LAS VEGAS — It was just four years ago when the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers played in the Super Bowl, a game won by the Chiefs and a game that gave Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes his first Super Bowl victory.
Since then, Mahomes has won one more, lost another, and is trying to become a three-time Super Bowl winner this week against the same 49ers organization he beat four years ago.
We are often asked what that first meeting will mean for this game?
There are just 17 players combined on the two teams who played in that game. But what’s even more telling is a look at the stats leaders from that game.
The leading passers were Jimmy Garoppolo for the 49ers and Mahomes for the Chiefs. The leading rushers were Raheem Mostert for the 49ers and Damien Williams for the Chiefs. The leading receivers in terms of yards were Tyreek Hill for the Chiefs and Kendrick Bourne for the 49ers. There were four players with interceptions in the game. Three of those four players are gone.
The one constant?
That’s why I am picking the Chiefs to beat the 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII and become repeat champions as Mahomes will win his third title, sending out notice to Tom Brady that he’s coming for him.
Kansas City Chiefs (+2) vs. San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS, Nickelodeon, Paramount+)
This Chiefs team hasn’t been the gaudy-statistical offensive team we have come to expect from Mahomes, but he has found a way to work through major issues on offense this season, including poor tackle play and receivers who couldn’t hold onto the football. Now he has his team on the precipice of history.
The Chiefs would become the first back-to-back champion since the New England Patriots and Brady did it way back in 2003 and 2004.
While Mahomes hasn’t racked up the big numbers in the playoffs, he’s been steady, capable and made the big plays when needed without making mistakes. Game manager? Hardly. But he hasn’t thrown a pick in three postseason games and has been sacked just three times behind a leaky offensive line. That’s playing big in the moment.
That isn’t to say Mahomes can’t get hot and carry this team, even with the issues. We know he can. But I think the Chiefs will start out running the football in this game with Isiah Pacheco against a 49ers defense that has given up 5.6 per rush in the playoffs. The 49ers have been gashed trying to defend the run, getting pushed around by both the Green Pay Packers and Detroit Lions. Andy Reid is smart enough to know that’s where he has to attack.
On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs have their best defense during the Mahomes era. Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is one of the best ever in the postseason, but he faces a stiff challenge against the 49ers’ high-scoring offense. Spagnuolo loves to use a lot of nickel and dime looks, but you can bet the 49ers will attack that with Christian McCaffrey if he does. The Chiefs, like the 49ers, are vulnerable to the run and would be even more so if they don’t play more base defense.
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Then there’s 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, playing in his first Super Bowl. This is a game that could be his true proving moment for any doubters still left. He has been really good this season, putting his name in the MVP talk for a bit. In the 49ers two postseason victories, he has come up big with late-game drives. That’s how quarterbacks are defined, even if he did have some struggles at times in those games.
Purdy has been outstanding against the blitz this year — No. 1 in the league — so Spagnuolo will have to be creative with how he uses it. The Chiefs secondary is the strength of the defense, and its disguises and late rotations could be big in getting Purdy to hesitate a tick.
Early on, I see two teams running the football against weak rush defenses. The game will be close late. But in the end, it will be Mahomes time.
I can see it now: 49ers lead by three at 20-17, Mahomes with the ball at his own 25 with 2:20 left in the game and two timeouts. From there, it’s Mahomes pulling out another magical moment, a surgical carving of the 49ers defense to get the Chiefs a game-winning touchdown, even though the field goal would tie it.
That would give Mahomes three Super Bowl victories in six years as a starter, with one loss in the big game. He could easily have played in two others, blowing a 21-3 lead to the Bengals in a playoff loss and seeing an offsides penalty negate an interception that would have beaten the Patriots in an AFC championship game.
The man is on a mission. That mission is to take down Brady as the greatest quarterback of all-time. But let’s make it bigger than that. He could be on his way to being the next Michael Jordan, leaving stars in his path without rings as he piles them up as the greatest to do it.
High praise for sure, but who are we to doubt Patrick Mahomes? I certainly won’t.
Pick: Chiefs 24, 49ers 20