Jimmy Garoppolo, Patrick Mahomes
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images, AP Photo

Super Bowl 54 is set to go down in South Beach, with immovable forces meetings unmoveable objects on both sides of the ball. 

What: Super Bowl 54
Who: Kansas City Chiefs (AFC) vs. San Francisco 49ers (NFC)
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Florida
When/Watch: 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox

Two-hundred-and-sixty-six games later, it all comes down to this.

The 54th edition of the game originally known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game goes down in Miami on Sunday. Droughts spanning multiple decades will fear for their existence, as the Kansas City Chiefs will take on the San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Matchup

Kansas City and San Francisco each got here by each developing dominance on opposite sides of the ball. The Chiefs have boasted one of the most electrifying offenses in recent memory through the talents of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City has seen a plethora of offensive heroes arise on a weekly basis to assist their quarterback. On the ground, Damien Williams has teamed up with veteran LeSean McCoy to form a strong attack. Speed has killed in a receiving attack led by Tyreek Hill, who is complemented by the power of tight end Travis Kelce. Other speedsters in Mahomes’ arsenal include Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson. The mighty backfield is protected by a blocking group headlined by tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz.

San Francisco’s treat has been their defense. A series of high draft picks have created one of the strongest units in football and has created an opportunity for an instant turnaround under head coach Kyle Shanahan. In a National Football League dominated by the aerial attack, the 49ers shut down offenses to the tune of allowing just over 169 passing yards per game, tops in the NFL. The revolution has been led by an old enemy in Richard Sherman, a former postseason hero in Seattle. New Jersey native K’Wuan Williams works alongside him in the secondary with Jimmie Ward headlining the safeties. The defensive dominance is begun with the power and pressure of the front seven. Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner have instilled fear into quarterbacks across the nation. Bosa’s fellow end Arik Armstead led the team in sacks in 10, and a former Chief in Dee Ford has helped size up the linebacking corps.

Both squads have also seen heroes emerge in their supposed “weak” spots. Kansas City has received a defensive boost from newcomers Tyrann Mathieu (four interceptions) and Frank Clark (eight sacks). The 49ers’ offense has enjoyed success under new franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who impressed when he had to in his first full season as a starter. San Francisco also came in second in rushing at over 144 yards per game thanks to a hydra of Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman. George Kittle has likewise made a case for being the best tight end in the game.

Each head coach is seeking Super Bowl redemption. Shanahan previously partook in the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse from a 25-point lead as the offensive coordinator on the wrong side of Super Bowl 51. Andy Reid of Kansas City is likewise looking to recover from a loss to the New England Patriots, falling 24-21 as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in the game’s 39th version.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 19: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs on his way to scoring a 27 yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Chiefs Will Win If… 

They get off to a fast start.

The Chiefs’ run to the Super Bowl has been somewhat reminiscent of the 2014 Florida State Seminoles’ trek to the College Football Playoff. There have been slow starts followed by mesmerizing comebacks. But once they ran into a team that wasn’t so forgiving of starting slow. For FSU, it was the Oregon offense at the Rose Bowl. The Cheifs could run into the same problem in Miami in the form of the mighty Niners’ defense.

If the Chiefs fall behind the 49ers as they did against Tennessee and Houston, the game could get over with early. The offense is perhaps too powerful to let the game get truly out of hand, but, if they fall behind, the 49ers won’t be as forgiving as the Texans and Titans. Kansas City just has to keep doing Kansas City things, using speed and high-octane antics that shift momentum and deflate the opponent.

If things turn into a shootout (similar to the more recent Patriots-Eagles tilt we saw in Minneapolis), the odds move in the Chiefs’ favor.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The 49ers Will Win If…

They duplicate the New York Giants’ Super Bowl 25 hold onto the ball.

That’s not always a failsafe (the Giants held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game and it still came down to Scott Norwood’s memorable miss), but it can certainly tilt the odds in their favor.

Kansas City has lost eight games (including playoffs) since Patrick Mahomes took over as the starting quarterback. In all but one of the games, the Chiefs have lost the time of possession battle. The 49ers have the perfect counter for taking over that category in the form of their dominant run game. Mostert officially introduced himself to the national scene last week in the NFC Championship Game in the form of a 220-yard performance to go with four scores against Green Bay. He has been helped all season by Breida and Coleman. Any minute Patrick Mahomes and company are on the bench and off the field is a good minute from every angle of the San Francisco perspective.

Prediction

In a game of unstoppable forces, this game is going to come down to how well the not-so-finer things of each squad perform. At this point, the San Francisco offense, armed with a three-headed monster in the backfield. is far more trustworthy than the Kansas City defense.

We saw defensive exploits take center stage in last year’s literal struggle, New England’s 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Both sides are far too powerful to let a game like that happen again. Expect a close, decently-scored game, with a few turnovers to boot. But, right now, the 49ers’ “weak” spot is more trustworthy than Kansas City’s. They’re a more complete team, and it’s the complete teams that go on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

PREDICTION: 49ers 27, Chiefs 21

ESNY Staff Picks

Robby Sabo, Jets Columnist, VP Content:
49ers: 16
Chiefs: 26
MVP: Tyreek Hill

Defense wins championships, right? Well, that’s the old-school way of thinking in this new brand of football the NFL’s slowly but surely molded for its fans.

Quarterbacks and trench play wins championships. Both teams employ the trench play. Only one has the quarterback.

Only the QB who can make every throw on the field without needing the rushing attack (his offense’s or his own) is the truly special gunslinger who can overcome crazy odds en route to championships. Patrick Mahomes is that guy. Jimmy Garoppolo is not. Much like Jared Goff from a season ago, Jimmy G is not ready for primetime and it’ll show.

In August, I chose a Kansas City Chiefs-Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl. Before the playoffs, I went with the Chiefs over the New Orleans Saints. It’d be foolish not to stick with the pre-tournament pick.

Expect a lower-scoring game that remains relatively close in the first half. The San Francisco 49ers will find some success on the ground early, but not to the tune they did against the extremely overrated Green Bay Packers. The Chiefs won’t find much success on the ground, but that’s OK. They don’t need to. A Tyreek Hill jet sweep or two will serve huge against a great Niners defense.

As long as the Chiefs offensive line holds up against the Niners four-man pass rush, Mahomes will do enough damage in the second half to win by two scores. The difference with KC this season as opposed to last is Steve Spagnuolo. He may not have overwhelming talent, but he knows how to call championship defenses in real-time. The Niners rushing attack won’t see the same success in the second half as it will in the first.

Mahomes plays well, throws a pick. Jimmy G manages the game early, throws two picks in the second half. Hill steals the MVP away from his QB with two scores, one through the air and one on the ground. Richard Sherman will not enjoy his night (as that defensive backfield is tremendously overrated thanks to a superb pass rush).

The shocker for most folks will be how low scoring this one turns out to be. If San Fran can’t steamroll the Chiefs on the ground, their offense isn’t ripe to put up a ton of points. And the Chiefs, no matter how great Mahomes is, shouldn’t find explosive success against the best defense in the game.

But in the end, it’s Andy Reid’s time, finally. And keep a 19-16 final score in mind. Nineteen for the Chiefs, representing Joe Montana’s number for two seasons there, and 16, of course, for his legendary days by the bay.

Danny Small, Knicks Columnist, Editor in Chief:
49ers: 31
Chiefs: 33
MVP: Mahomes

Mike Vivalo, ESNY Personality:
49ers: 21
Chiefs: 20
MVP: Bosa

Ryan Honey, Giants Columnist, Editor:
SF: 28
KC:17
MVP: Mostert

Frank Curto, Staff Writer:
49ers: 24
Chiefs: 27
MVP: Mahomes

Kyle Newman, Editor, Mets/Jets Columnist:
49ers: 24
Chiefs: 17
MVP: Mostert

Jason Leach, Giants Columnist:
SF:31
KC:24
MVP: Jimmy G

Josh Benjamin, Senior Writer
KC: 34
SF: 24
MVP: Kelce

I think as great as San Francisco’s front seven is, Andy Reid will simply outcoach Kyle Shanahan. Patrick Mahomes dinks and dunks through the Niners’ pass rush and gets Travis Kelce a lot of work, whose two TDs and clutch catches will net him MVP honors.

Thomas Hall, Staff Writer:
49ers: 20
Chiefs: 27
MVP: Mahomes

James Schapiro, Staff Writer:
49ers: 28
Chiefs: 24
MVP: Mostert

Aaron Gershon, Staff Writer:
KC 34
SF:31
MVP: Mahomes

Brian Paget, Contributor:
SF: 28
KC: 24
MVP: Sherman

Leen Amin, Contributor:
SF: 22
KC: 17
MVP: Bosa

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