In what’s been a difficult week in the sports world, Super Bowl LIV couldn’t be coming at a better time to lift the spirits of a mourning nation that has lost Kobe Bryant and NFL Hall of Famer Chris Doleman in the span of a few days.
This season’s installment of the pro football championship game pits two of the league’s traditional powers — though they have had largely varying degrees of success in the Super Bowl era.
The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most decorated franchises in the game, boasting five Super Bowl wins that tie them for second-most in NFL history. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots have more.
In their first Super Bowl appearances since 2013, the 49ers blitzed their way to the title game behind a stout defense and All-American boy Jimmy Garoppolo leading a turnaround for the ages.
The 49ers are just the third team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl after winning just four games in the previous seasons. That 2018 season was marred by the loss of Garoppolo, who tore his ACL in Week 3.
Sure, the 4-12 record provided a basement finish in the NFC, but it allowed them to draft defensive end Nick Bosa out of Ohio State — who has quickly become a force off the edge in Santa Clara.
Out of the AFC comes the Kansas City Chiefs, who won the AFC Championship Trophy named after their owner, Lamar Hunt, in 1984 for the first time in franchise history.
It’s the first time since the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV in 1970 over the Minnesota Vikings that they are making an appearance in the Super Bowl, presenting head coach Andy Reid with another chance to take home a title.
Reid is the most successful coach in NFL history to have never won a Super Bowl, racking up 221 wins in the regular season and playoffs. He’s made the championship game just once before in his storied career, dropping Super Bowl XXXIX with the Philadelphia Eagles to the New England Patriots in 2005.
With a high-powered offense anchored by the gun-slinging Patrick Mahomes, Reid and the Chiefs exorcised their demons from last year’s AFC title game loss to the New England Patriots to reach Super Sunday in Miami this weekend.
You won’t find two more evenly-matched teams as you will in Super Bowl LIV, which creates the promise of an instant classic in the making with the Chiefs picked by Vegas as one-point favorites.
It’s only the third time in Super Bowl history that the line is at one point (Super Bowl V, XLIX).
So who has the edge? We try to break down the big game below:
The man is a big play MACHINE.
The longest throws from @PatrickMahomes' 2019 season! #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/JZXXWg6QRH
— NFL (@NFL) January 29, 2020
The Chiefs have the most explosive passing game in the NFL with Mahomes relying on a bevy of playmakers ranging from speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill to dependable tight end Travis Kelce.
In just 14 games this season, Mahomes threw for over 4,000 yards with 26 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. He takes care of the ball, can make the difficult throw, and has the athleticism to extend the play to get his bevy of targets open.
🏄The NFC Championship turned into a Raheem Mostert clinic 🏄@RMos_8Ball
🚨 220 rushing yards on 29 carries
🚨 4 rushing TD
🚨 Single postseason game rushing record set @49ers | #GoNiners pic.twitter.com/4GhTrWk5L9
— NFL (@NFL) January 20, 2020
San Francisco owned the NFL’s second-rated rushing attack in 2019 behind the three-headed monster of Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman. All three Niners backs eclipsed the 500-yard mark on the ground, combining for 15 touchdowns.
With Coleman suffering a dislocated shoulder in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers, Mostert showed what he was made of, going off for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the 37-20 win. He became the first running back in NFL history to rush for at least 200 yards with four rushing touchdowns in a playoff game.
He's just got that instinct. 😤 @Mathieu_Era BALLED out on Sunday.
(by @Bridgestone) pic.twitter.com/ailctiaVWM
— NFL (@NFL) January 22, 2020
At first glance, the 49ers would have the edge considering they’ve allowed the fewest passing yards in the NFL this season. But there’s more to it, which is why I give the slimmest of edges to the Chiefs.
Kansas City’s secondary played at an incredibly high level during the second half of the season behind the heroics of Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen. They yielded a lower opponent’s QB Rating this season at 80.8 (fifth in NFL) and completion percentage at 60.5 (fourth in NFL) than the 49ers.
They’ve also allowed two fewer passing touchdowns than the 49ers and have four more interceptions this season.
The @49ers defense swarms and Nick Bosa recovers! #GoNiners
📺: #GBvsSF on NBC
📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/oTTol2dlYz pic.twitter.com/XV25bmx5TF
— NFL (@NFL) November 25, 2019
While the Chiefs only have three fewer sacks than the 49ers this season, San Francisco’s pass rush is one of the more overwhelming units in the league.
Bosa’s solid rookie season played a vital supporting role opposite Arik Armstead, who led the team with 10 quarterback takedowns. DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford also played important secondary roles along the line, combining for 14 sacks.
The 49ers are also plenty active getting into the backfield and disrupting the opposition’s run game. They were tied for fifth in the NFL with 87 tackles for a loss in 2019, though their overall rushing defense ranked 17th in the league. Still, that’s considerably better than Kansas City’s 26th-ranked rush unit.
104-YARD KICKOFF RETURN TD! @MecoleHardman4 #ChiefsKingdom
📺: #LACvsKC on CBS
📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/HYJhHN7b2Y pic.twitter.com/G0Y17fIvlb
— NFL (@NFL) December 29, 2019
In all aspects, the Chiefs edge the 49ers in special teams.
Harrison Butker is the more efficient kicker — hitting 34 of 38 field-goal attempts this season — compared to Robbie Gould while the Chiefs have the more dangerous returner in Mecole Hardman.
This will be 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s first time in a Super Bowl, which means we really don’t know how he’ll perform.
We all saw how Los Angeles Rams head coach and supposed offensive guru Sean McVay did on the biggest stage as he was overwhelmed by Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
As for Andy Reid, he has an opportunity to shed his reputation as a coach with bad clock management who can’t close out the big game.
Nothing like putting them in the pressure cooker that is a Super Bowl.