The road leads here! Super Bowl LIV has finally arrived and two of the best teams all year will square off for the Lombardi Trophy: the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers and the 12-4 Kansas City Chiefs
These teams did meet last season in Arrowhead Stadium during Week 3, a game in which the Chiefs won 38-27, but that game has little to no significance.
Let’s take a quick look at how each team got here.
San Francisco 49er’s path to Super Bowl LIV:
The 49ers finished the regular season as the one seed in the NFC. Their 13-3 record was good enough to win them the NFC West division and have the road to the Super Bowl come through Levi’s Stadium on the NFC side of the bracket.
In their first playoff matchup, they were pinned against a confident Minnesota Vikings team in the NFC Divisional round after the Vikings took out Drew Brees and the Saints in the Superdome in New Orleans during the NFC Wild Card Round. Some doubted the 49ers and believed they would be upset, but Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, and Co. made sure to dispel that notion. The Niners won 27-10 as Garoppolo completed 11-19 passes and threw for 131 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. The Niners offensive line and RB Tevin Coleman controlled the line of scrimmage, as Coleman had 22 carries for 105 yards and 2 TDs.
Next, the Green Bay Packers came rolling into Santa Clara boasting a 13-3 record for themselves, but I for one was not a huge advocate of Green Bay. I thought they would lose against the 49ers, but I did not expect San Fran to jump out to the lead they did.
The Niners jumped out to a 27-0 lead at halftime and never looked back. Thanks to a monster game from RB Raheem Mostert, which included 29 carries for 220 yards and 4 TDs, San Fran ended up winning 37-20 in a game that felt much more lopsided than a 17-point ball game.
While Green Bay’s offense out-gained the Niners’ offense (358 yards to 354 yards), Green Bay also turned the ball over three times, which says a lot about the capabilities of the 49ers defense. DEs Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, and Dee Ford (former Kansas City Chief) are a presence to be dealt with up front, while CB Richard Sherman and S Jaquiski Tartt and Co. are holding down the secondary. The strength of this 49ers team is their defense and run game and they have ridden those two to their first Super Bowl since 2013.
Kansas City Chiefs path to Super Bowl LIV:
The Kansas City Chiefs finished with a 12-4 regular season record for the second season in a row, winning them the AFC West division while securing the number two seed in the AFC, thanks to the Miami Dolphins knocking off the New England Patriots in Foxboro in Week 17. Due to the way the chips fell in the AFC, the road to the Super Bowl went through Arrowhead for a second consecutive season.
In the AFC Divisional Round, Kansas City welcomed the confident Houston Texans to town. Houston had just come off a dramatic comeback win at home against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Wild Card Round, and with the Baltimore Ravens losing the day before, both teams knew that if they won, they would be hosting the AFC championship game against the Tennessee Titans.
Houston jumped out to a 24-0 lead, but from then on it was the Patrick Mahomes show. The Chiefs went on a 51-7 run to close out the game (28-0 run in the 2nd Quarter alone), winning 51-31. Mahomes completed 23-35 attempts for 325 yards and 5 TDs while TE Travis Kelce was able to shake off a couple early drops for 10 receptions, 134 yards, and 3 TDs. Houston QB Deshaun Watson played well, completing 31-52 passes while throwing for 388 yards and 2 TDs, but ultimately it was not enough to replicate Houston’s success against the Chiefs earlier in the season.
Next in the AFC Championship Game, the Tennessee Titans. All the talk heading into the game was about the Chief’s run defense and if they could stop Titans RB Derrick Henry, who had been absolutely terrorizing teams. Henry started off well, but after he scored his lone TD in midway through the 1st Quarter, the Chiefs run defense stepped up, thanks in large part to DT Chris Jones, who missed the Houston game with a leg injury. Jones, among other Chiefs defensive linemen like Frank Clark, Derrick Nnadi, and Terrell Suggs, were able to penetrate the backfield often enough to force Henry to adjust his running lanes, which gave the Chiefs an advantage. QB Patrick Mahomes played out of his mind again, and might have even had the best play of his Chiefs career right before halftime to give KC the lead going into the locker room.
From that point on, the Chiefs never looked back, ultimately winning 35-24 and clinching a spot in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years.
3 KEYS TO THE GAME FOR THE SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
- The Niners must convert on 3rd downs. The 49ers must control the ball. Granted in both of the Chief’s playoff games, the opposing team had the Time of Possession advantage, but I believe converting on third downs is of the utmost importance in this game because the 49ers are a more well-balanced team than either the Texans or Titans. The Niners have a good QB in Jimmy Garoppolo who is fully capable of throwing the football, especially when you surround him with weapons like TE George Kittle and WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel. If the Niners can stay balanced on offense while picking up third downs and eat time off the clock, it gives Patrick Mahomes a lot less to work with and creates a sense of urgency for the Chief’s offense to keep up.
- The 49ers must pressure Patrick Mahomes. They have to attempt to disrupt the timing of Mahomes and his receivers. San Francisco has 9 sacks in postseason play thus far. Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, and Dee Ford must have an impact on the game if the 49ers are to hoist the Lombardi trophy. If they can consistently penetrate the backfield and pressure/knock down Mahomes or forcing Mahomes to improvise and disrupt the timing of him and his receivers, the Niners will have as great chance of winning.
- Finally, San Francisco must utilize play action. Their running game is strong enough that the Chiefs will devote tons of time in preparation for it. If the 49ers can have some success running the ball, it will open up play action. If the Niners have success on play action, the Chiefs defense will have a very hard time defending because they will be off balance so much.
3 KEYS TO THE GAME FOR THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS:
- The Chiefs defense must force the 49ers to become one dimensional on offense. If Jimmy G and co. keep the Chief’s defense off balance, the Chiefs will have a very difficult time winning. This means that DT Chris Jones, DE Terrell Suggs, and LBs Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland must step up, play sound football, and cover their gaps to stop the running attack of the 49ers. RBs Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert are more than formidable opponents. They can shift the game in their favor in the blink of an eye. The Chiefs must replicate what they did to Derrick Henry in the AFC title game if they are to win.
- Sammy Watkins must be a factor. In the regular season, Sammy Watkins popped off for 3 TDs against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first game of the season, but did not do much the rest of the season. Watkins has played a big role in the Chief’s offense this postseason and must continue to do so if KC is to come out on top. Having to cover him, TE Travis Kelce, and WRs Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman is a nightmare for any defense, but especially so if Watkins is performing like he is capable of doing.
- Patrick Mahomes must play at an MVP level. Mahomes has been the unquestioned leader of the Chiefs on offense and must play excellent. The Chiefs cannot afford a game where Mahomes is shut down like he was in the first half of the AFC Title game last season against the New England Patriots. The 49ers defense is too good to spot them a double digit lead. Whether Mahomes scrambles to pick up first downs, is making the correct reads on RPOs, or dissecting the coverages correctly, he must take care of the ball and perform at a high level. If he does so, I think the Chiefs have a great chance to come out on top.
I think the 49ers try to control the ball throughout the first half. Mostert and Coleman get into a groove offensively by picking up some key first downs. However I am confident that even if the 49ers attempt to control the ball for extended periods of time, the Chiefs will do what they do best, which is striking quickly on offense. I believe this game could come down to turnovers, and I like the Chiefs to get at least one turnover this game. Steve Spagnuolo’s defenses have been known for being very tough to dissect and have proven to work in the Super Bowl against the best of the best (see the Giants Super Bowl title against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII). Kyle Shanahan is one of the brightest offensive minds in the game and will certainly make adjustments to what he sees from the Chiefs defense, but I think Patrick Mahomes will make just enough plays for the Chiefs to prevail in the 4th Quarter. I’ll take Kansas City 28-24.
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