Those rooting for a novel Super Bowl had to be disappointed when both the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs advanced to the Big Game. These two squads just met in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in 2020 and both have been among the elite teams in the past decade-plus.
But it does have the makings of an excellent game, with the line opening at 49ers -2.5 and quickly lowering to -1 at many places, before settling at -2 at bet365 and other sportsbooks. While the 49ers might have an edge at many position groups based on regular-season performance, the Chiefs have been a different offence with the emergence of rookie receiver Rashee Rice and the defence is playing its best football at the right time.
And, let’s not forget, not all positions are created equal. The Chiefs have an excellent trump card known as quarterback Patrick Mahomes, one of the transcendent professional athletes in a generation or more.
Bet on 49ers vs. Chiefs
Brock Purdy had the more impressive regular season, but January and February bring out a different Mahomes. He has yet to throw an interception since the post-season began and has two more touchdown throws than Purdy. Mahomes leads all QBs in ESPN’s Total QBR at 90.2 this post-season, well ahead of Purdy’s 76.0.
Still, Purdy has been impressive as well and proved last week that he’s a little more mobile than many people though, rushing for 48 yards on five attempts and picking up some crucial first downs by scrambling. Overall, he has completed 43 of 70 passes for 519 yards with two TDs and an interception this post-season.
Just as the post-season brings out the best in Mahomes, the Super Bowl seems to take him two yet another level. He will be going for his third Super Bowl MVP (he’s a massive favourite to do it again at +125 followed by Purdy at +200). One of the keys for Mahomes in the post-season is staying composed and distributing the ball to different targets. While Travis Kelce remains his go-to option, he has increasingly found Rice when he’s open and, last week, completed a key third-and-nine throw to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Purdy is a lot better than many people are willing to admit, but it would be hard not to suffer by comparison when he’s up against arguably the best QB the game has ever seen.
The 49ers aren’t great against the run (more on that later), but they’ll actually be getting a break here, as the Chiefs don’t run it nearly as well as the Detroit Lions. Isiah Pacheco runs as hard as anyone in the league, but isn’t particularly fast and his vision is questionable. He essentially hits the hole as hard and aggressively as possible. He has rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns in the Chiefs’ first three playoff games and Kansas City, no doubt, will look to continue its solid run game behind a good offensive line. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has become something of an afterthought with Pacheco’s emergence.
But Christian McCaffrey is at another level, the focal point of one of the best offences in the NFL. He sustained a shoulder stinger in the fourth quarter against Detroit, but he said afterward that he should be good to go for the Super Bowl. The 49ers are one of the few teams that even use a fullback these days and Kyle Juszczyk is one of the best in the league.
McCaffrey’s rushing-yardage prop is set the highest by a wide margin at 89.5, followed by Pacheco at 67.5 (at -120) and then Mahomes at 22.5.
Receivers (and tight ends)
The Mahomes-Kelce connection re-ignited last week as the big tight end was targeted 11 times and caught them all for 116 yards and a touchdown. In three post-season games, Kelce has three touchdowns, giving the networks plenty of opportunities to cut to Taylor Swift in his luxury box. Rice has become his second-favourite target, with the rookie picking up 20 catches for 223 yards in the post-season.
Other than that, though, the Chiefs have been plagued with dropped passes and mistakes by their receivers most of this season.
Purdy definitely has the advantage when it comes to choosing between various weapons in the passing game, not the least of which is McCaffrey. His main deep threat is Deebo Samuel, but Brandon Aiyuk is finally living up to his hype, making some huge catches this season and serving as the team’s top target when Samuel was out. Tight end George Kittle may not be the equal of Kelce as a route runner, but he is a strong receiver and an excellent blocker.
Kelce is -125 to score in this one while Samuel (+137) and Rice (+140) also have short odds, as do Aiyuk (+175) and Kittle (+175). Kelce has the largest number on the board for receiving yards (70.5), followed by Rice (68.5), and Aiyuk (63.5).
Boosted SGP: Chiefs moneyline, Kelce anytime TD, Kelce 75+ receiving yards
San Francisco’s Trent Williams graded out as the second-best tackle in the NFL behind Detroit’s Penei Swell in Pro Football Focus positional grades, but Kansas City’s Donovan Smith wasn’t far behind in a tie for third. The 49ers also have top-tier guards in Jon Feliciano and Spencer Burford while the Chiefs struggled at the guard position.
The Chiefs likely have the edge at center with Creed Humphrey.
Overall, both offensive lines grade out as above-average at PFF, with the Chiefs grading out slightly better, but that was before the season-ending loss of left guard Joe Thuney in the divisional round. It may not get nearly the attention of other position groups, but whichever one of these perfectly solid units protects its quarterback better might be the key to the game.
San Francisco fans no doubt were relieved to see Nick Bosa finally put his imprint on a big game with two sacks Sunday against the Lions’ Jared Goff. When Bosa is creating havoc in the backfield, this is a far more dangerous group and the 49ers have shown some strain by giving up massive runs, including in the post-season. Linebacker Fred Warner is among the best defensive players in the league and was all over the place vs. the Lions, with 13 tackles. He also picked off Mahomes the last time these teams met in a Super Bowl.
But the gap between these defences isn’t particularly large the way the Chiefs have been playing lately. Kansas City’s best defensive player, tackle Chris Jones, has seemed to emerge from some early-season pouting about his contract in time to take over games at times. The Chiefs will sorely need him here as he may have been the key in the Chiefs’ victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV when he batted down three Jimmy Garoppolo pass attempts at the line of scrimmage. Purdy is listed at 6-foot-1 to Garoppolo’s 6-foot-2, so Jones’ ability to get his hands up could be key in this one yet again. George Karlaftis tied for the team lead with 10.5 sacks and Charles Omenihu had seven.
Nick Bosa to record a sack
The Chiefs have one of the better cover men in the league in L’Jarius Sneed, who stripped Ravens receiver Zay Flowers of the ball at the goal line in the AFC title game. Nickel back Trent McDuffie was named first-team All-Pro for his work against slot receivers, which could prove key here.
Last week, the Chiefs held presumptive NFL MVP Lamar Jackson to just 20-of-37 passing, 272 yards and an interception. Safety Deon Bush had the pick in the end zone during the fourth quarter, one of the key plays of the game.
The 49ers were a bit nervous about inserting rookie safety Ji’Ayir Brown into the starting lineup ahead of veteran Logan Ryan, but he responded with 10 tackles last week. The 49ers probably will target cornerback Ambry Thomas in nickel situations when Deommodore Lenoir moves inside to cover the slot receiver. Cornerback Charvarius Ward played for the Chiefs the last time these teams met in the Super Bowl and he has developed into one of the top corners in the league. The Chiefs probably have a slight edge here, but both units are strong.
If the game is close, the Chiefs have a decided edge. Kicker Harrison Butker has a ton of big-game experience with 18 playoff games, including three Super Bowls. He is 27 of 31 in the playoffs over his seven years in the NFL and has made five of his six Super Bowl field- goal attempts.
Meanwhile, 49ers kicker Jake Moody has missed field-goal attempts in both of his first two post-season appearances, going 3-of-5 so far this post-season.
We don’t yet know whether Samuel will return kickoffs (it could depend on the health of his shoulder), but the 49ers have a solid returner in Ray-Ray McCloud. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky is having a good season.
Kansas City punter Tommy Townsend was an All-Pro and pinned the Ravens deep in the fourth quarter with a nearly perfect punt last week, helping the Chiefs preserve their 10-point lead. While both these teams have decent special teams, the Chiefs will feel a lot better about their chances if it comes down to a game-winning kick.
Two of the longest-tenured and respected coaches in the league and two men revered as offensive masterminds meet when Andy Reid goes against Kyle Shanahan here again. This will be the fourth time a pair of head coaches face each other twice in a Super Bowl, with Chuck Noll-Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson-Marv Levy and Tom Coughlin-Bill Belichick the other examples.
If anything, Reid gets the nod for longevity and post-season success, with a 2-2 record in the Super Bowl and 25 playoff wins, second only to Belichick. Also crucial here, he is deadly after bye weeks, going 8-3 in the regular season and 6-1 in the post-season when given an extra week to prepare.
As brilliant as Shanahan is, with an 8-3 playoff record, his teams have struggled when trailing at halftime. He has started to change that narrative this post-season, however, as the 49ers came back from a seven-point deficit vs. Green Bay and a 17-point deficit vs. Detroit.
Both teams may have downgraded at coordinator positions with Matt Nagy replacing Eric Bieniemy at offensive coordinator in K.C. and Steve Wilks taking over for DeMeco Ryans as defensive coordinator in S.F., but with these two head coaches, does it really matter?
Perhaps Reid gets the edge for playoff resume here, but nothing about either one of these coaching staffs suggest a betting edge.