Two of OSDB’s NFL experts, Frank W. Gillespie and Steve Tsilimos, weigh in here regarding the Super Bowl battle between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs this coming Sunday. The Chiefs and 49ers are familiar foes, and Super Bowl LVIII is a pseudo-rematch.
Frank: The Chiefs defeated the 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV, just four short years ago, giving modern-day grid-iron Superman Patrick Mahomes his first taste of NFL championship glory. As of Sunday’s kickoff, Mahomes and the Chiefs will have played in four of the last five Super Bowls. Kansas City is 2-1 so far in those games, and Mahomes only lost to Tom Brady.
NFL enigma Brock Purdy is behind center this time around for San Francisco, rather than Jimmy Garoppolo, and RB Christian McCaffrey is perhaps the best all-around offensive weapon in the league right now. The 49ers certainly have the tools to dethrone the Chiefs, but there are several intangible factors at play, as well as trends which point clearly in one particular direction.
Steve: Seven months of the NFL regular season and playoffs conclude this Sunday, Feb. 11, with Super Bowl LVIII, live from Las Vegas, with the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs vying for this year's ultimate prize.
Can the 49ers finally open the door that they have been knocking on for the past five seasons, or will the Chiefs remain supreme and become the eighth team to win back-to-back Super Bowls? These two teams have easily been the consistently two best teams over the past six years, combining for ten conference championships in that time.
Patrick Mahomes is receiving a lot of praise for his playoff run thus far. He is being talked about with Tom Brady in the GOAT conversation and is still only in his seventh NFL season. Superman has his Kryptonite, and Brady has Eli Manning, so maybe Brock Purdy is Mahomes's weakness. It only makes sense that ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ would be the one to stand in the way of Mahomes's complete domination of the league.
The coaches are also considered two of the best. Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid has cemented his legacy with two Super Bowl wins, but before he won those, he was consistently getting close for many years, and people thought he might never get over the hump. Kyle Shanahan is getting the same kind of treatment since he has been knocking on the door for a while, but he needs a Super Bowl victory to be discussed with the all-time greats.
Frank: As Steve said, Mahomes has already entered the GOAT conversation, and he presumably still has a long career ahead of him. However, the only proven Kryptonite for Mahomes on the big stage so far has been Brady, the current, undisputed GOAT. Unless something changes, the closest Brady will be to the field next season is the Fox broadcast booth. Purdy has shown a lot of moxie and the “Mr. Irrelevant” story is beautiful, but this young man has not exactly shown consistent Joe-Montana-like poise in the pocket under pressure.
This Chiefs’ defense under the command of DC Steve Spagnuolo has been downright nasty. Despite having an explosive offensive arsenal, the 49ers game-breakers may be in for some tough sledding on Sunday. The game is sizing up to be quite close, and as is usually the case in these high-profile contests, it will most likely come down to who can close it out in the clutch.
Steve: What stands out to me is that the Chiefs opened as -2.5 point underdogs while most ‘experts’ are picking them to win. On paper, the 49ers do look like they should be the favorites. But in reality, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, and he makes up for any advantage the 49ers may have on paper. Let’s take a closer look at the teams fighting to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Offense Advantage – 49ers
The 49ers finished the regular season with the No. 2-ranked offense – No. 3 rushing, No. 4 passing, and No. 3 in scoring, averaging almost 29 points per game. They've been even better in the playoffs but faced two below-average defenses. Purdy started the playoffs with a shaky game against Green Bay but has led two game-winning drives in both contests to get his team here.
It’s well known that the 49ers have one of the most complete offenses ever. The key to the 49ers' offense is the reigning Offensive Player of the Year – Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers bell-cow efficiently attacks a defense on inside or outside runs and has some of the best receiving abilities ever as a back. The offensive line led by future HoFer Trent Williams is what really makes McCaffrey and the offense tick. The consistent usage of McCaffrey opens up the field for three of the best at their position – Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel.
Shanahan has done a great job getting players to fill different roles in the offense. Ayuik is used on the backside of formations to beat 1-on-1 coverage. Deebo is their run-after-catch and gadget player who is always a threat to break a big play. Kittle is a great blocker and mismatch over the middle.
The Chiefs have a good offensive line and some decent playmakers. Mahomes is what makes their offense dangerous, and his connection with Travis Kelce is one the football heads will be talking about for a long time. Kelce is nearly impossible to stop because he goes where the defense isn’t and trusts Mahomes to see the same read as him.
The Chiefs receiver group was scrutinized for their drops during the regular season. The receiver room has been in flux since they traded Tyreek Hill two years ago, and many believed they didn't have enough talent on the outside to get back to the Super Bowl. Their best receiver is rookie breakout star Rashee Rice, who will be very good for a long time – especially since he has No. 15 throwing him the ball.
Defense Advantage - Chiefs
Although the 49ers have been known for their fast, well-disciplined defense led by two of the best LBs in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, the Chiefs have a clear advantage here. Steve Spagnuolo's in the midst of his best stretch as Reid's defensive coordinator, and he's got imposing difference-makers on every level -- Chris Jones and George Karlaftis up front, Nick Bolton in the middle, L'Jarius Sneed and Justin Reid on the back end.
The Chiefs have been winning because of their defense. I know this isn’t a common thought, but Mahomes has been a glorified game manager who makes the big play when his team needs it during this playoff run. The Chiefs held the Dolphins to seven points and the Ravens to 10 points. Against Buffalo, the Chiefs held Josh Allen and company to seven second-half points so Mahomes could lead a comeback.
The @Chiefs led the NFL in drops, had the lowest Points per game in Mahomes’ career, have a rookie as their #1 WR, had the 2nd most offensive penalties, lost the season opener, Mahomes threw a career high 14 ints and still made it to the Super Bowl with Pat and a DOMINANT Defense pic.twitter.com/CNtCPbDjES— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) February 7, 2024
Defense wins championships, and if the 49ers want to win their first Super Bowl since 1994, they will need to improve their defense. They were terrible against the Lions in the first half of the NFC Championship and gave up 21 to the Packers. The 49ers made a big move at the trade deadline to acquire Chase Young, but it has yet to work out as they hoped.
For the entire season, the 49ers are 25th in rushing EPA per play allowed and 27th in rushing success rate allowed. Ever since acquiring Chase Young in Week 10, they’re 19th in rush EPA per play allowed and 23rd in rush success rate allowed. The defense has stars at every level, but they have been pushed around in the running game for the last two games.
The 49ers will need to slow down Isiah Pacheco, or stopping Mahomes will be nearly impossible. Against the Bills and Dolphins, who finished the regular season 17th and 16th in rush defense DVOA, the Chiefs averaged 6.1 and 4.3 yards per rush, respectively. It will be game over if Pacheco starts gashing the 49ers because then their linebackers will have to be more aggressive, leaving massive holes for Kelce to continue his impressive dominance of the postseason.
Frank: Defense does win championships, and the Chiefs more or less suffocated three top-tier AFC offenses en route to Las Vegas. Kansas City stifled Miami in the Wild Card Round, got away with one in Buffalo, and then choked out Baltimore in the AFC Championship. The 49ers’ offense is arguably better overall than all three of the aforementioned squads, but it’s nothing that the Chiefs’ D cannot handle. Expect Spagnuolo’s wild bunch to come out swinging.
Meanwhile, San Francisco struggled more than anyone expected vs. Green Bay, and had to stage an epic comeback vs Detroit to stay alive at all. The 49ers have been fighting for their lives against obvious underdogs all postseason long. This is a dangerous game for San Francisco to be playing with Kansas City. The 49ers have been favored in every game this season, marking just the second time in NFL history that a team has been the favorite 20 times in a single season. Interestingly, SF is 0-2 against the spread (ATS) this postseason, while KC is 3-0 ATS in the same playoffs. The Chiefs clearly relish the underdog role, thriving on disrespect.
Ji'Ayir Brown could be the right mix of size and speed to be a difference maker on Travis Kelce. Kelce will be the focal point of the 49ers' defense, and although Fred Warner will have to cover him at times, he can’t cover him every play. The third-round pick out of Penn State could draw the tough assignment, and he will either be exposed or make an impact.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling is averaging over 21 yards per catch on his five receptions this postseason. He has recorded a reception of 32 yards in the last two games. He made an impact this season, either catching a long pass or dropping the ball. Mahomes will take the top off the defense at some point, and MVS will have a chance to put his stamp on the Super Bowl.
Jake Moody became the highest-drafted kicker since 2016. This season, he went 60 of 61 on extra points and 21 of 25 on field goals. He's 7 of 7 on extra points in the playoffs and 3 of 5 on field goals. The game could come down to the leg of a rookie kicker, and he could be the hero or a zero.
1u: Marquez Valdes-Scantling over 13.5 longest reception (-120 ESPN)— GriffyBets (@griffybets) February 7, 2024
The 49ers have allowed three 20+ yard passes in both games this postseason, and over the last month and a half of the regular season, they had allowed the 10th-most explosive passes/game
MVS has come on strong… pic.twitter.com/BIkNv0UZun
Trent Williams is the Niners’ all-world left tackle who opens up running lanes for CMC while protecting Purdy’s blindside. Williams’ ability to anchor the offensive line and keep the offense safely moving forward will be critical if San Francisco wants to keep pace with Mahomes & Co.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a player that Steve and I both agree on. MVS has been heating up and making big postseason plays as Kansas City's playoff push deepens. Look for Valdes-Scantling to take big chunks of yardage from the 49ers’ secondary, especially if Pacheco is able to bash away on the ground successfully. MVS might have a huge game in Vegas.
Cornerback Trent McDuffie forced five fumbles for the Chiefs in the regular season, trailing only Antoine Winfield Jr. and Bradley Chubb in that category. McDuffie has achieved first-team All-Pro status in what is only his sophomore season, and playing alongside L’Jarius Sneed makes the defensive clamp that much tighter. McDuffie will be tasked with slowing McCaffrey and with disrupting whatever Purdy has cooking in the pocket.
It seems too good to be true. The Chiefs are an underdog in a Super Bowl that everyone is picking them to win. Mahomes could reach a level that hasn’t been seen in a sport since Tiger Woods or MJ. All the newest NFL fans (Swifties) can see Taylor Swift celebrating with Travis Kelse after the game. It makes too much sense, and that is why I'm picking the 49ers.
Purdy will go toe-to-toe with Mahomes and lead his team down for a last-second field goal to win. CMC will be the game's MVP, and the Purdy-Mahomes rivalry will be off to a great start.
49ers Win 20 - 17
As a fan, my preference is to see the Chiefs’ reign of terror ended at Allegiant Stadium, with players like Purdy, McCaffrey, and Samuel celebrating their first-ever Super Bowl victory. However, as an unbiased professional, the writing is on the wall for Kansas City to repeat. Mahomes had never won a playoff game on the road, and he was doubted publicly. Mahomes’ actions spoke louder than words when he led the Chiefs to victory in Buffalo and Baltimore.
Kansas City was cast as the underdog in both of those matchups, just like now vs. San Fran.
The Chiefs will jump ahead early, using that psychological leverage to rattle the relatively “green” 49ers, who will forever be playing catch-up, never truly getting their feet under them. The steel jaws of Kansas City’s defense will bite San Francisco’s reckless comeback attempts in half, forcing disappointing field goal attempts after long, hard-earned drives. Pacheco will be menacing enough on the ground for Mahomes to work some real magic (again).
Riddle me this: How is Mahomes favored to win Super Bowl MVP when the Chiefs aren’t even favored to win the game?...
Mahomes scores the Super Bowl MVP Hat Trick, haters (including me) be damned.
Chiefs 31, 49ers 20