Super Bowl Preview LVIII
The road to the Super Bowl concludes at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, featuring a rematch from the 2020 Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. Despite San Francisco being a two-point favorite, the betting landscape is heavily tilted towards Kansas City, with the vast majority of bets favoring the Chiefs.
San Francisco had to come from behind in the 4th quarter against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions in the playoffs. Kansas City, on the other hand, is peaking and secured back-to-back road wins as an underdog against the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens.
This is the Chiefs’ fourth time in the Super Bowl in the last five years, and they’re trying to become the first team to win it back-to-back since the New England Patriots in 2003-2004. The 49ers are looking to win their 6th Super Bowl, tying the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers for most all-time.
Despite the advantage given by the sportsbooks, this is a David vs. Goliath matchup; “Mr. Mahomes vs. Mr. Irrelevant.” Patrick Mahomes is the reigning Super Bowl MVP and has two Super Bowl wins, while Brock Purdy is starting in his first Super Bowl in his second year after being selected as the final pick in the 2022 draft.
The 49ers, second in the league with a +10.5 scoring margin, are entering the Super Bowl with an impressive season. Brock Purdy, the young quarterback, has showcased brilliance, particularly when facing pressure, boasting a 107.0 passer rating under such circumstances—second only to Dak Prescott. He has shown great poise in the pocket, and his ability to extend plays with his legs has been a game-changer for the 49ers.
They finished 12-5, including a three-game skid mid-season, mostly due to injuries on the offense. San Francisco had one of the most explosive offenses in the league, averaging 28.1 points. They have perhaps the best set of offensive skill players in the NFL, featuring First Team All-Pros Christian McCaffrey, Kyle Juszczyk, and George Kittle, along with the dynamic receiving duo of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Left Tackle Trent Williams, also a First Team All-Pro, anchors the offensive line.
The 49ers’ defense has been equally impressive, with a strong front seven, led by Fred Warner and Nick Bosa, that has been able to pressure opposing quarterbacks consistently. They have allowed the third-fewest points in the league and excel at creating turnovers. San Francisco has the second-best turnover margin in the league.
The Chiefs have struggled with offensive inconsistencies. For much of the season, their receiving corps has been a liability. Outside of Travis Kelce, only rookie wide receiver, Rashee Rice, has stepped up as a reliable target for Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City returned to the Super Bowl, despite a lack of receiving talent, through the strong performances of Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs and a top-notch secondary that features two of the best cornerbacks, Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed, in the NFL, along with good safeties.
This is the best Chiefs defense that Mahomes has had to support him. They allow the second-fewest points in the league. The secondary has done an excellent job of shutting down opponents’ wide receivers. If their defensive line can contain Christian McCaffrey and force Brock Purdy to make plays through the air, that works heavily in Kansas City’s favor.
The 49ers have a 9-9-1 Against the Spread (ATS) record, while the Chiefs are 12-7-1 ATS. The Chiefs have covered the spread in their last five games. Notably, the Chiefs have an impressive 3-0 ATS record as underdogs, winning all three games outright, and Patrick Mahomes holds an outstanding 10-1-1 ATS record as an underdog in his career. The initial line favored the 49ers at -2.5, but it quickly shifted to -1 and has settled between -1.5 and -2 at most sportsbooks.
Looking at the teams’ scoring dynamics, the 49ers struggle when scoring fewer than 20 points (0-5), while the Chiefs have a perfect 11-0 record when scoring more than 21 points. The 49ers led the league in points per play, yards per game, and yards per play, and quarterback Brock Purdy ranks first in EPA per play.
San Francisco dominates on the ground, leading the league in rushing on first down and second in rushing on second down. Their proficiency in converting third downs makes them one of the best teams in the league in crucial situations. The 49ers average about 140 rushing yards per game. Conversely, the Chiefs rank 17th against the rush and have the 27th-ranked run defense. This disparity could be a huge factor in the game. The 49ers also have the top ranked red zone offense.
Patrick Mahomes, already one of the most seasoned quarterbacks in Super Bowl history, is the X factor in this game. His play will likely determine the outcome. He already willed his team to victory against two of the best defenses in the league, in Buffalo and Baltimore, and now faces the 49ers, who hold opposing quarterbacks to the fifth-lowest passer rating. San Francisco will put a lot of pressure on Mahomes, who has struggled against it this season. The Chiefs will need to extend drives and score touchdowns in the red zone to win.
On paper, I can see why San Francisco is favored. All the data points towards them winning this game. However, the two teams seem to be going in different directions in the past few weeks. The Chiefs are peaking, while the 49ers look vulnerable. But, with those come-from-behind victories in the playoffs, Brock Purdy has shown that he can bring a team back in the 4th quarter.
I’m expecting a defensive battle with the running game taking the forefront. That’s where the 49ers have their biggest edge, and I can see Christian McCaffrey being the difference-maker in this game. One or two explosive runs from him could be all San Francisco needs.
I’m concerned about Kansas City’s red zone performance, even in the playoffs, where they were even worse. Patrick Mahomes is a magician, and it’s hard to count him out, especially with the defense he has supporting him now. But, I think his lack of offensive weapons is a lot to overcome against a team as complete as the 49ers.
I’m picking San Francisco 23-20.
Doug Burrell finished 2022 as Fantasy Nerd’s Most Accurate Expert in NFL Picks and Tallysight’s #1 ranked expert Against the Spread Expert out of 200+ experts. He is a veteran, a runner and an avid fantasy sports enthusiast since 1999. You can reach him on Twitter @dougwburrell.
Doug is a veteran, an avid runner, and works as a copywriter. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and three dogs. You can reach him on Twitter @dougwburrell.