Super Bowl LIV features two teams that were thoroughly among the league’s best all season long. Given that these teams didn’t face each other’s division in out of conference play this season, the only common opponents these teams played during this season were the Ravens, Vikings, and Packers. The Chiefs went 2-1 in those games (with two of them started by Matt Moore) while the 49ers had a 3-1 record. 

In terms of facing teams with a winning record this season, Kansas City was 5-3 while San Francisco was 7-2. Versus other playoff teams, the 49ers notched a 5-2 record while the Chiefs went 5-3. 

Those are surface-level evaluations on how each of these teams did, but when dissecting the lay of the land of their entire seasons, we can get a far more accurate gauge on their team performance this season.

It’s possible to face a non-winning or non-playoff team that does something well or is efficient, so we want to bring everyone to the party. Using the abundance of readily available data at Sharp Football Stats, we can do just that when comparing each team’s output both offensively and defensively versus their opponent’s this season. There are number of odds and ends statistics to compare on the site, but for the purpose of this post at the surface level, we’re focusing on overall team efficiency on offense and defense and then looking at that efficiency in the run and pass game while adding a look at explosive play output on both sides of the ball.

49ers Full Season Output vs Strength of Schedule

Tm/SOS RanksOverallPass Eff.Explosive PassRun Eff.Explosive Run
SF O Rank781117
SF O SOS Rank23248126
SF D Rank2221320
SF D SOS Rank2017112929

This also includes the postseason games. The lower the number in strength of schedule means easier than harder, so that 23rd rank in overall SOS for the 49ers offense means that they had the 10th hardest schedule in the league when it comes to opposing defensive efficiency allowed. Despite that, they still were the seventh-most efficient overall offense per our metrics. 

The 49ers run game gets a ton of deserved credit for their overall output, but where the San Francisco offense particularly shines is just how efficient their passing game was in comparison to what they faced. The 49ers have had 11 games versus pass defenses that rank in the top-15 in pass efficiency while facing a top-10 one in seven games. Those teams were far more giving in the explosive pass play department, but the 49ers managed to still outproduce their schedule there, ranking first in the league in generating an explosive play on a league-high 12% of their pass plays. On throws over 15 yards downfield this season, Jimmy Garoppolo leads the league with a 58.5% completion rate. 

We inherently know the 49ers’ defense is good, but they look much better here when accounting for their opponents. For comparison notes, the Patriots were the number team defense in efficiency allowed this season ahead of the 49ers, but also had the easiest schedule in the NFL of opposing offenses in terms of efficiency. San Francisco faced a middle-to-below average passing schedule this season, but we’ll highlight the discrepancy in the tale of their two seasons shortly. 

Chiefs Full Season Output vs Strength of Schedule

Tm/SOS RanksOverallPass Eff.Explosive PassRun Eff.Explosive Run
KC O Rank3282924
KC O SOS Rank6512732
KC D Rank14671428
KC D SOS Rank2728241310

The Chiefs had a light schedule of opposing defenses, but they were still better than those opponents. With Patrick Mahomes and all of their passing game artillery, it’s no surprise to see them outkick their opponents with their passing game efficiency and explosiveness. 

The run game was a bit different for the Chiefs, however. They faced our seventh-easiest run schedule in terms of efficiency, but still lagged far behind in their own rushing efficiency. The teams they faced allowed more efficiency than splash plays in the run game. While the Chiefs out-kicked their explosive run schedule, their overall ranking still was at the bottom of the league. While they ranked 28th in rate of runs to gain 10 or more yards (9.2%), 44.9% of their team rushing yardage came on those gains during the regular season, which ranks 15th. That has spilled over into the postseason, as Mahomes has led the team in rushing in each playoff game. In those games, the Chiefs have eight runs of 10 or more yards, with Mahomes having five and Sammy Watkins having one, leaving two for their actual traditional running game.

Defensively is where the Chiefs don’t get enough credit. They weren’t an elite defense in overall efficiency, but massively outproduced their schedule, especially in the passing game. The Chiefs faced the fourth-hardest schedule in terms of opposing passing offenses in efficiency and the ninth hardest in explosive play efficiency yet were a top-seven unit in both areas. 

Where the Chiefs struggled big picture was in allowing chunk gains on the ground. As noted when breaking down this rushing matchup earlier in the week, the Chiefs have improved a touch in that area over the back half of the season, and have allowed just four runs of 10 or more yards on 43 carries this postseason. 

That brings us to the next point. Full season output can paint an overall narrative, but how have these teams performed down the stretch run of the season leading into this game? Chopping the sample in half down from Week 11 on, we can take the same look at each team.

49ers and Chiefs Output and SOS From Week 11 On

Tm/SOS RanksOverallPass Eff.Explosive PassRun Eff.Explosive Run
KC O Rank4714523
KC O SOS Rank1613211021
KC D Rank12622027
KC D SOS Rank21242175
SF O Rank65188
SF O SOS Rank2526151919
SF D Rank141151718
SF D SOS Rank3232223129

The Chiefs have gone 8-0 over this span. While they have still faced a middling schedule offensively during that run, it’s a much tougher schedule than what they opened the season with and they’ve outproduced their opponents strengths across the board. 

Defensively, they’ve faced the 12th hardest schedule overall. In the Super Bowl, the 49ers will be the ninth team ranked in the top-12 in terms of offensive efficiency that the Chiefs have faced. The Kansas City pass defense ran into the ninth hardest passing efficiency schedule over that span, but came away with a ranking of sixth of defensively and closed the season second in the league in limiting explosive pass plays over that span. 

Even with their overall improvements in defending the run game, that’s the one area where the Chiefs still fell behind despite facing a soft run schedule over that span. Of course, they just shut down Derrick Henry and the Titans run game prior to eliminating the run altogether from the game script, so apply any grains of salt needed. 

The 49ers have been battle-tested to close the season, facing the hardest schedule of offensive opponents in terms of efficiency from Week 11 on with the hardest passing efficiency schedule and the second-hardest run schedule. 

The 49ers haven’t faced an offense ranked lower than 13th in passing efficiency since Week 11 after facing teams ranked 18th or lower in eight of their opening 10 games. This is why their overall output defensively regressed in season. But even through that regression, they were still a very capable defense when factoring in their opponent. The Chiefs rank second in the league in passing efficiency offensively, while the 49ers have faced the number one (Ravens), three (Saints), and fourth-ranked (Seahawks) teams in passing efficiency over their past seven games. 

On the rushing end, San Francisco closed the season in the middle of the league in terms if efficiency allowed, but compared to their schedule, there was still a significant gap that shows they are a good defense in that area. The 49ers faced just two teams (the Falcons and Rams) that rank outside of the top-15 in rushing efficiency over that final stretch of the season.