Super Bowl LIV Preview: San Francisco 49ers @ Kansas City Chiefs
By Ha Kung Wong
Super Bowl LIV
San Francisco 49ers @ Kansas City Chiefs
Time: Sunday, February 2, 6:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
Current: Chiefs -1.5, Over/Under 54
San Francisco 49ers
Kansas City Chiefs
UPDATE: All players are practicing in full, so there are no injuries on either team leading up to the Super Bowl.
Every 49ers and Chiefs player practiced in full today. There will not be a single player with an injury game status for Sunday.
Both teams are healthy and ready to roll for Super Bowl LIV.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 31, 2020
Keys to the Game
- The San Francisco 49ers have had an incredible year. After going 4 and 12 last year, they completely turned it around and went 13 and 3 on the back of the return of Jimmy Garoppolo, a solid backfield and one of the best defenses in the league. And no where was that more clear than the NFC Conference Championship game against the Packers.
The 49ers went from 4 wins last season to a Super Bowl appearance this season.
The only other teams to reach the Super Bowl coming off a season with 4 or fewer wins are the 1999 Rams and the 1988 Bengals. pic.twitter.com/vbBcNzjKQi
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 20, 2020
- The last time the Packers faced the 49ers at the end of November, Aaron Rodgers was constantly under siege and the 49ers rolled the Packers by a score of 37 to 8 with Garoppolo throwing for 2 TDs and both Mostert and Coleman putting up a TD a piece on the ground. This time, Garaoppolo (as well as George Kittle and Deebo Samuel) wasn’t needed, as all the damage came from Mostert as he rolled up a whopping 220 rush yards and 4 TDs. Either way, the result was the same as the Packers appeared to had learned nothing from their first meeting.
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 20, 2020
- The question is whether Jimmy G and the 49ers will fare as well against a Chiefs defense that has been peaking of late, but is still just 29th at defending the run per DVOA. The Packers were 23rd at defending the run per DVOA and we saw what happened there, even with Tevin Coleman going out early with a shoulder injury. The 49ers clearly have a strong ground game, rolling up the 2nd most rush yards per game of any team this season, which in part led to having the 4th longest time of possession per game during the regular season. Interestingly, that’s almost exactly the same formula that Tennessee used to win its playoffs games, and we all saw how that was shut down by the Chiefs, but it would be surprising if 49ers got away from a formula that works.
- That being said, running the ball isn’t all that the 49ers do well on offense, as George Kittle had the 3rd most receiving yards and tied for the most TDs among TEs in the league this season, and clearly remains a threat against a Chiefs defense that’s just 11th at defending opposing TEs. And Garoppolo is no slouch in his first full season starting for the 49ers, with the 5th highest completion percentage (69.1%) and the 8th highest passer rating of any QB this season (102.0), just one spot behind Patrick Mahomes. And it’s not just check downs, as Garoppolo has the 3rd highest yards per pass attempt (8.4) of any QB this season.
- The key, though, will more likely be on the other side of the ball, and whether the 49ers 2nd ranked defense can slow down the Chiefs offense helmed by Mahomes.
Richard Sherman: 36.4 NFL passer rating allowed in coverage inc. playoffs
Throwing the ball away on every snap: 39.6 pic.twitter.com/ZTzYUgqvFZ
— PFF (@PFF) January 20, 2020
- In some ways, because of Lamar Jackson’s emergence, many have forgotten how good Mahomes is. Sure, he’s looked mortal today at times this year, but remember that he suffered an ankle injury early in the season even before his sideline stint from a knee displacement. Even in a “down” year, Mahomes has the 2nd highest QBR rating, the 7th most yards per game, the 4th highest yards per pass attempt, the 6th most passing TDs in the league, even while only playing 14 games during the regular season.
Completions 20+ yards downfield 2018-2019
🚀 Mahomes: 76
🚀 Wilson: 69
🚀 Rodgers: 64 pic.twitter.com/QirAMS7zsk
— PFF (@PFF) January 8, 2020
- In the Divisional Round Playoffs, Mahomes demonstrated why he was last year’s MVP by completing 23 of 35 passes for 321 yards and whopping 5 TDs, adding another 53 yards on the ground. All this AFTER the Texans went up 24 to 0 early in the 2nd quarter. In the AFC Conference Championship game, he wasn’t asked to do quite as much, but still rolled up 293 pass yards and 3 TDs adding 53 rush yards and a rushing TD against the Titans. Clearly, Mahomes is unstoppable when healthy.
- And one of Mahomes’ primary weapons is Travis Kelce, who led all TEs in the regular season with 97 receptions on 136 targets and 76.8 yards per game. And even with an IT band injury, Kelce continued to dominate destroying the Texans in the Divisional Round racking up 10 receptions for 134 yards and 3 TDs. With a fully healthy Tyreek Hill (67 yards and 2 TDs in the Conference Championship), Sammy Watkins (114 yards and a TD in the Conference Championship) and standout rookie Mecole Hardman, Mahomes has plenty of outlets available, but now faces the best pass defense he’s seen all postseason with the 49ers 2nd ranked pass defense on tap. It’s a tall order to slow down an incredibly efficient Chiefs scoring offense that had the 2nd most points per drive (2.70) this season.
- Damien Williams has reclaimed the backfield after returning from a rib injury to compile 28 carries and 7 receptions for 246 total yards and 3 total TDs over the last two games of the regular season, 68 total yards and 3 total TDs in the Divisional Round and 89 total yards and TD in the Conference Championship. LeSean McCoy wasn’t even active in the Conference Championship, so Williams is clearly the bell cow. If there’s a weakness in the 49ers defense, it’s on the ground as they’re “only” 11th defending against the run, and they did allow Derrick Henry to roll up 69 yards and a TD in the Conference Championship.
The Chiefs have averaged 43 PPG this postseason. Only 1 team has ever averaged more during a postseason run to the Super Bowl (1990 Bills).
However, only 2 of the previous 5 teams that averaged at least 40 PPG entering the Super Bowl went on to win it all. pic.twitter.com/1XyoajJ4nE
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 20, 2020
- Keep an eye on Special Teams with the Chiefs having the slight edge there. In fact, they have the 2nd highest rated Special Teams unit per DVOA this season and the 6th highest field goal percentage over the regular season (89.5%), while the 49ers have the 9th lowest field goal completion percentage (76.9%).
- Bottom line, the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t made the Super Bowl in 50 years and appear to be a team of destiny coming back from double digit deficits in back-to-back playoff games. But the 49ers are simply a more complete team, and the team with the better defense, one which has allowed the least amount of passing yards per game of any team in the league this season. I don’t think think the 49ers manage to neutralize Mahomes and company, but they’ll do just enough to limit them while Jimmy G and company control time of possession and score on the ground.