For many, this is the dream Super Bowl matchup in a place many dream about visiting. The venue for this year’s game is Miami, Florida, and the matchup on paper just doesn’t get any better.
Patrick Mahomes leads the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs into Hard Rock Stadium this Sunday evening for a showdown with Jimmy Garoppolo and the destructive San Francisco 49ers with a championship and franchise redemption on the line.
Both of these teams have experienced a decades-long championship drought, with the Chiefs hoisting their last title 50 years ago in 1970 and the 49ers last winning it all 25 years ago in 1995. As the AFC is given the “home” team designation for years ending in an even number, the Chiefs will be the host team this Sunday, even though the 49ers finished the season with a superior record.
San Francisco last appeared in the Super Bowl in 2013, so there may not be as many casual fans weeping for them, whereas this is the Chiefs first appearance in the NFL’s biggest game since winning their only title to date and that was when they were still an AFL franchise prior to the league merger the following season.
The Road To The Super Bowl
While there may be conflict amongst you and your family and friends on who to root for, there is no reason to believe or to shout that either of these teams does not deserve to be here. Both of these teams survived grueling second-half schedules, injury scares to their best players and demolished the competition en route to their chance to prove they belong alone at the top of the NFL mountain.
San Francisco started their season 8-0, riding their tough-as-nails defense that had opponents in a chokehold for the first half of the season, led by a pass rush that could rival the 1985 Chicago Bears. Their secondary was no slouch either, led by all-pro cover corner Richard Sherman, leading the league in passing defense for much of the year.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo started off slow but really picked up steam as the year went on, proving he could win shootouts when needed. A close victory in a barn-burning high scoring game in New Orleans and a last-second grinding defeat at Baltimore proved how tough this team could be when faced with adversity, and it made them stronger down the stretch. Despite a loss at home to Seattle and another game in Seattle they probably should have lost, San Francisco lost to just three teams all season, and all three games were decided by a score or less.
The 49ers absolutely dismantled #6 Minnesota and #2 Green Bay in the playoffs, as both teams were exposed for being overachievers when pitted against a superior coaching staff and a much more athletic defense. The 49ers may have their work cut out for them against a very strong Kansas City team, but it’s not likely they will be overmatched or overwhelmed, a season of strong performances should back up that.
The Chiefs had a scary start to the season, as Tyreek Hill was sidelined with a shoulder injury until week six and Patrick Mahomes injured his ankle but played through the pain despite a noticeable lack of mobility. The Chiefs began their first month of the season 4-0, but then lost back-to-back games before a division rivalry showdown with the Denver Broncos, where Mahomes dislocated his kneecap and missed the next two games. The Chiefs went 1-1 with interim starter Matt Moore, and Mahomes picked up where he left off, guiding the Chiefs to a 6-1 record the rest of the season and a 12-4 overall, good enough for the #2 seed in the AFC.
Their one loss in Mahomes’ magical second half was to the Tennessee Titans, who had squeaked their way into the postseason as the AFC #6 seed. The Titans upset the #3 New England Patriots in the wild card round, then dispatched the heavily favored #1 Baltimore Ravens led by league MVP Lamar Jackson in the divisional round. Kansas City faced Tennessee’s division rival Houston in the divisional round, and despite spotting Houston a 24-0 first-half lead, would end up winning the game 51-31 and advancing to the AFC championship for the second straight year.
The Titans jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in Kansas City, but Mahomes and company quickly regained the lead, and by the final whistle the score would show the Chiefs victorious in a 35-24 battle. Mahomes was electric at QB for the second straight year and used a revolving door of offensive weapons to get the same results week to week. The defense finally got healthy toward the end of the season and began to impose their will as pass rusher Chris Jones joined Frank Clark to make life miserable for opposing QBs. The Chiefs haven’t been as sharp in the postseason as the 49ers perhaps, but their victories have been unquestioned and they are battle-tested.
Who Will Reward Their Fans With A Victory?
Las Vegas currently has Kansas City as a 1.5-point favorite over San Francisco, and the game is expected to produce in the neighborhood of 50 points, with the over/under set at 54.5 points.
Patrick Mahomes is averaging 300 yards and 4 TDs in his two playoff games this year, and his top two receivers are averaging 80 yards and 2.5 TDs per game. That is in stark contrast to the 49ers’ preferred gameplan, as they have piled up more than 300 yards rushing over two games with 4 TDs on the ground, limiting Garoppolo to just over 100 yards per contest as they have not needed the passing game to win thus far. In fact, Jimmy G attempted just eight passes in his performance in the NFC championship, so the Chiefs will need to figure out how to get the 49ers to show a more balanced attack and force more passes in to tight coverage, ideally creating extra possessions.
With two games played in the playoffs apiece, here is what we know from both teams –
San Francisco is obliterating their opponents on the ground while holding them to less than 300 yards per game overall and just 15 points. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have compiled more than 600 yards through the air and are averaging 43 points per game and allowing 27.5 points and nearly 400 yards of total offense. So this is absolutely a game of strength vs strength. The “x” factor will be if San Francisco can get their passing game going against the Chiefs, and Kansas City will need to prove they can stop the 49ers’ rushing game. If either side fails to turn their weakness into an overlooked strength, they might find themselves the runner up when all is said and done.
With San Francisco expected to run the ball, play smart and strong defense, and force Mahomes into quick drives, I think they have the edge, even if Vegas doesn’t think so. Kyle Shanahan already lost one Super Bowl trying to outscore his opponent; this time he’s going to run the ball until they prove they can stop it, and even then he has Jimmy G if he needs him, and he knows he’s a more-than-capable passer.
While it would be nice to see Kansas City win and to give head coach Andy Reid his first championship, it just doesn’t sound like the likely outcome. I don’t think this game will live up to the hype, with San Francisco winning it something like 28-17, with a lot of the Chiefs’ 17 points coming in the second half. I hope I’m wrong, but San Francisco has looked like a wrecking ball, while the Chiefs have given too much hope to inferior opponents and won’t have the same luck against an equal challenger.
FOX will be broadcasting the game, with kickoff scheduled for 3:30pm pacific time and several hours of pre-game coverage leading up to the final game of the season.
FOX’s primary coverage team will be on hand for the biggest game of the year, with Joe Buck providing play by play and 3-time Super Bowl-winning QB Troy Aikman offering commentary as action unfolds. Demi Lovato will be performing the national anthem, and the halftime show will be co-headlined by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.
The average commercial cost for the game will be $5.6 million.
For those of you unable to watch the television broadcast, you can catch it on the radio from your local Westwood One affiliate, with Kevin Harlan providing play-by-play and Super Bowl-winning QB Kurt Warner analyzing the plays as they develop.