We have arrived. Thirty-two teams have, over the course of the last five months, been whittled down to two. The AFC Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, will take on the NFC Champions, the San Francisco 49ers, in Miami on Sunday 2nd February.
The 49ers dismantled the Green Bay Packers (37-20) in the NFC Championship game whereas the Chiefs withstood early pressure from the Tennessee Titans before leaving them far behind in the rear view mirror (35-24) as the game progressed. In both cases the better team won, and the resulting Super Bowl matchup promises to be a classic. What could be the keys to who walks off with the Vince Lombardi trophy?
49ers offense vs Chiefs defense
On the ground a running back committee (Breida, Mostert, Coleman) has each taken their turn to carry the load and capitalise on well-designed run blocking schemes masterminded by HC Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers have had the knack of quickly assessing what is working on offense in a particular game and then going all-in to capitalise.
However, the 49ers are not one dimensional. The 49ers have been one of the most balanced offenses in the NFL this year (approx. 52% pass to 48% run). Jimmy Garoppolo has proved he can move the ball downfield efficiently and with reliable targets such as Deebo Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders and George Kittle, San Francisco can be as much a threat through the air as on the ground. So, how can the Kansas City Chiefs stop a team which averaged 29.9 points per game through the regular season. Well, the Chiefs are coming off a game where they beat the only team in the NFL to average more points than the 49ers, the Ravens.
There are some similarities here for the Chiefs defense. Their 29th rated (DVOA) run defense stopped Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship game (19 carries for 69 yards, paltry by Henry’s standards). This is where you have to credit Steve Spagnuolo’s aggressive game plans. Spags came into Kansas City this year with a brief to shore up with Chiefs defense, and they have improved throughout the year. Against the Titans the Chiefs committed to stopping the run – in some cases employing goal-line defense formations in midfield. I think it will be more of the same in the Super Bowl.
If the Chiefs can stop or at least slow down the run then they will need to protect the middle of the field against Garoppolo, which is going to require Daniel Sorensen and Anthony Hitchens to really step up. Take away his throws between the numbers and force him to throw to the outside, this will test his accuracy. It will also slow his release down and hopefully allow the Kansas pass rush led by Chris Jones and Frank Clark to get to Jimmy G – and Spags loves to blitz! And if Tyrann Mathieu repeats his AFC Championship performance then just maybe the Chiefs defense can limit the 49ers enough to give their offense chance to keep pace.
Chiefs offense vs 49ers defense
In stark contrast to the balance of the 49ers offense the Chiefs are almost entirely reliant on the performance of the best player on the pitch come Sunday, Patrick Mahomes. His performances during the run to the Super Bowl have proved his importance with an increase in his duel threat to defenses. During the first half of the AFC Championship there were only 3 plays that did not involve Mahomes. The 49ers know that Damien Williams is not going to carry the ball 20 times on Sunday – the focus will be on getting to Mahomes.
The Chiefs have the offensive tools to score heavily – Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and of course Travis Kelce. If the 49ers defense cannot get to Mahomes the Chiefs will move the ball quickly. The Chiefs also have the mastermind of Andy Reid calling the plays – and because of the potential dominance of the 49ers defense I would expect to see some level of mis-direction from Reid in order to put the niners on the back foot. The Chiefs need to get the niners D to hesitate even for a split second in order to give Mahomes the time he needs. Using DVOA statistics it is the Chiefs 2nd rated pass offense versus the 49ers 2nd rated pass defense. Something has to give.
The 49ers defense is about as complete a unit as there has been in the NFL. Strength everywhere – Bosa, Buckner, Alexander, Armstead, Ford, Williams, Warner, Sherman….. It has been a daunting prospect for opposing offenses. And yet. The sheer potential explosiveness of the Chiefs weapons and Reid’s playcalling may just open up enough windows for Mahomes to work his magic. Just the thoughts of the Chiefs comeback against the Texans may put the 49ers on the backfoot even if not intentionally – I’m sure Robert Salah will be telling them to attack but what if? The Chiefs will take shots downfield.
If I am the 49ers I watch the tape of…..
…..the Chiefs week 4 win over the Detroit Lions 34-30, it may have been a win but only just as Detriot’s offense ran and passed their way downfield at will.
…..the Chiefs week 10 loss to the Tennessee Titans 32-35, where the Titans stats on offense probably mirror what the 49ers will be trying to achieve with balance on the ground (Henry 188 yards 2 TDs) and through the air (Tannehill 181 yards 2 TDs)
If I am the Chiefs I watch the tape of…….
…..the 49ers week 14 win over the New Orleans Saints 48-46, because if the Chiefs are to win it is likely via a shootout and Drew Brees carved up the niners in the way Mahomes will need to.
…..the week 10 and week 17 divisional match ups against the Seattle Seahawks – one win one loss on a last gasp goal line tackle. (What would have happened if that tackle had not been
made…). Pete Carroll may well be on Andy Reid’s speed dial this week!
SO……keys to victory
Chiefs – stop/slow the run, force Jimmy G to throw outside, then mis-direction and speed on offence
49ers – get to Mahomes, defend the deep threat, dominate the clock to keep Mahomes on the sideline
AND……my Super Bowl prediction
The 49ers are the best team and Patrick Mahomes is the best player on the pitch. The Niners have Kittle, the Chiefs have Kelce. The Niners have Sherman, the Chiefs have the Honey Badger. There are so many facets to this game. It promises to be special. I don’t think the Chiefs D can stop the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling. And I don’t think the 49ers can stop the sheer will and magic of Pat Mahomes. There will be points and lots of them.
Ultimately I am going to go with team over individual and the old mantra of defenses win championships. The 49ers to win this by one score.
San Francisco 49ers 38 – 34 Kansas City Chiefs
And the MVP? George Kittle! He blocks to get the Niners +150 yards on the ground and has 100 yards receiving with 2 TDs.
The end of the NFL’s 100th season will be a classic.