Is Mahomes’ Magic Enough?
Super Bowl LIV will kick off Sunday evening, and professional football fans are looking forward to what is expected to be an evenly matched game between the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Kansas City Chiefs and National Football Conference (NFC) champion San Francisco 49ers.
Odds makers are expecting a close game. They’ve made the Chiefs 1.5–point favorites to win the game, no doubt influenced by the amazing play of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. A first-round draft pick in 2017, he won the NFL MVP award in his second season and has his team in the NFL Championship in his third year – after barely missing an appearance in the biggest game of the year last season.
Mahomes had another MVP-caliber season this year, leading the Chiefs to a 12–4 record and a No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
Despite missing two games due to a knee injury, Mahomes threw for 4,031 yards, 26 touchdowns, and just 5 interceptions. He also rushed for 218 yards and 2 TDs. The Chiefs offense was ranked fifth in the NFL in points scored (451) and sixth in yards gained (6,067).
KC’s top receivers were tight end Travis Kelce, who caught 97 passes for 1,229 yards and 5 touchdowns, receiver Tyreek Hill, who missed four games, yet caught 58 passes for 860 yards and 7 touchdowns, Sammy Watkins with 52 catches for 673 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Demarcus Robinson with 32 catches for 449 yards and 3 touchdowns.
With a pass happy offense, the Chiefs ground game ranked 23rd in the league. Leading rusher Damien Williams had 498 yards and 5 touchdowns and added 30 receptions for 213 yards and 2 more scores. Back LeSean McCoy had an additional 465 yards and 4 touchdowns, along with 28 receptions.
On special teams, rookie Mecole Hardman finished the season ranked third in the NFL in kickoff return yards (704) and fifth in return average (26.1 yards). Kicker Harrison Butker led the NFL in scoring (147 points) and field goals (34), converting 89.4% of his attempts.
Led by defensive linemen Chris Jones, who recorded nine sacks and Frank Clark who had eight sacks and forced three fumbles, Kansas City’s defense ranked seventh in league in points allowed (308). Linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson led the team in tackles with 88 and 81, respectively. Former LSU standout defensive back Tyrann Mathieu compiled four interceptions, two sacks and 75 tackles, earning him his second career AP first-team All-Pro selection.
On the other side of the ball, the San Francisco 49ers look to be a formidable foe. After not posting a winning record since 2013 – including going just 4–12 last year, the Niners finished the 2019 season with an NFC-best 13–3. Much of that credit goes to head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
San Fran’s offense finished second in the NFL in points scored (479) and fourth in yards (6,079). Garoppolo completed 69.1% of his passes (4th in the NFL) for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns (5th), with 13 interceptions. His favorite target was also a tight end, who Saints fans are unfortunately familiar with. George Kittle caught 85 passes for 1,053 yards and 5 touchdowns, including a game-clinching grab against New Orleans that effectively prevented the Black & Gold from landing the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Rookie Deebo Samuel (57 receptions, 807 yards, 159 rushing yards, 6 total touchdowns) and Emmanuel Sanders (36 receptions, 502 yards, 3 touchdowns) we also instrumental in the 49ers attack. RB Raheem Mostert, who had bounced around five different teams in his first two seasons before arriving in San Francisco in 2017, has been a revelation in the playoffs.
The Niners defense is the reason they are in the Super Bowl. Led by a defensive line that features DeForest Buckner (61 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries), Arik Armstead (54 tackles, 10 sacks), Dee Ford (6.5 sacks), and rookie Nick Bosa (47 tackles, 9 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries), San Francisco’s defense finished second in the NFL in fewest yards allowed (4,509) and first in fewest passing yards allowed (2,707).
The Chiefs are playing in their third Super Bowl. They lost the first one in 1967 to the Green Bay Packers (35–10) and won the fourth one in 1970 over the Minnesota Vikings (23–7).
Kansas City is led by head coach Andy Reid, a 21-year veteran coaching in his second Super Bowl (lost to the New England Patriots, 24–21, with the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in 2004), who is a sentimental favorite across the NFL.
The 49ers are playing in their seventh Super Bowl. They’ve won five – Super Bowls XVI (1981), XIX (1984), XXIII (1988), XXIV (1989), and XXIX (1994) – and lost one – XLVII (2013). If they win Sunday they will tie the Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers with the most Super Bowl championships in league history.
On paper it looks like the 49ers have the edge. Having chased them in the playoff race for much of the 2019 season, Saints fans know San Francisco is a really good team. My head says to rely on the old football maxims that a solid defense and a strong running game win championships. But my heart says Mahomes is such a uniquely talented player that he and his astonishing play-making ability have what it takes to see the Chiefs win their first championship in 50 years.
I’m really looking forward to this one. Like the sports books, I’m expecting a close, exciting game. Kickoff can’t come soon enough.