By Ryan Ingold
Super Bowl LIV (54) is set for Sun. Feb. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The Kansas City Chiefs (14-4) will square off against the San Francisco 49ers (15-3). Led by Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs were undoubtedly Super Bowl favorites this year after falling short to the New England Patriots in the 2018 AFC championship.
On the other hand, the 49ers had a fantastic bounce-back season to earn themselves the NFC bid after going 4-12 in 2018. Both teams faced very worthy opponents to get to Miami, but it seemed that both Kansas City and San Francisco took down their divisional opponents with ease.
The Chiefs had a huge 51-31 comeback victory over the Houston Texans after trailing 24-0. Mahomes threw for five touchdowns, three of those to tight end Travis Kelce, and had 321 yards in the air.
Next, they handled the Tennessee Titans 35-24 in the AFC Championship game. The Chiefs’ defense held star running back, Derrick Henry, to only 69 yards after he had rushed for 180-plus yards the previous three weeks. Mahomes’ stayed hot with three passing touchdowns, two of them caught by Tyreek Hill, and he also rushed for a 27-yard touchdown to end the first half.
The 49ers began their playoff run with a 27-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only attempted 19 passes, but he completed 11 of them for 131 yards and a touchdown. However, the 49ers run game started to show some life when Tevin Coleman rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
In the NFC championship, they absolutely dominated the Green Bay Packers, more than the 37-20 final score shows. Once again, the Niners didn’t have to rely on Garoppolo, who only attempted eight passes but completed six of them for 77 yards. Their run game was unstoppable once again, and Mostert had a breakout game rushing for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
The Chiefs passing offense has been virtually unstoppable. Mahomes has thrown for 608 yards, eight touchdowns, and zero interceptions during the playoffs. All three of Mahomes’ main targets (Kelce-13 rec, 164 yards, three TD; Hill- eight rec, 108 yards, two TD; Sammy Watkins- nine rec, 190 yards, one TD) have been red hot the past two games.
Overall, the Chiefs offense can strike whenever and wherever, and they are no strangers to comebacks after being down 24-0 to start the AFC divisional round, and then 10-0 to start the AFC championship.
Compared to the Chiefs, the 49ers offensive strategy has been the polar opposite. Garoppolo has thrown for 400 fewer yards than Patrick Mahomes, but he’s also attempted 43 fewer passes. He hasn’t needed to throw much because the Niners offensive line is making huge pushes for the dynamic duo of Coleman and Mostert, who have rushed for 241 more yards than the Chiefs backfield and 6 touchdowns. Star tight end, George Kittle only has 4 receptions for 35 yards, so unless they can keep running the ball, he is going to need to be targeted more.
The Chiefs have allowed 578 pass yards compared to 179 rushing yards. Even though safety Tyrann Mathieu has played extremely well, the Chiefs secondary has been vulnerable down the middle of the field. Their run defense, led by DT Chris Jones, is a different story, holding their opponents to 179 yards rushing this postseason. The question becomes: will the Chiefs defense be able to contain Raheem Mostert and Coleman? The Niners have arguably the best D-Line in the NFL. Led by rookie Nick Bosa (3 sacks) along with Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead, they have only allowed 83 rushing yards during the playoffs. They also have played two of the best running backs in the league: the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook and the Packers’ Aaron Jones. The secondary, led by veteran CB Richard Sherman (two INT), has allowed 422 passing yards.
My Pick: I think if there is a defense that can slow the fiery Chiefs offense down, and that is a huge if, it is the 49ers’. Bosa and company should be able to get pressure on Mahomes, but Mahomes is no stranger to scrambling outside the pocket. It will come down to the 49ers’ secondary staying on their man and limiting big plays from Hill and Kelce. On the other side, the 49ers had no problem running the ball in the NFC championship, but the Tennessee Titans had 3 straight 180+ yard games from Henry before the Chiefs held him to 69. If the Niners can’t establish the run, Garoppolo will need plenty of production from Kittle, Deebo Samuel or Kendrick Bourne. This one should go down to the wire, but I’ve got the Niners over the Chiefs, 31-27, in Miami.