Before we get to my betting choice for Super Bowl 58, I want to give you some information on trends that are relevant in the Chiefs vs. 49ers showdown. Perhaps some of the specifics will help you make up your mind.
1. Schedule Factor: the Super Bowl contestant that played a tougher schedule is 11-3 straight up and 9-5 against the spread over the last 14 Supers. Of the 11 winners, nine faced a top-10 schedule along the way. And seven handled a top-five schedule. Relevance: According to the Sagarin ratings the Chiefs played the league fifth-toughest schedule this season. The 49er schedule was 20th.
2. Underdog History: over the past 22 seasons, Super Bowl underdogs went 16-6 straight up, and that includes a 12-4 ATS mark in the last 16. Kansas City is a two-point underdog in this one.
3. Team with the best record coming into the matchup: Including the postseason San Francisco is 14-5 and Kansas City is 14-6. Slight edge to the 49ers. Historically, what does it mean for the team that brings a superior record into the big game? All-time the team with the best record going into the Super Bowl is 30-19 straight up. But the best-record team has lost 11 of the last 13 Super Bowls and is a ghastly 1-15 against the spread since 2004.
4. The impact of the rushing game: The 49ers and Chiefs struggle to defend the run and that weakness could go a long way in determining the winner. Teams that have rushed for more yards in the Super Bowl are 42-15 straight up and 40-14-3 against the spread. This applied last year when the Chiefs out-rushed the Eagles 158-115 and won Super Bowl 57.
5. Possession Time: Teams that had the ball for more time in the Super Bowl are 41-16 straight up and 39-15-3 against the spread. But nothing is guaranteed. Last year the Eagles lost to the Chiefs despite a 11.5-minute edge in possession. The Chiefs have done well when coming up short on time of possession; the most recent example was their victory at Buffalo in the AFC Divisional round.
TEAM TRENDS AGAINST THE SPREAD
* Overall: Niners are 9-10, Chiefs are 13-7.
* Road/neutral games: Niners 6-3, Chiefs 8-3.
* As the betting favorite: Niners 9-10.
* As the betting underdog: Chiefs 3-0.
* Road/Neutral favorite: Niners 6-3.
* Road/Neutral underdog: Chiefs 3-0.
* Vs. teams that have won at least 55% of their games: Niners 4-5, Chiefs 5-1.
* Facing defenses that have allowed an average of 21 points or less: Niners 2-4, Chiefs 5-1.
LET’S GET TO THE GAME
San Francisco vs. Kansas City
Sunday, 5:30 p.m. kickoff STL time on CBS
Betting Line: 49ers by two points.
Over-Under: 47 and ½ points
Computer Simulation: San Francisco, 24-23
If we go with the larger sample size, the 49ers have been the better team than the Chiefs for much of the season. In that context the Niners should win Sunday’s game. But we’re in the playoffs, and Kansas City has gone 5-0 since losing to the Raiders at home on Christmas Day. They’ve consecutive playoff road games as underdogs at Buffalo and Baltimore. KC has tightened up its offense, reducing penalties and dropped passes by using a more conservative style to control possession and win on the strength of a peak-performance defense, a physical running game, superb efficiency by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and precision kicking by Harrison Butker.
Steve Spagnuolo’s excellent defense has allowed an average of 15.8 points over the last eight games and, incredibly, has given up an average of 4.0 points in the second half. Head coach Andy Reid and Mahomes have modified the offense to put more responsibility on a unit that’s the best Kansas City defense since Reid became coach in 2013.
Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league. He’s 11-1-1 in his career as an underdog. Mahomes has easily transitioned to a more deliberate style of offense that limits risk and prioritizes low-mistake football. He has not thrown a single turnover-worthy pass in the postseason. A remarkable 81 percent of his postseason passes have been on target, and 90 percent of his throws were graded as catchable by Sports Info Solutions. Mahomes is 14-3 in the postseason. No NFL team has won more regular-season and postseason games since Mahomes became coach Reid’s starting quarterback in 2018.
San Francisco is loaded with prime talent but hasn’t played its best football for a while. The offense is capable of prolific scoring, and that’s how the Niners escaped precarious deficit situations for comeback wins over the Packers and Lions in the NFC playoffs.
The Spags defense will have to keep the Kyle Shanahan offense under control and limit explosive plays. But the Chiefs have a pliable run defense and that could be a huge problem for them.
If Christian McCaffrey has an outstanding game as a runner and receiver, the 49ers can win it … and should win it. Here’s the challenge for Spags and his defenders: the outside zone runs. The 49ers averaged the highest rate of yards per carry on those zone runs, and the KC defense was 28th in stopping those types of runs. That makes me uneasy.
If the KC defense can get the Niners in unfavorable situations on second and third downs, Spagnuolo can get to work on his masterpiece and make Brock Purdy uncomfortable. Those Kansas City blitzers come in at all angles, and you never know what Spags will show you … is he faking a blitz? Is it real? Will they do what I think or are they just trying to trick me? That’s what goes through the minds of quarterbacks that have to decode the Spagnuolo defense. And they have to do it in two or three seconds. That can be distracting and uncomfortable. And Spags goes into each game with multiple speciality blitzes that he saves for the right situation – blitzes that he hasn’t used before. Blitzes that the QB hasn’t seen before.
Purdy is poised and he is smart. He came up big when the 49ers needed a hero in those comebacks against the Packers and Lions. But we saw him waver a bit in the NFC playoffs, and it was a factor in San Francisco having to play catch-up. In the first halves of the games vs. the Packers and Lions, the 49ers averaged seven points and scored on only one of seven possessions. Purdy had one interception and threw a couple of other passes that should have been picked off. And it’s hard for me to shake off the memory of watching Purdy throw four interceptions in an embarrassing homefield loss to Baltimore on Christmas night.
I wrote this Thursday and it’s worthy of repeating: among the 14 quarterbacks that have attempted at least 30 passes this postseason, Purdy ranks last with a catchable-throw rate of 73.8 percent. And he’s 13th among the 14 quarterbacks with an on-target rate of 61.5 percent.
Third downs are vitally important in big games. Consider this: using the DVOA metric, Kansas City is ranked fifth in third-down defense. San Francisco 27th in preventing third-down conversions.
That said, I can’t automatically assume the Chiefs will win. Every time I go that way, I see something that gives me pause. Like this note from FTN’s Jeff Radcliffe: “The 49ers are 15-1 when Purdy, McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel all play the entire game. They’re 6-5 in all other games since Purdy’s first career start.”
Purdy, McCaffrey and Samuel are good to go for Super Bowl 58. The Chiefs will have to earn this victory. It won’t be given to them. The 49ers remain dangerous.
But I keep coming back to this … and yeah, I’ll keep it quite simple.
Let’s compare what we know about these teams as they approach kickoff:
Best head coach in this game: Andy Reid, KC. Give this coach two weeks to prepare for an opponent, including regular-season byes, and he’s gone 22-4.
Best quarterback in this game: Mahomes, KC. He’s played 17 postseason games – the equivalent of a full NFL regular season. And in winning 82.3 percent of those games, Mahomes has passed for 4,802 yards and 39 touchdowns and rushed for 458 yards and five touchdowns. Only 1.1 percent of his postseason passing attempts have been intercepted. He’s lost only one fumble. He’s led four fourth-quarter comebacks, five game-winning drives and won two Super Bowl MVP awards.
Best offensive mind in this game: Reid. Shanahan is outstanding but Reid is at another level. And Shanahan blew a 10-point lead to Reid and the Chiefs in the Super Bowl that capped the 2019 season. He also was also the flawed play-caller as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to Tom Brady to lose the Super Bowl played at the end of 2017. Reid changed the entire scope of his offense late in the season and succeeded. Who does that?
Best defensive coordinator in this game: Spagnuolo (easily) over Steve Wilks. If Spags can stop Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson on the road in consecutive AFC playoff games, I think the Chiefs, in their current form, can stop any quarterback.
Best special teams: Kansas City.
Best kicker: Kansas City’s Harrison Butker.
Most postseason experience: Kansas City.
Most postseason success in recent years: Kansas City.
Team with the sharpest recent form going into this game: Kansas City.
Team with the most favorable trends, based on Super Bowl history: Kansas City.
The team with the more favorable wagering profile: the Chiefs, who have covered the spread in their last five games. The 49ers, however, are 5-9 against the spread since Week 6. According to CBS Sports, only Atlanta, the LA Chargers, Philadelphia, and the NY Jets have managed fewer covers over that time including playoffs.
The Verdict: Kansas City 26, San Francisco 20. The Chiefs become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champs since New England in the 2003-2004 seasons.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the fun and the food and the happy times with friends and family as you gather to view Super Bowl 58.
Statistical and betting information used in this analysis were sourced from Pro Football Reference, Sports Info Solutions, Pro Football Focus and VSIN unless otherwise noted.