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Richard: Breaking down Super Bowl LIV

| Friday, January 31, 2020

The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers will face off in the Super Bowl, the culmination of the 100th year of the National Football League. This year’s game will be played at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. 

The Kansas City Chiefs opened as a slim one point favorite over San Francisco, according to Westgate Superbook, and as of January 27, that line has not moved. The over/under opened at 52.5, and currently sits at 54.5.

Needless to say, football and betting experts alike expect this matchup could be one for the ages, in a battle of a historical Chiefs’ offense against a stifling 49ers’ defense. 

By now, the wizardry of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is no secret. After capturing an MVP in his inaugural season, Mahomes has picked up right where he left off, and has seemingly elevated his game to another level this postseason. In his two games against the Titans and Texans, Mahomes has thrown for a combined 615 yards with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions, while running for an additional 106 yards and a touchdown. Such astonishing numbers while failing to turn the ball over seems otherworldly for a quarterback who is merely 24 years old.

With a world class tight-end in Travis Kelce in combination with receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman with lightning 4.3 speed, there are bound to be offensive fireworks come Sunday. 

On the other side, the 49ers’ defensive front has been a nightmare for quarterbacks throughout this season.

Just two weeks ago, San Francisco held Aaron Rodgers to a shutout first half in the NFC Championship, ultimately forcing three turnovers over the course of the game from a player whose talents might closely resemble those of Mahomes. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa has taken the league by storm, posting 9 sacks and 47 tackles in the regular season while playing rotationally on a stacked 49ers defensive front.

Veteran All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman returns to his third Super Bowl, hoping to avenge his most recent trip in which the Seahawks fell to the Patriots on a devastating Malcolm Butler goal line interception back in 2015. 

If there is a defense in the league which has a chance at slowing Mahomes, the 49ers have perhaps the best shot. 

On offense, the 49ers will undoubtedly come out looking to establish their run game, something they have had great success with this season. In the NFC Championship, running back Raheem Mostert became the first player in playoff history to rush for at least 150 yards and three touchdowns in a single half.

This is a formula which teams like Tennessee and Indianapolis employed in their winning efforts against the Chiefs this year, in which both teams had rushers eclipse 130 yards. In other words, perhaps the 49ers best form of defense will lie in their ability to keep Mahomes off the field. 

However, the Chiefs’ defense is a unit which they sought to address this past offseason, with the hiring of defense coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and notable acquisitions of safety Tyrann ‘Honeybadger’ Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark.

Though many were skeptical heading into their second matchup with the Titans, this time in the postseason, the Chiefs stepped up to the call. After running for 188 yards and two touchdowns in a victorious first matchup, Derrick Henry was held to merely 69 yards and a lone touchdown, this time in a losing effort.

It will require a similar performance from the Kansas City front seven to be victorious in this contest. The matchup of Mathieu against the emerging offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan will be a game of cat and mouse at the highest level, and will certainly be a spectacle to watch. 

In my mind, this matchup is comparable to Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos.

In that case, the legendary Peyton Manning led the high-powered Broncos’ offense against the vaunted “Legion of Boom” Seattle defense. Russell Wilson, like Jimmy Garoppolo, was a talented yet unproven quarterback in his first Super Bowl, matched up with a certainly more revered quarterback in MVP Peyton Manning. As you may recall, Seattle flattened Denver with a score of 43-8, the widest margin of victory in Super Bowl history.

After drawing these parallels, I am overwhelmingly tempted to go with the 49ers. 

However, in that Super Bowl XLVIII matchup, Manning made the devastating mistake of turning the ball over three times, one of those for a touchdown. In addition, the Broncos surrendered a safety and a kickoff return touchdown.

Though Mahomes’ career is miles away from reaching Manning’s career accomplishments, there is no doubt at this point he is an all-time talent. In particular, Mahomes has one skill Manning never had: escapability.

Mahomes’ ability to leave the pocket, extend plays, or even take off and run creates plays which no coordinator is able to plan for. I believe Mahomes will continue his streak this postseason of not turning the ball over, and at the very least will not make a backbreaking throw under the duress of the 49ers’ front four. Furthermore, I think Spagnuolo will ride the existing momentum and draw out one final remarkable performance from his group.

Therefore, I am going to take the Chiefs to win Super Bowl LIV, Mahomes and coach Andy Reid’s first of potentially many more Super Bowls, in what should be an all-time classic game. 

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