With the Super Bowl one day away, the Field Gulls team of writers (plus our superstar moderator Alaric) got together to make our predictions for the showdown between the loathed San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Did we let our blind dislike of our NFC West rivals sway us to go overwhelmingly for Kansas City? Well lemme spoil that for you: No!
Truth be told and from a neutral point of view, this genuinely feels like the best possible Super Bowl matchup outside of a 49ers rematch with the Baltimore Ravens. Kansas City is 2nd in DVOA, San Francisco is 5th, and they both have top-ten offenses. The 49ers have a great defense, while Kansas City’s is average but way improved over last year.
Here’s how we picked this game!
Mookie Alexander: I am of course going to be a massive Chiefs fan on Sunday, but I cannot shake off how often I’ve seen an elite and mostly healthy defense stifle a prolific offense. I expect a lot of zone coverage to counter the simple fact that the Niners secondary (sorry, Sherm) has no chance of keeping up with Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman. The 49ers can absolutely win with four-man rushes and make Patrick Mahomes get the ball out quickly. What cannot happen to Kansas City is falling behind early, because as quick strike as their offense can be, an early 49ers lead only encourages them to stick with the run and drain clock against a team that’s near the bottom in run defense DVOA. The margin for error is much smaller playing SF compared to a bad Texans defense/team. If anything, Kansas City’s pass rush may decide this game, because if Jimmy G is forced to throw more than Kyle Shanahan wants, then Frank Clark and company could hassle him into game-losing turnovers. Otherwise, Garoppolo is more capable than given credit for and he can make some plays of his own.
Unfortunately, I see San Francisco’s own speed and power on offense giving the Chiefs defense a lot of problems, particularly Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman on the ground and Deebo Samuel through the air (and sometimes as a runner). The Chiefs stopped Derrick Henry to great effect, but the 49ers have so many fast running backs that I can see KC’s d-line and linebackers struggling to keep up. Honey Badger is great but you can’t clone him, otherwise I’d say he’s another key to stopping SF. I’m pretty sure George Kittle and Travis Kelce will get their respective stats, and that Patrick Mahomes will produce moments of magic, but San Francisco is just a more balanced team. They can scheme just as many mismatches as Kansas City can on offense, except the 49ers have the superior defense. I’d love for Andy Reid to get that ring, but... 49ers 38 Chiefs 27.
Alaric: I love the 49ers run game design and the problems it causes, but I don’t think it can keep up points-wise with Mahomes’ and the Chiefs’ ability to score at will from anywhere on the field in roughly 2.8 seconds despite the defensive discrepancies between the teams. While Garoppolo has had some dominant games I still don’t have faith in his ability to Russ a game out if he has to. Chiefs 38 49ers 20. That being said I’m going to be a hedging coward and say that he could also complete 18 straight passes to a somehow still open George Kittle and if Sherm does a Sherm thing or two… I think it’s a close matchup but not necessarily a close game and it’s going to come down to how a couple of variables fall.
Clarke Ries: The Chiefs are going to drop-kick the 49ers in the face. The Titans feasted in the early rounds of the AFC playoffs by dominating the offensive lines of the Patriots and Ravens, but the Chiefs offense had no trouble stopping the Titans pass rush cold with, quite often, only five blockers. Yes, yes, the 49ers have all those shiny first-round picks putting a hand in the dirt pre-snap, but if Vrabel and his wrecking crew couldn’t find a way to make Mahomes consistently run for his life, I don’t expect Saleh to do much better. Reid will often have four or five targets running routes and Mahomes isn’t afraid to take shorter completions in order to move the chains and demoralize the rush. Kansas City’s offense will be slowed down at best, not stopped. Which means Shanahan has to call a game that’ll make Jimmy into the kind of quarterback who can dominate a sneaky-decent Chiefs defense that’s had two weeks to prepare for him. I don’t think that game plan exists, not even if Kyle trekked to the summit of a forbidden Himalayan peak, bested the temple guardians in a series of increasingly challenging riddles and duels to the death, recited the holy sutras of football analytics, and then beseeched the Buddha of X’s and O’s for the answer. Expect some lively back-and-forth early, but for the Chiefs to slowly pull away. 31-24, Chiefs.
Alistair Corp: San Fran proved earlier this season in New Orleans they can score with anyone. Kyle Shanahan is not only an offensive mastermind but a terrific coach at having his players prepared—with the bye week, I have no doubt they’ll execute at a high level. George Kittle and Deebo Samuel create havoc after the catch, their running game is phenomenal and Jimmy Garoppolo is certainly good enough to win.
While Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson were trading blows for three months in a fun-as-hell MVP race, we forgot about Patrick Mahomes just a little bit (and his injury didn’t help). The Chiefs have the best player in football and he’s playing as well as he ever has. He rarely ran in 2018 and was impossible to defend. Now that he’s creating with his legs, too? The 49ers’ vaunted d-line will be in a damned if you do damned if you don’t scenario against Mahomes. Rush deep and you’re allowing Mahomes to step up and find Hardman, Watkins, Kelce or Hill out of structure, or simply escape for chunks of yardage. Keep him in front of you and he’ll sit back and pick their secondary apart, because he can pick absolutely any defense apart.
The 49ers can keep up in a track meet but ultimately, Kansas City have the better offense and more importantly the best player on the field. 42-35 Chiefs
Tyler Alsin: Defense may not win as many games as it used to, and it may not win as many games as the 21st Century offenses of the NFL. But defense still wins championships. The 49ers are better at every level. Their line is better, their linebackers are better, their former Seahawk is better. Patrick Mahomes will neutralize the San Francisco pass rush for somewhere between 75-90% of the game. But the two sacks he does take - or the three incompletions on third down because of hurries - are going to keep the Chiefs from staying apace of the Niners. Furthermore, the KC’s best non-QB is their TE. The 49ers’ is better. The Chief’s most dangerous perimeter player is Tyreek Hill. Richard Sherman is better. It’s not a good matchup for the Chiefs, and is compounded because of the NFL’s recent defensive juggernauts only the 49ers are also capable of consistently putting up 30+ points, and they’re not going to need over 40. It might look dismal early on, but the Niners will pull away late. Then Seattle can sign all their free agents. 34-28 49ers
John Fraley: There’s only one foolproof method to picking a Super Bowl winner: How did the participants fare most recently against the Seahawks? San Fran split this year with Seattle, in two games that could scarcely have been closer; Kansas City came to town 13 months ago and held a track meet at the CLink, evenly matched until the final drive. Ah, so a stalemate. Cross-referenced against 2016, when both conference champs met Seattle, the theory checks out. The Patriots and Falcons lost to the Seahawks, again by the narrowest/harrowest of margins, again on the final drive, and then they both lost the Super Bowl. New England first, when they fell into a 28-3 hole, then of course Atlanta for the rest of the game.
So, a close game then, right? And everyone thinks this is going to be a high-scoring affair. But the Super Bowl is infrequently both of those things. (Just ask the Rams.) In the salary cap era, there have been 25 Super Bowls — 13 decided by one score and 12 by multiple scores. Only nine games have exceeded this year’s over (54.5). We’re just as likely to see a snoozer as a thriller, just as likely to see defense rule as not.
On a matchup level, Patrick Mahomes presents all of the problems Wilson does, only with a better offensive line, more offensive playmakers, and better offensive playcalling/scheming from a coach willing to fully leverage his quarterback talent, on all drives, in all circumstances. The 49ers are going to give up points, like they did against the Seahawks, twice, only more.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo presents no problems to the Chiefs. He’s a fine quarterback, but he’s at his best when handing the ball off. If KC can contain the SF run game even a little, and they will, it’ll be hard for the Niners to keep pace. Therefore, no drama in this one. Chiefs 34, Niners 19. Take the under, if you can get it.
Brandan Schulze: My head has been battling my heart since championship weekend. A win for Andy Reid makes him a Hall of Fame lock in my mind and it’s about time to end the drought both Chiefs fans and Reid have suffered through. Former Seahawks tackle Andy Heck is also the offensive line coach for the Chiefs and I don’t think he’s been a part of a game this significant since he played for the Notre Dame team that won the National Championship in 1988.
As much as I dislike the idea of the San Francisco 49ers winning, I can’t bring myself to pick against them. After watching the Chiefs fall behind in the playoffs to the Texans and Titans in back-to-back weeks, it has me expecting them to dig a hole too deep to pull out of against Richard Sherman and the 49ers defense. San Francisco 49ers 31, Kansas City Chiefs 28.
John P. Gilbert: I don’t really care which team wins, as the true tragedy regarding this game is that the NFL doesn’t have a college football style overtime which could see Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid match wits for a dozen overtimes in a game that ends with each team scoring in the triple digits. That said I’m excited to sit back and watch a game that should be entertaining and feature lots of offense, and the only real drama for me will be whether the two teams set a new Super Bowl scoring record for combined points. 49ers + Chiefs > 75 (though I do expect the 49ers will have more points)
49ers - 4 (Gilbert’s pick counts as a Niners win in my book)
Chiefs - 4
Make your predictions in the comments!