The matchup is set for Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. This game will be the representative of the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs vs the representative of the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers. First, let’s take a look at the journey for the 49ers and Chiefs this season which got them to Super Bowl LIV.
The 49ers have shocked the NFL this year. Last season, they lost Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 3 against the Chiefs, tearing his ACL on a play where he tried to cut back in and his knee popped and gave out. With the injury to Garoppolo, the Niners finished the season 4-12. Going into this season, the 49ers were projected to go 7-9 or 8-8. The Niners crushed the projections and went 13-3, grabbing the No. 1 seed in the NFC. This team started the season 8-0, before falling to Seattle at home. The defense has been the strong suit for the team throughout the whole season, ranking second in yards allowed per game (281.8), first in passing yard allowed per game (169.2), and tied for fifth in sacks (48.0). Then switch to the offense, where they rank fourth in total yards per game (381.1) and second in rushing yards per game (144.1). The development of Raheem Mostert over the course of the season has been huge. He has emerged as the team’s starting running back and he had a terrific game last week rushing for 220 yards. Along with Mostert, George Kittle is one of the best tight ends in the NFL and proved it this season. In the regular season, Kittle had 1,053 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. He has been quiet in the playoffs catching four passes for 35 yards, but he caught three of five targets against the Vikings in the Divisional Round and Garoppolo threw eight passes all game in the Championship Game. The 49ers are one of the best all-around teams in the league and have shown that by winning one of the toughest divisions in the league and dominating throughout the whole regular season and playoffs. The 49ers are in the Super Bowl in the first time since 2013, and they will carry their momentum with them.
Now, let’s take a look at the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs started out the season 4-0, but defensive struggles led to two straight home losses against the Colts and Texans. In both games the Chiefs were dominated in time of possession. Then in week 7 against Denver, Mahomes goes down, and the season looked like it was taking a turn for the worst with the franchise star quarterback limping off the field with a possible torn ACL. Mahomes would miss the rest of the Broncos game and the next two games the Chiefs went 1-1. The return of Mahomes was ruined, with the defense giving up 35 points, losing in Tennessee 35-32. However, since that week 10 game, the Chiefs have turned it around, are on an eight-game win streak and the defense has taken it up a notch. Frank Clark and Chris Jones have been all over quarterbacks. Tyrann Mathieu has been the heart and soul of the defense, playing all over the field, and doing anything to make a play. Since week 11, the Chiefs defense has on average given up 15.5 points per game (including playoffs). The offense is fully healthy as Mahomes keeps getting healthier and better each week he is on the field. The Chiefs offense ranks fifth in passing yards per game and sixth in total yards per game. The offense is elite with the reigning MVP and one of the best wide receivers in the league in Tyreek Hill. They also have one of the leagues, if not the league’s best tight end in Travis Kelce along with the extra weapons of Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, and Damien Williams. The Chiefs’ offense is elite and is going to put up points in this game, regardless of going against one of the best defenses the league has to offer. This Chiefs team went into the playoffs and were down 24 points to the Texans. They fought back and won by 20 points, then stopped Derrick Henry, who had rushed for 180 yards in the last 3 games prior, holding him to 69 yards. Mahomes has been fantastic this postseason, racking up 721 total yards (615 passing, 103 rushing) and 9 touchdowns (8 pass, 1 rush). The Chiefs are headed to their first Super Bowl in 50 years after bringing the Lamar Hunt Trophy to its true home. The revenge tour is complete for the AFC, but not for the entire league as they will take on the NFC’s best team in the San Francisco 49ers.
Going into the Super Bowl, each team possesses keys to winning the Lombardi Trophy.
Keys for the 49ers
The 49ers have one of the best front seven in the league. That front seven is led by Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Kwon Alexander, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford. In the NFC Championship Game, the pass rush was all over Aaron Rodgers, giving him barely any time to throw the ball. The pass rush has to be all over Mahomes, get through the line to make him throw the ball early, and cause mistakes by the Chiefs offense. The pass rush is the strongest aspect of the defense. The constant pressure they put on quarterbacks is a huge reason why they are the top defensive team against the pass. The ability to get to Mahomes is going to be a difference-maker for the Niners in this game.
RUN GAME AND TIME OF POSSESSION
The run game has been dominant for the 49ers all year. Whether it has been Breida, Coleman, Mostert, or Wilson, the Niners run game has been a huge part of their offense. As I mentioned earlier, Mostert ran for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Packers. Jimmy Garoppolo threw the ball 8 times because of the dominant running game. Garoppolo has been a non-factor through the first two playoff games because the running game has led them through their domination of the Vikings and Packers. The key is for the 49ers is to give the ball to the running backs early to develop the run game against the Chiefs, who have the 30th ranked rushing defense according to DVOA. Time of possession is key. The 49ers have to keep Patrick Mahomes off the field and keep the Chiefs’ defense on the field. This will wear down the Chiefs’ defense, lead to longer 49ers’ possessions, and give Mahomes less opportunities to score. The most glaring aspect of the Chiefs losses against the Colts and Texans was time of possession, as both teams ran the ball down the Chiefs’ throats, draining clock, giving Mahomes and the offense less time and fewer opportunities to score. The 49ers have to dominate the time of possession to keep this game from becoming a shootout.
Keys for the Chiefs
As mentioned earlier, the 49ers ranked second in rushing yards per game, averaging just over 141 yards, while the Chiefs defense ranked 30th in rushing defense according to DVOA. This gives the 49ers a huge advantage that the Chiefs have to address. The Chiefs did a great job holding Derrick Henry to 69 yards in the AFC Championship after he had three straight games of at least 180 yards rushing. This is a different offense as Kyle Shanahan is more creative with his play calls and has multiple running backs at his disposal that can run the ball really well. Knowing Chris Jones is going to play every snap, after he confirmed that on Wednesday to the media, helps a ton for the Chiefs. They will have one of the best interior defensive lineman in the league up front helping stop the run. Pennel has also been really good at stopping the run and being a great presence up front. The Chiefs have improved their rushing defense over the past 8 weeks. They will need to continue to improve in stopping the run. Stopping the run is crucial to keeping time on the clock for Mahomes and to keeping the defense rested for the whole game.
PASS GAME AND PROTECTION
The 49ers’ front seven is dominant. The team ranked fifth in sacks this season with 48 and they got after Cousins and Rodgers in the playoffs. The Chiefs’ offensive line has endured injuries throughout the course of the year, but they are healthy, which is huge for this game. Mahomes needs to be protected and have time to throw the ball. The offensive line this season gave up 25 sacks, which ranked third in the league. Mahomes will need to be mobile as he has been in the first two playoff games, but the line needs to do their job and buy him time to throw. The secondary is the weaker part of the Niners defense but is still really good. Richard Sherman is still playing at an elite level, but for this game, it will be different for them. The 49ers’ secondary cannot match up man to man with Hill, Hardman, or Watkins. They will get burned, which would lead to big plays for the Chiefs’ offense. The defense will probably run more zone coverage, which is great news if you are Patrick Mahomes. Against zone during the regular season, Mahomes threw for 14 touchdowns and 1 interception. Mahomes does a great job of reading the zone coverage and placing the ball perfectly to any of his receivers. Mahomes and the offense will have to take advantage of any time they face man coverage with the matchup advantages. Mahomes’ ability to light up zone coverage will have to be shown for the offense in this game.
This will be a very close game as it will be one of the league’s best offenses against one of the league’s best defenses battling it out. Dee Ford will face the Chiefs for the first since the neutral zone infraction penalty that ended up being a huge part of the Chiefs’ loss to the Patriots in last season’s AFC Championship Game. Super Bowl Sunday is just over a week away and the excitement is building up as the 49ers can win their first Super Bowl since 1995, while the Chiefs can win their first Super Bowl in 50 years. Kickoff is at 4:30 MST on February 2nd.