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Could Super Bowl LIV be a snooze? Why the Niners need to get physical. And why the big game might resemble a track meet. All that and more in this week’s 10-Point Stance.
1. The unstoppable force
In asking a handful of people around the league who they believe will win Super Bowl LIV, what has surprised meactually stunned meis how many are confident the Chiefs will blow out the 49ers.
Three assistant coaches and two front office executives with whom B/R spoke all picked the Chiefs, big, and I don’t think this belief is isolated.
What is so striking about that view is that I have seen few teams, in decades of covering this sport, more physicaland adaptablethan the 49ers. They are tough, but they are also malleable. They won 9-0 against Washington in a rainstorm and 48-46 on the fast track of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
They can do anything and everything.
But there are good reasons to believe in Kansas City.
First, Andy Reid. It’s difficult to put into words how much everyone in football respects Reid as a head coach. He’s seen as coaching royalty. This is the second franchise (the first being the Eagles in the 2004 season) he’s taken to a Super Bowl.
Second, quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“There is no defense against Mahomes right now,” one NFC assistant coach said. Not even the 49ers, argue the coaches and team execs. To them, no playerat any positionis playing better than Mahomes.
It’s taken as an article of faith that team success in the NFL is based upon a franchise’s coach and quarterback, and with Reid and Mahomes, the Chiefs have two the league feels are performing at the highest level.
And if the connection clicks again in two weeks, the Chiefs may fly home from Miami with their first championship in five decades.
2. The immovable object
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The coaches and officials B/R surveyed admitted that the 49ers could do something to slow the Chiefs, and that is hit them, and hit them again, and again, and again.
As I wrote, Super Bowl XXV should serve as a template for the 49ers. The Bills entered that game in 1991 against the Giants with what many thought was an unstoppable offense featuring three Hall of Famers: quarterback Jim Kelly, wide receiver Andre Reed and running back Thurman Thomas.
That offense was a lot like Kansas City’s. In fact, if you watch Kelly that season and Mahomes now, there are a number of similaritiestheir throwing accuracy, athleticism and even the way they move. People forget how athletic Kelly was.
The Giants knew they couldn’t compete with that passing offense, so they decided to brutalize the receivers after they made a catch. Every time Reed did, he was smashed. Buffalo’s passing offense slowed to a crawl.
What the Giants did can’t be duplicated exactly in today’s NFL because some of those hits would be penalties now. But if the 49ers come close to that level of violence, they could disrupt an almost flawless Kansas City passing game.
One coach told me the 49ers may not even need to look back to the 1990s, but only to what they did this year against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
The Packers aren’t those Bills, and it’s true that Rodgers isn’t the same Rodgers he was five years ago, but he’s still extremely mobile, and still extremely good. Yet, the 49ers beat the Packers in two games by a combined score of 74-28.
They bullied Rodgers and his receiving group, and they have the physicality to do the same to the Chiefs. But it won’t be easy
3. You can’t hit what you can’t catch
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The Chiefs are fast. Like, the speed of sound fast.
You’ve heard the phrase “speed kills,” and it does, but it also wounds and demoralizes.
No matter how physical the Niners may be, if they can’t grab hold of the Chiefs, they can’t win by tackling the turf.
That breakaway speed, along with the effectiveness of the Mahomes-Reid partnership, as well as the Niners’ physicality, all figure to make the first Sunday in February a hell of a chess match.
No matter what happens, we could end up seeing one of the best Super Bowls ever.
4. Star search
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It’s the Super Bowl, so stars are about to be made. Mahomes already is close to a household name, if he isn’t yet. Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill and Niners defenders Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman are well-known figures, as well.
Yet after that small group, the two biggest stars who could emerge are the tight ends. There have been few Super Bowls, if any, in which both starting tight ends are among the biggest names in the game.
Kansas City’s Travis Kelce is one of the most recognizable names in the NFL, and the Niners’ George Kittle is fast approaching the same status. The attention in both cases is deserved. Both registered more than 1,000 receiving yards and were their offense’s top targets this season.
And both could become names no one forgets in a few weeks.
5. Super Bowl LIV has all the ingredients for a huge audience
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The most watched Super Bowl of all time is Patriots-Seahawks in XLIX. In fact, that remains the most watched American television show ever at 114 million people.
Some in the league office believe this Super Bowl could eclipse that number. This is obviously self-serving, but I believe it.
The reasons are numerous: Mahomes is one of the most intriguing players in league history. The two teams play differentand entertainingstyles that could put a lot of points on the scoreboard. And both fanbases are huge and passionate.
Everything is pointing to a huge viewership and possibly a record one.
6. Next Gen QB
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As if stopping Mahomes through the air isn’t difficult enough, Zebra Technologies, the generator of Next Gen Stats, offers a reminder of how dangerous he can be on the ground, too. On Mahomes’ first-half 27-yard scrambling score in the title game against Tennessee, he covered 64 total yards of distance. He also reached 16.26 mph on the scramble. It was the longest distance a quarterback has covered on a touchdown run this season.
Since 2018, Mahomes has the most touchdown passes on the run (Next Gen classifies on the run as a speed of at least 8 mph) with 22. He also leads the NFL this season with 13 touchdown passes of at least 40 air yards.
One final thing on Mahomes. Promise this time and sorry for my nerd infatuation with him, but can you blame me?
Watch for the 49ers to potentially blitz Mahomes a lot (and for the Chiefs to prepare for the blitz) because of what happened against the Titans. As Next Gen reported:
Next Gen Stats@NextGenStatsThe @Chiefs offensive line’s ability to hold up in pass protection was key to Patrick Mahomes’ success through the air.
Under Pressure: 3/10, 9 yards
No Pressure: 20/25, 285 yards, 3 TD
vs Blitz: 1/5, 7 yards
No Blitz: 22/30, 287 yards, 3 TD
#TENvsKC | #ChiefsKingdom https://t.co/PPZYrcSJ3V
8. Off to the races
Matt York/Associated Press
One thing that’s been lost about the season of 49ers running back Raheem Mostert is just how stunningly fast he is.
When Mostert scored on his 36-yard touchdown against the Packers, he reached 21.87 mph, according to Next Gen stats.
It was the fastest speed reached by a ball-carrier this postseason.
He reached at least 15 mph on 29 percent of his carries, the third-highest rate among running backs this year.
9. On the go
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The Next Gen Stats database will need to be on high alert on Super Bowl Sunday. The Niners and Chiefs have the league’s fastest ball-carriers. Indeed, both teams have weapons everywhere. Take Tyreek Hill, who has reached 20 mph a stunning 59 times since 2018.
The next-closest player is Bills wide receiver Robert Foster, with 33 20-plus-mph plays since 2018.
10. Mr. Jones, I presume
For all the offensive talent that will be on the field in Miami, one of the most important names to watch will be Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones.
Next Gen Stats@NextGenStatsThe @Chiefs pass rush was most effective when DT Chris Jones was on the field
Jones ON: 7 pressures, 3 sacks (39% QBP rate)
Jones OFF: 1 pressure, 0 sacks (6% QBP rate)
#TENvsKC | #ChiefsKingdom https://t.co/oOugaR66jt
Jones presents a classic problem. He’s extremely talented and draws a lot of attention from offensive lines. But in drawing that attention, he frees up other players, and the Chiefs have a solid pass rush that accounted for 45 sacks in the regular season, 11th-best in the league.
That mauling 49ers offensive line will need to be at its best.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.
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