MIAMI -- Super Bowl LIV in Miami offers the perfect matchup of a top-flight offense vs. a dominant defense. On one side is an elite passing game, one perfectly built for the modern game with a fearless, gunslinger quarterback who's throwing to a 4x100-meter relay receiving group. On the other is a nasty defense loaded with star pass rushers and a scheme built to make the quarterback be patient.
Chiefs vs. 49ers
Spread: Chiefs -1 | Total: 54.5
It will be Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his outstanding passing game against San Francisco's nasty defensive front, a unit that has battered and beaten quarterbacks all season long, including in the playoffs.
But it's much more than that when you consider the Chiefs offense finished behind the 49ers in points this season. The San Francisco offense, a physical throwback unit predicated on the run game, can light up the scoreboard as well.
In an era of wide-open offenses, the 49ers have taken theirs back to a time when pass was a four-letter word, not a way of life.
The 49ers were second in the league to the Baltimore Ravens in rushing offense, but they were actually the best conventional run game when you consider Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was that team's leading rusher. The 49ers do it with a zone scheme that can make it tough for a front seven to handle.
The Chiefs finished the season 26th in yards-per-rush against, but that's because of the first 10 games. They were much better in the final six games and the playoffs. In Week 1-10, the defense gave up 148.1 yards per game on the ground -- which means they were getting gashed -- but that number went down to 93.6 in the final six regular-season games and two playoff games.
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The Kansas City defense is much improved since it has grown comfortable with the schemes of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The 49ers, who had running back Raheem Mostert rush for 220 yards in the NFC Championship Game victory over the Packers, pose the biggest test of all in terms of the run game.
If the Chiefs stop it -- or at least limit it -- that will put all the pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo to win it, which hasn't been the case in the playoffs since he hasn't needed to throw much at all. But a few notes about that: The 49ers are 7-1 in games where he's thrown for over 250 yards and 3-1 in games where he threw 35 or more times.
But let's not mince words: This will be more of a game decided by Mahomes against the 49ers defense. San Francisco's base scheme is a Cover-3 look, although defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has adjusted to do a lot more than just basic Cover-3 looks.
Even so, that defense has given Mahomes some troubles in the past. The Los Angeles Chargers play a similar style, and they held Mahomes under 200 yards passing in both games between the teams this season. It's a defense that calls for the quarterback to be patient, which can sometimes frustrate Mahomes, who always seems to be looking for the chunk plays. In the two games against the Chargers, Mahomes had two touchdown passes and two picks -- not Mahomes-like numbers.
In asking some 49ers players about the scheme this week and how they can use it to slow Mahomes, one said, "You are a smart man." Translation: The 49ers' Super Bowl scheme will be similar to what the Chargers used.
The second big question will be whether the Chiefs offensive line can protect Mahomes. They've done an outstanding job in the playoffs, but the San Francisco front is the best they will have seen and the best in the league. The ability of Mahomes to get outside the pocket and make plays off-schedule could be huge in this game. The 49ers are that good rushing the passer.
The 49ers led the league in passing yards against, giving up just 169.2 per game. They were also the best at limiting the big passing plays, giving up 43 plays of 20-plus yards, which will challenge the Chiefs and especially Tyreek Hill, their big-play threat.
Add it all up, and it's tough game to pick. That's why the line is as close as it is. The teams are so even, but in the end I think it always comes down to quarterback play, and Mahomes is the elite player in this game.
Run, run, pass will lose out to pass, pass, run.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, 49ers 27
Picks: Chiefs -1.5, Over 54.5
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