NFL Predictions 2019: Super Bowl LIV

SUPER BOWL LIV

It’s hard to be happy at getting the winners and being 8-2 during the playoffs (178-87-1 overall) when I was a disaster in the “betting” department. I missed both against the spread (3-6-1 for playoffs, 142-118-6 overall) and both over/under (6-4 for playoffs, 138-125-3 overall) and that’s upsetting. The -4 week left me -1 for the playoffs and +37 in total on the season against Vegas. I could still have a winning playoff session, but it seems I’m destined not to.

Kansas City (14-4) vs. San Francisco (15-3): When I consider a Super Bowl one of the factors I look at is what the teams did in the really big games. The Chiefs this season should consider themselves lucky to be in the big one. They totally deserve it because last year’s potential title was stolen on a call that really didn’t need to be made and yes I know it was a legitimate offside. Sometimes the football gods give you a break, and theirs was having the Ravens get whipped by a Titans team that a week later had totally run out of gas. Remember, the only reason Tennessee wasn’t in their stadium a week sooner was because a hapless Miami team shocked New England. Sometimes it just all works out. My point is that I look at their “run” in the playoffs and see them beating a couple of barely over .500 AFC South teams who at times this season were not all that great. Houston is known for playoff chokes and has a head coach who should be fired. Tennessee, as just mentioned, was literally on fumes. They had played at Indianapolis, at Oakland, Houston, New Orleans, at Houston, at New England and at Baltimore the previous seven weeks. That’s a straight up gauntlet of opponents and remember the Colts and Raiders were in the hunt when those games took place.

The AFC in total this season was a mess, let’s face that and agree on it if possible. The Patriots were a fraud at 8-0, but if anyone said it at the time they would be considered haters. Many felt they would get it together for the playoffs and while I suspected they might I obviously didn’t when it came time for them to play because I had the Titans ousting them. The Ravens were a really good team after a shaky start that including a loss to the Chiefs that I have not forgotten about. The week after that loss they were beaten 40-25 by the Cleveland Browns who were a disaster this season. Obviously Baltimore early in the year was not Baltimore late in the year, and if KC had been forced into a road rematch for all the marbles we probably would not be discussing Andy Reid playing for a title that’s just how it is. Matchups mean a lot and so does home field. Who else stands out in the AFC? Pittsburgh went 6-6 in conference play with a clown rotation at quarterback, that’s how bad the conference was. Buffalo was buoyed by going a combined 6-2 against the combination of Jets/Dolphins and the disaster that was the NFC East. At best three decent teams came out of the conference. Kansas City did beat them both, but 23-16 over the Patriots who had just lost in Houston and a month before been routed in Baltimore wasn’t a huge win.

The AFC West wasn’t a great division this season. Denver had quarterback issues and Los Angeles couldn’t get out of their own way. Oakland’s final season in the Bay Area was marred by injuries and of course the Antonio Brown saga. Outside division play the Chiefs were, gasp, 6-4! 6-4? Well, in fairness their 3-4 stretch in which they played just once against a division foe was partially when Mahomes got hurt. He played in both home losses to the Colts/Texans though, and hobbled through the loss at the Titans. They lost to the Packers without him and the way San Francisco treated that team I think anyone could have lined up at quarterback for them in the NFC Championship Game just about. I guess that’s my point. The 49ers give me greater confidence.

The NFC West was a pretty good division this season. The defending conference champion Rams were only 3-3 in division play and two of those losses were to SF. The Seahawks are always competitive with an elite quarterback and simply ran out of running backs at the end. Arizona had a dangerous rookie quarterback and at least was a threat. The 49ers went 5-1 and would have been perfect if not for a missed field goal. The NFC featured two other 13-3 teams, against whom the 49ers were 3-0 against. For good measure they also destroyed the 10-win Vikings in the playoffs in a manner that was the impressive victory I wish I had seen from the Chiefs in either of their playoff wins. Falling behind 24-0 and then 17-7 is not the way to make a living in the Super Bowl, unless you’re trying to replicate the one game out of 53 previous games when a team pulled off the improbable dream.

Early on this season I knew something was up with the 49ers when I watched them just decimate the Bengals 41-17 on the road. Yes, it’s a team that turned out to be bad. That’s not the point. The NFL has 32 teams and all of them are capable of doing things. The hurt they put on them in that game was eye opening. It was the start of a stupid NFL scheduling quirk that saw them play the AFC North three straight times sandwiched around a bye. They beat Pittsburgh 24-20 despite 5 turnovers and then humbled Cleveland 31-3. By the way, the win over the Browns was one week after they had dropped 40 on the Ravens. Is this starting to make sense? This team really didn’t have any hiccups. Sometimes the game escaped them at the end, that’s it.

Their first loss was in OT, at the final gun against Seattle as aforementioned. They went to Baltimore who was in the midst of an epic run, and lost 20-17 at the gun on a field goal from 49 yards out. In that one the presumptive MVP had 105 yards passing, and they had a total yards edge 331-283. The Atlanta loss was a puzzler, but they led 22-17 until a replay review showed Julio Jones scored in the final seconds to shock them. Yes, they let down here and should have put away that team, but the Falcons were a 6-2 team in the second half of the season and went to New Orleans and won 26-9 a month prior. Including playoffs the 49ers are 7-2 against teams whose record was 9-5 or better against the rest of the league, and both losses came at the buzzer. The Chiefs are just 4-3 in such games, and the Titans don’t even qualify because they were 8-7 in the regular season when throwing out the win over KC.

Margin of victory is the best argument I can make for Kansas City. Still, they had won just twice by double digits prior to December while starting 7-4. When it started to matter they have won six of their last seven by 10-plus while winning eight in a row overall. The exception was the win at New England, but in fairness the wins were over a lot of mediocre opponents. None of the teams really jump out like wow that was a huge win! The teams they beat were no threat to do anything in the playoffs, and this is a massive step up in competition that’s a fact. San Francisco had to play three consecutive weeks teams who finished the regular season a combined 39-6 against the rest of the league and they won two of those games, losing at the Ravens on the kick. They let down against the Falcons thereafter, but then beat a desperate Rams team fighting for the playoffs, and won effectively a division championship game at Seattle. They have won 10 times by 9-plus points including the playoffs. The five times they failed to do so were in the turnover filled Pittsburgh game, at Arizona who scored on an 88-yard touchdown late, plus the Saints/Rams/Seahawks battles late. This was a hard team to beat all season. They proved it week after week, struggled to gain home field advantage and utilized it to dominate the playoffs.

It was definitely lucky for them not to be forced into a rematch with New Orleans who they beat 48-46 in an epic thriller. However, this is a team that proved to be totally dominant over the NFC North, handled the otherwise 13-2 champs from the South, went 5-1 against the West and because of scheduling didn’t face the best of the awful East division. It’s very clear they are the best team in the NFC, which very clearly was a better conference than the AFC. Minnesota had Kansas City on the ropes until Butker delivered two clutch long field goals and while Moore was the quarterback that day he performed fine. The Vikings demolished the Chargers 39-10 in between two competitive games where Los Angeles was a threat to Kansas City. I’d put Minnesota up against Tennessee for sure, and they were clearly the fourth best NFC team. Overall, I’m having a hard time figuring out why the 49ers aren’t favored by a lot in this game. What am I missing?

The Chiefs did a really good job against Henry two weeks ago, and he had run over a series of opponents. Again, were they out of gas by then? It’s a lot different for the human body being able to take a week off, travel much less and then perform. In this one, the teams will have each been off two weeks and be showing up in peak form. The 49ers didn’t even have to pass the ball in the NFC Championship Game, and that was after losing Coleman early. He shared the regular season team lead in carries by the way at 137, a load equally distributed among three guys who should all be available for duty. Mostert was a monster in the title game win of course, carrying 29 times for 220 yards and 4 scores. He was also big in the loss at Baltimore, going 19-146 plus a score in a defensive game. Coleman had been the lead in the previous playoff win, carrying 22 times for 105 yards and two scores. His shoulder might limit him that’s unknown but we’ve seen that Mostert can handle it on his own if need be. Breida has been in the doghouse since fumble issues in the Atlanta loss, but his presence offsets any concern I have over Coleman’s availability or Mostert getting tired.

Kansas City’s defense has been better down the stretch, but averages tell a story and they gave up 128.2 yards per game in the regular season on the ground. The six teams ranked worse than them all lost double-digit games and of course missed the playoffs. Giving up 4.9 yards per carry is also not a good look across the full 16 games. San Francisco allows 4.5, but they won’t be facing a dynamic running team. The Chiefs ran for only 98.1 yards per game this season and 4.2 per carry. Subtracting Hunt made sense for them, but they lack a hammer in the backfield. Williams had 17 carries for 45 yards against the Titans, and their saving grace was the scrambling of Mahomes notably his 27-yard highlight reel score to end the half and return momentum to their side. Statistically Tennessee’s run defense is five slots over San Francisco, who I don’t expect to yield much on the ground in the Super Bowl.

If the Chiefs can’t run, they will rely on the mobility of Mahomes and his ability to quickly get the ball to his speedy targets. Well, he’s facing the number one pass defense in the league and a pass rush that is fully healthy including their former player Dee Ford. Of course the former MVP will make some plays, and of course he can rally the team if they get down early as I expect them to do. Can he really just light them up all game though? I don’t believe he can. He’s going to be out of rhythm a lot, and on the sidelines for long stretches. It’s a long game when it gets to this one because of all the commercials and longer halftime. He won’t benefit from that. I see him getting hot and Kansas City needs to hope it’s one of those 21 point quarters or they are in serious trouble of getting blown out.

The 49ers are going to score in this game, and score a lot. Their offense is easily going to move the ball. Jimmy G isn’t an MVP quarterback, but he controls the ball and does what needs to be done. If the running game can’t be stopped it doesn’t matter. They didn’t even need to use Kittle, an elite tight end, until the title game was already well in hand. Should they need to throw the ball some and mix it up, they can do it. The weapons are there for them to balance the offense, but they prefer to just grind it out. Kansas City doesn’t have that option. Their offense is quick strike and reliant on passing being completed. One tipped ball and they are in an obvious passing situation where it’s iffy for them to convert. The 49ers don’t have to blitz in order to reach Mahomes, and they are going to hit him early and often. He hasn’t seen the pressure he’s going to be under in this game. It’s all fun and games until the whole world is watching and you’ve just been trucked to the turf. The same goes for his receivers who will be facing a physical opponent ready to apply the hurt.

Here’s how I see this playing out. San Francisco wins the toss and chooses to defer because they know they can play defense. Kansas City’s opening possession is a flop. Maybe they squeeze out a first down, but don’t move the ball past midfield. The punt return won’t leave the 49ers pinned down so their offense will be comfortable. Right away they go to work and put together a couple first downs. It won’t be a touchdown drive because something along the way goes wrong either a penalty or dropped pass. It could end in a field goal so let’s call them ahead 3-0 with about half the quarter expired. The Chiefs are still feeling fine of course, and as can be expected a big play from them is going to happen sooner or later. In this case it’s sooner. They get down the field wind up finishing the drive to take the lead 7-3 with still time left in the opening frame. The 49ers get it back and continue their offensive success, pounding the ball and playing keep away. The first quarter expires as they continue to drive down the field. This time it’s a penalty that keeps them from finishing and another field goal leaves them behind 7-6 early in the second quarter.

On the third possession for Kansas City defense finally becomes a factor. Mahomes is clocked on a sack and fumbles. They retain possession, but punt and leave San Francisco in comfortable field position. This drive keeps the Chiefs off the field for almost the rest of the half and ends in a touchdown to Kittle. They kick the extra point and go ahead 13-7. It’s two-minute drill time for Kansas City and the pace works in their favor with the freestyle Mahomes who to this point isn’t rattled. He’s able to work them into field goal range and the kick is good, but they trail 13-10 at the half.

San Francisco’s decision to take the second half kickoff is a big one. They drive the field and score again, this time on a run from Mostert from close range to take a 20-10 advantage. The time of possession is what matters most because the drives sends the game nearly halfway through the third quarter. Kansas City gets it again, but Mahomes is out of rhythm following the long halftime layoff. An incompletion on third down after converting once has them punting deep again. San Francisco fails to score on the ensuing possession, but chews up most of the balance of the third quarter and pins them deep on a punt. The Chiefs scratch out of trouble thanks to a nifty Mahomes run and the quarter ends with a lot of fans wondering how this game got to the fourth quarter so quickly.

He delivers a strike to Hill on a deep ball that stuns the crowd and leads to a touchdown to Kelce. The lead is trimmed to 20-17 and everyone expecting excitement throughout finally has some early in the fourth. San Francisco gets the ball and continues to run at will. Several first downs lead to the red zone approaching the midway point of the fourth quarter. They stall and kick to make it 23-17. Mahomes has the ball and it’s his time, but having been forced into obvious passing situations time and time again, he finally throws an interception. The 49ers have it at midfield and don’t need to do much before they cash in another field goal extending the lead to 26-17. Now it’s time for Mahomes to make up for the pick, but he’s under extreme duress against a defense that knows he’s throwing the ball. A sack puts them in a situation where they have to punt even though the clock is dwindling. San Francisco plays it safe on offense, forcing timeouts to be spent and punts it back. This time Mahomes gets down the field, but the clock is under two minutes. He runs, throws and somehow wills the team to a touchdown in the final 30 seconds. Where is the 3-point conversion when he needs it! Trailing 26-24 they have no choice. It’s an onside kick. The 49ers recover and use their victory formation to secure their record tying sixth Lombardi. Mahomes will be back, maybe even next year but people will wonder if this was a Marino situation nevertheless: San Francisco 26, Kansas City 24 (SF +1.5/under 55)

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