The early rounds of the 2020 NFL Playoffs were marked by upsets of the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens, but the season’s final game will still be played between two powerhouses — the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. Combined, the two teams recorded 25 regular season wins and only seven losses, adding four victories in the playoffs. Both squads have looked dominant at times, overpowering their opponents, but only one team can win. So who will emerge with the coveted Lombardi trophy?
The most exciting matchup will be Kansas City’s offense against San Francisco’s defense. The Chiefs have perhaps the best player in the entire league, Patrick Mahomes, at quarterback — a star who has the potential to take over any game. Led by Mahomes, the speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill and the physical tight end Travis Kelce, Kansas City can score points in bunches, an ability that the team has relied upon throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs have fallen behind significantly in both of their postseason wins, notably trailing by 24 points against the Houston Texans in the second quarter before storming back to take the lead by halftime. After scoring 86 points through two playoff games, Kansas City will come into the Super Bowl confident in its ability to demoralize opposing defenses.
But while Kansas City has been able to score quickly and escape losses, Mahomes and company cannot afford to get off to a slow start against San Francisco. It will be much harder to pull off another run of spectacular offense while facing the 49ers’ stout defense. San Francisco ranked second in the entire league in total yards allowed and first overall in passing yards allowed. Cornerback Richard Sherman looms large for the Niners — he has been able to lock down opposing receivers throughout the playoffs, making it dangerous to throw in his direction. Watch out for the Niners’ sensational rookie Nick Bosa, a defensive end who can make things even trickier for Mahomes, having already recorded three sacks in the postseason. Kansas City will have to stay focused early on and not allow the 49er defense to pick up momentum, or the game could be over quickly.
Conversely, San Francisco’s offense might be a question mark against Kansas City. The Chiefs have been much more effective at clamping down in the red zone than the 49ers, allowing a touchdown on 52 percent of red zone possessions compared to 61 percent for San Francisco.To make matters more difficult, San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is a solid game manager, but he can’t dominate a playoff game like Mahomes. The 49ers instead rely heavily on their rushing attack — they have been feeding breakout star running back Raheem Mostert throughout this postseason. The 27-year-old had an incredible performance in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers, rushing for a ridiculous 220 yards and four touchdowns. Don’t forget about star tight end George Kittle, who excels at both blocking for runners and receiving passes. Still, the 49ers could be in major trouble if they face an early deficit, for it remains to be seen whether Garoppolo is the kind of quarterback that can lead a playoff comeback.
Kansas City, on the other hand, must enter the game with a solid plan on defense because the team has had trouble containing the run throughout this season, allowing 128.2 rushing yards per game, the seventh-worst in the NFL. The 49ers have shown that they will not hesitate to run the ball over and over again when successful — after all, San Francisco only had Garoppolo attempt eight passes for a total of 77 yards in the team’s NFC Championship win. The Chiefs cannot let San Francisco run over them and chew up clock. The health of defensive tackle Chris Jones will prove critical to those efforts. The 25-year-old Jones accumulated nine sacks in 13 games during the regular season, but missed the Divisional round against the Texans due to a calf injury. He played in the AFC Championship and has participated in practice fully this week, but the Chiefs will need him to play well and help take control of the line of scrimmage.
The opening minutes of the Super Bowl will be crucial for both teams. We’ve seen in past years how no deficit seemed too large for the New England Patriots to overcome, but neither Kansas City nor San Francisco can come close to matching that sort of confidence. Both teams are unproven on the NFL’s biggest stage. Kansas City will have trouble scoring in bunches against San Francisco’s defense, and questions remain about Garoppolo’s ability to produce when it matters most. Ultimately, on paper, the 49ers seem like a slightly stronger team. They perform consistently well in every phase of the game, while the Chiefs have more major deficiencies, such as their rushing defense. But when Mahomes has the ball in his hands, anything seems possible for Kansas City. This game should be a close battle all the way to the end.
Prediction: 49ers 30, Chiefs 27
George Klein ’20 can be reached at
email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to
firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.