Photo via The NFL
We have finally reached the top of the NFL mountain after a long and grueling climb for the last five months. The Kansas City Chiefs are in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years led by young star quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The San Francisco 49ers are in the Super Bowl for the seventh time in franchise history and the first time since 2012 where they lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers will play their second Super Bowl in Miami since 1988 where they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 on a late touchdown pass from Joe Montana.
Before we break down the teams themselves, let’s address a couple of interesting facts and subplots. First, there have been five quarterbacks that have gone from the 49ers to the Chiefs which is an NFL record. One of these include Montana who led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game in 1993. The Chiefs last year were denied a trip to the Super Bowl as Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone and negated a game-sealing interception late in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots would win 37-31 in overtime and Ford is now a member of the 49ers. Also, 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL last season in a game against the Chiefs of all teams. If that did not happen, Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa would not have fallen to the 49ers. For a more detailed road map of how these teams got here, check out these articles:
San Francisco 49ers
What a turnaround this season was for the franchise. They went from four years where they went 6-10 at best and having a disappointing and injury-riddled 4-12 2018 campaign. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as they picked second in the 2019 NFL Draft and picked up Bosa along with solid rookies in wide receiver and playmaker Deebo Samuel and linebacker Dre Greenlaw.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has returned from his injury and has produced a solid season, achieving the highest quarterback rating when playing from behind and threw for almost 4000 yards and 27 touchdowns. All-pro tight end George Kittle has cemented himself as a top two tight end in the NFL with back-to-back 1000-yard seasons and one of the best run-blocking tight ends in the NFL. The strength of the 49ers is their running game and it is a three-headed monster. Matt Brieda carried the load earlier in the season, but in the postseason, it has been former Atlanta Falcon Tevin Coleman and journeyman Raheem Mostert who have anchored the running game. Coleman ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns in their 27-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings and in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers, Mostert became the first player in postseason history with over 200 yards and four touchdowns in a single game.
Defensively, the 49ers have a solid secondary led by a great comeback story in Richard Sherman. He tore his Achilles two years ago and was released by the Seahawks. After representing himself in free agency, he signed with the 49ers and has been their shutdown corner during their Super Bowl run. The linebacking corp is solid led by rookie Greenlaw and Fred Warner. But the 49ers are anchored by their exceptional defensive line that has five first-round picks on it. Arik Armstead leads the team in sacks with 10 and Bosa has 9.5 with three in the postseason. DeForest Buckner has had 7.5 sacks and Ford with 6.5 despite missing the last five games due to injury. The defense leads the league in QB hurries, and they are a force to be reckoned with.
Kansas City Chiefs
What a great redemption story this is turning out to be. After 50 years of pain and a devastating loss in the AFC Championship Game last year, the Chiefs got past that roadblock and now found themselves in the Super Bowl. It was bumpy as Patrick Mahomes and speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill missed time due to injury. They were 6-4 but rattled off six straight victories and got a first-round bye due to the Dolphins’ Week 17 win over the Patriots. Despite trailing 24-0 and 17-7 to the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans in the second quarter respectively, their offense exploded and would win both games by double-digit points.
Mahomes is a superstar talent with his arm-strength and variety of throwing motions and mobility. And their receiving corp is a force to be reckoned. Hill gives this team speed very few can keep up with. Tight end Travis Kelce is the other best tight end in the NFL with over 1200 receiving yards and 97 receptions. Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson are all speedy receivers that can burn a defense. Damien Williams has been hampered by injuries this year, but he is a versatile running back that can be that receiver threat for the Chiefs as well.
Defensively, the Chiefs are much improved from a year ago, going from 31st to 17th in total defense and the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu has been a major cause of that. Mathieu is third on the team in tackles with 75 and has a team-high four interceptions. He has been a disruptive force that has given the Chiefs’ defense new life. On the defensive line, Frank Clark and Chris Jones have been productive as they have had a combined 17 sacks and in the AFC Championship Game, slowed down the previously unstoppable Derrick Henry to 69 yards. Damien Wilson and Anthony Kitchens anchor a linebacking corp that has a big responsibility to slow down the 49ers’ rushing attack.
I have picked the last 11 Super Bowls and my record is 8-3, losing Super Bowls 42, 48 and 52. Usually, I know immediately who is going to win but in this Super Bowl, it has been very difficult. These teams are opposites of one another, and each can exploit the weakness of the other. The 49ers can run through the Chiefs and the Chiefs can exploit a somewhat weak 49ers’ secondary. Usually in Super Bowls, I lean toward the better defensive team as defense wins championships. The last two weeks, I’ve leaned toward the Chiefs as their offense is too good to stop. But as I write this the day of the game, I am changing my pick to the 49ers. The 49ers’ run scheme will be too much to contain as Derrick Henry just mainly ran up the middle. But the 49ers run a lot of misdirection and counters to confuse the defense. Also, Garoppolo has been much better than people give him credit for under pressure as he leads the league in QB rating while trailing. I think the 49ers will win time of possession and Garoppolo will make plays when he needs to. The 49ers will win a close game in a Super Bowl that will satisfy viewers.
San Francisco 30 Kansas City 27