Super Bowl Picks – Spread and Over Under Predictions
30 January 2020
The long NFL season has lead to this, one last game to crown the champ. These are the two most deserving teams and we get a treat in the sense that we get the matchup that most of us wanted.
Kansas City Chiefs vs San Francisco 49ers
Opening Line: Chiefs -1.5 and 54
Current Line: Chiefs -1.5 and 54.5
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The Chiefs playoff path should begin being outlined in week 17, when the Patriots gave them a boost. In order to clinch a bye week the Chiefs needed a win and a Patriots loss at home to the lowly Dolphins. While we all assumed the Chiefs win would come, no one was lending credence to the Patriots dropping the ball so laughably against that level of competition. Low and behold the Patriots loss came, and it was the Chiefs that got to watch at home during divisional weekend as the Patriots were bounced by the Titans. This lead to the Titans travelling to 1 seed Baltimore for divisional weekend, bouncing Baltimore and with the Chiefs having a (rare term coming) come from behind blowout win against the Texans, they would get a home game for the conference championship against the Titans. The Titans were the league’s hottest team and had just knocked off the Pats and Ravens on the road, so this matchup was truly a test. The Chiefs fell behind early as they did against the Texans, but Mahomes would not be denied. He dropped touchdown dimes and most importantly, had a force of will touchdown run to end the first half that totally swung the momentum of the game, and ultimately was the most key play that punched the Chiefs ticket to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers similarly had their playoff story start in week 17. With all due respect to the highest end bodies of work to both the Chiefs and 49ers full seasons, these are the game sin which their seeding came into play. The 49ers week 17 matchup with the Seahawks had the ramifications of a loss dropping them to the 5 seed or a win locking up the 1 seed. They ultimately won a hard fought game and got a bye week in the divisional round, and in a perfect turn of events, the Vikings upset the Saints, their only true competition in the NFC. Divisional week matched them up with those same Vikings and the game was a domination, save for one early blown coverage. As the Packers got past the Seahawks at home, the 49ers would draw them in a home matchup on conference championship weekend. This was a perfect draw and the 49ers dominated much the same against a fraudulent Packer squad to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Comparing playoff strength of schedule for each team, the only true test that was thrown at either team was the Titans matchup for the Chiefs. Ironically there is much similarity between the Titans and 49ers and that similar test comes again on Sunday for the Chiefs. The 49ers, like the Titans, are happy to run, run, run and protect a lead, but there are differences. The 49ers run game is not predicated on a single player like Derrick Henry, instead reliant on scheme and 11 players on offense. Also different is the presence of more playmakers in the passing game, headlined by George Kittle in case plan A fails. Let’s get to how these teams match up with each other.
The Chiefs are lead by perhaps the player in the league that most needs no introduction, Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes is the league’s best quarterback and is the one player that actually makes the throws no one else can make, not in the hyperbolic sense as is usually the case when that phrase is thrown around.
In the trenches, the Chiefs offensive line is built for pass blocking, and they are very good at it. They will need to be with the individual beasts the 49ers have rushing the passer across the defensive line. Even with the high end nature of many of the 49ers pass rushers, the Chiefs are built to protect Mahomes, and he will have the opportunity to make plays as he won’t be under instant duress for the majority of the game. On the rushing side of things, the Chiefs do not run block nearly as well as they pass block. This isn’t a secret and the Chiefs don’t try to control the game with a bulk of running plays, rather relying on explosive plays from all positions. Running back is included and Damien Williams is a sound runner that makes explosive plays, but it isn’t really arguable to say his biggest appeal is in being another pass catching weapon for Mahomes that is a threat to house one on any catch.
As far as pass catchers go, the Chiefs best possession threat is tight end Travis Kelce. If the 49ers decide to play a cover three and try to keep the wide receivers in front of them, Kelce could once again be a one man wrecking crew as he was in the matchup with the Texans. He will often see 49ers safety Marcel Harris in coverage, which will probably be the best individual matchup among the Chiefs pass catchers. When teams attempt to take away deep routes against the Chiefs, short and intermediate passes to Kelce often work as a high success rate extension of the running game, moving the ball in small chunks.
The wide receivers will likely see a good bit of zone coverage as the 49ers prefer to attack this way. Tyreek Hill remains the ultimate mismatch and the fastest wide receiver in the league, so leaving him on an island against just about any cornerback is a bad idea. Sammy Watkins is a player who has had success against zone coverage in the past and has a beatable matchup with K’Waun Williams in the slot. Watkins has done some of his best work in his Chiefs tenure in the playoffs and is certainly not a player to sleep on. He will be a player of great interest in the props article. Demarcus Robinson is listed as the other outside starting wide receiver but is best described as just a guy. His hope for relevance is too much attention being paid to the difference making players and winning a one on one matchup. The trouble with that thought is he will run the majority of his routes on the right side of the offensive formation, which matches him up with Richard Sherman, a matchup he is unlikely to beat. The wild card for the Chiefs is rookie fourth wide receiver Mecole Hardman. Hardman, nearly at the level of Hill, has game breaking speed and is a splash play threat at all times.
The Chiefs will attack the way they always do, letting Mahomes lead the way and running the ball just enough to keep their opponent honest until it comes time to kill the clock with a lead. A wild card in the game that needs to be mentioned is Andy Reid’s clock management. For all the things he does well, managing the clock at the end of halves is an unmitigated disaster for him and we will have to see if this comes into play. It should be noted Mahomes aforementioned epic run to close the first half against the Titans bailed Reid out on another clock management blunder.
The 49ers are lead by Jimmy Garoppolo, a quarterback best described as middling among the league’s starters. He is certainly capable of making mistakes, but it should be noted he has been exceptional this year *after* throwing an interception. To tangent for a moment, a parlay of Garoppolo to throw an interception with the over is a sound correlation play.
In the trenches, the 49ers are the opposite of the Chiefs, playing to their own strengths. They will be at a net negative on the pass blocking side of things but will be at a net positive on the run blocking side. If they are able to get a lead in this game, shortening the game with the run will be an absolute necessity for them, as they were able to do against their first two playoff opponents. We expect the same hot hand approach at running back from the 49ers, with Raheem Mostert getting the first crack and Tevin Coleman also getting a chance to earn the bulk of touches as the game wears on. This philosophy worked in the playoffs so far and they have been able to establish a run heavy game plan. If they are unable to, we could very much see a shoot out type game like the one they played in New Orleans in the regular season. While they showed they are capable of winning thus type of game, it would not be ideal for them from an offensive philosophy standpoint, and not what they *want* to do. The Chiefs defense, a sieve to running backs in 2018 and part of 2019, has really improved in this area to close the 2019 season, the most notable performance being stopping Derrick Henry and co. in the AFC Championship Game. They really could be stout enough to keep the 49ers ground game in check, and force them to throw. That however, would open a difference an of worms for the Chiefs defense.
Tight end George Kittle remains on a very short list of best offensive players in the league, as he is an elite pass catcher with amazing run after the catch chops. He is also much like an extra lineman from a blocking perspective and is a difference maker at every level of the game. He will often see the Honey Badger Tyronn Mathieu in coverage. This is far from an ideal matchup but if Kittle is seeing volume in the passing game, he will produce and individual matchup doesn’t much matter.
The 49ers wide receivers will all have an individual matchup advantage. The most glaring of which is big play rookie stud Deebo Samuel running the majority of his routes on Breshaud Breeland. All of the Chiefs defensive backs can be beaten, but Breeland certainly offers the easiest path. Kendall Fuller will cover Kendrick Bourne in the slot, but neither player is a difference maker and it is safe to call this matchup a wash. Charvarius Ward is the Chiefs best corner, and he will see Emmanuel Sanders on the majority of snaps. Sanders is probably the better player at this juncture, but the matchup edge here pales in comparison to the one Deebo Samuel has on the other side. Samuel is the most likely to be a difference making wide receiver for the 49ers.
As mentioned, if the 49ers are playing from behind and cannot lean on the run game, they are somewhat out of their element and not playing their preferred style. The first quarter will be of the utmost importance for them.
Super Bowl Predictions
The 49ers are a great team, but they are just running into a better one that can overcome a deficit, while the reciprocal is far less true and far less likely. The Chiefs will not be game script reliant like the 49ers will be and would be the team to win this game in the vast majority of iterations. With the 49ers needing to throw more and likely not being able to shorten the game with the run, the over is the direction to go in and also the most likely outcome.
Enjoy the big game and make sure to look for the Super Bowl prop bets as well!!
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TJ Calkins – NFL Picks Expert
TJ Calkins was raised in a gambling loving household. He knew how to handicap horse races and follow line movements well before his tenth birthday.