorcise the past demons on the big stage with two very different, but uniquely talented quarterbacks leading their respective sides into battle. It all comes down to this…
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RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: Kansas City Chiefs
FOR Kansas City to win this game and perhaps multiple Super Bowl’s in the future, their hopes ride squarely on the shoulders of Patrick Mahomes III. Ever since trading up to draft Mahomes 10th overall in 2017 the Chiefs have gradually taken strides towards the big dance, now poised to potentially win it all in Mahomes’ third pro season. The reigning MVP has excelled in his first 31 career games, emerging as the key to success in Andy Ried’s dynamic, exciting offense.
THAT offense has spluttered to start two postseason games so far. KC famously fell behind 24-0 to the Texans before going on to win by 20 points and then again was forced to come back against Tennessee – who started the game by building a 17-7 lead. It mattered little with the Chiefs still winning both of those games, but they can’t afford to start slow on Sunday against the 49ers. In 16 regular-season games, Kansas City outscored their opponents by just 10 combined points in the first quarter, with San Fransisco posting a +40 scoring margin in the first frame.
THEY have the capability to burst out of the gates led by Mahomes and their array of talented pass catchers. No stranger to bit time plays the Chiefs led the NFL in passing plays of 40 yards or more with Tyreek Hill (6), Mecole Hardman (4) and Travis Kelce (3) all playing their part in the high-octane offense. Kelce’s presence will be particularly important on the weekend with the star tight-end leading the team in red-zone targets and finishing second in the entire NFL for targets inside the 10-yard line.
Image from cincinnati.com
THERE are a ton of other fancy numbers I could use to highlight how good Kansas City’s offense is, but that side of the ball is just one part of the equation. The Chiefs’ much-improved defensive unit is a big reason why they were able to claim the AFC Championship as they re-found their defensive mojo after their Week 12 bye. The primary focus for the defense will be to shut down a dominant Niners run game that scored a league-best 23 TD’s on the ground in the regular season
SAN Fran used that impressive running attack to pound the Vikings and the Packers, compiling 471 rushing yards in just two playoff games so far. As it stands, they’re just 232 yards shy of the postseason record for rushing yards in three games and if the Chiefs let the 49ers get off the chain, it’s hard to see Kansas City winning on Sunday. Not all hope is lost, with the defensive unit finding a winning formula to stop opponents rushing attack in the back half of the year. Over the duration of the entire regular season, the Chiefs gave up the 7th most rushing yards, but since their bye, they’re just one of five teams giving up less than 100 RUSH/yards per game – including their numbers from two postseason games.
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THEY were able to halt Derrick Henry last time out, keeping Tennessee’s wrecking ball to his lowest rushing total since early November and the Chiefs were equally impressive against Houston the week prior. Stopping the Niners run game may force Kyle Shanahan to lean on Jimmy Garoppolo more than he likes, which plays exactly into the Cheifs’ hands. Getting after Jimmy G and forcing him to make mistakes could lead to confusion and chaos, which would play perfectly into Kansas City’s hands. Stopping the 49ers offense won’t be easy, but they’ve certainly taken strides defensively to make us believe they can do so.
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: San Fransisco 49ers
NO team looked more complete than the San Francisco 49ers this past season, dramatically improving their performance from a year ago to emerge as the best team in the NFC. Only 12 months prior the Niners were preparing for the draft as the owners of the 2nd overall pick after a 4-12 season with plenty of questions over their future. However, the organisation quickly proved their perceived problems weren’t a major concern, with playmakers across every line helping them win nine more games than last year.
A lot of those impact players can be found on the defensive side of the ball, an area San Fransisco excelled in during the 2019 season. The 49ers were the stingest group when it came to opponent passing yards allowed and opponents yards lost due to sacks with their defense finishing inside the top handful of teams for most other major statistics. That dominance continued during the playoffs, forcing Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins to turn the ball over five times, which led to a pair of relatively easy wins.
SAN Fran’s won’t go into the big dance expecting to completely stop the lethal arm of Patrick Mahomes, but there is a way they can make life hell for the KC QB. During the regular season, Mahomes was only sacked 17 times with the Cheifs doing a great job of keeping their franchise guy upright. He’ll face a tough task avoiding the Niners’ pass rushers though, boasting arguably the best D-line in the league who tied for the 5th most sacks in the league this year. Talented rushers Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead will all be eager to get after Mahomes and make a name for themselves in the biggest game of their careers to date.
REGARDLESS of how well the 49ers can contain the Chiefs’ dynamic offense, they’ll need to be on point to post a winning score of their own. Leaning on their running game throughout 2019 proved to be a successful formula that saw them finish second to only Baltimore in rushing yards per game (144.1) and points per game (29.9) over the entire season. That same running game has been on fire through the postseason, with Raheem Mostert leading the charge with 220 rushing yards in the NFC title game alone! For the Niners to hoist the Lombardi trophy though, they will need Jimmy Garoppolo to step up having thrown just 27 passes in the playoffs so far.
Image from skysports.com
JIMMY G arrived in San Fransisco halfway through the 2017 season and would eventually emerge as the team’s full-time starter finishing the year with a 5-0 run. An ACL tear robbed him of most of the 2018 season, but this year he has been efficiently moving the chains and helping steer the offense to success. He didn’t throw for the most yards this season, nor did he erupt for memorable big-yard plays. However, Garoppolo helped balance out the Niners offense by averaging 8.4 yards per passing attempt – the 3rd highest average in the league behind only Ryan Tannehill and Matthew Stafford.
DURING the playoffs only Ryan Tannehill had fewer passing yards in a game, so Jimmy G hasn’t needed to shine and deliver just yet. He is capable of doing so, illustrated in San Fransisco’s 48-46 shootout win against New Orleans in Week 14 where Garoppolo threw for 348 yards with four touchdowns. He might not need to replicate those heroics against the Chiefs, but if he’s called upon, the 49ers are going to need their franchise guy to make some big time plays.
NUMBERS THAT MATTER
2 – JIMMY Garoppolo has already tasted success on the big stage, earning two Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady’s backup during his three years with the New England Patriots. I have a hunch claiming his first real ring would mean so much more.
7 – SHOCKINGLY the Chiefs have never lost a game by more than 7 points with Patrick Mahomes as their starter, posting a 24-7 record in 31 career starts to date.
11.5 – IN their final 6 regular-season games the Chiefs only let their foes score 11.5 points on average. The only other team that was remotely close over that stretch was the Ravens (14.3 PPG). Kansas City has allowed 55 points in their two playoff games to date, but have a combined winning margin of 31 as well.
28 – IT’S a number that NFL fans remember well from the 51st Super Bowl, but for now Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan it’s a number he’d rather forget. He helped the Falcons score 28 points to New England’s 3 and late in the third quarter all hope seemed lost. Of course, we all know the Pats scored the next 31 points to claim Super Bowl LI in improbable and dramatic fashion.
XXXIX (39) – YOU don’t get off lightly either Andy Reid. In his lone Super Bowl appearance with Philadelphia back in 2004, Ried had a day he’d rather forget. Once again New England was standing in their way of winning it all, but some questionable late play calling led to Reid and the Eagles falling short in Super Bowl XXXIX.
81.5 – STICKING with the Chiefs’ head coach, when his team is playing after a week off they’re extremely hard to top. In the regular/postseason combined, Reid’s teams own a 22-5 record good for an 81.5% winning clip.
220 – AS I mentioned already Raheem Mostert put the team on his back in the NFC championship game, rushing for 220 yards and four touchdowns. Only Eric Dickerson in 1986 has run for more yards in a playoff game (248). Not bad for a guy who only carried the ball eight times in his first three seasons.
PREDICTION – Kansas City Chiefs 31, San Fransisco 49ers 27
FOR me, this matchup boils down to Patrick Mahomes vs. the 49ers’ pass rush. If Kansas City can uncork some big plays and keep Mahomes clean then it’s going to be hard to slow their offense down, so the Niners MUST get after the 2018 MVP if they want to win the franchises 6th Super Bowl. They have the talent to do it and it’s not like the Chiefs have a walk in the park slowing down San Fran either. However, I’m siding with KC purely because of the Pat Mahomes factor.
JIMMY G and the rest of the 49ers offense will make it an interesting game and unlike the 13-3 snoozefest a year ago, I expect there to be a ton of points this time around. San Fransisco has arguably the most complete roster in the NFL and they certainly have the talent to win this game if things go right for them. We should be in for one hell of a match and early on we will be able to see just which team is dictating how the game will be played. My guess is a few Mahomes bombs and maybe some more magic with his legs will help Kansas City and Andy Ried finally triumph on the game’s biggest stage.
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