The Bearded Talisman's Super Bowl LVIII Preview
“We can’t make any promises now, can we babe?” - Taylor Swift, Delicate
After 284 NFL games spanning 6 months, we are down to 1 final contest: the San Francisco 49ers vs the Kansas City Chiefs for Super Bowl LVIII. The game matches two of the most storied franchises in NFL history, with the two teams combined having won 8 Super Bowls.
The game also features two future Hall of Fame coaches in Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid. Shanahan, the son of 2-time SB champion coach Mike Shanahan, has guided his team to the NFC conference championship game in 4 of the last 5 seasons, including reaching Super Bowl LIV five years ago against Reid and the Chiefs. Reid emerged victorious that day, his first of two Super Bowl victories, and Reid is coaching in his 4th Super Bowl in the last 5 seasons.
The 49ers won 7 of their final 9 regular season games, and their only 2 losses in that span were against Baltimore on Christmas Day and against the Rams in the final week when the 49ers rested their starters. So basically in their last 10 games (including the 2 playoff games) in which they have played their starters, they have gone 9-1. They have a cumulative 28.96 Sagarin Predictor computer ranking for the season, which is the 2nd highest season rating behind now eliminated Baltimore.
The Chiefs have won 5 straight since getting embarrassed on Christmas Day at home against the Raiders, which at the time was their 3rd loss in 4 games. The Chiefs have a cumulative 25.72 Sagarin Predictor computer ranking for the season, which is 5th behind Baltimore, San Francisco, Dallas and Buffalo; however, their RECENT Sagarin rating – which weights recent games more heavily than earlier games – is 27.37, ranking them 2nd behind Baltimore.
The 49ers are clearly the more healthy of the two teams heading into the game. Aside from losing starting safety Talanoa Hufanga two months ago for the season with a torn ACL, the 49ers made it through the season and post-season virtually injury free. Deebo Samuel tweaked his shoulder during the Packers game, but he played against the Lions and is set to suite up on Sunday. The Chiefs lost all-pro guard Joe Thuney to a pectoral injury in the Buffalo game, causing him to miss the Baltimore game and he is very likely out for Sunday. Further, defensive lineman Charles Omenihu suffered a torn ACL against Baltimore and is out. Moreover, LB Willie Gay is dealing with a lingering neck injury which caused him to miss most of the Buffalo game and all of the Baltimore game. Gay is listed as probable for Sunday but with lingering neck injuries it’s always a dicey situation. Finally, if you go back to the Miami game, defensive lineman Derrick Nnadi – a solid run stopper - suffered a triceps injury and was placed on IR and is out.
49ers rookie kicker Jake Moody is 24 for 30 in field goals on the season, including 2 misses in the postseason. He is 67 for 68 on extra point attempts on the season. The 49ers kickoff coverage has been suspect in the postseason, but in the dome that should not be a factor. Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker is a future Hall of Famer and is 40 for 42 in field goals on the season, including 45 made extra points in 45 attempts. Both teams have reliable veteran punters.
The 49ers defense allowed 442 yards to the Lions in the NFC title game, including 182 yards rushing. In a quick moving divisional game against Green Bay, the 49ers defense allowed 330 yards, incluing 136 yards rushing; and, they failed to sack Jordan Love 1 time. The Chiefs defense has been stellar. Over the last 30 quarters, they have only allowed a grand total of 99 points, or an average of 13.2 points per game. While they are dealing with the injuries to Gay, Nnadi and Omenihu, neither Gay or Nnadi played against Baltimore at all, a game in which the Chiefs held the 2nd highest scoring offense in the AFC to 10 points. While Omenihu did get a nice sack and forced fumble in the first half, he didn’t play after halftime, and the Gay, Nnadi and Omenihu-less Chiefs D held the Ravens to 3 points in the final 2 quarters.
Both offenses are stellar. The 49ers scored more points than all but two teams in the NFL this season. Shanahan is a Hall of Fame play caller, McCaffrey a Hall of Fame running back, Trent Williams is a Hall of Fame left tackle and George Kittle a Hall of Fame tight end. They have very good WRs in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Quarterback Brock Purdy has thrown 33 TD passes and he was clutch in the 2nd half against both Green Bay and Detroit, although his 12 interceptions for the season are alarming. The Chiefs offense went scoreless in the 2nd half against a stingy Baltimore D, but prior to that half they had scored points on 21 of their previous 30 drives, including dominating the top-ranked Baltimore D in Baltimore in the first half. In his postseason career, Patrick Mahomes is 14-3 with 39 TD passes vs 7 interceptions and a passer rating of 106.3. He has a 14-1 career postseason record against teams NOT quarterbacked by Tom Brady.
The 49ers game plan will likely consist of pounding the Chiefs with the running game, trying to wear down the relatively thin Chiefs front 7, as well as keeping Mahomes off the field. In Super Bowl LIV five years ago in Miami, the 49ers ran for 141 yards on 22 carries, or 6.4 yards/carry, and would have won with that game plan if not for an epic 4th quarter comeback by Mahomes, triggered by a 3rd and 15 first down completion to Tyreek Hill with 7 minutes to play. The Chiefs game plan will consist of letting Mahomes air it out. In the last 5 quarters against the 49ers, which includes both the final quarter of Super Bowl LIV and the four quarters of the 49ers-Chiefs regular season game in 2022, the Chiefs offense has scored 63 points and NINE touchdowns.
The biggest X-factor to Super Bowl LVIII could be the crowd. While Taylor Swift will be in attendance and full-force supporting the Chiefs, indications are that a majority of the fans at Allegiant Stadium will be supporting San Francisco. One of the most rabid and wealthy fan bases in sports, 49ers fans are looking for their first Super Bowl win since 1995. This could be a semi-road game for the Chiefs, although they won at both Buffalo and Baltimore on their way to winning the AFC. (As of press release of this preview, there were still many seats open on weekend flights to Las Vegas from Kansas City)
While this Super Bowl has lots of star power, the most important non-quarterback in this game is Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones. With the Chiefs a bit thin on the defensive line, it is critical that Jones – a future Hall of Famer - plays well. He will be double-teamed on virtually every play, especially with Omenihu out and the 49ers not fearing any edge rush by Omenihu against LT Trent Williams. With no edge rush against Williams, the Chiefs must generate something from the inside from Jones; and not only must he get a rush in passing situations, he needs to clog up the inside and not allow McCaffrey to go crazy in the run game. Jones is in a contract year so the motivation to fight off the double teams and have a big game is there. Even if doesn’t get sacks or tackles, if he creates lanes for the Chiefs linebackers to make plays he will be effective. What you want as a 49ers fan is Jones dragging and frustrated in the 3rd quarter and 4th quarter.
So which team prevails? An argument can be made for San Francisco. They have a more healthy team, a semi-home field advantage, a Hall of Fame head coach and several All-Pro caliber players on both sides of the ball. They are also arguably a more hungry team, not having won as an organization in 29 years while Kansas City has won 2 Super Bowls in the last 4 seasons. I believe if they do win the MVP will be McCaffrey, in much the same fashion Terrell Davis won MVP for Shanahan’s father in Super Bowl XXXII in January 1998, as the Broncos defeated a defending Super Bowl champion in Green Bay. In that game Davis ran for 157 yards on 30 carries.
However, as much as I respect the 49ers – and I will make a substantial hedge bet (49ers alternate point spread +3.0) - I believe Kansas City will win the game. It may sound self-serving because I made a futures bet on the Chiefs at 11-1 to win it all, but I really do believe the Chiefs will win. The Chiefs offense under Reid and Mahomes is playing its best ball of the season, and the 49ers defense has been shaky of late. The Chiefs special teams is also playing well and even with some injuries on defense, this is easily the best Chiefs defense of the Mahomes era, and I believe they will get enough stops to win. And how can you go against Mahomes given his track record and given how well the Chiefs D played in Baltimore?
The first national TV glimpse of the Chiefs during the offseason was in Las Vegas on June 29th, when Mahomes and Kelce took on another Bay Area team in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors in The Match. Mahomes and Kelce were the underdogs that day, just as they are now 7 months later against the 49ers. Against the odds, Mahomes and Kelce prevailed on the Strip that day, as Kelce sank a short putt on the 10th hole to clinch it. So often things come full circle with life and sports and I believe this NFL season is no different. The season started off informally in June with a golf match in Las Vegas in which Mahomes and Kelce prevailed; and the season is going to end very officially in the same city in the same fashion Sunday Night. It’s going to be really, really close. Are you going to lose your money to the sportsbook or cash those tickets? “Isn’t it delicate?? Isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it??”
Chiefs 26 49ers 24 (Patrick Lavon Mahomes, Jr. – MVP)
The Bearded Talisman’s wagers on Super Bowl LVIII
Chiefs to win at 11-1 – bet made on January 13, 2024 prior to playoffs
49ers alt point spread +3.0/-204 - Hedge
Harrison Butker OVER 1.5 field goals made -120 - With 40 made FGs this year including the 3 playoff games, that's an average of an even 2 per game - and he's made 15 FGs in his last 5 games alone. Butker has "Jimmy Chitwood - I'll make it" confidence in the biggest of moments.