Super Bowl LIV features two teams that have been LIV-ing good. Week 17 couldn’t have played out any better, as the Chiefs and 49ers earned first-round byes and now say hello in Miami for what should be an entertaining finale. With Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs are never out of it (just ask the Texans), but the belief here is that the 49ers are the more complete team and will prevail on Sunday. Here are five reasons the 49ers are the pick to win Super Bowl LIV.
THE LINE: Chiefs -1; O/U: 54.5
1. GOLDEN PASS RUSH
The 49ers’ defensive line has dominated all season. San Francisco can thank Kansas City for two of its stars, too. Well, sort of. One is Dee Ford, the former Chiefs pass rusher known for his costly offside penalty in last year’s AFC title game, who Kansas City then traded. The other is Nick Bosa, the relentless rookie whom the 49ers selected with the No. 2 pick … a top selection that likely wouldn’t have happened if Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t injured at Kansas City in Week 3 of last season. One more Bosa connection: You think his brother, Joey, a pass rusher with the Chargers, has given him insight into beating the Chiefs’ O-line?
In addition to Bosa (nine sacks) and Ford (6.5 in 11 games), the 49ers boast Arik Armstead (10) and DeForest Buckner (7.5). Mahomes has not faced a defensive line with this type of speed. He won’t have the same amount of time to find open receivers as he did against the Texans and Titans. The 49ers had 57 sacks (nine in the playoffs). According to ESPN and NFL Network, all six teams who entered the Super Bowl with at least 55 sacks in the last 15 seasons have won. That’s 6-0, including both Giants teams.
2. GOLD RUSH!
The 49ers’ run game is incredible (144.1 yards per game, second most in the NFL), and the fact they’ve done it without a star running back shows how Kyle Shanahan is the best run schemer in the NFL. Just look to the playoffs, when the 49ers beat the Vikings and Packers by a combined score of 64-30 while throwing just … wait for it … 27 times! The 49ers put the game away against the Vikings with an eight-play TD drive. All eight plays were runs. Defenses know they’re running and still can’t stop them. The Chiefs’ defense is improved, but more so against the pass (eighth best, 221.4 ypg) and not the run (seventh worst, 128.2 ypg). Yes, they contained Derrick Henry, but the trailing Titans had to ditch the run game in the second half. It’s hard to see the Chiefs shutting down Raheem Mostert, fresh off his record-breaking 220-yard, 4-TD performance in the NFC title game.
3. JIMMY G: REMEMBER ME?
While Garoppolo hasn’t had to do much in the playoffs, don’t sleep on his ability. For starters, he owns a 23-5 record, and don’t forget this is the guy whose trade to the 49ers reportedly didn’t sit well with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He’s no Mahomes (who is, really?), but Garoppolo can hold his own if this turns into a shootout. Case in point: The 49ers’ 48-46 win at New Orleans in Week 12. Garoppolo threw for 349 yards and four touchdowns. He had a strong regular season, something the average fan might not realize after seeing him hand off a million times in the playoffs. He was the only QB to be top 5 in completion percentage (69.1), touchdown passes (27) and yards per attempt (8.4), according to ESPN. Shanahan will put him in positions to succeed, especially on play-action passes. Super Bowl-winning receiver Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Deebo Samuel are undervalued and Garoppolo also has George Kittle, who is on the same level as Travis Kelce as pass-catching tight ends but gets the slight edge because of his blocking ability.
4. 49ERS ARE BATTLE-TESTED
Quick, what did the top games of the year almost all have in common? Yep, the 49ers were a part of them. From the two thrillers against Seattle to the shootout at the Superdome to the Baltimore slugfest, this team has experienced it all. The Chiefs? They had a tense win at New England and other than that won half their regular-season games against a bad AFC West (6-0). In a Super Bowl matchup that should be tight in the fourth quarter, the 49ers’ familiarity with pressure-packed situations could be a factor.
5. PUT SOME RESPECT ON THEIR NAME
The 49ers finished 13-3, cruised in the playoffs and for some reason are still being underestimated. San Francisco lost three games, and all three were decided in the final seconds. That’s three losses by a total of 13 points (seven points if you don’t include a meaningless TD on a last-second lateral). Yet somehow there’s this notion that they can’t win because of what Mahomes and the Chiefs did in the playoffs. Newsflash: The 49ers are not the Texans or Titans! San Francisco’s defense is healthy at the right time, and its pass defense (NFL-best 169.2 yards per game) was on pace for a record season before injuries. They’re stacked at all three levels on defense, and Richard Sherman should bring his A-game to lead a secondary that will have its hands full with the Chiefs’ speedy receivers. The impression I get is that Mahomes’ magic comebacks have made people overestimate those wins. Impressive? Yes. But this is a huge step up in competition. If the Chiefs fall behind 10-0, let alone 24-0, they’re in for a long night against a super 49ers team.
JOE MANNIELLO’S PICK
49ers 34, Chiefs 31
MVP: Emmanuel Sanders
Playoff record: 3-7
Regular season: 119-130-7