Last year, the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams battled in one of the most riveting Super Bowls I can remember. No team had been able to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots’ juggernaut offense all year until the Rams did… and they still lost. The match pitted elite coaches and came down to the final minutes. It was a fascinating football game, though the abundance of punts (14 total, which was 13 more than the previous year) and deficiency in points (the Patriots won 13-3, in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever) gave many viewers the sense that the game was a let-down or was boring.
This year’s Super Bowl matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs has the potential to be every bit the chess match of Super Bowl LIII while appeasing the masses with points and big plays. Both teams have steamrolled through the playoffs and boast among the league’s best attacks on offense, whether through the air (Kansas City) or on the ground (49ers). These are the questions I am excited to see answered Sunday night.
1. Will the Chiefs put themselves in an early hole once more?
For all of the lopsided scores the Chiefs have put up in the playoffs, they haven’t come out of the gates strong. Kansas City famously surrendered three first-quarter touchdowns to the Texans in the divisional round before putting up 51 unanswered points, then stalled against Tennessee before coming alive in the second half. The same trend happened in last year’s AFC Championship game, which was an underrated reason why the Patriots were able to hold off the Chiefs at the end. With one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses, Kansas City isn’t out of the game at any point, but if Patrick Mahomes and Co. start out slow, San Francisco will have them right where they want them and be able to keep Mahomes off the field for long stretches of time.
2. Will the Chiefs be able to stop the fearsome San Francisco rushing attack?
Two weeks ago, Kansas City accomplished what many NFL fans thought was impossible — stopping Titans rusher Derrick Henry. They’ll have their hands full with San Francisco’s loaded backfield, which features backs Raheem Mostert (220 yards, 4 touchdowns in the NFC Championship) and Tevin Coleman and utilizes fullback Kyle Juszczyk, receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle in various capacities. The scheme is also headed by Kyle Shanahan, one of the league’s true offensive geniuses with a track record of punishing rushing attacks. If the Chiefs can stymie that backfield, the 49ers would have to prove they can beat KC with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s arm. That’s a risk the Chiefs would deem worth taking, especially given the alternative.
3. Can the 49ers contain the big play offense of Kansas City?
Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in football, and since returning to form post-injury mid-season, no team has stopped him. Seriously — the Chiefs haven’t lost since Week 10. The offense’s speed is a huge reason, with burners Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman on the outside and the physical Travis Kelce wreaking havoc up the middle. Mahomes’ elite escapability makes the margin of error even more miniscule, and it’s almost a guarantee that we’ll see a couple “wow” throws. When this team gets on a roll, they can’t be stopped, so it’s up to San Francisco’s ball control offense to keep Mahomes off the field and the fearsome Niners pass rush to knock the team off its rhythm.
4. Can Jimmy Garoppolo be “the guy” in the big moment?
Let’s say the Chiefs somehow stifle San Francisco’s running attack and put the game in Jimmy G’s hands. That turn-of-events might not be ideal for the 49ers, but Garoppolo is every bit capable of winning a Super Bowl with his arm. He has a bevy of weapons at his disposal, most notably tight end George Kittle, and though his workload in the playoffs has been remarkably light, he has performed well late in pivotal games this season. Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson are largely seen as the future of football, but Garoppolo could put his name in the conversation with a strong performance Sunday night.
5. Which offensive mastermind gets Super Bowl redemption: Andy Reid or Kyle Shanahan?
To me, this is the most meaningful storyline. During his tenure with the Eagles, Chiefs coach Andy Reid reached five NFC championship games and managed to reach just one Super Bowl, which he lost to the Patriots. With the Chiefs, he’s in his first Super Bowl after years of playoff disappointment. He’s the most accomplished coach in NFL history to not win the Big One, and one of the best coaches in the NFL today. He also has the best team that he’s coached in his 20 seasons, led by his best quarterback ever in Mahomes. But the guy on the other sideline also has an enormous chip on his shoulder — Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator of the Falcons team that blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl a couple of seasons ago. Whereas last Super Bowl was a defensive clash of titans, this Super Bowl is fascinating from an offensive standpoint. And to whoever comes out on top, a title would be the ultimate validation of a brilliant offensive mind.
My Prediction: With a line of razor-close margins (Chiefs by 1), this game figures to be tightly contested, even with the stark difference in offensive styles. Mostert won’t rush for 220 yards and a quartet of scores again, but the Niners will impose their will on offense and will take a double-digit lead into halftime. Mahomes will start to solve the 49ers’ pass rush and claw the Chiefs back in the game, and defensively Kansas City will force Garoppolo to beat them through the air. Jimmy G finds George Kittle for a go-ahead touchdown and then scrambles for the ensuing two-point conversion to go up 29-26, but leaves five minutes on the clock for Patrick Mahomes to work his magic. Mahomes finds unheralded fullback Patrick Sherman in the flat for an uncontested touchdown in the final minutes, giving Kansas City its first Super Bowl in 50 years.
Score: Kansas City Chiefs 33, San Francisco 49ers 29
MVP: Patrick Mahomes, 3 touchdowns, 295 yards, 50 rush yards