The Worksheet, a comprehensive fantasy football preview by Rich Hribar, breaks down everything you need to know about Super Bowl 58 featuring the Chiefs and 49ers.
Sharp Football Analysis has every angle of Chiefs vs. 49ers covered in our Super Bowl 58 Hub.
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Against the Spread
- 49ers: 9-10
- Chiefs: 12-7-1
- 49ers ATS as Favorite: 9-10
- Chiefs ATS as Underdog: 3-0
We are down to the final two teams and a rematch of the 2019 Super Bowl.
The Chiefs beat the 49ers 31-20 in that game, which kick-started a run that has seen Kansas City make the Super Bowl four times over the past five seasons.
While there is undoubtedly some fatigue from the public with getting the Chiefs in the big game, they once again rallied this postseason, taking a different path than in previous years.
This Kansas City team has had to go out on the road and win games as outright underdogs, something they will have to do again this weekend.
In beating both Buffalo and Baltimore on the road the past two rounds, Kansas City has now moved to an 8-3 record (9-1-1 against the spread) as an underdog with Patrick Mahomes as their starting quarterback with a 3-0 record in the postseason.
To provide some further context to how absurd that is, Mahomes has made 96 starts in the regular season and now 17 starts in the postseason. He has been an underdog just 11 times.
Only three other quarterbacks have a winning record as an underdog over that span and one of those (C.J. Stroud at 5-4) has only a one-year sample on his resume. The others are Lamar Jackson (10-5) and Ben Roethlisberger (10-9).
That includes last season’s Super Bowl when the Chiefs were 1.5-point underdogs against the Eagles.
This 2023 version of the Kansas City team was not completely reliant on a bonkers MVP-level season from Mahomes. Rather, they leaned on winning more games with their defense and ball protection, which was especially true this postseason.
Kansas City has done enough to win this postseason, but this is still an offense that has disappeared in crunch time, something we have not seen much during their ongoing dynasty run.
Even in this postseason, the Chiefs have scored a touchdown on 3-of-15 (20.0%) second-half possessions.
This has been an ongoing issue. In the regular season, the Chiefs were 30th in the NFL, scoring a touchdown on 13.5% of their second-half possessions compared to sixth in the first half of games (27.8%).
They are averaging 4.9 yards per play in the second half this postseason compared to 6.1 yards per play in the first half. In the regular season, they had a similar drop-off, going from 6.3 yards per play in the first half (fourth in the league) down to 4.8 yards per play after the break (25th).
The Kansas City offense has given us moments of putting it all together, like in the first half against an elite Baltimore defense, but those moments have been fleeting.
Kansas City has historically never been out of a game even while trailing with Mahomes, but this season they have a 3-5 record when trailing by seven or more points outside of the first quarter. Two of those three wins have come against Jake Browning and Aidan O’Connell.
This is a team that has been better at playing from ahead since they are no longer a quick-strike offense for scoring plays.
The Chiefs have averaged 9.0 yards per touchdown play this season, ahead of only the Carolina Panthers (8.3 yards).
Starting fast, getting ahead, and winning on early downs is also imperative for the 49ers in this game to avoid the strengths of this Kansas City defense.
After leading the NFL in yards per play on first downs in the regular season (7.0), the 49ers have averaged 5.6 yards per play on first down in the playoffs (ninth).
After a league-low 36.4% of the San Francisco set of downs reached third down in the regular season, 50.0% have reached third down in the playoffs, the highest rate of any team that played multiple games this postseason.
San Francisco has bailed themselves out by converting 57.1% of their third downs this postseason, but that will be a tougher ask against this Kansas City defense.
After allowing a league-low 3.6 yards per play on third downs in the regular season, the Chiefs have allowed just 2.9 yards per play on third downs this postseason (also the fewest).
Teams have converted just 11-of-37 (29.7%) third downs in these playoffs against the Chiefs and just 3-of-20 (15.0%) needing more than five yards.
The reason the Chiefs have been able to get away with such a drop-off in offensive performance in the second half of games is that their defense has spiked in performance after the break. A similar recipe to what we have seen all postseason.
Opponents have scored a touchdown on 1-of-14 (7.1%) drives in the second half against the Chiefs this postseason after just a 14.0% rate (fourth lowest) in the regular season.
San Francisco has pulled off two postseason comebacks against Green Bay and Detroit, but asking this Kansas City team to make similar mistakes that those teams made is not the path they want to take for a third-straight postseason game.
The unique playoff game environments for the 49ers have been equal parts on offense and defense.
The San Francisco defense will also have to play better than what we saw in their opening two playoff games.
The 49ers have allowed 41.4 yards per drive with 50.0% of possessions to reach the red zone or score before the red zone in these playoffs. In the regular season, they had allowed 29.9 yards per drive with 25.3% of the drives against them to reach the red zone or get into the end zone beforehand.
In the regular season, 22.4% of the drives against San Francisco were three plays and then a punt. In these playoffs, that has been just a 10.0% rate.
While the Chiefs have played relatively better in the playoffs than they did in the regular season and San Francisco has played worse, it is important to remember that these playoff games are still a smaller sample of a larger sum. That is why the spread is where it is.
That said, these two teams have faced four common opponents that were top-10 in points per game this season: the Ravens, Lions, Eagles, and Packers.
The Chiefs allowed 1.76 points per drive and 331.0 yards per game against those teams.
The 49ers allowed 2.54 points per drive and 362.0 yards per game against those teams.
Kansas City played eight games against teams inside of the top 10 in scoring this season and only allowed one of those teams to score more points than their season average. Only two of those teams scored more than two offensive touchdowns against the Chiefs.
That one team was the Packers, however, who do carry some overlap with Matt LaFleur branching off the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, working under Shanahan at stops in Houston, Washington, and Atlanta.
That Week 13 game in Green Bay saw the Chiefs allow a season-high 27 points, a season-high 382 yards, and a season-low -19.2 defensive EPA.
Despite the edge the Kansas City defense has in terms of the tale of the tape against common opponents this season, that performance on offense by Green Bay stands out as a significant one for this matchup against a San Francisco offense that has similar overarching offensive concepts.
Which coaching staff pulls the most from that matchup, whether it be Shanahan finding things to exploit or Steve Spagnuolo finding deficiencies to calibrate, could be the equalizer here.
The last thing to touch on before diving into the player matchups is of course the most important of all, which is winning the turnover battle.
Teams that have won the turnover battle in the Super Bowl have a 39-7 record overall. Teams that have won the turnover battle by two or more have a 30-3 record.
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Patrick Mahomes: Mahomes completed 30-of-39 passes (76.9%) in the AFC Championship game for 241 yards and a touchdown.
Mahomes has now made 17 career postseason starts, completing 67.4% of his passes for 7.7 yards per pass attempt with 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
He also completed 73.9% of his passes in Buffalo in the Divisional Round, marking the first time Mahomes has completed over 70% of his passes in back-to-back games this season since Weeks 6 and 7.
While Mahomes kept the offense on schedule this postseason, his 6.2 yards per pass attempt in the AFC Title Game were well below his seasonal average while his 6.0 air yards per throw were well below the 7.2 air yards per attempt he had in the opening two rounds of the postseason.
Mahomes has not passed for more than 262 yards in a game since Week 15 and has thrown for 300 yards in one of his past 12 games.
That is where we have been with this passing game for the majority of the year. This is a ball-control passing offense predicated on short throws and yards after the catch.
Mahomes has thrown a career-high 29.5% of his passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, with a career-low 28.2% of his passes going 10 or more yards downfield.
As a byproduct, 59.3% of the passing yards for Mahomes this season have come after the catch, the highest rate of his career and the highest rate in the NFL this season.
San Francisco is fifth in the NFL this season in allowing 4.8 yards after the catch.
With the lack of downfield playmakers, Mahomes has had to throw between the numbers at the highest rate of his career (49.3% of passes).
That is where the San Francisco defense has been at their best.
San Francisco has allowed the league’s lowest rating on throws between the numbers this season (75.9), allowing seven passing touchdowns with 17 interceptions on those passes. They are fourth in allowing 7.1 Y/A on those passes.
Even with their issues defensively this postseason, Jordan Love and Jared Goff were a combined 26-of-40 (65.0%) for 221 yards (5.5 Y/A) throwing between the numbers with one touchdown and a pair of interceptions.
The 49ers have been softer outside, allowing a 92.1 rating (12th) with 16 passing touchdowns (24th) outside of the numbers on the season.
Love and Goff combined to connect on 20-of-32 passes (62.5%) for 246 yards (7.7 Y/A) with two touchdowns and zero interceptions on those throws.
The Chiefs found success freeing up Travis Kelce and attacking a Baltimore defense that was equally good defending the middle of the field by using pre-snap motion.
Kansas City used pre-snap motion on 63.8% of their passing plays in the Ravens game and 61.0% of their passing plays this season (fourth in the league).
The 49ers have seen pre-snap motion on over 60% of passing plays just once all season, which was back in Week 2 against the Rams (61.8%).
While not seeing a ton of pre-snap movement this season, San Francisco has only allowed 6.4 Y/A (fifth) with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions when they have faced motion on a passing play.
In the playoffs, they have only allowed 5.0 Y/A with a 55.6% completion rate on 37 dropbacks.
Mahomes and this offense have struggled to push the ball outside of the numbers and downfield.
On throws 10 yards or further downfield, Mahomes is 24th in the NFL this season with a 75.0 rating, completing a career-low 48.3% of those passes (14th) with four touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Another area where San Francisco has been more vulnerable as the season has pressed on is when they fail to pressure the opposing passer.
Love and Goff were a combined 36-of-49 (73.5%) for 379 yards (7.7 Y/A) with three touchdowns when San Francisco did not get home with pressure.
Under pressure, they were a combined 10-of-26 (38.5%) for 75 yards (3.4 Y/A) with an interception.
Mahomes still avoids sacks better than any passer in the NFL, but pressure has impacted him more this season than at any stage of his career.
He threw for a career-low 6.1 Y/A when pressured this season, throwing five touchdowns and eight interceptions. That was the first time that Mahomes has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns when pressured in his career to this point.
His 59.6 rating under pressure was the worst of his career.
In the playoffs, Mahomes has connected on 14-of-31 (45.2%) passes for 6.9 Y/A without a touchdown when pressured compared to hitting on 56-of-72 (77.8%) for 7.0 Y/A with four touchdowns when he has been kept clean.
When Baltimore could get to Mahomes, he was just 5-of-11 for 64 yards.
When pressured and forced to throw outside, Mahomes is 27th in the NFL with a 62.6 rating.
It used to be a big no-no to blitz Mahomes, but that is where teams have had the most success in slowing down this offense.
Against the blitz over the course of the season, Mahomes is averaging 6.3 Y/A (26th in the NFL) with an 89.4 rating (19th).
When pressured against the blitz this season, the 41.1 rating for Mahomes is ahead of only Zach Wilson (40.9).
This postseason, Mahomes is 19-of-34 (55.9%) for 5.3 Y/A with zero touchdowns against the blitz. He is 4-of-14 when pressured on blitzes in these playoffs.
This is where Baltimore made a major adjustment in the AFC Title Game. After blitzing Mahomes on just 14.3% of his dropbacks in the first half of that game, they blitzed Mahomes on 37.5% of his dropbacks in the second half.
They did not sack Mahomes on any of those plays, but Mahomes was just 3-of-6 for 21 yards (3.5 Y/A) with only one first down passing on those dropbacks.
The 49ers have only blitzed on 7.7% of dropbacks this postseason (the lowest rate of all playoff teams), and they only blitzed 19.7% of the time in the regular season (25th).
If the Chiefs are going to have success throwing the football again, they are going to have to keep Mahomes clean and get more production outside of the numbers.
San Francisco should look to break the tendency of playing passively and send more defenders at Mahomes in hopes of disrupting the timing of this passing game that lacks true threats who can win on their own.
Mahomes has scrambled seven times for 84 yards this postseason, so he does have an extra out here as a rusher.
In the regular season, Mahomes scrambled for a career-high 413 yards.
The 49ers allowed over 20 scramble yards to all of Lamar Jackson (39), Josh Dobbs (33), Joe Burrow (31), Kyler Murray (23), Geno Smith (21), and Jalen Hurts (20) during the season.
Brock Purdy: Purdy’s two playoff starts this season have been an adventure.
He and San Francisco have been able to rally, but the overall performance of this passing game has been short of the output San Francisco generated in the regular season.
I was more or less giving Purdy a hall pass after another inaccurate showing in the rain against Green Bay, given his small sample issues dealing with the elements over his early career. He had a career-high 25.6% inaccurate throw rate in the conditions against the Packers.
But then Purdy came back in the NFC Title game and got off to a rocky start.
He was just 7-of-15 (46.7%) for 93 yards (6.2 Y/A) with an interception in the first half against a Detroit pass defense that had been at the bottom of the league for the final three months of the season.
Placed in a hole again, Purdy did answer with his back against the wall for the second straight game, completing 13-of-16 (81.3%) of his passes for 174 yards (10.9 Y/A) with a touchdown in the second half against the Lions.
San Francisco is going to need a faster starter here in the Super Bowl because this Kansas City defense has been one that clamps down as the game has gone on.
In the first half of games, the Chiefs are still only allowing 6.0 yards per pass attempt (third), but they have allowed a 65.2% completion rate (16th) and 4.2% touchdown rate (19th).
In the second half this season, however, they have allowed just a 55.8% completion rate (second) for 5.9 Y/A (third) and a league-low 2.4% touchdown rate.
Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson combined to complete just 56.2% of their passes for 5.3 Y/A with one touchdown pass in the second half against the Chiefs this postseason.
While it will be interesting to see if San Francisco decides to break tendency and send extra heat at Mahomes, it will be equally interesting to see what Spagnuolo has lined up for Purdy.
The Chiefs only blitzed Tua on 15.9% of his dropbacks in the Wild Card Round and then Allen on 20.0% in the Divisional Round. They then sent the heat at Jackson in the Title Game, blitzing on 43.5% of dropbacks.
Purdy is no stranger to being blitzed, getting extra defenders on 30.7% of his dropbacks, which is the seventh-highest rate in the NFL this season.
But whereas Purdy scorched the blitz in the regular season, he has been slightly worse against it this postseason.
In the regular season, Purdy completed 67.9% of his throws (fourth) for a league-high 10.0 Y/A and a league-best 14 touchdowns when blitzed with just two interceptions.
In these two playoff games, he has completed 56.5% of his passes for 7.9 Y/A when blitzed.
One area where Purdy has stayed strong even in these playoffs is taking advantage of man coverage.
The Chiefs play man coverage on 30.7% of passing plays, the seventh-highest rate in the league.
Purdy faced man coverage on 24.9% of his dropbacks in the regular season (14th) and that rate dropped to 17.9% in these playoffs.
When Purdy has gotten man coverage this postseason, he is 8-of-12 for 145 yards (12.1 Y/A) with a touchdown.
When both Green Bay and Detroit decided to play passively, Purdy completed just 63.6% of his passes for 6.8 Y/A with an interception against zone coverage without a blitz.
The base rate for passers in the postseason against zone without a blitz has been a 70.2% completion rate for 7.5 Y/A.
In the regular season, eight of Purdy’s 11 interceptions came when the opponent did not blitz and played zone coverage over man defense.
Whereas the 49ers should be incentivized to break tendency and attempt to pressure Mahomes with blitzes, the inverse could be true for the Chiefs. Purdy has been worse against the blitz this postseason than he was in the regular season, but they should look to play more coverage and send fewer blitzes.
As noted in the open, the one game that does stand out for this matchup is the success that Green Bay had against the Chiefs.
Going back to that game, the Packers had success beating the blitz (more incentive for Spagnuolo to adjust and dial things back) and working off of play action.
In that game, the Chiefs blitzed Love on 41.0% of his dropbacks. The only game in which they blitzed at a higher rate this season was two weeks ago in Baltimore.
That night Love was 12-of-16 (75.0%) with two touchdowns against the blitz.
In that same game, Love used play action on a season-high 41.7% of his passes, connecting on 12-of-15 for 9.1 Y/A and a touchdown.
As strong as the Kansas City pass defense has been, they have allowed a 65.9% completion rate (15th), 7.9 Y/A (13th), and 4.5% touchdown rate (13th) with the use of play action. They have allowed eight passing touchdowns off play-action passes (21st) as opposed to 14 without (sixth).
Purdy is 18th in the NFL play action rate (23.2%) but leads the NFL with a 138.9 rating off the use of play action, completing 79.8% of his passes for 10.7 Y/A with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.
In the playoffs, Purdy is 8-of-11 for 75 yards using play-action.
If the Chiefs are going to play aggressively, then Purdy will have another opportunity to use his legs.
Purdy had three scrambles for 52 yards against Detroit, the second-most scramble yards he has had in a game over his early career.
The Chiefs have allowed 19.9 scramble yards per game this season, 30th in the NFL.
Easton Stick (60), Josh Allen (42), Russell Wilson (29 and 24), Trevor Lawrence (29), Lamar Jackson (29), Jake Browning (28), Tua Tagovailoa (25), and Justin Fields (22) all added over 20 scramble yards in games against the Chiefs this season.
Christian McCaffrey: McCaffrey was hyper-productive once again in the NFC Title Game against Detroit, turning 24 touches into 132 total yards.
McCaffrey has now posted over 100 yards from scrimmage in 14-of-18 games this season.
He has not had fewer than 91 total yards in a game since Week 6.
McCaffrey also scored two more touchdowns against the Lions, giving him 25 touchdowns over his 18 games. He has scored at least one touchdown in all but three games this season while scoring multiple touchdowns in seven games including both postseason games.
He now has 38 total touchdowns over 32 games played with the 49ers.
Even in a game with San Francisco trailing big against one of the better run defenses in the NFL two weeks ago, McCaffrey ran the ball 20 times.
Shanahan has shown that this offense is going to play off McCaffrey regardless of the script.
San Francisco has had passing rates of -1% and 0% compared to expectations via game scripts in the playoffs.
In the regular season, San Francisco threw the ball 2% below expectations.
San Francisco has a league-low 53.6% dropback rate, and that rate is 49.0% (30th) on first and second downs.
You can bet that the 49ers will attempt to run the football here.
At the very least, they will run far more times than Baltimore did in the AFC Championship when their running backs had only six rushing attempts.
We thought the Ravens may take a page out of how Buffalo approached things against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round, but things went directly in the other direction.
The Chiefs have allowed 4.4 YPC to running backs (26th) with a 62.4% success rate (18th) on those rushes.
What has saved them is that they have only allowed six rushing touchdowns to running backs (second in the NFL) and have only faced 18.4 attempts per game (third).
But we do have a strong sense that the 49ers are going to try to run the football here.
When the 49ers run the ball, they also are one of the few remaining teams that use a fullback.
41.8% of the San Francisco running back runs this season have come from 21 personnel, second in the NFL behind only the Dolphins (56.1%).
Another league-high 14.5% of their running back runs have come from 22 personnel.
With two backs in the game, the Chiefs have allowed 5.2 YPC on running back runs (27th) with only a 58.6% success rate (21st) on those runs. They have also allowed 3.94 yards after contact per carry on those runs, 31st in the league.
Only 17.5% of McCaffrey’s runs this season have come against light boxes, 45th out of 50 running backs with 100 or more rushes on the season.
42.7% of his runs have come against eight or more defenders in the box, 10th among that same group.
Against those heavy-box looks, McCaffrey has still averaged 4.8 YPC (eighth) with a 54.5% success rate (second).
On the lower rate of runs that McCaffrey has seen a light box, he has averaged 7.2 YPC (second in the NFL).
This will be another test for this defense, but one that Kansas City was in a year ago.
Against a Philadelphia backfield that was near the top of the league in all categories last season heading into the Super Bowl, Eagles running backs only rushed for 45 yards on 17 rushes against the Chiefs in the big game.
The last time these teams played in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs allowed 5.1 YPC to San Francisco running backs, but if you told them they allowed 86 yards on 17 runs to McCaffrey on Sunday, they would sign up for that outcome.
Isiah Pacheco: Pacheco ground out 82 total yards on a season-high 28 touches in the AFC Championship.
He also found the end zone for his seventh consecutive game, giving him eight total touchdowns over that span.
We were on top of things two weeks ago calling out this San Francisco run defense struggling on the perimeter and Detroit was all over it.
On outside runs now, the 49ers have allowed 4.7 YPC to running backs (28th in the league) with only a 57.6% success rate (29th) and a first down or touchdown allowed on 27.2% of those runs (27th).
In these playoffs, opposing running backs have rushed 26 times for 180 yards (6.9 YPC) with two touchdowns on outside runs.
On inside runs, San Francisco has allowed 4.0 YPC (16th) with a 62.6% success rate (21st).
Over these two playoff games, opposing backs have only rushed for 82 yards on 23 inside runs (3.6 YPC) against the 49ers.
Those splits also line up with where Pacheco has found his success running the football.
On outside runs, Pacheco has posted a 43.4% success rate (13th out of 50 running backs with 100 or more rushes) with a first down or touchdown on 30.3% of those rushes (sixth).
Pacheco’s 5.6 YPC on those runs is third among that same group while 18.2% of those rushes have gained 10 or more yards (third).
On inside runs, Pacheco has a first down or touchdown on 20.5% of those attempts (22nd) with just a 31.9% success rate (38th).
His 3.8 YPC on those runs ranks 33rd while just 5.4% of those rushes have gained 10 or more yards (41st).
In the AFC Title Game, the Chiefs ran Pacheco guard-to-guard 10 times for only 15 yards with a long of five yards.
Pacheco now has gone over 20 touches in six of his past eight games.
Of course, Jerick McKinnon has not played since Week 15 and has played in just two games since Week 11.
On Tuesday, Andy Reid said McKinnon’s chances of playing in the Super Bowl were “slim” despite the running back being designated to return.
In the six games that Pacheco played without McKinnon active, he handled 150-of-177 backfield touches (84.7%).
In the 10 games that Pacheco played with McKinnon, he handled 168-of-242 backfield touches (69.4%).
The largest difference in usage for Pacheco with McKinnon active of course comes in the passing game opportunities.
With McKinnon out, Pacheco has run a pass route on 56.3% of the team dropbacks with 11.7% of the team targets.
With McKinnon available, Pacheco dips to a 40.0% route participation rate with 7.9% of the team targets.
Deebo Samuel: Samuel grabbed 8-of-9 targets for 89 yards while adding three runs for seven yards in the NFC Title Game against the Lions.
We have seen Samuel’s workload increase since he has been healthy and the game stakes have risen for the 49ers.
Since returning to the lineup in Week 10, Samuel has been targeted on a team-high 23.7% of his routes.
When he has been on the field over that stretch, Samuel has a team-high 27.1% of the targets.
Samuel has been out-targeted by Brandon Aiyuk in just three of their past nine full games played together over that span.
Everyone in this San Francisco passing game is capable of popping off, but when their feet are against the fire, Samuel has been the best bet to draw usage.
It does not hurt that he also receives friendlier targets than Aiyuk does, which includes touches in the running game.
This particular matchup is intriguing because of how Kansas City can approach things.
Will they remain aggressive and mix in man coverage on a third of passing snaps or will they back off and play more coverage as highlighted above?
Samuel has wide splits against man and zone coverage through his usage.
Against zone coverage, he has been targeted on 26.0% of his routes compared to a 16.3% target rate per route against man coverage.
The Chiefs have typically asked L’Jarius Sneed to shadow opposing WR1 targets.
Will they do that here?
We did not see that in full against Baltimore and Zay Flowers. Samuel also represents a unique assignment to follow around since he receives so many opportunities near the line of scrimmage.
32.0% of Samuel’s targets this season have come at or behind the line of scrimmage, which is seventh among all NFL wide receivers.
Samuel also plays outside for 64.8% of his snaps compared to 81.6% for Aiyuk.
Adding all of that up, I find it hard to buy that the Chiefs have Sneed trail Samuel here while they could overall tone down their use of man coverage.
When the Chiefs do go into zone looks, they prefer to have two-high safeties. They run Cover-2 at the league’s third-highest rate (18.6%) and quarters at the ninth-highest (18.9%).
Samuel leads the 49ers with a robust 3.94 yards per route run and a 33.3% target rate per route against Cover-2 while also averaging 3.75 yards per route run with a target on 32.8% of his routes against quarters.