Super Bowl Sunday is getting closer and closer, and with it comes the conclusion of the NFL’s season. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers are nearly ready to battle for the Lombardi Trophy in Miami, in what will surely be a more entertaining game than last year’s brutal snooze-fest between the Patriots and Rams.
But which team emerges with the victory and the championship? That’s hardly a consensus. Currently, the Vegas point spread has the Chiefs as a narrow 1.5-point favorite, which makes the game practically a straight-up pick. As such, APC’s contributors are split closely between those seeing a Chiefs victory and writers who expect the 49ers to win the game.
Take a look here:
In addition to the straight up picks, a few of our contributors weighed in with more lengthy explanations. Take a look:
Mike Vieth — San Francisco
The Chiefs have stalled to start the last two games trailing the Titans by two scores and the Texans by three scores in the first halves of their respective games. I think this game starts with the 49ers getting an early lead as well. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense are too explosive for any lead to be safe but 49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh will have some tricks up his sleeve to keep the Chiefs in check for most of the game. While the 49ers offense isn’t as explosive, they will grind out enough to let Robbie Gould kick a field goal to seal the deal as time expires.
Kris Burke — Kansas City
Much like Super Bowl XLV was the coming out party for Aaron Rodgers, this will be a similar case for Patrick Mahomes.
Yes, Mahomes has already won NFL MVP (Rodgers of course won his first the year after the Packers won the Super Bowl) but with a monumental shift in the league’s quarterback landscape coming with Drew Brees and Tom Brady potentially retiring, this is the moment Mahomes can start the next dynasty.
For all the talk of San Francisco’s running game and strong defense, it’s still very much a quarterback-driven league and Mahomes is head, shoulders, knees and toes above Jimmy Garoppolo. That will be the difference in this game. The 49ers defense will test Mahomes but he still has the superior talent and will win his first of likely multiple Super Bowls.
Paul Noonan — San Francisco
I’m honestly not sure, and would never bet money on this game. Both teams have offenses adept at exploiting opposing defensive weakness, and both have genius-level coaches. Here’s why I lean San Fran:
- Reid is an outstanding playcaller, and with Mahomes, no one is better at beating zone coverage, but San Fran does have the horses to play solid defense if they need to adjust to man coverage. They’re not as good, but still good.
- The Chiefs have no ability to stop a good running game. None. At all. We saw what Shanny did to the Packers, and you can expect him to do it again.
- Shanahan, like Belichick, leans into opposing weaknesses. He’s not going to let up.
- When the 49ers have had Juszczyk and Kittle in the lineup, as they do right now, they haven’t just been a good running team, they’ve been one of the best running teams ever, and average 6 yards a carry even against good defenses.
It’s a fascinating matchup, and the Chiefs’ passing game is probably as dominant as the San Fran running game. If they get ahead my analysis probably goes sideways, and that’s enough of a reason to pick Kansas City, but I think San Francisco has a good plan available here, and I like them for the (mild) upset.
Evan “Tex” Western: Chiefs
I was leaning towards Kansas City by a hair through last weekend, as the quarterback advantage skews drastically towards the Chiefs. Then I really talked myself into that pick once I saw this argument from former NFL QB Dan Orlovsky.
The gist of that point is this: the 49ers play a lot of zone coverage, and run-pass option playcalls are specifically designed to attack that style of defense. Who runs more RPOs than Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs? Nobody. And other teams that did run a lot of them were among those that had the most success against San Francisco all season long.
Furthermore, RPOs help mitigate the impact of a great pass rush like that of the 49ers. I think the Chiefs get some points on the board early through the passing game, forcing the 49ers to rely more heavily on their own passing game than they have at any point this postseason. That’s where things will break down for them, as the Chiefs should be able to keep George Kittle in check thanks to Tyrann Mathieu’s presence. Kansas City wins by a touchdown or so.