Regular season: 174-98
SF @ KC
Sunday, February 11 | 6:30 PM ET | CBS
A rematch of Super Bowl LIV, this year’s battle between the 49ers and Chiefs features plenty of new faces, but the primary holdovers are in favor of Kansas City with Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo—who doesn’t get enough credit—seeking their third championship in five seasons. Focusing on Spagnuolo, he always gets the Chiefs playing at a championship level by playoff time, and the current unit is probably his best yet with elite play all season long.
Combined with facing the magic of Reid and Mahomes on the other side, the caliber of defense for Kansas City puts the pressure on Kyle Shanahan to come out with a winning game plan on offense, and the primary concern I have for San Francisco—other than officiating—is the bigger defensive front causing problems for Brock Purdy. Looking back at Super Bowl LIV, Chris Jones recorded three pass deflections, and it’s important for Shanahan to scheme around the length that will surely be active in trying to swat down passes; even a simple hand getting on a screen pass could but the Niners behind the sticks in a game where every possession will matter.
Of course, not having the emergent Charles Omenihu (knee) on the edge is a big loss for the Chiefs, and his absence should allow the San Francisco offensive line to focus more on stopping Jones. Overall, I would expect a heavy dose of Christian McCaffrey—including through the air—and the Deebo Samuel bag to be completely emptied, but Purdy can throw into tight windows down the field to Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, and that’ll likely be what needs to happen to win a shootout. I also like the idea of playing fast to keep the defensive line on the field for Kansas City, but it’s not really something Shanahan has gone to in the past.
Defensively, the Niners should be playing with maximum intensity after Nick Bosa, Chase Young, and others failed to show much effort away from the ball in the NFC Championship—and it was apparent enough that general manager John Lynch was among the many to talk about the lack of hustle over the past week. However, the embarrassment could turn into an advantage with San Francisco’s front being focused on playing hard on Sunday, as that will be what’s necessary if they want to bring down the hard-charging Isiah Pacheco, who handled 28 touches in the AFC Championship.
Mainly, though, the Chiefs are expected to attack through the air, and the 49ers have vulnerabilities on the backend that Mahomes could torch. While the two-time Super Bowl winner hasn’t exactly been lights out in three prior appearances in the Big Game, he has shown he will make plays with his legs when needed—including six carries for 44 yards last year versus the Eagles. Above all else, how the game is officiating in terms of holding calls might be the deciding factor, but Bosa and others need to keep their cool if things aren’t going their way; the last thing San Francisco would need is for one of their defenders to pick up a hot-headed penalty out of frustration.
Also, if the Niners do draw a penalty that puts the Chiefs in second- or third-and-long, they can’t blow it by allowing a big Mahomes scramble or back-breaking Kelce catch. And maybe guys like Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore will come through again, but I would make someone other than Rashee Rice or Kelce beat me.
Officiating has been mentioned a couple of times, and I don’t think it can be overstated how much of a factor the possible lack of holding calls—almost certainly favoring the Chiefs—might be. Plus, the “chasing Brady” storyline for Mahomes is something the NFL would very much like to keep going, and as stated, this is probably the best Kansas City defense in the Reid era. All that said, Purdy can show the world what kind of quarterback he is on the biggest stage in sports, and I’m going with San Francisco as Kyle Shanahan finally finishes the job to capture the elusive Lombardi Trophy.
49ers 33 – Chiefs 31