The Kansas City Chiefs head west to take on the San Francisco 49ers in a game between two teams that took their lumps last weekend and look to get back on track.
The Chiefs (4-2) were playing THE marquee game of the year so far but saw the Buffalo Bills put together a 12-play, 76-yard drive in the final minutes to edge past them 24-20. The 49ers (3-3) looked pretty bad in a drab 28-14 loss at Atlanta, dropping them to .500 on the season. This weekend brings both teams an opportunity to right the ship.
Both teams are considered playoff contenders, but a loss here really starts to put that team behind the eight ball — not completely, but starts to. The last time these two teams hooked up, they were playing for the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LIV (that's No. 54, by the way) where the Chiefs won 31-20.
Kansas City (4-2) at San Francisco (3-3)
Three Things to Watch
1. Mahomes and the pressure cooker
As you guys probably saw, Buffalo had a great defensive game plan against the Chiefs, holding that potent offense to 20 points. The Niners have a rock-solid defense of their own (they allow just 256 yards per game, best in the NFL). The Niners pressure quarterbacks 34 percent of the time, which is the fourth-best rate in the NFL. But Mahomes has been quite effective under pressure, with a league-high 14 percent touchdown rate and 38 percent first-down rate (third) under such circumstances. So Niners, blitz at your own peril. Still, this is a big character test for Mahomes, who doesn't come up snake-eyes in the clutch very often as he did against Buffalo with that late interception.
"I just have to be better when working from within the pocket," Mahomes said this week. "And then when I do scramble I've gotta make sure there is a guy there."
2. Can we fast-track Christian McCaffrey to play on Sunday?
As we all know, the *big* late news this week was the 49ers acquiring All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. Since the trade went down so late in the week, it's unknown if McCaffrey will be able to get on the field for this game, not to mention he won't have any time to practice beforehand with his new team. (Then again, do you really need to practice returning a kickoff or a punt? He can be a difference-maker anywhere.) Either way, McCaffrey's move out west is much needed and adds another dangerous, dynamic weapon to the 49ers' offense. The ground game needs a shot in the arm, which will help Jimmy Garoppolo get more in a comfort zone.
The Niners went into the Atlanta game ranked eighth in rushing in the NFL but then managed just 50 yards on 16 carries. Jeff Wilson Jr., who is filling in for an injured Elijah Mitchell, only got seven carries (two were on their first two offensive plays of the game), as an early fumble pretty much ruined his day. Deebo Samuel had 12 rushing attempts for 105 yards in his first two games this year but since then has just 11 carries for 31 yards. The offense had just four three-and-outs in their first five games combined, but suffered three of those against the Falcons, to go with a pair of four-and-outs to boot. Wilson, Samuel, and maybe McCaffrey (?) must pick up some ground gains on first and second down to give their offense a chance to keep the sticks moving. If CMC does make his SF debut on Sunday, it likely will be in a limited role (i.e., red-zone packages). But some McCaffrey is better than none, right?
3. Kelce vs. Kittle
The tight end position has become a transcendent part of offenses across the entire NFL, with players like Gronk, Gonzalez, Ertz, and Sharpe becoming household names. And this will be a real treat for fans of the position as two of the best tight ends in the game go head-to-head. (Well, not literally head-to-head but you catch my drift here.) Travis Kelce and George Kittle are All-Pro-caliber players and go-to targets for their respective quarterbacks. In Athlon Sports' NFL preview magazine, they were ranked at Nos. 2 and 3 respectively at their position. Kelce was Kansas City's most effective receiver last week (well, as usual) with eight catches for 108 yards against the Bills. Meanwhile Kittle is coming off his best game of the season after nabbing eight balls for 83 yards vs. the Falcons. Both will get plenty of targets and chances to show off their wares. Kittle's blocking ability also will be vital for the success of that aforementioned running attack.
San Francisco spent 10 days in the Eastern time zone last week (playing at Carolina and at Atlanta) and will have to adjust to being back on the left coast. Odd stat: Under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are just 1-3 in games played at home after being in the Eastern time zone for two straight games. The lone win was a struggle just to beat a winless Steelers team in 2019.
Kansas City has won 13 straight games against NFC opponents. And the Niners just seem to be a little too beat up to stay with the Chiefs in this one, especially on the defensive side where six regulars were out vs. Atlanta. If they can lose to the Falcons by two touchdowns, shouldn't Mahomes and Co. beat them even worse? Maybe so. But for now, I'll say…
Prediction: Chiefs 27, 49ers 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
*Price as of publication.