A deep dive into the 49ers vs Chiefs matchup.
- Spread: Chiefs -1 at BorgataSportsbook
- Over/Under: 54.5
- Sun: 6:30 PM on FOX
We got the matchup we wanted. The San Francisco 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, this Sunday in Miami. Now we just have to figure out who’s going to win.
First glance is that Pat Mahomes is a miracle in cleats.
He’s a human cheat code that negates even the best defensive play calls and schemes. He makes amazing throws that should be impossible. He’s basically four or five quarterbacks rolled into one and is in such great shape that a dislocated knee cap only held him out of a few games. He has incredible weapons. Andy Reid is one of the most innovative offensive minds in football, and no lead seems safe.
If a play breaks down, Mahomes can step up in the pocket or slide to the outside and extend it. He directs his receivers like a traffic cop and has so many moments that remind you of Aaron Rodgers in his prime that you sometimes have to rub your eyes. On top of that, I don’t think I have ever seen a head coach and quarterback on the same page in the same way that Reid and Mahomes are. When they sit down on a bench it looks like a football version of what Normal Rockwell would paint of a father and son on a football field.
The Niners are the most balanced and complete team in the NFL.
When they suffered injuries that hampered their running game, Jimmy G just took over and put the team on his shoulders. Or did everyone just forget his performance against New Orleans so they could pretend that he has nothing to do with their playoff success? Their offensive line runs probably the most complicated and intricate blocking schemes since the Dolphins of the early-70s and the Terrell Davis era Broncos. Their zone blocking is amazing. The cohesion they show is uncanny. The way the linemen trap and pull and kick out on run plays is like watching the ballet. The synchronization is impeccable and the way they flow to the second level picking off linebackers is sublime. Their body of work covers the entire season, but their two playoff games seem more like a building thrum in a classical concerto piece before the orchestra goes into its crescendo.
However, the defenses are going to be problematic.
The Chiefs give up around five-yards per carry on the ground. That is not good. I don’t care how well they have played over the last seven or eight weeks, but if you’re still giving up huge chunks of yards on the ground then you will get your ass handed to you when it counts.
Where I want to look is in the defensive backfield. Honey Badger Is awesome, but go ahead and name two more guys in the Chiefs defensive backfield. Unless you’re a massive football junkie, you don’t know that Charvarious Ward and Bashaud Breeland are their starting corners. They have a total of 18 passes defended between them for the regular season and a lackluster three in the playoffs. Also, if you don’t think there’s a way that Kyle Shanahan won’t exploit Daniel Sorenson then you have not been paying attention.
Let’s look at their linebackers.
Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, and Damien Wilson do not exactly remind you of the mid-80s Bears or Giants. Between the three of them they had 28 tackles with Damien Wilson accounting for more than half of them with 15. As the strong side backer that should not be a surprise since it’s his job to get in there, but this is problematic at best and a serious issue that could cost them the game at worst.
The Chiefs do have a beast pass rush and Frank Clark is capable of ruining your quarterback’s day, but if Jimmy G is able to get quick passes off or if he gets to operate out of play action and hit his receivers in the seams of the Chiefs’ zones, then it won’t matter if Clark is at the top of his game or not. I love the Chiefs defensive line, but for them to make a difference they’ll need to put on a Giants against the Patriots type performance to help cover up the back-seven’s deficiencies.
Meanwhile the Niners are capable of making big plays and getting turnovers, but they can be had.
Sure, the Niners finished 8th in defensive scoring and 2nd overall in total yards, but it also helps when you generate 27 turnovers and are +4 on the year. Care to guess how many turnovers the Niners generated all of last year? Seven. That’s not a typo. That’s an insane turnaround for a team that went 4-12 last year. The only other team with as dramatic a turnaround was the 1999 Rams.
Now, they have linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Dee Ford, and safety Jacquiski Tartt back in the starting lineup. Since getting these guys back, the Niners have been outstanding on defense. It’s not a coincidence. Losing a key starter at every level of your defense isn’t ideal. It’s an oddball cluster-style injury that a lot of guys who talk a lot about football believe caused the Niners to hiccup on defense. I happen to agree. Now the whole defense is healthy and peaking, but let’s not get crazy.
Richard Sherman has been having a renaissance year, but he’s not the shutdown corner he once was.
Their front can get after the quarterback and their linebackers can take your head off. However, the Rams and Jared F’ng Goff lit them up, the Saints and Brees lit them up, and the Cardinals and Kyler Murray lit them up twice in games they were almost two touchdown favorites in. The point is that the Niners can be had. They have good speed and they are physical, but they can be had in space. If you think Kyler Murray gave them problems with his mobility, just wait until Mahomes starts moonwalking on their asses.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Jimmy G is not a problem.
He had stretches this season where he carried this team, but right now they are healthy and dominating up front and with the run. There’s no reason to throw 35 times a game if you can beat the crap out of the opposition and hoard the time of possession. The low hanging fruit is to point out that after he got intercepted by the Vikings the Niners took the game out of his hands.
That’s not true. They were so successful with the run there was no need to pass. When you are dominating in that way why should you play the defense honest? The Packers were baited into things like giving up a touchdown run on third and eight on a trap play straight out of 1973. There’s a reason why the Niners finished second in the league in scoring and 4th in total yards and it wasn’t because Garoppolo is deficient or inconsistent or whatever other bologna some idiot talking head is saying.
I know a lot of people are going to go on about George Kittle versus Travis Kelce, but that aspect is a bit of a wash except that I think Kittle is a better run blocker.
They both act as security blankets for their respective quarterbacks and are the power gears in their respective passing offenses. There are not many defensive backs who can challenge either one of these guys when the ball gets near them. They can just wreck your defensive game plan, so don’t be like that dipshit Scott Zolak and start questioning Kelce if he starts slow. He will get his and so will Kittle, but it’s a matter of deployment.
Will Kittle continue to dominate in the run game or will he feed off of the Chiefs less than stellar secondary? Will Kelce find himself galloping through wide open spaces in the Niners’ defense? What they do might ultimately give us insight into how the game will play out. Regardless I’d be willing to guess that Kittle does more than just run block in this one.
Here’s an oddball thing I caught. Bill Vinovich is the ref for the game.
His ref crews call a lot of holds. His crew is also the one that blew the pass interference call in last year’s NFC Championship Game that sent Saints fans into spaz rage that resulted in lawsuits and conspiracy theories that make truthers look somewhat sane. Now, the Chiefs get called for a lot of holding penalties. They led the league with 23 offensive holding calls. That’s 23 potential drive killing penalties. On defense it gets a little weird though.
NBC Sports reports that before a third-and-three play in the fourth quarter against the Pack, Shanahan told the side judge Eugene Hall that George Kittle would be running a five-yard “out” route but first make an inside move that Green Bay defensive back Will Redmond would not let him out of. Guess what, the Pack got flagged on the play and set up a field goal for the Niners to go up 17-0.
That kind of gamesmanship is a difference maker and Shanahan apparently does this every game. He will alert Vinovich and his officials as to what his players will be doing before a play and more often than not he gets calls his way. That’s not cheating, that’s working every angle possible. Do not be surprised if the Niners get some cheap first downs because Chiefs defenders are grabbing at guys.
The Niners vaunted run game is now down to Raheem Mostert and that’s just fine.
He’s blasted out of nowhere to become a beast. He went through six teams before becoming one of the focal points of the Super Bowl. One of his motivations is being on the Jets practice squad. He thought he’d be bumped up to the active roster, but instead the Jets released him after a week.
Think about that for a second: He’s motivated because the Jets cut him. He just gashed the Pack for 220, 29 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s playoff single-game rushing record, so Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman will probably not get as much work, but that’s the fine. Mostert seems to be the man right this second.
The Chiefs run game is putrid.
So, don’t expect anyone on their side to out gain Mahomes. I’d guess they run the ball maybe 5-10 designed run plays the whole game. And as sterling as Mahomes is you have to figure that the chances of him making a mistake go up and up the more he throws the ball. It doesn’t take a football savant to know that hoisting the ball up on every down isn’t the safest option even if it’s your best option. On a side note, one friend said that if Shady McCoy is active for the game he is going to bet his entire life savings on the Niners. I want to see if Vegas can get me a prop bet on that one.
Now, I think the coaches are a push. Both Reid and Shanahan have their playoff and Super Bowl demons to overcome.
Reid’s horrible clock management against the Patriots 15 years ago must have kept him up a few nights and the loss to the Pats last year in the AFC Championship Game was heartbreaking as were all those losses with the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. Shanahan has to overcome the meltdown of a 28-3 lead before his eyes and everyone in the world second guessing his play calls in the fourth quarter. Neither one of these guys is going to be scared. Reid proved as much with his clock management this year and Shanahan did by not being afraid to stick with what works instead of just throwing because you need balance in the offense or some such shit.
When I get down to what LBJ used to call “the nut cutting,” I keep coming back to me initial read that the Niners are bigger, stronger, and more physical on both sides of the ball.
I’ve been turning this over in my head for days and going back and forth with people, but this Niners team is stacked with talent on both sides of the ball and in key places. You have to think about which team will win the fight in the phonebooth. The Niners’ offensive and defensive lines are really good and everything they do flows through those key core groupings. Reid and Mahomes is the sentimental choice and I think a lot of people look at Mahomes and think, “no one can stop him.” They’re not wrong. I cannot criticize those folks because it’s true. Mahomes is special and capable of doing incredible things. Reid is special too. He made Matt Moore look like a competent quarterback. However, in the end, the Niners are just have way too many obstacles for the Chiefs to overcome.
My read is that the line opened Chiefs -1.5 because they would be the clear-cut public choice and they are.
The line is holding steady at -1 and as of Sunday night 61 percent of the bets are on the Chiefs as is 53 percent of the money. I am sure there will be some fluctuations in those splits, but the over is getting all sorts of love from the public. Eighty three percent are on over 54.5. Personally, I like teasing the Niners up to +7 and pushing the over up to 60 or more. As for the side? Weeeelllll …
THE PICK: Niners +1
THE OTHER PICK: Over 54.5
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