For the second consecutive season, the Kansas City Chiefs enter the Super Bowl as an underdog. They defeated the favored Philadelphia Eagles last season and will try to knock off the favored San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Will it feel like an upset if Kansas City makes it happen? The Chiefs possess the ultimate edge in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is healthier this season than last and has played brilliantly through most of the playoffs.
Each year at this time, I ask a collection of NFL coaches which team they are picking to win the Super Bowl and why. Our panel fared pretty well last season, with the first coach correctly picking the Chiefs to win by three.
Four coaches weighed in with predictions this year. We pick up the conversation with a defensive coach’s insights into what bothers 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, and whether the Chiefs are well-equipped to exploit this specific vulnerability.
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The Fighting Taylor Swifts are playing better defense than the Niners right now, and that could be the difference. San Francisco has to play better on defense to win. The 49ers are still dangerous and violent, but they are giving up more yards and plays. I think they will play pretty good, but if you ask in my gut, I’d still think Kansas City pulls it out.
Affecting Brock Purdy is one of the biggest keys to this game. The teams that give Purdy problems are the ones that are able to affect him in the pocket. Cleveland was able to do that. Detroit could not affect him that way, but the Chiefs can. They do a really good job of getting their hands up. That’s a big deal against Brock. They can do a really good job of affecting not only the longer throws but the quicker throws at all the different launch angles.
Purdy’s strength is how strong his lower body is. George Kittle’s quote was really funny when he said Purdy looks like one of those little water dragons running across the water. That is exactly what Purdy looks like. His legs are strong as hell. But when you can push the pocket to his front foot, he struggles. It is hard to get there because sometimes they throw it fast, but I think the Chiefs have an ability to do that.
When people get to Purdy’s front foot, the ball will tail and drag or drift. Like the one he threw into the Packer guy’s belly. He couldn’t get full twist out of his hips and it floated. It is easier said than done to affect Purdy in this way. The 49ers know what they are doing, and Purdy is really good, and Kyle is good at calling it, but I think the Chiefs with four (rushers) can do that some of the time.
(Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) is going to pressure and also play his two-high combination coverages. It is hard to play combination coverages when the 49ers get everybody out. They have positionless players. (Christian) McCaffrey is going to be a wideout, Deebo (Samuel) is going to be in the backfield and 44 (Kyle Juszczyk) is going to be everywhere. When you play them in split-safety defense and they can see it and get it out, the matchups can be really good.
The Chiefs do not always tackle well when you get them in space. Steve has done such a good job this year of not letting that happen. In other years, you could isolate their guys. All of Kyle’s guys are 6 feet or 6-1, 215 and can run after contact with great hands and anger. That would be their advantage if they can find ways to get around the D-line and then get those guys going.
I also think San Francisco will attack the edges in the run game, like Kyle did with Atlanta versus New England in the Super Bowl. If you can get around Kansas City’s interior and force guys other than (Justin) Reid to tackle, you can do some things. But you gotta get around their big guys. I think Kyle will find a way to do that, but I trust the Chiefs a little more.
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Defensive coordinator No. 1
This is going to be a really interesting game because Spags has that defense rolling, and I think it’s going to create problems. They’ll be able to get after Brock Purdy. Spags will come with some good schemes to at least make Purdy think, throw his rhythm off.
The 49ers, that whole team is built off a front-running mentality. When they play with a lead, they just pounce and they’re better, they’re more athletic, their talent shines. When they play from behind, it is usually different. Against Detroit, they came back. I’ll give them credit there, but Detroit royally screwed that up. What happened was not repeatable.
What you have to do with the 49ers is match them early. I would take the ball and try to score. Green Bay did that. I know it is only 7-0 early and doesn’t matter, but if you score early, you are not in response to them.
Mahomes will make the right plays when they need to. He’s been protecting the ball, which he hadn’t been doing the first half of the season as much. People have to honor Rashee Rice now. He has developed. MVS (Marquez Valdes-Scantling) has become more consistent.
The 49ers’ defense has shown throughout the playoffs they’ll get the ball moved on them. They don’t have many answers. You hit their soft spots and don’t let their rushers get going and they don’t get takeaways, you are fine. The coverage system isn’t elaborate. They’ve got one good corner, one safety playing really well.
When you have a guy like Andy Reid over there with Patrick Mahomes, they’re going to find those soft spots. Andy is OK taking 5 (yards) from Travis Kelce on a catch-and-run. It’s just hard to go against Reid and Mahomes.
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Defensive coordinator No. 2
The better team is probably San Francisco, but the Eagles were probably a better team last year, and it came down to Patrick Mahomes.
For San Francisco, so much of it is game flow. It’s not to say that Brock Purdy can’t come from behind. I’m not trying to say that. But I think they are a team that has a much better chance of winning when they play their game, whereas the Chiefs might find a way to win in any type of game a little bit better.
That is what happened in 2019 when those teams played. Kansas City was down two scores, and then all of a sudden, they are up two scores in the fourth quarter. It was unbelievable.
San Francisco came back to beat Green Bay and Detroit, but they were drastically better than those teams, especially Detroit. Detroit is not a team, in my opinion, that can hang with San Francisco. Detroit not being able to put that game away shows how much better of a team San Francisco was.
I could see San Fran’s defense not being dominant against the Chiefs. I don’t know if they are a dominant defense like they were with DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh. It doesn’t feel like they are all that. Deep down, I’m saying Chiefs.
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The 49ers’ offense is hard to defend because they have skill guys that can create yards after the catch and they have a quarterback who can read defenses very fast and put the ball in a spot accurately. Their dropback game is very timing-based, whereas Kansas City is not that.
Mahomes’ ability to play on or off schedule could be the difference. What makes Mahomes good is that he’s a great off-schedule quarterback who does not have to play off-schedule to be great. I always felt that was the thing with Russell Wilson. When everyone said he was great, I felt that to be a high-level quarterback, you still have to be able to throw it on time. Mahomes can do that.
Purdy’s not bad off-schedule because he’s got some slipperiness to him. He just doesn’t play as much off-time. Mahomes is elite off-time, and I think that’s Kansas City’s edge.
Kansas City surprisingly with (Isiah) Pacheco runs the ball pretty well, and they’ve been more willing to run it, and I think that does take some pressure off Mahomes. It has served their defense well. That has probably made them a more complete team.
San Francisco gave up 280 yards against Detroit in the first half. Maybe they were surprised by Detroit, but they still haven’t figured out how to slow down the perimeter runs. Pacheco is a slasher, and if you got him on the edge, I think he would be good, despite being more of an inside runner.
Detroit just kept pinning the ends and tossing the ball, and the 49ers’ secondary was late in supporting. I’m sure San Francisco is going to make an adjustment for the crack toss plays. They just have to get someone up in faster support. That is not a major adjustment, but they probably will be reluctant to do it because of Mahomes.
I like Kansas City. I want to like San Francisco, but I think in these games, the quarterback matchup is pretty big, and this is a big separation between these guys.
Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel, those two guys could be enough to overcome that, but I don’t think so in this game.
If the 49ers win, surely someone associated with their team will claim no one gave them a chance. It won’t be a huge stretch, despite oddsmakers favoring the 49ers, because so many people in and around the game are picking the Chiefs. I took Kansas City by a 24-20 margin in our staff picks. It wasn’t a pick against the 49ers as much as it was a fear of picking against Mahomes. I’ve sided with him in every week of the playoffs. Why stop now?
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(Top photos of Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy: Patrick Smith, Kevin Sabitus / Getty Images)