And just like that, here we are.
Super Bowl LIV is mere days away, as the 2019-20 NFL season nears its end, and there’s reason to believe we’ll have another classic when the Lombardi Trophy is up for grabs Sunday night at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.
The championship tilt pits two of the best teams in the NFL all season long, and something has to give. On the one hand, you have the Kansas City Chiefs representing the AFC. Is this the year Andy Reid finally breaks through and cements his legacy as an all-time great coach by winning his first Super Bowl while also helping to usher in the Patrick Mahomes era? Or has Kyle Shanahan learned from his mistakes in Super Bowl LI and is ready to lead the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers back to glory with one of the most balanced teams in recent memory?
NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian are back for one more week of against-the-spread picks.
San Francisco 49ers vs. (-1) Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. ET at Hard Rock Stadium, Miami
Mike: 49ers. If Kansas City is going to win this game, it feels like it almost certainly will be on the strength of chunk plays. The Chiefs led the NFL in receptions of 30-plus and 40-plus yards, and Patrick Mahomes’ 13 “deep” touchdown passes led the league despite him missing time. The Chiefs have ridiculous speed and can turn the game into a track meet with the snap of a finger. That said: The 49ers have been very good, best in the NFL even, at limiting big plays. No one allowed fewer 20-plus-yard plays this season. Their Cover 3 defense is designed to keep receivers in front, and their ability to rush the passer with just four rushers is unparalleled. The defense might not dominate, but I like their chances of forcing the Chiefs into longer drives, and they’ll probably take their chances against KC’s 20th-ranked red-zone offense. And when the 49ers have the ball, I still don’t trust the Chiefs’ run defense despite recent improvement. Even if they take away the 49ers’ vaunted run game, San Fran still can throw the ball well, and the Niners’ short-passing game should thrive against a Chiefs defense that ranked 29th in yards after catch allowed.
Ricky: 49ers. The Chiefs’ run defense has improved rather significantly down the stretch and into the postseason, but the 49ers throw so much at you schematically, using various personnel groupings, that Kansas City will find it extremely difficult to slow San Francisco’s ground game. The Chiefs ranked 30th against outside zone runs and dead last in expected points added (EPA) on outside zone runs against them during the regular season, per Pro Football Focus. That should allow the 49ers to control the tempo and thrive on play-action, where Jimmy Garoppolo averaged 10.9 net yards per pass play, second only to Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. On the flip side, the Chiefs’ passing attack obviously poses problems for anyone, but the 49ers — excellent at covering both tight ends and running backs in the passing game — are well-equipped to stand the heat thanks to their elite secondary, their speed at the second level and their opportunistic pass rush. Andy Reid will need to wait at least one more year for his first Super Bowl ring, as the more well-rounded team with the better defense will hoist the Lombardi Trophy this Sunday.
Andre: 49ers. San Francisco is the more complete team (second in yards allowed per play and sixth in yards per play) and because of this, they’ll exploit the Chiefs’ weak rush defense and mitigate Kansas City’s aerial attack with their strong pass coverage. Offensively, their biggest strength is their running game. They’ve had at least 98 rushing yards in all but two games this year. They thrashed significantly better run defenses this season and now they go against the Chiefs’ rush defense, which ranked 29th on Pro Football Focus. The Chiefs’ biggest strength is their aerial attack, but the 49ers have what it takes to slow Patrick Mahomes down. Richard Sherman is having a ridiculously great season. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 36.4 when throwing at Sherman this season (playoffs included). The Chiefs’ other big strength is Travis Kelce. Well, guess what? The 49ers allowed the fewest receiving yards to tight ends this season. Meanwhile, the Chiefs allowed the fifth-most receiving yards to tight ends, so expect a big game from George Kittle.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images