Breaking down Sunday's big game in Hard Rock Stadium down in South Florida
Super Bowl LIV in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs might be one of the tightest Super Bowls we'll see in quite a while. Depending on the source, the spread has sat around Kansas City -1 or -1.5. I don't think it'll move off of the Chiefs being favored, although if there were movement, it would probably occur on Saturday.
It's hard to tell which direction it would go because it's hard to decide which team is more public. Patrick Mahomes has been well discussed the last week and a half, but the 49ers have the better history when it comes to this stage. The last time a spread was this tight came in 2014 when the New England Patriots were a one-point favorite before their 28-24 win over Seattle. The only other Super Bowl to see a spread like this was back in 1970 when the Cowboys lost to the Colts 16-13 as a one-point favorite.
Trends to consider
- San Francisco is 11-6-1 ATS this season (9-8-1 to the over)
- Kansas City is 13-5 ATS this season (10-8 to the over)
These two played in Kansas City in September 2018 with the Chiefs winning 38-27. KC raced out to a 35-10 lead on their way to a victory. Mahomes threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns in the win as the team also received two rushing touchdowns from Kareem Hunt, who is now in Cleveland. On the 49ers side, Jimmy Garoppolo was efficient in the loss, going 20-for-30 for 251 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
San Francisco offense vs. Kansas City defense
This matchup is being discussed the least and could be the deciding factor in which team wins the game. During the regular season, the 49ers averaged 150 rushing yards per game on the ground, which was good for second in the league behind the Ravens. Because of that success, they were also towards the top in time of possession, frequently shortening games and putting pressure on opposing offenses. The ground success meant that Jimmy Garoppolo became somewhat of a game manager. We saw him throw just 27 total passes in two playoff games, but he completed 17 of them with one touchdown. Garoppolo's No. 1 target is George Kittle, who has rapidly moved into the upper echelon of tight ends in the league.
Kansas City's defense allowed 128.2 rushing yards per game and 221.4 yards per contest through the air. Entering the postseason, everyone was touting an improved Chiefs D because they had held their last six opponents to just 69 total points. Upon closer look though, it was against a lot of awful offenses, including the Raiders, Broncos, and Bears. Fast forward a few weeks and they allowed 55 combined points to the Texans and Titans. There's no denying that this team has talent on all levels with Frank Clark and Chris Jones anchoring the defensive line, Anthony Hitchens at linebacker, and Tyrann Mathieu on the back end. The unit got a little weaker, however, when safety Juan Thornhill was lost for the season due to injury.
Kansas City offense vs. San Francisco defense
All eyes will be Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP, as he tries to navigate one of the best defenses in football. The key to slowing this team down is getting constant pressure on him without letting him maneuver out of the pocket. Only five teams were able to get multiple sacks on the signal-caller this season. The other key is to take away the run game, even it's not the Chiefs' strength. Head coach Andy Reid used the ground game a lot in the third and fourth quarter to salt away the AFC Championship Game victory over Tennessee. None of the backs are particularly scary with Damien Williams taking over for LeSean McCoy. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are Nos. 1 and 2 on the scouting report when it comes to the passing game, but it's Sammy Watkins who was the big benefactor against the Titans.
The 49ers are middle of the pack against the run, but they are No. 1 against the pass, holding opponents to 169.2 yards per contest. Some will point to the lack of amazing passing attacks that San Francisco faced during the regular season, as well as the Week 14 win in New Orleans when Drew Brees went nuts. Still, they did pretty well against Aaron Rodgers twice and were able to do some pretty good work against Russell Wilson. The one thing they can do is get pressure with just their front four, which puts more people in coverage to make things difficult. Robert Saleh has been one of the best defensive coordinators in the league and giving him two weeks to put a plan in place will be big.
This game has the feel of the Peyton Manning Broncos vs. the Legion of Boom Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, and we know how that turned out. A lot of the hype, rightfully so, surrounds the tandem of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. San Francisco is just more balanced, and it'll show on Sunday. The Niners will have more success than the Titans did two weeks ago, and Jimmy Garoppolo will make some timely throws in a victory. Kyle Shanahan gets some retribution after his play-calling blew the Super Bowl for the Falcons. Give me the NFC team.
Selection: Under 54.5 (49ers 27-23)
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.