The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will go head-to-head for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on February 2, but who will emerge from the Super Bowl as the world champions?
Kansas City are heading back to the NFL’s biggest game for the first time in 50 years and they go there with a great deal of confidence thanks to an explosive offense that has already pulled off one record-setting fightback en route to Miami. The Chiefs came back from the dead to blow out Houston in the Divisional Round and once again produced an emphatic fightback in the AFC Championship Game as they overcame an early deficit to end Tennessee’s dream run. But can they now complete their mission by knocking off the San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium?
The Niners have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround over the past 12 months, going from a 4-12 record in 2018 to a Super Bowl run this time around. In fairness to the NIners that 4-12 record did come in season in which they lost starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to injury, but his return and some notable additions to the defense have got this famous franchise trending in the right direction once again. Their two playoff performances so far have been downright dominant thanks to a punishing run game and a stifling defense, but can this defensive unit now live up to the old saying, ‘defense wins championships’, but somehow containing Patrick Mahomes & Co?
Read on for our Super Bowl LIV tips…
Super Bowl Winner
The NFL could not have set up a better Super Bowl had they had the opportunity to script the season, with the game’s best offense going up against the game’s best defense for all of the marbles. The bookmakers have settled on a winner, with bet365 installing the Chiefs as odds-on favourites at 4/5, but the 49ers are far from being written off at 21/20 and I believe it will be San Francisco who lifts the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the sixth time in franchise history on February.
Make no bones about it, Kansas City have been incredibly impressive on their way to Super Bowl LIV. Offensively they have been unstoppable once they have sparked into life and that defense has really stiffened up at crunch times. The Chiefs gave up just seven points in the second half of the games against Houston and Tennessee, and in the AFC Championship Game they did a brilliant job on Titans running back Derrick Henry by restricting him to just 69 yards rushing, ending an incredible run of form that had seen him average 159.1 yards on the ground over his previous eight games. This Chiefs defense may not get the hype that their 49ers counterparts will receive, but this is still a talented group that has really raised its game when it matters most.
However, when I look at San Francisco they have Kansas City’s kryptonite. For starters (pun not intended), I cannot ignore how poor the Chiefs have been in the opening stages of their two previous playoff games. They spotted Houston 24 points before finally embarking on a comeback for the ages in the Divisional Round, and spotted Tennessee 10 points in the AFC Championship Game before quickly getting back on track. While those fightbacks certainly showcased the team’s talent and fighting spirit, Kansas City can ill-afford to dig themselves into a whole against a 49ers team who tend to make fast starts and are pretty much built to get their noses in front and grind out the win. This is an offense that loves to run the football down an opponent’s throat to chew up game clock, and while some will point to what Kansas City did to Henry last time out, there is no better run game in the NFL than what San Francisco puts out there and it has only got better and better since the postseason began. If they can get ahead and limit the time that Mahomes has the football in his hands, then this game becomes theirs to lose.
San Francisco also boast a defense that will give Mahomes arguably the biggest test of his career so far. Number 15 will have his moments, with his talent and the weapons around him that is a given, but he is going to have to earn them against this ferocious 49ers pass rush. This San Francisco front could overwhelm a Kansas City offensive line that would have given up many more sacks this season had Mahomes’ ability and athleticism not got him out of trouble. He may not be able to bail out his line here however, because rookie defensive end Nick Bosa may be one of the few edge rushers in the NFL that can run down the KC quarterback should he scramble out of the pocket. Mahomes will not be shut down, but if his impact can be limited then the 49ers can get their hands on the trophy.
And finally, San Francisco have shown us the full range this season. They have shown nerves of steel to come out on top in close games. They have blown out opposition in emphatic fashion – see the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay. They have also shown that they can come out on top in a straight-up shootout – that last-gasp 48-46 win over the Saints in New Orleans is a game that will live long in the memory. Simply put, they have done it all. There has not been a more consistent team in the NFL either, so I am backing the 49ers to put it together one more time to deny Mahomes & Kansas City a first Super Bowl success for 50 years.
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
So who will play a starring role as the San Francisco 49ers upset the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV? History suggests it will be Jimmy Garoppolo who claims the Most Valuable Player honours if the Niners are successful. Of the 54 previous Super Bowl MVP winners (there were two winners at Super Bowl XII), 29 of them have been quarterbacks, with running back and wide receiver the next two positions with seven winners apiece. Three of the last five MVPs have all been quarterbacks, but I am not convinced that Garoppolo will do enough to warrant the award in Super Bowl LIV. This is not a slight on ‘Jimmy G’, it is more down to San Francisco’s recipe for success that has served them well all season long. Could he air it out like he did against New Orleans? Yes. Will he be required too? I am not so sure. If the Niners get their run game going and that defense is able to frustrate the Chiefs, then Garoppolo could become more of a game-manager than a game-change and game-winner. Just look at the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay where he threw the football only eight times for 77 yards. I expect his arm to be called upon more here, but maybe not enough for him to leave Miami as Super Bowl MVP.
So who takes it? Raheem Mostert, with the aid of that offensive line, has been the headliner-maker in the postseason so far. Mostert is already onto his fifth team since entering the NFL in 2015, but he appears to have made himself a home in San Francisco and this has been easily his best year to date, with his finest performances coming during the final few weeks of the season. There have not been many 100-yard cards on his record – in fact there was only one during the regular season – but he ran over Green Bay for a staggering 220 yards and four touchdowns a week ago, and he could be primed to play a big role again for San Francisco in the Super Bowl. But like Garoppolo, will he really have an opportunity to make a massive impact? This Chiefs run defense is vastly superior to that Green Bay group and prior to that matchup Mostert had been handed the football more than 14 times in a game in just one of his previous 17 games. Could he see plenty of touches as a reward for his impressive display against the Packers? Yes. But could his touches drop off again as he shares the load with Matt Breida? Possibly. And will Kansas City focus in on him in an attempt to put the game in Garoppolo’s hands? Very likely.
All of this makes me wary of backing the running back here, so I find myself leaning more towards one of the San Francisco’s defensive stand-outs, who will certainly have plenty of opportunities to make an impact and produce some game-deciding plays against this talented Chiefs offense. Only 10 defensive players have landed the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player award, but two of those winners have come in the last six years and both Malcolm Smith and Von Miller earned the prize by producing dominant displays against talented offenses. This 49ers defense arguably faces a bigger challenge than Smith and Miller did, and if they can tame Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and the rest then one of this group will thoroughly deserve the MVP title. The question is, who will it be?
You really are spoiled for choice, but I wrote previously about how Nick Bosa could play a major role in helping contain or at least slow down Mahomes, and if he can do just that then he will become a front-runner for MVP honours in Super Bowl LIV. It was a bold prediction when he was 30/1 as the market opened, but bookmakers and punters have got on board over the past week or so and with the game now just days away he is into 22/1 to win the award. Why shouldn’t he be? This matchup is tailor-made for a defensive player to win MVP if the 49ers run out winners. The last time a defensive end won this award was Super Bowl XX when Richard Dent helped the Chicago Bears destroy the New England Patriots, and while the Niners have not been quite as dominant as those ’85 Bears there have been a lot of similarities in how they have got the job done. Therefore It would be quite fitting if Bosa capped off a memorable rookie season by being named the Most Valuable Player of the NFL’s biggest game.