The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs will travel to Miami for Super Bowl 54 this weekend and pundits and fans alike are expecting one of the most explosive clashes in recent years.
The Niners will be bringing their formidable defensive unit and a volatile running game while the Kansas City Chiefs will undoubtedly rely on an air assault from the magic arm of Mahomes.
The bookies have them at near evens and experts are calling it both ways so it all promises to be an exciting match-up under the lights on Sunday.
Here’s three key factors that will play a decisive role in who lifts the Lombardi trophy at the final whistle…
The 49ers defense will need to slow down Patrick Mahomes
It’s been said time and time again – for a reason – that defense wins championships.
And with the number two defense in the league, that unit may just be able to prove the old adage true on Sunday.
Mahomes is once again playing at an MVP level, showing he feels truly at home in the playoffs and will need to be stopped if San Francisco hope to claim victory.
The 24-year-old has already thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions in the Chiefs’ playoff run.
Wracking up 615 yards and completing 66 per cent of his passes, he has amassed an insane passer rating of 131.5.
Top that off with that 27-yard touchdown scramble and it’s clear the third-year quarterback will be causing problems for the 49ers in Miami.
Kyle Shanahan will have to come up with some answers if they hope to come out on top but if anyone can do that then the Niners are the team to do it.
Averaging three sacks a game with nine additional sacks in the playoffs, the 49ers defensive unit should be capable of bringing some real pressure against Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Their secondary should also be capable of closing down Mahomes’ passing options as they finished the regular season ranking second in the league for defensive efficiency against the passing game.
This potentially fatal combination could be enough to put unbearable pressure on Mahomes who is already shouldering mountains of expectation heading into his first Super Bowl.
Will San Francisco stick with the run or change it up in the Super Bowl?
One of the most interesting factors going into this year’s Super Bowl will be whether Kyle Shanahan tries to repeat the success his team has had on the ground in their playoff run.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was only asked to throw the ball eight times in the NFC Championship game.
Meanwhile, running back Raheem Mostert annhilated the Packers, putting up 220 yards and four touchdowns in a record-breaking performance.
However, the Chiefs’ defense has already proven they know how to stop devastating running games.
The team managed to hold star running back Derrick Henry to just 69 yards and one touchdown during the AFC Championship game – a much less productive appearance than the Titans’ two previous playoff victories.
If the 49ers are forced to change it up and rely more on Jimmy G and his passing ability, which has barely been used in his last two games, it’s plausible to think their offense may grind to a halt.
After all, we are still in the dark over why Jimmy G has barely been used in the last two games, with rumours of injury circling but being dismissed by the franchise.
Whether or not the San Francisco 49ers are allowed to carry on business as usual or forced to rely on their underused quarterback will likely be a crucial factor in this year’s Super Bowl contest.
The Chiefs will need to come out quicker than usual in Super Bowl 54
In both their divisional round and the AFC Championship game, the Chiefs fell behind their opponents by double digits.
The Houston Texans raced to a 24-0 lead by the second quarter while the Titans put up a 10-point lead of 17-7 in the second quarter the following week.
It was only through the sheer guts and never-say-die attitude of Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes that he was able to keep them in the game and lead them to victory.
But if Kansas City should falter off the blocks against a team as dominant as San Francisco on the sport’s biggest stage, don’t expect their opponents to be as forgiving as their AFC predecessors.
A significant deficit early on for the Chiefs could prove too tough an ask to overcome against a team like San Francisco who only two weeks prior shut the Green Bay Packers out of the first half and led by 27 points.
Although Aaron Rodgers tried his hardest to get his team back in the game, it was too little, too late and the 49ers were not about to give up and roll over.
They kept up the fight right until the end even if the game looked as good as won.
Nothing would be out of the question – Brady and the Patriots proved that in Super Bowl 51 by overcoming a 25-point deficit late in the third quarter.
But that quad had veteran Super Bowl champion Tom Brady at the helm and not a 24-year-old Mahomes leading a squad to their first Super Bowl in 50 years.
The margin of error will be minimal so the Chiefs will need to make sure they leave the nerves in the locker room and come out on to the Hard Rock Stadium field all guns blazing in Super Bowl 54.
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