We’ve finally made it. 20 weeks of football and the only teams left standing are the 49ers and the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. First off, thank you for following along this season in our first year in providing content.
As usual, we’re going to run down the game from a top-down fantasy stance. With just one game, we’ve had more room to focus on the players involved. Having that extra time has allowed us here at Sharp Football to delve deep into the teams, players, and matchups between these teams. We’ve created a Super Bowl LIV content hub that has much more than I cover here in each space for the players we will touch on, so make sure to check out those pieces.
All lines are taken from VegasInsider
49ers vs Chiefs (in Miami)
|San Francisco||Rank||@||Kansas City||Rank|
|39.9%||11||Opp. Rush %||39.0%||7|
|60.1%||22||Opp. Pass %||61.0%||26|
The Chiefs enter the Super Bowl riding an eight-game winning streak. A winning streak that has seen them win all eight games by seven or more points. They haven’t faced a top-flight defense in the postseason yet, but facing stout defenses hasn’t been a major obstacle for the Kansas City team this season. The Chiefs have played seven games this season against defenses that rank in the top-12 in terms of expected points added defensively (San Francisco ranks second). In those games, the Chiefs have posted a 6-1 record.
On the NFC side, the 49ers have been one of the most battle-tested teams over the second half of the season. The 49ers have faced seven playoff teams over their past 10 games played. In those games, they’ve posted a 5-2 record.
This game features two of the top three scoring offenses in the NFL per game, but they’ve each gone about things differently in the postseason.
During the regular season, Kansas City ranked second in the league in scoring rate per drive, scoring on 53.3% of their possessions. In the playoffs, they’ve scored on 13-of-20 drives (65.0%) and found the end zone on 12 of those possessions (60.0%), both league highs for the playoffs.
The 49ers have scored on 12-of-19 drives (63.2%) this postseason and have found the paint on seven of those drives (36.8%). In the two games to begin the postseason, the 49ers have run the ball on 82.4% and 69.1% of their offensive plays. Those run rates account for the highest and third-highest run rate for a team in an NFL game this entire season.
Defensively, the 49ers were one of the league’s top defenses wire-to-wire this season. After ranking second in the league in expected points allowed in the regular season, the 49ers have allowed their opponents to score on just 5-of-19 drives (26.3%) and reach the end zone on four of those possessions (21.1%). Those marks are the best for any team this postseason that has played multiple games.
The Chiefs’ defense has been one of the more underrated defenses given their early-season stigma and being overshadowed by a prolific offense. During their eight-game winning streak, Kansas City has allowed opponents to score on 28.9% of their possessions (third in the league since Week 11) and have allowed a touchdown on 17.1% of those possessions (seventh).
Patrick Mahomes: You can dig deeper on this chess match of Mahomes versus the 49ers defense here, but the short run is that Mahomes has been scorching in the playoffs for fantasy, notching games of 38.1 and 35.1 fantasy points. Those two games came against the 25th ranked Titans and 31st ranked Texans in pressure rate and two defenses that ranked 27th and 22nd in passing points allowed for fantasy per game this season. In the Super Bowl, he’ll draw a San Francisco defense that ranks second in the league in pressure rate (28.7%) and fifth in passing points allowed per game (12.1).
Mahomes has had six full games this season against defenses that were top-10 in passing points allowed per game. In those games, he averaged 267.3 passing yards and 16.0 fantasy points per game and threw more than two touchdown passes in just one of those games.
The 49ers had eight games this season against quarterbacks who ranked top-12 in fantasy points per game. In those games, they allowed 21.9 fantasy points per game and 15.8 passing points per game. Of those passers, only Drew Brees threw more than two touchdown passes.
Mahomes has run 29 times for 255 yards (removing kneel downs) over his past eight games after rushing 12 times for 87 yards over his first eight games played this season. In the postseason, he’s flat out led the team in rushing each game, totaling 112 yards on the ground while the rest of the team has 124 combined rushing yards.
During the regular season, the 49ers were 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed to opposing signal callers. Over their final 11 games of the season, six different passers ran for 25 or more yards against the Niners. From Week 9 on, the 49ers have allowed 350 rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks. 208 of those yards stemmed from designed quarterback runs. All three rushing touchdowns allowed to quarterbacks over that span on designed runs.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Garoppolo has had a roller coaster hill of a fantasy season. Through seven weeks, he had just one week finishing higher than QB15 while averaging 12.6 fantasy points per game. He then got really hot in the middle of the season, throwing the second-most touchdown passes (16) Weeks 9-14 while averaging 20.7 fantasy per game over that six-game stretch. Since then, he’s averaged just 9.0 fantasy per game over his past five games, throwing fewer passes than the week prior in all five of those games.
His two lowest games in pass attempts have come in the two postseason games, but his volume should be expected to spike against the Chiefs. In the eight career losses Mahomes has had under center, the opposing team has needed 29 or more points scored six times with 25 or more points in seven of those games. Just once have the Chiefs lost a game with Mahomes under center in which the opposing team scored fewer than 20 points.
The 49ers were favored by a full touchdown or more in each of their playoff games while they enter as underdogs this week. In the five games this season where the 49ers were underdogs, Garoppolo averaged 244 passing yards and 16.5 fantasy points per game. In the eight games the 49ers lost or won by fewer than a touchdown, Garoppolo has posted 261.1 yards passing and 15.0 fantasy points per game.
The Chiefs rank ninth in fantasy passing points allowed per game (13.1). They haven’t faced a tough slate over the back half of the season, going up against just two top-15 scoring passers in terms of fantasy points per game over their past nine games in Deshaun Watson (33.2 points) and Ryan Tannehill (18.9 points and 17.5 points).
Raheem Mostert: In the NFC Championship, Tevin Coleman drew the start and he and Mostert alternated the opening four drives of the game. On the fourth drive, Coleman spelled Mostert in the red zone and suffered a dislocated shoulder which forced him out of the game, once again creating another opportunity for Mostert.
On the very next play, Mostert punched in a 9-yard touchdown run to put the 49ers up 17-0. From that point on, Mostert then rushed 22 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 29 carries for 220 yards and four scores on the day. Those 220 yards were the most by a 49ers player ever in any game in franchise history and the second-most in playoff history for any player behind Eric Dickerson in the 1985 season (248 yards). From a fantasy stance, Mostert’s 48.6 PPR points rank third in NFL postseason history behind Keith Lincoln’s 51.9 points in 1964 and Ricky Watters’s 51.4 points in the 1993 Playoffs.
We still don’t have full knowledge of Coleman’s status for the game. Kyle Shanahan’s early word was that he still has “a chance to play”. If not, Matt Breida could get some extended run — we could also see Jeffery Wilson active for the first time since Week 15 — but Breida has been an afterthought in the offense. After fumbling in mop-up duty in the Divisional Round, Breida played two offensive snaps against the Packers last week despite Coleman being out and the 49ers running out the clock the entire second half.
During the regular season, 49ers running backs jointly ranked third in the NFL in touches per game (31.5) and second in yards from scrimmage per game (175.3). So far through two postseason games, 49ers backs have 42 touches for 180 yards and 38 touches for 249 yards.
Since allowing 188 yards rushing to Derrick Henry in Week 10, just one back (Josh Jacobs in Week 13) has reached 70 yards rushing in a game versus the Chiefs over those nine games while allowing three rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs.
They were in a nearly identical spot in the AFC Championship game as they are here against the 49ers. Derrick Henry was running on everyone entering that game. Not only were the Chiefs able to script Henry out of the game in the second half (five second half touches), but they were able to limit Henry to 16 carries for 62 yards (3.9 YPC) in the first half while establishing their lead. On those 16 carries, Henry gained five or more yards on just four of them.
Damien Williams: As has been the case in any game that Williams has been healthy over the back half of the season, he has dominated backfield usage with the Chiefs in the postseason. Williams has played 117-of-129 offensive snaps in the postseason and has handled 36-of-37 backfield touches for the Chiefs. Over his past six full games, Williams has had 22 touches for 89 yards and a touchdown (19.9 PPR points), 14-68-3 (26.8 points), 16-154-2 (31.4), 19-92-1 (18.2), 24-109 (13.9), and 14 -128-1 (20.8).
During the regular season, San Francisco was seventh in rushing points allowed per game to running backs (10.8) and first in receiving points allowed to the position (6.4 per game). The 49ers haven’t allowed 100 yards from scrimmage to a back since Chris Carson in Week 10. That spilled over into the postseason as they limited Dalvin Cook to 26 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches in the Divisional Round. They were somewhat more mortal in the NFC Championship game and allowed Aaron Jones to tally 83 yards and two touchdowns on 17 touches.
Tyreek Hill: Hill is coming off a 5-67-2 game against the Titans, but once again has failed to deliver that huge yardage game we’ve been accustomed to him dropping in the past. Hill posted just two 100-yard receiving games this season and hasn’t had more than 72 yards receiving in a game since Week 10. That eight-game streak without 100 yards is his longest drought since his rookie season. Although he hasn’t notched those triple-digit yardage games at the same pace of last season, he had fewer than 55 yards in just one of his full 12 games played.
San Francisco allowed the fewest yards per completion (9.7) and allowed just five pass plays of 40-plus yards during the regular season, tied for the second-fewest in the league. In the postseason, however, they’ve allowed three such pass plays in two games.
This season, Hill has run 54% of his routes from the slot, 23% at RWR and 21% at LWR. That means for roughly 77% of his routes, he won’t line up across from Richard Sherman. Sherman has lined up in the slot (10 pass plays) and at RCB (three) for just 13 total passing snaps this season. All three RCB snaps came against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Avoiding Sherman’s side of the field is a positive, but Hill was truly only going to face Sherman one-on-one sparsely. Only the Chargers played more zone coverage this season (68.2%) than the 49ers did at 64.2%. The 49ers had drastically different defensive personnel when these teams played in Week 3 last season, but still under the same scheme that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh incorporates, the 49ers played zone coverage 67.5% of the time in that 2018 matchup. In that game, the 49ers held Hill to two catches on five targets for 51 yards.
Hill faced zone coverage this season on 50.6% of routes where he and his quarterback connected for a 104.4 rating. That is strong on its own, but when you factor in that passes in his direction resulted in a 123.8 rating when facing man coverage and a 152.1 rating when in press coverage this season, you can see why teams will live off the production he does get when having to work through zone.
Sammy Watkins: Watkins woke from hypersleep in the AFC Championship, when he received 10 targets (his most in a game since Week 9), with seven catches (his most since Week 9) for 114 yards (his most since Week 1) and also scored his first touchdown since the opening week of the season. Prior to that performance, Watkins had caught 14-of-27 targets over his previous seven games for 33.9 yards receiving per game.
Watkins also moves around the formation a good amount, running 56% of his routes from the slot, 27% of RWR, and 16% at LWR over the season. In the postseason, his slot usage has dipped a touch (44.0%), but he also won’t solely be tasked with being a sacrificial lamb on the right side of the field.
As mentioned under Hill, the 49ers are a heavy zone-based defense. Although they don’t task their corners with an abundance of man-to-man looks, their secondary corners outside of Sherman have played well. Primary slot corner K’Waun Williams ranks seventh in rating allowed in his coverage in the slot (73.7) without a touchdown allowed in the slot all season long. Starting RCB Emmanuel Mosely ranks 24th in rating allowed in coverage (76.8) out of 119 qualifying corners at Pro Football Focus that have played at least 25% of their team snaps this season.
Mecole Hardman/Demarcus Robinson: In the AFC Championship game, Mecole Hardman out-snapped Demarcus Robinson 27-25 while running 19 pass routes compared to 16 for Robinson. It was the first time since Week 1 in which Hardman played more snaps and ran more pass routes than Robinson. Despite that, Robinson still out-targeted 2-1 (although Hardman did draw a 41-yard pass interference). Kansas City has been more versatile with Hardman than they have been with Robinson. In the postseason, Hardman has run 52% of his routes in the slot compared to just 21% for Robinson.
49ers WRs: Deebo Samuel continues to be the most attractive option from a balanced 49ers passing game outside of Kittle. Since Emmanuel Sanders got fully healthy in Week 13, Samuel has out-targeted Sanders 35-32 while he’s matched or out-targeted Sanders in each of the past four games. Samuel also gets the added bump with his involvement in the rushing game. He has at least one carry in each of the past seven games and has three rushing touchdowns on the season.
Kendrick Bourne is the longer play from this group. Bourne has played 52% of the snaps since Week 10 and leads the team with five end zone targets (catching all five for touchdowns) over that stretch. In the playoffs, Bourne has matched Samuel with a team-high six targets among the wideouts while Sanders has been targeted three times.
Similar to the Chiefs, the 49ers do move their wideouts around often. Samuel has run 43% of his routes at LWR, 25% in the slot, and 29% at RWR. Sanders has been at 25% LWR, 35% slot, and 39% RWR while Bourne 23% LWR, 53% slot, and 23% RWR.
As noted early on, I expect the passing volume to rise for the 49ers here with them needing to score points and not being a heavy favorite. But even with that expected increase in passing volume, this is a tough assignment for the 49er wideouts from a collective stance. The chiefs secondary isn’t filled with elite names, but the Chiefs rank fourth in fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers this season (1.52) while ranking second in completion rate allowed to wideouts (55.5%), and fourth in yards per target allowed to wideouts (7.0).
Since Week 14, the Chiefs have moved Kendall Fuller, who was struggling in coverage all season, to safety while allowing Tyrann Mathieu to play in slot coverage. Over that span, Mathieu has allowed a league-low 52.8 rating in his coverage in the slot with no touchdowns surrendered. Rookie Rashad Fenton has gotten significant snaps over the past three games, also playing in the slot for 45 coverage snaps and has yet to allow a touchdown over those snaps while allowing 0.33 yards per coverage snap in the slot. Staring LCB Charvarius Ward and RCB Bashaud Breeland rank 21st and 22nd in rating allowed in coverage out of 119 qualifying corners at Pro Football Focus that have played at least 25% of their team snaps this season.
Travis Kelce: Kelce has had a gigantic 10-134-3 performance in the Divisional Round and a modest 3-30 game on four targets against the Titans in the AFC Championship. In the nine games since Mahomes has returned to the lineup, Kelce has averaged 6.8 receptions on 8.7 targets per game for 80.8 yards per game with six touchdowns.
When these teams met a year ago, Kelce caught 8-of-10 targets for 114 yards. This season, the 49ers rank first in yards per target allowed to tight ends (5.5) and third in fantasy points allowed per target (1.55). They have allowed seven touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season while Green Bay tight ends combined to catch 8-of-9 targets for 86 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers a week ago. The 49ers have faced four other tight ends that ranked in the top-12 in fantasy points per game (Kelce is first) in Jared Cook (2-64-2), Austin Hooper (3-20-0), Mark Andrews (3-50-1), and Tyler Higbee (9-104-0).
George Kittle: With the 49ers just grinding out games (they’ve run eight pass plays in the postseason), Kittle has been used for his blocking prowess over being needed as a pass-catcher. Kittle has run just 26 pass routes total this postseason compared to 84 run blocking snaps, catching just 4-of-6 targets for 35 yards over the opening two postseason games. But when the 49ers do have to throw, they throw to Kittle. He led all tight ends in percentage of team targets when active (28.3%) while ranking second among all tight ends in target rate per route run (30.6%). A yards after the catch machine, Kittle once again led all tight ends in YAC this season (621 yards).
The Chiefs have been an odd defense when it comes to defending tight ends this season. Opposing teams targeted their tight ends 25.6% of the time versus the Chiefs. That was the second-highest rate in the league. As a byproduct to that volume, only two teams in the league allowed more receptions to tight ends in the regular season than Kansas City.
But from an efficiency stance, Kansas City held up to the volume. They ranked 17th in catch rate (68.1%) and fifth in yards per target (6.8) allowed to tight ends this season while ranking fourth in touchdown rate (3.6%) allowed to the position. The quality of competition can be brought into the fold. Kansas City faced just three tight ends this season that ranked in the top-15 in fantasy output per game at the tight position (Kittle was second behind Kelce). Those games came against Darren Waller (6-63-0, 7-100-0), Hunter Henry (6-69-0 and 5-42-1) and Mark Andrews (3-15-0).
Neither the Texans nor Titans have a player in the remote stratosphere as to what Kittle is. So far those teams targeted their tight ends 18.5% of the time this postseason against the Chiefs, with those tight ends catching 9-of-15 targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns.