The end is nigh, after 256 regular season games and 10 playoff games, we've made it to the big one, the Superbowl! 32 teams entered, 2 teams remain; From the NFC, the #1 seed San Francisco 49ers travel across the country to Miami to take on the AFC's #2 seed Kansas City Chiefs in what should be a brilliant culmination to the NFL season.
The bookies can barely separate the two teams with them setting the Chiefs as the 1.5 point favourites in most places. I actually think that's probably a little short, I had them as 2.5 point favourites, the lines have been out for a couple of weeks now and has barely moved so I've got to assume the money is being quite evenly spread so far. What they have moved is the total, opening at 52 it's now up to 54.5 points and likely to nudge a little higher by game-time on Sunday.
How did the teams get here?
The 49ers finished the season winning 13 of their 16 games, to get the #1 seed, a bye week and home-field advantage for the playoffs. They took full advantage going into the Divisional game against the Vikings with a fully healthy roster for the first time since week 1. It allowed them to easily take care of the Vikings holding them to their lowest yardage of the season in a 27-10 win.
That set-up a conference championship game against the #2 Green Bay Packers. They went into that game as 7 point favourites and that proved far too short as they destroyed the hapless Packers with a pounding run game which beat them into submission. It was 27-0 by half time, and that was game over. The 49ers ran the ball 42 times and threw just 8 attempts as they imposed their will on a horribly over-matched Packers defense.
The Chiefs finished with 12-4 record and captured the #2 seed on the final game of the season as a Patriots loss to Miami gave them a better record on a tie-breaker. It gave them the bye and home-field. First up in the divisional round was the Houston Texans who won the AFC South. They gave the Chiefs a shock as mistakes in every area of the Chiefs team gifted them a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter, but a breathtaking 2nd quarter for the Chiefs somehow had them ahead at the half as they put up 4 TDs. It carried on in the second half as they went 7 consecutive drives with a TD to win the game 51-31
The Championship game had the Chiefs as a TD favourite against the team who finished second in the AFC South started badly too as they went 10-0 down, but again they were leading by half time. They were facing the regular seasons leading rusher in Derrick Henry and restricted him to 69 yards, and nothing from him in the 4th quarter as they scored enough to make the Titans have to throw to keep up with them. The game finished in a spread beating 35-24 win to the Chiefs
I'll go about this one a little differently to usual as it's a one-off game, so I'll be comparing skill groups against the other team.
This is a very close call. Both the 49ers Kyle Shanahan and the Chiefs Andy Reid have depressing Superbowl experience in their past; more recently Shanahan called the plays in the Falcons 28-3 capitulation against the Patriots, and Andy Reid made it as the Eagles head coach in 2003 only to lose to… you guessed it, the Patriots. The scumbags. So they've both been to the big stage before.
Reid has far more experience than his couterpart having held a head coaching position since 1999, and is regarded by most as one of the best in the league, he's always had a good record at the Chiefs, but trading away Alex Smith to give his young QB was a master-stroke which got them to the AFC Championship last year and the Superbowl this year. His offensive game plans are better than most, and as one of the more likeable coaches in the league it's tough to say much bad against him. But I will anyway, the one part of the game that he struggles with is time management at the end of halves, frequently leaving too much, or too little time on the clock.
The young up-start on the other side of the field is in my opinion second to just Bill Belichick at this moment in time. Even with a host of injuries to his quarterbacks last season he produced some gameplans which produced points. Now, they weren't good enough to do more than finish with the 2nd worst record in the league, but you could see the coaching was good. That #2 pick in the draft turned out to be a blessing though as they picked up Nick Bosa and this season happened.
A full year of health from Garoppolo and they are the best team in the NFC. I watched as the 49ers took apart my Bengals in the second game of the season, players were running wide-open, end-arounds, jet sweeps, unstoppable run plays. It was a masterclass and he's done that in most games this season. It's a worry to me that they've had to show NOTHING at all in their two post-season games so far, there's a box of tricks waiting to be opened on the Chiefs.
Best coach? – Kyle Shanahan – 49ers
There's only one winner here, but it's not quite as clear-cut as it first seems. Jimmy Garoppolo is a winner. It might be completely because of what he does on the field, but his record as a starter in the NFL is quite remarkable at 23-5 – It helps that he's had 2 of the best coaches in the league to work under, but it's not all about them.
The 49ers try to be a run first team, but when called upon Garoppolo has done what is needed and more, he's averaged an over 100 passer rating putting up a 5th place 27 touchdowns on the year, albeit with 13 interceptions along the way as well. The 48-46 win against the Saints is the best evidence this year of Jimmy G being a good quarterback as they went score-for-score with the Saints and he led a last minute drive to get them into field goal range to win at the buzzer.
He did in-fact lead the league in yards per attempt, in 4th quarter comebacks and was second in the league in game winning drives. So he's shown to be clutch when needed. We're all down on him and his abilities because the 49ers just haven't needed to use him in the playoffs, just 27 pass attempts in their 2 games 1 TD, 1 INT. But if you can't be stopped on the ground then why go away from the run game?
On the other side of the ball you've got last years MVP Patrick Mahomes who had an injury interrupted season which hurt his numbers, but his game-play barely dipped below a top 10 QB. He had an ankle injury which was hampering him but he played through until they decided he should try a sneak at Denver and he dislocated his kneecap. Remarkably he only missed 2 games before returning to throw for 446 and 3 TDs in a 32-35 loss to the Titans in week 10. Since then PFF have him ranked 1st amongst QBs and he's playing at the 2018 level.
His playoffs have been the opposite of Garoppolo, 615 yards, 8 TDs, NO Interceptions as he's led his team back from deficits in both game as well as running for 53 yards in both games and for a TD last week in a play which was apparently the greatest thing that's ever happened (we'll ignore the terrible tackling)
Best QB? – No contest. Patrick Mahomes – Chiefs.
Not much of a contest here in all honesty either, the 49ers have a bevy of backs who can all handle a load if called upon. Tevin Coleman was the man vs the Vikings with 105 yards and 2 TDs, and it looked like he could have been against the Packers before dislocating his shoulder early in the game, that led to Raheem Mostert getting pretty much the full workload. He had been the main back towards the end of the season scoring in their last 6 regular season games, averaging about 70 yards in them. He made up for his lack of use in the first game with 29 carries for a 49ers record 220 yards (about 7 yards per carry) and FOUR TDs against the Packers. Coleman is expected to be playing in this one, but how fit he'll be is another thing. It does however muddy the waters on who will do what a little though. Matt Breida only got 1 carry last week after being the man a season ago, he's had a few fumbling issues, he may get mixed in as well. IF Coleman for some reason misses out then Jeff Wilson will likely be the goal-line back, if not he'll be inactive.
The Chiefs don't use the run game too often, with less than 40% of plays being called on the ground for them. They've had injury issues there this year, but have their number 1 guy back there now with Damien Williams getting pretty much the full workload. He doesn't put up huge numbers on the ground (under 500 yards) but he's by far the best fit for this team due to his pass catching abilities. He's had about 150 combined yards and scored 4 times in the post-season and was a key man in the comeback vs the Texans. Outside of Williams you're probably looking at Darwin Thompson as the #2 there. The rookie hasn't had an awful season, but hasn't done a whole lot either. They've got experience there with LeSean McCoy but he seems totally out of favour and there's a chance he doesn't even dress for this one.
Best run game? – No contest – 49ers
A tough one to call really, as they're linked to the Quarterback really. The 49ers have a varied bunch of WRs ranging from the experience of Emmanuel Sanders who's played in a Superbowl himself, to the rookie Deebo Samuel who has seemingly been taking over the #1 role in this area of the team in the second half of the season. Of course it's tough to judge them this postseason with so few passes being thrown, but Deebo seems like he's the go-to man in the passing game now, and he's fun to watch doing it, he gained 8.3 yards after the catch, per catch this season, good for 2nd amongst wide receivers. Sanders was a great trade for the 49ers halfway through the year and has played the Chiefs this season as well going for 60 yards from 5 receptions for the Broncos before his trade. He's been getting open he's just not been needed in the post season. Kendrick Bourne is a man I've been keen on for TDs from the WR corps, he scored 5 in the last 8 games of the regular season and added one against the Vikings in the post-season. Outside of these three the only other name really worth looking for is Richie James who's an electric kick returner and usually has big plays on the odd occasion he's involved in the passing game. He quick.
Talking of quick, you've got the whole of the Chiefs WR group. Tyreek Hill is the main man for them, despite missing 4 games earlier in the year after Karma took some quick retribution on him he finished with 860 yards and 7 TDs. He's actually had quite a quiet post-season so far but still scored 2 TDs in their last game, but he does so much more than put up stats as other teams know he can take the top off their defense so give him extra attention, drop deeper and open up the middle of the field for his team-mates. He can take any catch to the house. Sammy Watkins has put up the best figures in the playoffs for the Chiefs with his first TD since scoring 3 in the first game of the season part of his 190 yards in the last two games. Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson essentially share WR3 duties. Robinson was great for them with Hill out but hasn't done much since and Hardman is similar to Tyreek in that he can take anything to the house with his explosive pace, he's the main kick returner for the Chiefs as well.
Best WRs? – Chiefs (but it's a close one)
Now this one might cause some issue… we get the two best TEs in the league and each of them excel in different areas. George Kittle for me, in just his second year in the league, is the BEST all round tight end in the NFL. He's ranked as the best run-blocking tight end in the league and he LOVES it, some of the videos from last week of him demanding his team runs the ball again are brilliant, he and Juszczyk compliment the offensive line brilliantly and make some massive gaps for his RBs. He's also great in the passing game and at times this season has been the only man targeted by his QB (13 from 17 for 134 yards) and this year he put up over 1,000 yards, but given that he was the most targeted player for the team in the redzone, only 5 TDs. As with most of the pass catchers on the team he's not done much in the playoffs, but that may well change this week with a good matchup against a Chiefs team which struggles to clog the middle of the field.
The Chiefs have the best pass catching tight end in the league in Travis Kelce. He finished 5th in receiving yards this year amongst all pass catchers, and became the first player in NFL history to have 3 receiving TDs in a single quarter in that game against the Texans where after his early drop he went on to finish with 10 catches from 12 targets for 134 and 3 TDs. He works well with Mahomes when he's scrambling and was a constant problem for the Texans CBs when trying to guard him, his routes are perfect and his size are an issue for all opposition teams. He's got a much tougher matchup than Kittle against a 49ers team with a ton of pace in the LB group, but he's just so good I wouldn't be surprised to see him celebrating a score or two. Blake Bell doesn't deserve bold, but he scored with Kelce off the field against the Texans.
Best TEs? 49ers – Just.
Ooooooo man the 49ers defense is fun to watch. Having the #2 pick in the draft this year allowed them to pick up Nick Bosa (the better of the Bosa brothers) to add to their already stacked defensive front. Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner were all first round picks, then they brought in Dee Ford (another 1st round pick) to help even more and it worked wonders for them. The Bosa pick finished off the line perfectly and allows them to rotate between the 5 of them without really having to use anyone else to get pressure on opposing QBs. It helps the entire defense.
It's definitely helped Richard Sherman at cornerback who finished the year as PFF's top ranked cornerback. He had 3 interceptions this year, and added another in the post-season. He generally sticks to the left side of the field, and he won't be able to keep up with Tyreek Hill if he gets in behind him, but credit where it's due he's been great this year. Outside of him you'll likely have Emmanuel Moseley on the other side who's been great since taking over from Akello Witherspoon. Their safeties are good, Jacquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward one of the better combinations in the league.
Their linebacker group is possibly the best in the league? They traded for Kwon Alexander from the Buccaneers who returned from injury against the Vikings to strengthen an already deep corps. Fred Warner is one of the best young LBs in the league and Dre Greenlaw made the tackle which got them the #1 seed against the Seahawks in the last game of the season, all 3 of these guys rank in the top 15 on PFFs LBs.
You might have already guessed where I'm going on this one, but the Chiefs defense really hasn't been bad this season either. It's not on the same level as their opposition, but after being bottom 3 a year ago, to be ranked 17th according to DVOA is a big improvement and they've been particularly good all year against the pass with Tyrann Mathieu (The Honey badger) proving a great signing for them, and he knows it. He and rookie Juan Thornhill were great for a lot of the season, and with Thornhill on IR now Daniel Sorenson has proven to be as good a partner at safety for the team.
Bushaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller are a decent enough CB pairing, Hitchen and Ragland aren't terrible at LB, but as mentioned earlier the stats suggest they struggle against tight ends and they'll be facing the best in the business this week.
The pass rush for the Chiefs is good though, Chris Jones will be back at full fitness and is a huge upgrade for them both in sacks and helping to stop the run, and Frank Clark is the man they paid in place of Dee Ford. He's been good this year, especially the post season with 4 sacks in 2 games.
Best defense? 49ers by a fair bit.
So, who's going to win?!
Isn't that the million dollar question (well it is for Matress Mack who put $1m on the 49ers).
The 49ers game plan will surely be to keep the ball away from the Chiefs, run it a lot, gain yardage on the ground, limit the game to as few a number of possessions as possible and stop the Chiefs scoring quickly. Their defensive line matches up well against the Chiefs O-line HOWEVER… The Chiefs QB is very athletic, you could say he's quite a Mobile ‘Homes…He's also very good under pressure, so when that inevitably comes he should still be able to make plays.
Breaking it down into units you'd think that i'd be on the 49ers and really… I probably should be, but I just can't see the 49ers being able to slow Mahomes enough to keep the Chiefs from scoring. The Chiefs defense might need to get one or two stops and that could be the difference. I just don't see the 49ers defense being able to hold the Chiefs to less than 28 points, and then it's all on their offense to put up similar.
I think the Chiefs win. 35-24. (So, over 54.5)
If you like the Chiefs, you're probably better off taking Patrick Mahomes to be the MVP. I don't see a way they win the game without him winning the MVP award.
Good Luck with whatever you're betting and be on the look out for my player props post (hopefully landing Saturday evening) This should be an absolute cracker of a game.
Check out my Novelty prop post at https://touchdowntips.com/2020/01/30/crazy-superbowl-punts/ and if you like Fantasy football then why not have a look at playing one day fantasy at Draftkings https://dkng.co/tipsbiggame for a nice bonus when you open your account. More info on the Novelty punts post.