The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers will face off Sunday with KC favored by 1.5 points and the over/under set at 54 points.
Well folks, the big game is almost here. After seven long months and over 250 NFL games, we are down to our final two teams with immortality on the line. Patrick Mahomes leads the dynamic Chiefs offense into Miami, but they will face their toughest test of the season as they look to outscore Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers. Before we get to our predictions though, let’s see how both teams got to this point.
Kansas City Chiefs
We start with the 2019 AFC Championship Game. In this matchup, the New England Patriots were basically in charge the whole way through. The Pats racked up a 17-7 lead through the Third Quarter, but an explosion of offense came in the fourth, as the Pats and the Chiefs would combine to put up 38 points. A field goal by Harrison Butker with eight second left in the game would send it to overtime, and the Patriots would get the ball and never give it back as they would go on to win the game and, later on, the Super Bowl. Star QB Patrick Mahomes was disappointed after the game, but he knew that this would not be the last time Kansas City would reach the AFC Championship.
“I mean, it hurts. It hurts everybody,” Mahomes said. “…We know that this can be a building block. It can be something that carries us in the future. Right now it’s the end, but hopefully, right now, it’s just the beginning…”
Little did Mahomes know, he was absolutely right. Fast-forward one year later, and this time, it was the Chiefs that were celebrating a victory in the AFc Championship Game and moving on to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs were down early as they trailed the Tennessee Titans 10-0 midway through the first quarter. Soon after though, the Chiefs found their groove and ended up outscoring the Titans 35-14 the rest of the way through. This would be too much for Tennessee, who would end up losing to KC by a final score of 35-24.
“I’m very proud of everybody and the job they did, the coaches and the coordinators for the plan that they had” said Kansas City Head Coach Andy Reid after the game. “…The guys came out and played with a ton of energy. We had a few ups and downs there early. We were able to overcome those and get ourselves going in the right direction.”
This is a monumental achievement for Andy Reid. With the AFC Championship game victory, the 21st year coach will be leading his team to only his second Career Super Bowl appearance as a head coach. The only other time Reid made the big game was back in 2004 as Head Coach of the Eagles who ended up losing to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX 24-21.
So how did Kansas City get here? Well it starts with the well-rounded full team effort the Chiefs gave during the regular season. KC finished the 2019 season with the 5th ranked scoring offense and the 7th ranked scoring defense. They managed to put up gaudy numbers despite losing their star quarterback for two weeks earlier in the season. That speaks volumes about the preparation and gameplan that has been carried out by the Kansas City coaching staff. In fact, KC managed to beat the Minnesota Vikings (a 2019 playoff team) with backup Matt Moore, who was serviceable in two starts this year. The Chiefs have only gotten better since the start of the postseason. KC is second in total yards and first in points per game during the playoffs (43 PPG). The Chiefs will need their offense to show up and be exceptional if they want to beat the 49ers.
San Francisco 49ers
To understand San Fran’s journey, we have to go back even further than we did for the Chiefs. The 49ers’ path to success began back in January of 2017, when former NFL starting safety John Lynch was hired as the team’s new General Manager. San Francisco had experienced a rapid fall from grace leading up to Lynch’s hiring. Following the departure of Jim Harbaugh from the team, the Niners put up a 5-11 season followed by a 2-14 season. The team also hired and fired two coaches over a two year span during that time. That streak of misery ended when Lynch was named GM because he brought in a bright, young offensive coordinator to be the team’s next head coach.
“Kyle and I… we’re gonna put together and assemble a team… that will make you proud…” Lynch said at Shanahan’s introductory press conference. He continued by saying, “With Kyle, I think he is one of the brightest minds in the game… we understand that everybody needs to be rowing the boat together.”
So the 49ers had found their Head Coach and their GM, but they were still without a legitimate starting Quarterback. That all changed in October of Shanahan’s first season with the team. San Fran would end up trading a second round pick in the 2018 NFL draft to the New England Patriots for Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The move paid off instantly as Jimmy G won his first five starts with the 49ers. The team would be sure to lock him down after that, signing the QB to a five-year, $137.5 million extension.
The 49ers finished the 2017 season with high expectations for 2018. However, their hopes were quickly ruined by a devastating injury to Garoppolo. A torn ACL in a week three game against the Chiefs ironically enough would end Jimmy G’s 2018 campaign. Things quickly went south for the 49ers after that as they would only win three more games the rest of the season. Little did San Francisco know, Garoppolo’s injury would be the catalyst for their success in 2019.
“Things have a way of working out,” Garoppolo said. “I always told myself it was a blessing in disguise, the ACL… We got (Nick) Bosa out of it. That’s a pretty good trade-off, I guess. But yeah, things have a way of working out I guess.”
Garoppolo was not exaggerating. His ACL tear caused the Niners to finish the season with the second worst record in the NFL. They used the second overall draft pick this past May to select Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, who has been a human wrecking ball since entering the league. He is a shoe-in for Defensive Rookie of the Year with 12 sacks on the season. It was this addition to the team as well as the drafting of other electric rookies like Deebo Samuel and Dre Greenlaw that led to a complete team turnaround. San Francisco went from a 4-12 record to a 13-3 regular season, which earned them the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
San Francisco has been torching teams they have faced so far in the postseason. They have beaten teams they have faced in the playoffs by an average margin of 17 points per game. Most of the success of the team can be attributed to the defense and rushing attack. The 49ers have the best defense in yards per game and points per game of any team in the playoffs (252.5 YPG allowed, 15 PPG allowed). They are also tied with the Tennessee Titans for most takeaways in the postseason with five so far. Their rushing attack has also been unstoppable. San Fran is averaging over 235 yards per game on the ground alone! Their 32 points per game in the playoffs is second only to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Super Bowl LIV
I must now admit that I come from a place of bias when viewing this game. I grew up as a fan of the Green Bay Packers, so I am desperately rooting for the Chiefs to thwart San Francisco’s miracle season. However, I learned that when gambling and attempting to predict the outcomes of games, you have to listen to your brain and not your heart. I learned this lesson the hard way while rooting for (and believing in) the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, a game Denver lost 43-8. The Chiefs can put up points against anybody, I’m not worried about how their offense will do. I am worried about how KC plans to stop the 49ers’ rushing attack. The Chiefs have been really good against the run in the playoffs, but their numbers during the regular season are worrisome. The Chiefs allowed their opponents to rush for 2051 yards against them during the regular season, the most rushing yards allowed by any playoff team this year. My heart is telling me the Chiefs offense will be able to do enough to beat the 49ers, but my brain knows that a good rushing attack can almost completely neutralize a good offense. Furthermore, defenses have a better history than offenses in the big game. In the eight Super Bowl games where the #1 defense faced off against the #1 offense, the team with the #1 defense is 7-1. Sure this is a little different because KC has the 5th ranked scoring offense and San Fran has the eighth ranked scoring defense, but I still expect the result to be the same. The team with the better defense will win, and that means that the San Francisco 49ers will be Super Bowl Champions.