The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs punched their tickets to Super Bowl LIV with convincing wins in the NFC and AFC Championship Round of the NFL Playoffs.
In the NFC, San Francisco utilized a dominant rushing attack to open up a 27-0 halftime lead and subsequent blowout win over the Green Bay Packers.
In the AFC, Kansas City rode the magic act of quarterback Patrick Mahomes to come back from a 10-0 deficit to easily defeat the Tennessee Titans.
I will delve into the matchup more next week but I wanted to put out my first thoughts on what looks like a game between two evenly matched teams.
Super Bowl LIV will give Chiefs head coach Andy Reid a chance to dispel his reputation of not winning big games in the playoffs. Some media members actually call him a ‘choke artist’ in the playoffs. Losing this reputation will likely not take place until he wins a Super Bowl. Reid is now 14-14 in the playoff career. Having a .500 record is not all that bad. I think the issue here is that he’s led a team to the playoffs 15 times and is just now making his second career Super Bowl appearance. A loss would continue a worn-out storyline.
I am not sure Kansas City can start out slow again. Although falling behind early seems to light a fire under Mahomes and allows the Chiefs to unveil their dangerous passing game, San Francisco’s top-ranked defense presents a tough test for Mahomes and company. Those watching the playoffs remember that Kansas City fell down 24-0 in the first half against the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. The Chiefs ultimately scored 51 of the game’s final 58 points to put Houston away. Then, on Sunday, Kansas City trailed 10-0 to Tennessee before getting it going on offense. Rallying from behind may not be so easy against the 49ers. Just ask Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay.
I think the game may come down to who protects their quarterback the best. Both the Chiefs and 49ers will bring elite pass rushers to Miami. For Kansas City, that includes defensive tackle Chris Jones as well as end rushers Terrell Suggs and Frank Clark. The Chiefs sacked Deshaun Watson four times in the divisional playoffs before getting to Ryan Tannehill for three sacks this past Sunday. The 49ers have four former first-round picks making up their dangerous pass rush. San Francisco compiled 12 quarterback hits and nine sacks in its two playoff games heading into the Super Bowl. Rookie Nick Bosa led the way with three sacks during that span. Both teams are capable of stopping the pass rush. Mahomes was sacked just three times in his past four games while 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo found himself sacked five times over the past three outings.
Lastly, I am not sure San Francisco will find enough offense if it does not throw the ball. Though they have been dominating with their running game, the 49ers will likely need more offense to keep up with Kansas City. Through the first two games of the playoffs, Garoppolo has completed 17-of-27 passes for 208 yards. Those figures usually represent a one half of football for Mahomes and the Chiefs. That’s about a half worth of football for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Yes, Super Bowl LIV will give us contrasting styles of offensive football. San Francisco recorded 471 rushing yards in its two NFC Playoff victories. If that trend continues, expect a 49ers victory.
I will have my pick for you next week.