We are just scratching the surface with this general game preview for Super Bowl LIV. The San Francisco 49ers take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the big game on February 2, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. We’ll have comprehensive coverage with props, picks, predictions, and a whole lot of analysis here at BangTheBook.com and of course on BangTheBook Radio.
While the 49ers were busy dismantling the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, sportsbooks around the world were busy putting up the opening line for Super Bowl LIV. That line, in most places, had the game lined as a pick ‘em or with Chiefs -1. Early money hit the board on Kansas City, but with two weeks until the game actually kicks off, that money was only enough to drive the line up to -1.5 at most shops.
The total movement was rather fast and furious to drive the line up from 52 to as high as 54. We saw over money hit in both championship games last week and it is far from a surprise to see the over money hit the board for this one, as the two Super Bowl participants combined to score 72 points in their respective conference title game victories.
The contrast of styles in this game will be a lot of fun. So, too, is the coaching matchup. Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan are two of the most brilliant offensive minds in NFL history. Robert Saleh has put together a stellar defense with the 49ers and longtime defensive coordinator and part-time head coach Steve Spagnuolo has gotten the Chiefs to buy in and they have improved dramatically on defense. Eric Bieniemy was under consideration for a lot of different head coaching gigs this season and will likely get hired in the next round of interviews for the 2021 season.
We know what the Chiefs want to do. They want the ball in the hands of Patrick Mahomes as either a runner or a passer. The 49ers have one of the most efficient rushing attacks in the NFL and that unit’s efficiency likely goes up another notch without Tevin Coleman because it means more Raheem Mostert and more Matt Breida, who should be a bit healthier after a light playoff workload and two weeks to prepare for the Super Bowl.
Many people looked at the AFC Championship Game between the Titans and Chiefs and wondered about how the Chiefs will stop Derrick Henry and the Titans rushing attack. Well, for starters, they did it by scoring 35 points to force Ryan Tannehill into more passing situations. They also put nine in the box with one high safety and left the corners on an island. We’re likely to see a similar setup against the 49ers, but let’s hope that some new wrinkles get added because Shanahan has plenty of time to look at the game film. When all was said and done, Henry had 19 carries for 69 yards.
In fact, it was Mostert who had the Henry-esque day was 29 carries for 220 yards and a Bundy with four touchdowns in the blowout win over the Packers. Coleman was injured early in the game and only managed 21 yards on six carries before exiting with a painful arm injury.
Jimmy Garoppolo had a Tannehill-esque day going 6-of-8 for 77 yards while sitting in a rocking chair in the pocket. The 49ers didn’t need Garoppolo to do much of anything in the game with the big lead in a game that was akin to what the Titans did against the Patriots and Ravens.
With that in mind, the story for Garoppolo remains the same as it was for Tannehill. There was a lot of speculation, myself included, about how Tannehill would fare if the Titans needed him. If the Chiefs could stop Henry, what would Tannehill do to compensate. The answer was not much. He didn’t turn the ball over, but was sacked three times and was only 21-of-31 for 209 yards and a couple of scores. There were few explosive plays in the passing game for Tennessee and AJ Brown only hauled in three of his six targets.
Garoppolo looked uncomfortable in the early going in the NFC Championship Game, including a sack that nearly took the Niners out of field goal range. We’ll see if the Chiefs can have success defensively stopping the run. If they can and this game becomes something of a Garoppolo vs. Mahomes matchup, that likely doesn’t end well for the 49ers.
That is a big “if”, however. We know that Shanahan is one of the best play designers in the NFL and he also has a really strong offensive line to work with. The Chiefs offensive line has been quite good this season as well. It will need to be with DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Nick Bosa on the opposite side. This game could very well be won in the trenches with the big boys up front on both sides. Mahomes’s mobility has really been on display here in the playoffs. He scampered eight times for 53 yards, including a highlight-reel TD run in the AFC Championship Game. He also ran seven times for 53 yards against the Texans in the Divisional Round.
His legs have been a weapon and they may need to be a weapon again here in an effort to offset the San Francisco pass rush. Mahomes didn’t run a lot during the regular season and was also nursing that knee and also an ankle injury for part of the season. All of the stops will be pulled out in the Super Bowl, though.
Looking back at the regular season stats seems almost unnecessary here. The 49ers defense is dramatically different with everybody healthy, as the returns of Jaquiski Tartt, Kwon Alexander, and Dee Ford have had an enormous impact in the postseason. The San Francisco D did struggle in the latter half of the season with the early bye week and the injuries. Now that things are mostly back to normal, that group has been electric in the playoffs.
Kansas City’s pass defense has been terrific. The run defense was a major question mark, but some of those questions got answers against the Titans. The rushing attack for the 49ers is a lot different. It isn’t just Henry bulldozing through the line and into the second level. There is a lot more nuance to what the Niners do with the ground and pound. Nine in the box was enough to overwhelm the Titans, but the secondary played well enough to keep Tannehill in check. Can the Chiefs have that same success in this one against a team that hasn’t been playing emotional games for several weeks in a row?
My initial read on the game is to take the Chiefs. You can make a case that both teams are one-dimensional, but the legs of Mahomes give them a little bit more of a running element than people realize. I don’t really trust Jimmy G with the game in his hands if it gets to that point. George Kittle is a matchup nightmare and could very well bail Garoppolo out if need be, particularly with the Chiefs looking to run blitz a lot. The middle of the field could be vacated in play-action, so long as Garoppolo makes those throws. I’m just not sure if he can.
Garoppolo had a nice season with the 69.1% completion rate, but he hasn’t been needed much in the playoffs and I’d be concerned about his timing and ability to take care of the football with those 13 INTs in the regular season.
With two weeks to bet the game, a lot of prop bet analysis, and the ability to really deep dive into all sorts of elements about this one, the early starting point is the Chiefs, but a lot of things can change in the two weeks leading up to February 2 and prop betting is always the way to go in the Super Bowl.
Pick: Kansas City Chiefs -1.5