We’ve had 255 games so far in the NFL season (no, the Pro Bowl doesn’t count), which means there’s only one left to go. The Super Bowl. The question is, will it be won by the Kansas City Chiefs, or by the San Francisco 49ers? Luckily, I’m here to keep you right.
I’ve crunched the number against 30 (top secret) metrics and I can tell you, the San Francisco 49ers are 69% likely to win, and are favourites by 2.5 points. Which might be news to you, as the Chiefs are marginal favourites. So, why is that?
Whilst the Chiefs are known as a high scoring offense, the 49ers have scored more point per game this season (albeit, Patrick Mahomes was carrying injury for some of the season, and did miss a little time). Granted, the difference isn’t much, and both hover around 30 PPG, but it’s true nonetheless.
The 49ers have also allowed fewer points per game, and the difference here is a little more marked at just over 1 PPG. The Chiefs have, however, been better on the road than at home, which might turn out useful given this game is in Miami.
This is the story of the Chiefs’ season: they have always played better on the road. However, they’ve not really played any stellar opponents: they did beat the Patriots in week 14, but the Patriots had lost it completely by then; they played the Titans in week 10, and lost. The other wins came against the Jaguars, Oakland, Detriot, Denver, the Chargers and the Bears. So let’s not get carried away.
The 49ers on the road, by contrast, beat an inconsistent but good Rams team by 13, lost narrowly in dreadful conditions in Baltimore, and beat the Saints and Seahawks on the road at the end of the season. They barely broke sweat beating the Vikings and Packers.
The Chiefs, of course, annihilated the Texans (eventually), and weren’t terribly troubled by the Titans, but you have to be honest and say the 49ers have a better defense than both those teams (though neither the Titans nor the Texans are bad on that side of the ball), and the same can be said on offense too.
The biggest difference for me is the defenses. Yes, the Chiefs have a better defense than people think, but it’s still only 10th-ranked in the regular season. The 49ers’ was ranked 5th, against a tougher schedule. One of the Chiefs biggest weapons is their big play explosiveness, but no team gave up fewer plays of 20+ yards all season, and only the Bills gave up fewer plays of 40+ yards.
The Chiefs have improved their run defense, and they played very well against Derrick Henry, but the 49ers have shown they can run through pretty much anything they like, crucially with more than one back. Furthermore, if they can’t run through the Chiefs, they have a better passing attack, with the ability to pass to Deebo Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders and George Kittle. Not (quite) as good as the Chiefs’ trio of Kelce, Watkins and Hill, but it might still be the second-best passing corps in the league.
Patrick Mahomes is clearly the best quarterback in the league, but Garoppollo is better than people think. He might not make many big plays, but that’s not how this offense is set up.
Can the Chiefs smash the 49ers defense apart? Well, if anyone can, they certainly can. But I don’t see the 49ers’ secondary getting picked apart that easily. And if the Chiefs start slowly, the 49ers probably will just try to run at them the whole game, which could prove highly effective.
With all that said, I think this is the most finely balanced Super Bowl since the Patriots – Seahawks Super Bowl in 2015.We have one team designed to win on offense (the Chiefs), with a defense that’s good, but exploitable. On the other, we have a team that can suffocate opponent’s offenses and can also score handily, but more through consistency and method rather than an explosion of theatrics.
The question is, which will win out? Can the 49ers stop those explosive plays? Can the Chiefs stuff the 49ers run without exposing the secondary?
I genuinely don’t know, and I’d be happy for either team to win. But if I have to stick my neck out, I’d pick the 49ers. They’re a more balanced team, and whilst they don’t have that big play explosiveness, I just think they’re still too good on offense for the Chiefs defense. If their pass defense remains as good tonight as it has been all season, that will probably be enough, short of a little magic.