Why Super Bowl LIV Should Be One For The Ages
Every so often the football gods get it right. The stifling San Francisco defense vs. the wizardry of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ prolific offense equals dream matchup. The Chiefs are currently favored by a point. If it were Jimmy Garoppolo putting up massive numbers in the NFC Championship instead of San Francisco’s running attack, it’s possible the 49ers could be favorites given that quarterback numbers often drive perceptions. That’s how close this one shapes up. All told, Super Bowl 54 is almost impossible to predict with confidence.
But the reasons this is the best Super Bowl matchup in years delve deeper than good offense vs. good defense. Welcome to football heaven!
Advantage: No one
All this week you’ve seen positional comparisons like Travis Kelce vs. George Kittle, Frank Clark vs. Nick Bosa and of course Mahomes vs. Garoppolo. This stuff makes for great television promos and network fodder but has little to do with the game outcome. Mahomes doesn’t face Garoppolo; he faces the 49ers front. Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders face the Chiefs, not Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.
While Mahomes over Garoppolo seems like a big advantage (more on that in a moment), no position groups actually facing off in this Super Bowl hold a sizable advantage. The Chiefs are inherently well-positioned when they trot out Mahomes with his unique talents but San Francisco’s speedy, savvy front four will be his biggest test this season. If Dee Ford, Nick Bosa (9 sacks), Arik Armstead (10 sacks) and DeForest Buckner can neutralize Mahomes without extra help, the Chiefs electric pass game may also be slowed. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, 16 of Mahomes’s 17 NFL interceptions have come with 4 or less rushers. Players from both sides have touted their speed all week, knowing the winner in that department is primed to be hoisting Lombardi.
And there’s so much more! The 49ers running attack is powerful, most recently highlighted by Raheem Mostert’s 220 yards and 4 touchdowns in the NFC Championship. But the Chiefs have significantly improved their run defense, and remarkably held Derrick Henry to 69 yards rushing in the AFC Championship (that’s equivalent to holding Mahomes to 100 passing yards). The 49ers run game which features misdirections and motion vs. Henry’s up the gut style poses a problem for any defense. The Chiefs are motivated by this notion of an advantage for San Francisco.
“That’s what gives me an edge, and what keeps me going,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones told USA Today. “The doubters. The naysayers. The people who don’t believe. The critics. The analysts who say the Chiefs don’t have enough — that’s what keeps me going.
A coaching masterclass
Worthy of its own category, these teams are helmed by two of the most inventive, respected head coaches in the NFL. Reid has long been an offensive innovator, bred from the West Coast Offense, but always incorporating modern ideas. Reid’s 207-128-1 career record, sixth all-time in the win department, is rooted in his ability to be malleable. Mahomes is a generational talent, of course, but it was Reid re-catering his offense to Mahomes’s strengths that helped the young quarterback soar quickly. The fruits of Reid’s success as a strategist can be seem in a successful coaching tree featuring John Harbaugh, Brad Childress, Ron Rivers and Doug Pederson.
After bombing with Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly in the post Jim Harbaugh era, 49ers owner Jed York finally got it right when he hired Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan is not only a brilliant playcaller, he’s meticulous and cunning about taking every advantage be it an angle or a positional shift. Like Reid, Shanahan has installed a top notch culture in San Francisco rooted in mutual respect. 49ers players have continuously sung his praises this week.
The Jimmy question
Garoppolo doesn’t care that he only threw 77 yards in the NFC Championship, no reason to start lobbing up passes when your defense is racking up a gashing 6.8 yards per rush. But his numbers, while irrelevant, have amplified the conversation around just how good he is. 49ers teammates get chippy when the question is asked as they believe it’s absurd and have upmost confidence in their quarterback.
Garoppolo is not Mahomes (who is?) but he’s displayed a command of the pocket more times than not this season. He also grew into a gamer as the regular season wore on, playing his best game against the Saints to help solidify the number one overall seed.
But the fact is Garoppolo only has 26 career starts (24 with San Francisco) which is hardly enough time to draw absolutes on what he’ll bring Sunday.
The No Hater Bowl
If there’s a thorn missing from this year’s Super Bowl, it’s the absence of the New England Patriots. Four of the past five Super Bowls, Bill Belichick and his band have clogged half of football’s biggest spectacle. Most of the football zeitgeist found this foregone conclusion anywhere from frustrating to annoying. Having fresh blood in the AFC led by a lovable coach a young all-world quarterback who has the ability to bring in new fans is a major win-win for the NFL.