One game remains in the NFL’s 100th season and the stage is set in Miami for Super Bowl 54 between the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs and the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. These two teams have been among the cream of the crop since the kick-off of week one,
In 2013, then long-time Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid took over the head coaching job for the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that spent many years in the basement of the NFL with several last-place finishes. Reid and his offensive mind took that team and acquired free agent quarterback Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. The pairing resulted in a playoff berth in Smith’s first season in Kansas City. Reid led the Chiefs to the playoffs in three of his first four seasons, though they were quickly ousted multiple times by Tom Brady’s Patriots, Andrew Luck’s Colts and Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers.
Going into the 2017 season, the Chiefs selected quarterback Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick in the draft. The former Texas Tech gunslinger sat behind Smith during his first season. With Kansas City sitting readily at a bye in week 17, Reid elected to rest his starters against a Denver Broncos team that was already out of the playoff picture, but not out of fighting spirit. Mahomes had his way with the Broncos’ defense in his debut, standing tall in the pocket and delivering strikes, even with Denver’s perennial All-Pro linebacker Von Miller pressuring him heavily throughout the contest.
Though it was just one game of tape to make a judgment on, Reid believed in Mahomes’ youth and raw talent more than Smith’s precision passing and limited range, trading the latter to the Washington Redskins in the 2018 offseason. Mahomes’ first season as a starter was absolutely sensational, throwing 50 touchdowns and over 5000 yards while leading the Chiefs to the AFC championship game. Mahomes fell just short of leading the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl in 49 years after a thrilling AFC Championship contest against the New England Patriots that went into overtime. In that game, the Chiefs appeared to have a game-winning interception, but the play was nullified due to an offsides penalty on pass rusher Dee Ford prior to the snap. This gave the Patriots another chance that they ultimately would capitalize on it.
Ford now plays for San Francisco. Despite a strong 4-0 start to the season, Kansas City began to struggle after Mahomes suffered a knee injury. The injury caused Mahomes to miss a few weeks and resulted in three losses in four weeks. At first glance, the injury seemed detrimental and looked like it may have been the end of Mahomes’ 2019 season and effectively the Chiefs’ playoff hopes. Instead, he came back in just a few weeks and led the Chiefs to a 6-1 record in their final seven games to win the division and lock up a first-round bye.
In the divisional round, the Chiefs looked completely dismantled, falling down 24-0 to the Deshaun Watson led Texans at the beginning of the second quarter. Mahomes and the Chiefs could not have been less worried, hammering out four consecutive scoring drives to take a commanding 28-24 lead heading into halftime. After giving up 24 unanswered points to begin the game, the Chiefs went on to outscore the Texans 51-7 through the rest of the game, stunning Houston 51-31. The Chiefs hosted the AFC Championship at Arrowhead Stadium for the second year in a row, and this time they were able to pull through and defeat the Tennessee Titans, who were coming off consecutive upset wins against New England and Baltimore.
As for San Francisco, head coach Kyle Shanahan has masterfully spent the past few seasons building his team through the draft, trades and free agency to get them to their juggernaut status. In 2017 at the trade deadline, he made a deal to bring in Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo began starting for the 49ers that season after they had fallen to 1-10, and he led them to five straight wins to close out the season at 6-10. That offseason, San Francisco’s front office went all-in on Garoppolo’s youth and began bringing in multiple players to stack the roster, including a long-time opponent of 49ers passers, prolific Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman negotiated his own three-year deal with San Francisco, swearing vengeance on a Seahawks team that had released him following an Achilles tear.
The 49ers’ 2018 campaign was ended quickly when Garoppolo tore his ACL in week three of the season. Without Garoppolo at the helm, the 49ers fought hard but were quickly vanquished in many of their contests that season, gifting them the second overall pick in the last draft, where they selected Ohio State’s defensive end Nick Bosa, who has been a home run hitter on the best defensive front in the league. Bosa joined fellow first-round picks Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and the aforementioned Ford. The loaded defensive line was an absolute nightmare for opposing teams and the terrific play from the defense was complimented by a well-balanced 49ers offense, which features a strong passing attack from Garoppolo, phenom tight end George Kittle, veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel, all paired with their three-headed monster running back trio of Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Matt Breida.
It is incredibly hard to pick a favorite for the game. As incredible as both teams have been all year, it seems like now they are both peaking. The Chiefs’ passing attack and the 49ers defense have been unstoppable in each teams’ respective playoff runs. The Chiefs open up as one-point favorites according to Vegas, which means they don’t even know which way to go on this contest. The Chiefs went into the AFC championship with a suspect run defense and completely shut down Derrick Henry, holding him to 69 yards after he had run for 600 yards in his previous three games before coming into town. If the Chiefs can repeat their previous performance and make the 49ers run game a nonfactor, they’ll force a firework show between Garoppolo and Mahomes. It’s difficult to imagine the former MVP losing to a quarterback who threw nine passes in the NFC Championship game.