Keidel: Super Bowl LIV Is A Clash Of Two Evenly Matched Opponents

49ers Hulking Defense Against The Chiefs Flashy Offense

Jason Keidel
January 31, 2020 - 1:41 pm
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Super Bowl LIV has all the hallmarks of a classic. Some years, the hottest teams reach the big game, sizzling teams from small markets sans the rabid fan base we see from bigger markets. And other times, we have bad matchups between one behemoth against a club just happy to be there. 

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But this year we have not only two hot teams, but also the two best teams in the NFL, each on great journeys with gripping backstories. And if we borrow the boxing maxim -- styles make fights -- then this Super Bowl features two cold war powers with matching missiles pointed at each other. The teams are so evenly matched, the point spread is basically a pick 'em and the line hasn't budged since last week. 

The San Francisco 49ers (15-3) have the best record in the NFC and are built with very big, highly skilled linemen. Their signature style is old-school: pound the ball on offense while their defensive line, easily the best in the league, hound quarterbacks into anxious, happy-footed dysfunction. They remind you of the bruising days of the NFC East, when smash mouth football left bodies battered and trainers frantically tending mangled limbs. 

The 49ers defense will have its hands full against the Kansas City Chiefs (14-4), the team with the most pyrotechnic offense in pro football. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has performed unprecedented magic, both with his arm and his feet, zipping impossible passes from endless angles. The Chiefs also lavish Mahomes with All-Pro players and all-world speedsters, from Tyreek Hill to Travis Kelce to Sammy Watkins. 

And if you're waiting for Mahomes to choke, you may miss a few birthdays. This postseason, the Chiefs QB has completed 66% of his passes, with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. (He's also leading the team in rushing, with 106 yards.) Over his brief playoff career, he's 3-1, averaging just under 300 passing yards per game, with 11 touchdowns, no picks and a 115.0 passer rating. 

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws a pass against Tennessee Titans linebacker Derick Roberson Jan 19, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The game can take many turns, but it's the Chiefs offense against the Niners defense that will have the fans hypnotized. And, as with most NFL games, this one pivots on the line of scrimmage. If Joey Bosa, Arik Armstead, DeForrest Buckner and their hulking brothers can bag Mahomes without extra rushers, then the Chiefs are in trouble. (Bosa's 80 QB pressures are the most by a rookie since Pro Football Focus started tracking them in 2006.) If Mahomes can continue his balletic scrambles to slip out of the pocket, then the 49ers will be gassed from chasing Kansas City's skill players. The Chiefs are averaging 44 points per game in January; the 49ers are allowing 15 points per game. 

Then there's the battle between head coaches. Most football fans are rooting for Andy Reid, the rotund, self-effacing NFL lifer who's coached for two decades and has been an agonizing bridesmaid his entire career. This is the second time the 61-year-old Reid has reached the Super Bowl and with his second franchise. Reid's 22-5 record after a bye week makes for the second-best winning percentage in NFL history, behind some guy named Lombardi (9-1).  

By contrast, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is new to this playoff thing. While Reid has coached 21 years and 28 playoff games, the 40-year-old Shanahan has been the Niners boss for three seasons and is coaching in just his third playoff game. But unlike most fledgling coaches, Kyle has a consigliere - father Mike Shanahan - who won two Super Bowls coaching the Denver Broncos. Dad's zone blocking schemes are at the core of the 49ers rushing attack. Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida bring a hybrid of speed, slashing styles and fresh legs to the game. Indeed, the Niners ran the ball so well in the playoffs that QB Jimmy Garoppolo has averaged 8.5 completions on 13.5 attempts, for just 104 yards per game. 

If you’re wondering what it cost both teams to get here, the 49ers spent about $222 million on their roster, the most in the NFL. Oddly enough, the Chiefs spent the least on their players, at around $166 million.  

Overall, it’s easier to play great defense than great offense. There are fewer variables and moving parts. It's also hard to forget the games when an unstoppable offense faced a robust defense. The Rams' Greatest Show on Turf was supposed to whip the Patriots, yet lost. The 18-0 Patriots were supposed to lay waste to the New York Giants, yet lost. 

Which brings us to Super Bowl XLVIII, played at MetLife Stadium. Peyton Manning and the nuclear, record-bashing Broncos offense was favored to topple the bone-crunching defense of the Seattle Seahawks, led by the Legion of Boom. In all three games, the better defense prevailed. Interestingly, that Super Bowl and this Super Bowl are the only ones ever played on Feb 2.  

Kansas City is favored by one point. The public is betting on them, and it feels like most fans are rooting for them. It's clear the Chiefs have the best quarterback and coach. But the 49ers have the better team. The 49ers aren't the sexy pick, or the trendy pick, but they feel like the best bet. 

49ers 30, Chiefs 27

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel

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