Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in football and arguably one of the best of all time. Travis Kelce is a first ballot Hall Of Fame tight end. Isiah Pacheco runs extremely fast and angry for a running back. Rashee Rice is one of the best rookie wide receivers of the 2023 season. The Chiefs defense was one of the best at getting pressures and sacks and it was ranked No. 2 in scoring allowed and No. 2 in yards allowed in 2023. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is a master at disguising blitz and coverage schemes. Andy Reid is arguably the best offensive play designer and play caller in the NFL. He is 3-0 vs Kyle Shanahan. So why are the 49ers favored to win the Super Bowl by 2 points?
In speaking with six Chiefs content creators over the last two weeks, I've gleaned some powerful answers to this question:
Jimmy Garoppolo was the starting quarterback for all three 49ers losses. Brock Purdy is a much better quarterback. By far the best that Shanahan has had here in San Francisco. Purdy is the best 49ers quarterback ever, at least from a passing yards per season perspective. His deep passing and long scrambles both improved massively in 2023.
As good as the Chiefs defense is vs the pass, it is equally as susceptible to the run and also doesn't force many turnovers. The 49ers defense was tied for the most interceptions and Christian McCaffrey won the NFL rushing title in 2023. If Spagnuolo sells out by stacking the box to stop McCaffrey, then Brock Purdy will get chances to beat the Chiefs defense over the top with deep passes downfield. Deebo Samuel can be almost as effective as McCaffrey out of the backfield. If you try to take away one, then other can bite you.
Besides Drue Tranquill, the Chiefs linebackers and strong safety Justin Reid are not very skilled in coverage. George Kittle should have a big day catching over the middle of the field. I expect the same for Kyle Juszczyk, Samuel and McCaffrey.
The Chiefs are missing key players in the trenches, on both side of the ball. All Pro left guard Joe Thuney and edge defender Charles Omenihu have both been ruled out. Backup left guard Nick Allegretti filled in fairly well vs the Ravens, but I predict that the 49ers defensive line will show us why he is a backup on Sunday in Las Vegas. Omenihu led the Chiefs in pressure rate per play in 2023. He had a key sack on Josh Allen in Buffalo in the Divisional round and strip sacked MVP Lamar Jackson in Baltimore in the AFCCG. The Chiefs will likely use linebackers to replace Omenihu's pass rushing production, but that will make the Chiefs already suspect run defense even weaker.
Both of the Chiefs offensive tackles can be exploited. Donovan Smith led the NFL in holding penalties as Tampa Bay Buccaneer in 2022. Jawaan Taylor led all NFL offensive linemen for penalties in 2023. Nick Bosa should have a big day.
Speedy Chiefs receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is my X-factor for the game. Throughout his career and for most of the 2023 season he has been plagued by drops. In the Bills and Ravens playoff games he had a big deep catch to put each game out of reach. Oddly enough, both went for 32 yards. I don't doubt that Andy Reid will continue to find ways to scheme Valdes-Scantling open. I do however doubt that he will keep making clutch catches.
The 49ers are not perfect. Their run defense was exploited in the divisional round by the Packers and again in the NFCCG by the Lions. The Lions offensive line is much better than the Chiefs offensive line, even without their Pro Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson. The Packers offensive line doesn't have any stars like Chiefs center Creed Humphrey, or right guard Trey Smith, but overall I give the edge to the Packers five blockers, since a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link and the Chiefs offensive line has at least two or three weak links. Also Packers running Aaron Jones noticeably better than Pacheco. Steve Wilks needs to tighten up the gaps in the 49ers zone defense sooner vs the Chiefs than he did vs the Packers and the Lions (halftime).
The 49ers have several weak spots on their defense. Edge Chase Young has not been good with maintaining edge integrity vs the run. Javon Hargrave has been very good at getting pressures and sacks, but he struggles vs the run. They are missing Clelin Ferrell, who set the edge well vs the run. Linebacker Oren Burks isn't bad, but he's nowhere near the levels for Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. Cornerback Ambry Thomas is a far cry from Charvarius "Mooney" Ward and Deommodore Lenoir. Rookie safety Ji'ayir Brown sometimes takes bad angles and isn't a sure tackler even when he does get there. Additionally, Brown's coverage skills could be better. Arik Armstead hasn't looked as if he's been 100% since returning from his plantar fasciitis foot injury. Nick Bosa only started to look fully like his 2022 form in the second half of the NFCCG vs the Lions. Let's hope he keeps that going.
Outside of Trent Williams, who is an absolute monster, the 49ers offensive line is not very strong. Left guard Aaron Banks is not a great pass blocker. Center Jake Brendel's run blocking leaves something to be desired. Right guard Jon Feliciano ends up back in Purdy's lap far too often. Right Tackle Colton McKivitz is not athletic enough to be a great run blocker in the outside zone scheme. They are not built to be a drop back passing offensive line, but play action passes are very effective, when the run game is clicking.
One huge advantage for the Chiefs is kicker Harrison Butker vs Jake Moody. In a close game this could be the difference.
Another potential advantage for the Chiefs is one that I usually try to avoid mentioning, but since the NFL chose Bill Vinovich to be the head referee, then I just can't ignore that he helped the Chiefs to win Super Bowl 54 vs the 49ers. The Taylor Swift relationship with Travis Kelce has brought vast sums new viewers and revenue to the NFL. How far is Roger Goodell willing to go to keep them happy? I guess that we will soon find out.
I predict 49ers 28 - Chiefs 24. The 49ers will overcome Mahomes, Kelce, Pacheco, the Chiefs defense, Andy Reid, Spagnuolo, the Swifties and the Refs, to get the their revenge on the Chiefs.