The 2019-2020 NFL season has been a wild ride, but it’s not over yet. A new champion will be crowned, with the New England Patriots failing to defend their title as last year’s Super Bowl champions. Not only will the champion be new, but especially fresh this year.
The San Francisco 49ers hold an impressive five Super Bowl titles, all from 1981 to 1994. Joe Montana and Steve Young led this impressive era of 49ers football, and now the franchise looks to earn their first Super Bowl win in 26 years. They did reach the championship game in 2012-13 with Colin Kaepernick under center, falling to the Baltimore Ravens with a chance to win in the final seconds. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo does have Super Bowl experience: as a backup in New England. Garoppolo already has two Super Bowl rings, although he didn’t take a snap in either game.
The Kansas City Chiefs have a storied franchise, winning three AFL championships prior to that league’s merger with the NFL, and also winning Super Bowl IV, the last Super Bowl that pit AFL and NFL champions against each other. Since that game in 1970, the Chiefs have made the playoffs 18 times including this year. But the last 17 appearances failed to yield an AFC Championship win/Super Bowl appearance.
Most importantly, the matchup of two non-Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (Garoppolo’s backup rings don’t count) is a welcomed change of pace. The last time two quarterbacks faced off without one being a winning Super Bowl starting quarterback was in 2013 when Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick faced off. Before that, it was Peyton Manning and Rex Grossman in 2007.
Specifically, the AFC has been dominated by Tom Brady (9 appearances,) Peyton Manning (4,) Ben Roethlisberger (3) since 2002. Patrick Mahomes will be the second quarterback since Flacco to represent the AFC apart from that group of three.
How They Got Here
We’ll start with the Kansas City Chiefs, who easily could have been in the Super Bowl last year. They took the Patriots to overtime in last year’s AFC Championship, but failed to stop Tom Brady’s offense from scoring on the opening drive of overtime. Earlier this season, the once 4-0 Chiefs found themselves at 6-4, losing four of six games, and with Mahomes hobbled.
After wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs would face their most important matchup of the season: a return to Foxborough to take on Brady and the Patriots. Kansas City would edge out the tough road test 23-16, in a win that would ultimately mean a lot. The head-to-head victory ensured the Chiefs would earn the 2nd seed and a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. The Patriots hadn’t played in the wildcard round of the playoffs in over a decade, as they routinely enjoyed a first-round bye with home-field advantage.
The Patriots would go on to lose in the wildcard round, preventing a playoff rematch, but cementing the importance of the Chiefs regular season win in New England.
Things went pretty well after the Chiefs were 6-4: as they wouldn’t lose a game the rest of the season, ending the regular season on a six-game winning streak. The Baltimore Ravens ended their regular season on a 12-game winning streak, but then stalled in the postseason. For a moment, it looked like the Chiefs were destined for the same fate. Wild turns of events had Mahomes and the Chiefs down 24-0 to the Texans early in the second quarter of Kansas City’s opening playoff game. But Mahomes would rally the Chiefs, scoring on seven straight drives to ultimately blow out the Chiefs 51-31.
Kansas City would find themselves briefly behind against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship, but would eventually roll to a 35-24 win to advance to the Super Bowl. In just two seasons as a starter, Mahomes had led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship (and perhaps a coin flip away from a Super Bowl) and now, a Super Bowl appearance at least.
The expectations were there for Kansas City coming into the season, and I’m proud to say they were my pick to win the Super Bowl in my preseason predictions.
I did waiver however, selecting the Baltimore Ravens over the New Orleans Saints in my mid-season predictions, and then returning to the Kansas City Chiefs but having them fall to the Seattle Seahawks in my post-season predictions once the field was set.
As proud as I am that I picked the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl before the season started, my predictions on the NFC were a little more embarrassing…
I had the Chicago Bears defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, with the Bears falling to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. I thought Mitch Trubisky and the Bears offense could take a step up and complement Chicago’s stellar defense. While the defense was still great given the circumstances, the offense simply could not get it done this season.
The San Francisco 49ers do emulate the type of spirit I expected the Bears to exude this year. A strong defense, smash mouth rushing attack, and efficient passing game are things that the 49ers possess that I thought the Bears might coming into the season.
But as I’ve been honest about my preseason predictions, I had the 49ers going 6-10 and finishing 3rd in the NFC West this season. I understood they were a trendy pick to make the playoffs (probably as a wildcard behind the Seahawks,) so it was a little bit of a hot take. I certainly didn’t see the 49ers being the most dominant team in the NFC from cover-to-cover throughout the season. But that’s exactly what they were.
San Francisco started 8-0 before losing a hard-fought game to the Seahawks, falling 27-24. Late in the season, the 49ers faced statistically the toughest three-game stretch in NFL history, facing the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and New Orleans Saints. They absolutely crushed the Packers 37-8, beat the Saints on the road in a stunning shoot-out 48-46, and lost to the Ravens 20-17 in another tough loss to a great team.
The 49ers most important and toughest win of the season didn’t come in the playoffs, but Week 17 of the regular season. Facing a rematch with the Seahawks, on Sunday Night Football, a win would propel the 49ers to the NFC’s top seed. A Seattle victory would’ve relegated the 49ers to the conference’s top wildcard spot, and forced them to play on the road and an extra round in the playoffs. They ground out a great victory, defeating the Seahawks 26-21 as Seattle fell just inches short in the final seconds.
After a well-earned week of rest, the 49ers were able to easily dispatch the Minnesota Vikings, shutting down Kirk Cousins ability to move the ball. In the NFC Championship, the 49ers proved they had the Packers number, defeating them 37-20 and asking Garoppolo to throw just eight passes.
Predicting the Game
These two teams may appear to have opposite strengths, but they’re not as different as you may think. Mahomes and the Chiefs are all about offense, but while they scored 451 points in the regular season, the 49ers scored 479. And while San Francisco is known for their lock-down defense, they actually allowed a couple more points (310) than Kansas City (308).
The Chiefs are still an offensive powerhouse and the 49ers still have an elite defense, but it’s interesting that the numbers don’t line up as you may expect.
With two weeks to prepare for the game, both defenses are likely trying to take away the opposition’s greatest strength. For the 49ers defense, that probably means limiting Mahomes time with the football, setting up a quarterback spy, and making the Chiefs resort to other options on offense. The Chiefs defense may try to do the opposite: limit the 49ers rushing attack and make San Francisco win behind the arm of Garoppolo.
Mahomes (24-7) and Garoppolo (21-5) have elite records in their young careers as NFL starters. The Chiefs and 49ers have been two unstoppable forces for the past few months, and this should really be a great matchup in the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs are officially favored by 1.5 points, likely due to their high-scoring ability. But the buzz surrounding the game feels much more like a toss-up.
There’s a million ways the game could play out, but I see three most likely scenarios:
- One-score game in the final quarter, Chiefs have the ball last win/lose the game
- One-score game in the final quarter, 49ers have the ball last and win/lose the game
- The Chiefs string together consecutive touchdown drives and put the game out of reach
I think the 49ers handling the pace of the game is the least likely scenario, even though that’s how they typically handle opponents. Between the pressure of the Super Bowl and the talent on Kansas City’s defense, I don’t see the 49ers putting up a ton of points. Their best hope is to keep the game close, and under no circumstances let Mahomes have the ball last.
Of course, even if he does, it may be poetic for the Super Bowl to be sealed by a defensive effort from San Francisco. After coming up with a big interception in the 49ers playoff win over the Vikings, I could see the cornerback making another key play in his 3rd trip to the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs offense could be slow to start, as they were against the Texans in the Divisional Round. San Francisco’s defense is a tough beast between a dominant pass rushers and talented pass defense. If the 49ers can defend well without sending extra defenders, they could unleash a relentless pass-rush in the second half to prevent any comeback attempts.
If Mahomes can figure out the 49ers defense, perhaps with his legs, tremendous arm talent, and high football IQ, the pressure will shift to Garoppolo and San Francisco’s offense. This isn’t a problem, as the unit is highly capable, but the 49ers aren’t exactly used to playing from behind.
I wouldn’t expect the Chiefs to hang an insane number of points in any scenario, as the 49ers defense will at least limit big plays. It’s possible Kansas City moves the ball down field before San Francisco’s defense holds them to a series of field goals. But Reid and Mahomes are notorious for scoring touchdowns, and to keep up, the 49ers will likely need to make their red-zone trips into seven points as well.
I couldn’t see this game as more of a toss-up: which is great for the league. With two fresh teams, two exciting quarterbacks, and some of the best players in the league facing off, Super Bowl LIV is set to be one for the ages.
If I had to pick a winner (which I guess is what we’re doing here) I would go with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 49ers will rely on largely a ground and pound rushing attack to go up 14-0 in the first quarter before Mahomes and the Chiefs offense starts to light up. By halftime, the 49ers cling to the narrowest of leads at 21-20. Kansas City strikes with back-to-back scoring drives in the second half, taking a 34-21 lead.
They’re unable to put the game away, however, as the 49ers pass rush prevents Mahomes from having his way any longer. Relying more on a passing game, Garoppolo uses his weapons to drive the ball down the field and slowly chip away at the Chiefs lead.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Chiefs hold a 34-27 lead. After heavy pressure from Nick Bosa, Mahomes is forced to throw an ill-advised pass to avoid a sack, intercepted by none other than Richard Sherman.
Garoppolo takes over, and drives the ball into the Chiefs redzone. With more time left in the game, the 49ers take a field goal on fourth down to make the score 34-30. Reid milks the clock using quick Mahomes passes, options, and straight up running plays to take five minutes off the clock and kick a field goal for a 37-30 lead.
San Francisco gets one last chance, with two minutes left and a couple timeouts. The 49ers move the ball down the field over the course of a series of exciting plays, but ultimately can’t reach the endzone, falling short on fourth down. The Chiefs defense ultimately seals the championship, but the 37 points scored by the offense were necessary to create the game-winning situation.
Mahomes wins Super Bowl MVP, with probably some ridiculous statline. The winning quarterback will probably win MVP barring a standpoint performance from a running back, receiver, or defensive player.
The Chiefs win their first Super Bowl since Super Bowl IV, while the 49ers find themselves still stuck at five titles, with two Super Bowl losses in the decade. For Mahomes and the Chiefs, it could be the first of multiple Super Bowl wins if they can keep their winning ways going.
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