This coming Monday sees one of the biggest days on the sporting calendar. It’s Super Bowl LIV between the AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs and the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, and since its regular NFL correspondent Hamish Girvan’s team up against mine, we’re covering off our respective teams’ chances of walking away with the Lombardi Trophy.
For the 49ers, it’s amazing the difference a year makes. This year was meant to be last year, until quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo blew out his knee (ironically against the Chiefs) in the third game of the season and the team struggled to a 4-12 record. 2019 was a vastly different story, with San Francisco starting with eight straight wins en route to a 13-3 regular season record, followed by strong playoff wins over Minnesota (27-10), and Green Bay (37-20) to book their place in Miami.
For the Faithful, it’s been 25 years since the last of their five titles that closed the book on the Montana/Rice/Young-era. This team is more than good enough to take their place at the top, and here’s why.
Why the 49ers will win:
- The run game. After averaging 144 yards per game (YPG) in the regular season (second only to Baltimore), the playoff games have been a clinic from the offense. Raheem Mostert was the beneficiary against Green Bay; but any of him, Matt Breida, or Tevin Coleman could get the call on the day. The real reason however is the offensive line anchored by veteran left tackle Joe Staley and his second-year counterpart Mike McGlinchey on the other end, who have been dominant in creating space for the runners to exploit. If they can do that again and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field, that greatly improves the Niners chances.
- Defense. Only the cheats New England allowed fewer YPG than San Fran’s 281.8 mark. The obvious area is the pass rush, with the line of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, former Chief Dee Ford, and superstar rookie Nick Bosa (taken second overall in the Draft as result of last year’s struggles) giving opponents fits all season and the major reason the 49ers led the league in passing defense. But they aren’t the only ones, with linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner also having stellar seasons, and veteran Richard Sherman having re-established himself as one of the game’s premier cornerbacks. It’s on them to force mistakes and win the field position battle.
- Kyle Shanahan. There isn’t a more creative offensive mind in the game than the 49ers head coach, and he’s not only bound to have something up his sleeve but will almost certainly use it at some point. The son of longtime NFL head coach Mike, he’ll be looking to make history as the first father-son duo to win the Lombardi Trophy as head coaches (Mike won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII with Denver). He’s also after some personal redemption too, as he was the offensive co-ordinator when Atlanta blew that 28-3 lead three years ago. The battle of wits with Andy Reid will be compelling.
What must San Fran stop Kansas City doing?
- This one is easy to identify but much harder to do; the 49ers must contain Chiefs superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. San Fran have had issues with similarly mobile QB’s this season in Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson and that’s been a talking point in the lead-up so far – albeit that came when the defense was at less than full strength. The Niners must get pressure on Mahomes, but also not over-commit and give him space to run, and must minimise the opportunity for him to get the ball to his preferred outlets in tight end Travis Kelce and speedy wideout Tyreek Hill.
What can’t San Fran let happen?
- This might seem odd, but San Francisco can’t afford to have quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throw the ball too much. Statistically “Jimmy G” had an excellent season with nearly 4000 yards passing and 27 touchdowns against 13 interceptions in his return last year’s lost season, but the team’s strength is the running game with Garoppolo effectively managing that on the field. If he’s throwing it’s either because they haven’t been able to establish the run or are trailing on the scoreboard (or both), and if that’s the case it brings with the greater chances of mistakes which will be crippling.
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