Super Bowl LIV: Seeing Red

In a sports week dominated by the sudden death of Kobe Bryant, it’s time for the America to take a hard turn towards Super Bowl Sunday.

A defense vs. offense showdown will be taking place between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

Both teams are red, which is a first for the big game. Fifty years later, the Chiefs are finally back in the Super Bowl, the name their original owner, Lamar Hunt, came up with. The 49ers went seven years ago but haven’t won in 25 years — which was in Miami as well two other victories. If San Francisco wins, they’ll be tied with New England and Pittsburgh for most Lombardi trophies.

In recapping the conference championships, the AFC title game was intriguing for a bit. Tennessee had multiple leads of ten points, being 10–0 and 17–7, but just like the previous week, Patrick Mahomes and his fast-striking offense rallied in the second quarter, going up 21–17 at the half.

Eventually it became 28 unanswered points as the Chiefs broke their 50-year curse, winning 35–24 and the prize Chiefs owner Clark Hunt’s father is named after: the Lamar Hunt trophy. Mahomes threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for 53 yards, including this epic 27-yard touchdown run.

What may have been more impressive was the Chiefs’ run defense stopping Derrick Henry in the second half, only allowing seven rushing yards after 62 in the first.

The NFC Championship Game was just like the previous meeting between these teams earlier this season: a dominant home performance by the 49ers. San Francisco got out to a 27–0 lead at the half, holding off a Green Bay rally, winning 37–20.

Raheem Mostert, a 2015 undrafted free agent, rushed 29 times for 220 yards and four touchdowns, becoming the first player to rush for at least 200 yards and four TDs in a playoff game. Jimmy Garoppolo threw just eight passes, tied for the second-fewest in a playoff game, completing six for 77 yards as Green Bay simply couldn’t stop the run.

Aaron Rodgers, who once said his hometown team made a mistake by not drafting him, may have had good-looking numbers as he was 31-of-37 passing for 326 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw two interceptions and couldn’t convert key third downs as the 49ers’ defensive line dominated again.

The biggest matchup of this game is the third-best offense in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) against the second-best defense.

This might be the fastest Super Bowl matchup. According to NextGen Stats, the average maximum speed by Chiefs receivers when they have the ball in their hands (including playoffs) is 15.45 mph. For 49ers running backs on rushes, it’s 13.27 mph, the highest among any team rushing.

It’s also the top two tight ends with larger-than-life personalities in the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the 49ers’ George Kittle, the former being a huge threat in the passing game and the latter an excellent receiver and blocker.

These are two offensive geniuses at head coach. Andy Reid has been around for some time, having been an NFL head coach the last 21 seasons. He went to a Super Bowl with Philadelphia 15 years ago but lost. He likes to throw the ball.

Kyle Shanahan, on the other hand, likes to run the ball just like his father, Mike, who won two Super Bowls. And not to mention, it’s the first time a father-son duo each made it to the big game, although he does have experience in one being an offensive coordinator for Atlanta in 2016. The 40-year-old fits the new, young offensive mind every NFL GM is looking for as he is in his third season as head coach. His team’s record turnaround from 4–12 to 13–3 is one of the biggest ever in NFL history.

Mahomes, who went to my alma mater, Texas Tech, just after I graduated, is the first quarterback from a college in Texas to start in a Super Bowl. The Chiefs traded up to get him at №10 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. He sat behind Alex Smith for a year before the veteran was traded and Mahomes took off with two amazing years. If he is to win, he’ll be the second-youngest QB to do so at 24.

Garoppolo was drafted in 2014 as a second-rounder out of Eastern Illinois (just like Tony Romo). He sat behind Tom Brady in New England for three years, filling in for him during his four-game suspension in 2016 with a commendable 2–0 record before injury. Midway through 2017, the Patriots, with Brady not wanting his spot taken, traded him to San Francisco for a second-round pick.

When the trade was made, the 49ers were 0–8. He had to sit three games before starting on a 1–10 team and blowing people’s minds with a 5–0 record. As a result, the Niners rewarded him with a huge five-year, $137 million contract. But in 2018 after just three games, he tore his ACL. This is his first full season as a starter in the NFL and even though his numbers don’t reflect the money, he’s winning.

Both teams have a few players with Super Bowl experience. For the 49ers, All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman has two appearances and a championship with Seattle. Veteran left tackle Joe Staley, who has spent his whole 13-year career with San Francisco, made it in 2012. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who came on a midseason trade, played in two and won one with Denver.

For the Chiefs, left guard Stefen Wisniewski won a Super Bowl with the Eagles in 2017 and linebacker Terrell Suggs won one with Baltimore in 2012 that was ironically against the 49ers.

These new 49ers are built by general manager John Lynch, who came in the same time as Shanahan. Lynch was a seven-time Pro Bowler. Is he going to get the knock for the Hall of Fame Saturday night? We’ll have to see as he at least deserves some recognition for the rapid turnaround of this franchise.

Shanahan is looking for redemption from three years ago when his team blew a 28–3 lead to the Patriots. Garoppolo is looking to be the team he tore his ACL against.

Kansas City has been waiting since drafting Mahomes for him to get them over that hump with an already talented roster.

This is one of the closest lines in Super Bowl history as the Chiefs are only 1.5-point favorites with the over/under changing.

The last time these two teams faced was Week 3 in 2018 when the Chiefs won, 38–27, and really had the game at halftime, 35–10. Mahomes had success with 314 passing yards and three touchdowns. Garoppolo and his team came back, but that’s when he tore his ACL on this third-down run late in the game.

These teams are obviously not the same since, but they have a lot of the same players. The Chiefs have an upgraded defense. While San Francisco’s past two opponents couldn’t stop the run, the Chiefs showed they could against Henry. Of course, that offense isn’t as dynamic as this one as they quietly rank second in rushing and points as well as fourth in total yards. And KC’s run defense has been near the bottom of the league as a whole.

Fun facts for this game is there’s never been a matchup with two red teams. Also, there have been five starting quarterbacks to play for both franchises, including legend Joe Montana. And this is the first time for a woman to be a coach in this game as San Francisco has the first female coach ever in the history of the NFL with Katie Sowers.

49ers defensive end Dee Ford has played for both teams and was even called for this crucial offsides on an interception that would have won the game in last year’s AFC Championship Game loss. Like Shanahan and Staley, he’s looking for redemption with his new team.

Reid has been known as a great coach but can’t win the Lombardi Trophy. Mahomes, the 2018 regular season MVP, has the talent to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

It’s easy to pick the Chiefs because of Mahomes. I had them in last year’s Super Bowl before the postseason and I had them in it this year before the regular season — but I had them losing.

And I temporarily had them winning until yesterday when I did more research. The 49ers use man-in-motion more than any other team and the Chiefs are the worst against it. They also get a good chunk of long runs while their opponent gives up a lot.

Their hope is to make Garoppolo throw with a pass rush that features Frank Clark and Chris Jones along with Tyrann Mathieu aka the Honey Badger at safety.

On offense, KC might have good tackles, but they’re not as good in the interior of their offensive line, where San Francisco has an advantage. Remember that any team can win a Super Bowl with a good defensive line as theirs is mind-numbing when healthy with those four first-round picks, including rookie Nick Bosa. The question is will Mahomes be able to avoid the rush, which he does a pretty good job of, to get the ball to his speed guys like Tyreek Hill.

In recent years when we’ve seen top offenses play top defenses, it’s been the defenses winning. In 2013, Seattle was the underdog against Denver, but they destroyed them, 43–8. In 2015, nobody could stop 15–1 Carolina, but the Broncos shut down Cam Newton, winning 24–10.

If you look back at Super Bowl quarterbacks with the better adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A), basically meaning a passer rating that weighs touchdowns and interceptions more, not one of them has won since 2009 when Drew Brees beat Peyton Manning.

Defense wins championships, not the better quarterback despite the rise of the passing game. I really don’t want to pick against Mahomes being a Tech alum and I really don’t want the 49ers to get ahead of the Cowboys in Super Bowls, but I have to use logic. Mahomes is still young and he’ll get his ring sometime. Just not against this defense. Bosa gets MVP with two sacks, including a strip. 49ers 24, Chiefs 20.

(Disclaimer: I am 6–4 in playoff picks, having gotten five of my last six right, but it’s also noteworthy that I have a 6–9 Super Bowl record. So don’t count it as gospel, especially with how close this matchup is.)

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Austin McNabb

Austin McNabb

I love Jesus, dancing and in this blog, sports.