SUPER BOWL: The greatest American sporting spectacle returns for its 58th edition, as once again we’ll all be gathered around our screens to witness the celebration of culture, capitalism, and competition that is the Super Bowl.
Almost 200 million people across the globe tuned in to last year’s game, which saw Kansas City erase a 2nd half deficit to edge Philadelphia in a 38-35 thriller, and all outlets are predicting record viewing numbers this year for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with football. That’s right, there will allegedly be millions of new viewers brought into the fold thanks to the presence of a certain pop star who will be tucked away in her luxury box cheering for the red team. Those of you who doubt or disbelieve the impact that Miss Taylor Swift has on the culture right now must not share the blessing of an 11-year-old daughter with your humble author. I can assure you; the impact is real. There’s a reason we’re going to see approximately 9,000 shots of her smiling through the glass during the telecast. The drooling masses would much rather see that than shots of Andy Reid’s mustache, glorious though it may be.
For the real ones, though — those of us who have lived, suffered, and celebrated the NFL every weekend for the past 5 months — the dating habits of Travis Kelce matter much less than his playoff resurgence and his propensity for coming up big in the biggest of spots. We could care less about Usher, Reba McIntyre, Bono, Kim Kardashian, or whoever the hell else they’re going to throw out there to milk this thing for every entertainment dollar it’s worth. We care about Andy Reid vs. Kyle Shanahan, Pat Mahomes vs. Brock Purdy, the irrepressible Christian McCaffrey vs. the dominant Kansas City D, Kittle vs. Kelce, Chris Jones vs. the interior of the 49ers o-line, Deebo Samuel vs. everybody… it’s gonna be great.
Here are a few thoughts on how it might all go down:
SUPER BOWL LVIII
Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers
BETDAQ Line: San Francisco -2 (47.5)
Throughout most of the season the 49ers were rolling and appeared to be the NFL’s best team. The Chiefs, meanwhile, lacked their usual explosiveness on offense, struggling at times to get the passing game going despite having the league’s best quarterback at the helm. For the first time in the Reid/Mahomes era the Kansas City defense outperformed the team’s offense, ranking second in the NFL in both yards allowed and points allowed, and Steve Spagnuolo’s unit has kept it up in the playoffs, limiting the high-scoring Dolphins to just 7 points in the Wild Card round and then smothering MVP Lamar Jackson and the top-seeded Ravens in a 17-10 AFC Championship game victory. The offense that had been dormant for most of the season seems to have awakened as well, with Mahomes throwing for 718 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions this postseason. The Chiefs are starting to look like themselves, in other words, and we know full well what they’re capable of in this game, as they’ve appeared in 3 of the last 4 Super Bowls, winning two of them.
The first of Patrick Mahomes’s Super Bowls was back in 2020, Super Bowl LV, and it was against these very same 49ers. Of course, much of the personnel was different on both teams — Brock Purdy was still under center at Iowa State, Tyreek Hill was still running routes in Kansas City, the Chiefs defense lacked the leadership and playmakers in the secondary that they currently possess, and the 49ers had not yet acquired All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey, the engine of their top-5 offense. That said, plenty of players on both teams were on the field for that game four years ago, and philosophically these teams have changed very little because the head coaches, Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan, have remained intact. This will be the fourth rematch of head coaches in Super Bowl history and the coach who lost the first time has never won the rematch, so Shanahan has some demons to slay here, not least of which is the 28-3 lead that his Falcons blew against the Patriots back in Super Bowl LI. This will be Shanny’s third shot at the big game, and you get the sense that this one is critical for his legacy.
Unlike the Chiefs, the Niners haven’t seemed to be gaining momentum in the playoffs despite a pair of victories. They finished the regular season on a tear, with each of their last 10 wins coming by double-digits, but they survived two nail-biters in the playoffs, first overcoming a poor performance by Purdy to eke out a 24-21 win over Green Bay and then erasing a 24-7 halftime deficit to pull off a 3-point win over Detroit that was aided by some truly boneheaded coaching on the part of Lions head man Dan Campbell. This is the Super Bowl, however, and both teams have had two weeks off — we’ve seen in the past that momentum very often doesn’t carry over to this game, it’s more of a universe unto itself. Still, it’s important to know that as the games have become more important this season, the 49ers have become less dominant.
Though San Francisco is a slight favorite here, the Chiefs have been a popular public bet at plus-odds on the moneyline. They have the better quarterback, more experience, and unlike the Niners they’ve played their best football in the postseason. That being said, it’s always a game of matchups, and I believe Kansas City has reason to be concerned here. Even throughout these playoffs, where the Chiefs have had success, the passing attack has been far from explosive, with Mahomes throwing for 262 yards or fewer in all three games, including a paltry 215 yards in the Divisional Round and only 241 yards on 39 attempts in the AFC Championship game. San Francisco has a terrific secondary that allowed just 214 pass yard per game this season and led the NFL with 22 interceptions, so I’m not expecting many big plays out of the Chiefs in this one. They’ll have to grind it out with dink-and-dunk passing and the running game, which means they’ll need to rely on their defense once again if they’re going to get the W.
And though the KC defense has been great, they do have one glaring weakness — they can’t stop the run. Opposing teams averaged 4.5 yards per attempt against the Chiefs this season. That’s not good. As a matter of fact, only five teams leaguewide were worse in that area, and none of them made the playoffs. The Niners, of course, have the league’s top running back in Christian McCaffrey and a scheme that has made them almost unstoppable on the ground ever since Shanahan brought his zone-blocking system to town. They averaged 140 yards per game on the ground this season and a whopping 4.8 yards per attempt, and they rode the ground attack to 155 yards and 3 TDs in the NFC Championship game victory over Detroit. It’s difficult to envision a team beating the 49ers if they’re unable to stop them from running the ball, and that just may be the situation for the Chiefs. Mahomes will go down swinging, I’m sure of that, but it feels like he’s got a steep hill to climb in this one. Prediction: San Francisco 27, Kansas City 20