Aidan Wiess | Staff Writer
It will be a battle between a current dynasty versus a rising one when the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers Sunday evening in Super Bowl LVIII.
The Chiefs are back, and they are led by a familiar face in superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. However, the quarterback dipped this year to a 27-14 touchdown–interception ratio, by far the worst of his career.
The reason for Mahomes’s struggles can easily be attributed to his receivers. Forty-four of Mahomes’s 597 throws were dropped, the most in the league. However, second-round rookie Rashee Rice has emerged in an otherwise bare-bones receiver room to give Mahomes a weapon out wide.
The Chiefs’ leading pass catcher, as it has been for the past decade, is superstar tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce also had a down season but still finished with 984 yards and constantly finds space for himself. That is the only notable Kelce storyline this NFL season.
Meanwhile, in a reversal of formula, the Chiefs defense has led the way this season. Led by defensive tackle Chris Jones and cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie, the Chiefs finished second in the league in points and yards allowed. They also commit very few penalties, forcing opponents to drive the field without help.
However, the San Francisco 49ers are rising, as they finished with the first seed in the NFC. After getting injured in last season’s conference championship loss, quarterback Brock Purdy came back with a vengeance, finishing among the league leaders in passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and yards per attempt.
Purdy’s impressive numbers have opened the door for superstar running back Christian McCaffrey, finishing with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns. Both Purdy and McCaffrey were named MVP finalists for their impressive seasons.
Purdy has plenty of weapons in the receiving game as well. Wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel along with tight end George Kittle form an elite trio for Purdy to throw to.
Defensively, the 49ers also stack up well. They are among the league leaders in turnovers, yards allowed and points allowed. The unit is keyed by star pass rusher Nick Bosa and their elite linebacker duo of Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw.
Kansas City’s Three Keys to Victory:
Catch the ball:
This has been a problem for the Chiefs from the opening game. After a brutal regular season, things were cleaned up, with only one drop in the postseason outside of their brutally cold Wild Card game against Miami. However, more drop issues could lead to a blowout against a San Francisco team that could run away if Kansas City cannot score consistently.
If there is one thing to nitpick about San Francisco’s defense, they have been middling against the run. Isiah Pacheco is the perfect option with his ferocious running style. The only question is whether the Chiefs will be able to play from ahead to utilize Pacheco’s abilities to the maximum potential since the 49ers have been so strong early in games this season.
The key to the Chiefs’ defense all year has been generating pressure, leading them to 57 sacks in the regular season. The key to the 49er offense has been getting the ball out quickly to paint over their offensive line struggles. Things got harder this past week for Kansas City when it lost starter defensive end Charles Omenihu to a torn ACL. Simply put, the Chiefs need to make Purdy uncomfortable to stop his potent offense and stay in the game.
San Francisco’s Three Keys to Victory:
After letting veteran Robbie Gould walk and drafting Jake Moody in the third round, the 49ers were making a sound decision looking toward the future at kicker. However, the present has not been so kind. After a shaky regular season, Moody had a 48-yard-attempt blocked against Green Bay and then pushed another 48-yarder wide right against Detroit. It is difficult to trust the rookie in a clutch situation at this point, but San Francisco may not have a choice.
Besides Charvarius Ward, the cornerback depth gets dicey for the 49ers. Currently, Ambry Thomas has the spot opposite Ward, but he has struggled this season. Deommodore Lenoir has been solid in the slot but struggled on the outside in 2022. The matchup is beneficial, but it would not be surprising to see Mahomes and the Chiefs constantly attacking whoever gets the nod as the second cornerback.
Brock Purdy’s Clutch Factor:
Critics have been calling Brock Purdy a game manager all year. The quarterback is often only asked to find the open guy and play from ahead. However, it is tough to imagine that a proven winner like Kansas City will allow that to happen. While Purdy has come from behind in both postseason games this season, it remains to be seen if he can step up on the biggest stage. Purdy showing up in the clutch will likely be the difference between a San Francisco triumph or another loss at the hands of Kansas City.
It is tough to bet against Patrick Mahomes in the postseason when he is not playing the greatest player of all-time, as he only has two losses ever. However, the 2024 San Francisco 49ers are probably the best overall team Mahomes has ever faced. San Francisco will pull off a 28-17 win, and draw even with the Steelers’ six Super Bowls.
Kansas City 30, San Francisco 22