• Raheem Mostert looks to continue his big late season run against a poor KC run D
  • Can the Niners pass rush slow down the seemingly invincible Patrick Mahomes?
  • Travis Kelce looks to benefit from the Niners zone defense

In advance of Sunday’s Super Bowl, I wanted to isolate specific advantageous matchups that could be interesting from a fantasy and prop perspective. 

It’s important to keep in mind the various pace and run/pass splits for each team. This table is a guide as to what we might expect on Sunday.

Offensive PACE Rankings (Football Outsiders)

Team1H2H7+ Lead7+ TrailNeutral
Kansas City Chiefs102617186
San Francisco 49ers3012252324

One Score Game Situation Run/Pass Ratios (Sharpfootballstats.com)

Team1H Run1H Pass2H Run2H Pass
Kansas City Chiefs31%69%43%57%
San Francisco 49ers54%46%50%50%

San Francisco offense vs Kansas City defense:

  • Based on DVOA ranks, the KC defense ranks 29th defending the run and sixth defending the pass. 
  • Jimmy Garoppolo averaged 248 passing yards, 1.7 passing TDs, and 8.4 yards per attempt on 29.8 pass attempts per game during the regular season. Those numbers have obviously plummeted in two playoff games, with Garoppolo averaging 104 yards on only 13.5 attempts per game. This is purely based on game script and the fact Niners opponents had no ability to slow down the run. During the regular season, Garoppolo averaged his 8.4 ypa against a schedule of passing defenses that allowed an aggregate of 6.9 ypa. This 21% premium above expectations is highly impressive. Against six top 10 DVOA pass defenses, similar to the Chiefs, Garoppolo’s numbers barely were affected. He completed a ridiculous 75% of his passes for 8.0 ypa, 6 TDs, and 7 INTs in those games. The Niners went 5-1 in those games.
  • The Chiefs pass defense ranks sixth-best in DVOA rankings and have allowed the seventh-lowest percentage of explosive passes in the NFL. On a yards per attempt basis, the Chiefs have allowed a schedule of QBs with an aggregate ypa of 7.5 to throw for only 6.7 ypa, 11% below expectation.
  • One area where Garoppolo has excelled all season is play-action passing, where he ranks second in ypa and seventh in passer rating. His ypa difference between play-action and non-play action passes ranks second-most in the NFL. Garoppolo runs play action 31.9% of the time, tied with Mahomes for third-most in the NFL. The Chiefs didn’t play against many QBs who used play-action often and effectively like Garoppolo. Against Ryan Tannehill in the AFC Championship Game, the Titans produced a success rate that was 25% higher and with a ypa that was 3.6 greater than without play-action.
  • Against Patrick Mahomes and a Kansas City offense that will inevitably score, I am not positive a run-heavy approach is the route Kyle Shanahan will take. Because the Chiefs score so quickly, they rank 25th in offensive plays per game, they aren’t affected at all with an opponent trying to “shorten the game”.
  • We know that the Chiefs have been susceptible to the ground game all season and Raheem Mostert will look to build upon his monster NFC Championship Game performance. The Chiefs rank 29th defending the run and have allowed opponent RBs, that in aggregate average 4.44 ypc, to run for 4.8 ypc on the season. In the last six games, the Chiefs have allowed RBs to run for 407 yards on 104 carries, for only a 3.91 ypc average. Outside of facing Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship, the Chiefs have faced a rather poor schedule of RBs in the last 1.5 months. They held Henry to 69 yards on 19 carries but seeing as how Henry was playing his fourth-straight road game and had attempted 30+ carries in the prior three games, it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t running on fumes. 
  • Mostert is coming off a historic 220-yard, 29 carry, 4 TD game against Green Bay and really has shined ever since he has received double-digit carries. Since week 13, Mostert has received at least 10 carries in each of those seven games and is averaging 15 carries for 94 yards and a ridiculous 6.3 ypc average. His median numbers in the last seven games are 12 carries for 58 yards. He has also scored in seven of his last eight games and has scored 11 TDs in those eight games. He has rushed for a ypc of 4.8 or more in six of the last seven games and in four straight. Since Week 13, Mostert ranks first among all NFL RBs in success rate at 61%.
  • All signs point to Mostert having success on a per carry basis but the real question from a prop and DFS perspective is how many carries he will ultimately get. As mentioned above, he has averaged 15 carries in his last seven games but also had four games of 12 or less. He has shared usage with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, but is Coleman healthy enough to contribute? It’s really hard to imagine he will be able to play well enough with a separated shoulder to take away more than a few carries from Mostert. If you assume this will be a tight game throughout and apply the standard run/pass ratio splits to the Niners in neutral game situations, they should be expected to run the football around 48% of the time. If you up that figure say 5% because of the Chiefs’ poor run defense, it would be expected that the Niners should run the ball about 32 times.
  • Since week 13, Mostert has averaged a rushing attempt share of 61% with a median of 48%. Let’s split the difference, for the sake of conservatism, and estimate a 55% attempt share. That would put Mostert at 17.6 carries and applying a median ypc figure of 4.8, a nice baseline for his rushing yardage would sit at 84.5 yards. There are obviously large ranges of outcomes here and a lot is dependent on how healthy Coleman is and how much Shanahan wants to continue with his running by committee.

SF WR/TE Target Share

OPPJG ATTDeeboKittleSandersBourne
Targets based on JG Att Prop296.
Baseline Receptions4.
  • Trying to project what the Niners receivers will produce on Sunday is a tough task considering the lack of Garoppolo attempts during the playoffs. We can use the guide above, for target share among the Niners receivers, to help potentially project usage. The table depicts target share for only those games where all four of the Niners top receivers played together and applies Garoppolo’s prop of 29 attempts on Sunday.
  • Emmanuel Sanders averaged 4.7 targets, 3.2 receptions, and 44 yards per game since coming over in a trade with the Broncos. He has only cleared 61 yards once since Week 10. With his 17% target share with all four receivers active, his baseline for targets is nearly five with just over three receptions. 
  • Deebo Samuel has taken over as the lead WR with a target share of 22%. Deebo has matched or exceeded Sanders’s target share in four straight games and he accounted for 42% of Garoppolo’s 208 total passing yards in the two playoff games to date. Samuel has received at least three targets in seven straight games as well. In the last eight games, Samuel produced over 20 yards per reception five times. With a baseline projection of 4.3 receptions and his big-play potential, Samuel’s range of outcomes can push him near 100 yards.
  • The Chiefs have allowed the fourth-fewest yards per game to No. 1 WRs and have allowed the second-lowest to No. 2 WRs. The Chiefs rank in the top 7 in DVOA against both No. 1 and No. 2 WRs. 
  • However, against all other WRs, the Chiefs rank 21st in DVOA. The main culprit has been CB Kendall Fuller who has allowed the highest passer rating in the NFL to slot WRs at 138.7.
  • Since Safety Juan Thornhill went out with a season-ending injury to end the season, Fuller has been moved to the safety position to take his place. In Fuller’s place, the new slot CB has been Rashad Fenton, who started getting more snaps in Week 7.
  • The Chiefs haven’t faced many good slot WRs in the second half of the season. However, in only eight snaps last week, Adam Humphries caught 4 passes and in Week 17, Keenan Allen played more than 50% of his snaps in the slot and caught 9 of 10 targets for 82 yards and a TD. For the Niners, Kyle Shanahan does a tremendous job moving his receivers around the line but since Week 14, Kendrick Bourne has lined up in the slot on 58.9% of his snaps. Bourne has been targeted the second-most among all Niners WRs from the slot, receiving 8 targets with 6 receptions and 1 TD. Bourne actually leads the Niners with 6 receiving TDs this season and has caught all of them since week 9. 
  • George Kittle has clearly been the most reliable and dominant target for Garoppolo all season, receiving a team-high 28% of the targets with a full supporting cast. Kittle’s usage has been very consistent all season. The Chiefs defense has allowed the fifth-highest target share to TEs, at 24%, but has allowed the 11th lowest success rate and fourth-lowest ypa allowed. The Chiefs have allowed the ninth-most yards per game to TEs this season. Kittle has faced four other bottom 10 pass defenses in yards per game allowed to TEs and in those games he has averaged 6 receptions for 64 yards with an average target share of 28%. Overall on the season, Kittle has averaged 5.6 receptions and 68 yards. His median and average yardage figures are right at 68. Based on his average usage, Kittle’s baseline projection is 6.3 receptions and 79 yards. Eliminating Kittle’s outlier of 50% usage against the Falcons, his projection is 5.6 receptions and 72 yards.

Kansas City offense vs San Francisco defense:

  • Based on DVOA ranks, the SF defense ranks 11th defending the run and second defending the pass. The pass defense ranks second-best in lowest percentage of explosive passes allowed.
  • Patrick Mahomes is the clear MVP favorite and has posted huge playoff performances this year. He has completed 65% of his passes for an average of 307.5 yards per game and a total of 8 passing TDs in the playoffs. On the season, Mahomes is averaging 290 passing yards per game and 8.4 ypa. Interestingly, in games with Tyreek Hill, Mahomes’s average drops to 266 yards and 8.1 ypa.
  • The Niners pass defense has been excellent all year and rank second in DVOA pass defense. Only four QBs have thrown for over 300 yards and on average the Niners have allowed 196.5 passing yards per game. They have allowed a schedule of opposing QBs, who in aggregate average 6.8 ypa, to throw for 6.1 ypa. The secondary, led by Richard Sherman, is talented but the key is clearly the pressure from their defensive front. During the regular season, the Niners ranked second in pressure rate at 28.7%. They have ramped up the pressure even more in the playoffs, with a 45.4% rate on 77 QB dropbacks. Mahomes has been pressured at the second-lowest rate in the NFL this season. Between a lack of pressure and the ability of Mahomes to scramble, and this could be the single biggest matchup to watch.
  • As noted above, the Niners have a fierce pass rush, but the key is they create this pressure without having to blitz. During the regular season, the Niners blitzed at the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL. Mahomes shreds the blitz and this season has thrown 7 TDs with 0 INTs and a 115 passer rating. Interestingly, Mahomes has struggled the most when opponents blitzed the least. Against the five defenses that blitzed him at a rate below 15%, Mahomes completed only 60% of his passes with a 6.7 ypa and 80 rating. According to Next Gen Stats, Mahomes has thrown 16 of his 18 career INTs against four or fewer pass rushers.
  • Where Mahomes has really increased his usage is with his legs. On the season, Mahomes is averaging 20 rushing yards per game but in his last eight games, he is averaging 30 yards. He has rushed for exactly 53 yards in each of his two playoff games and on the season, he has a 100% success rate on third down scrambles. The Niners have struggled against running QBs this season and have allowed 5.2 ypc and a 59% success rate on QB scrambles this season.
  • As a way to potentially combat the attacking front four from the Niners, don’t be surprised if Andy Reid turns more to Damien Williams in the run game. Williams is the clear lead back for KC and has received all but one carry from the Chiefs backfield in the playoffs. In his last six full games, Williams has averaged just under 15 attempts per game for 80 yards for 5.9 ypc. If you exclude two long runs of 84 and 91 yards during that stretch, his numbers drop to 51 yards per game and a 3.6 ypc average. The latter is most likely a better indicator of the type of production to expect on Sunday. He does have five rushing TDs in his last three games.
  • Kansas City goes from being the most pass-heavy offense in the NFL in one-score game situations to rushing the 15th most inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Niners rush defense has allowed an aggregate set of RB opponents, who average 4.32 ypc on the season, to rush for 4.16 ypc. The Niners have allowed opposing RBs to create explosive runs on 11% of their attempts, ranking 19th in the NFL. I wouldn’t expect a consistent attack from Williams, but he is definitely capable of breaking off a long run.
  • The most fascinating matchup on Sunday is clearly the Chiefs passing game against this vaunted Niners pass defense. As discussed earlier, because of the Niners pass rush, opposing pass offenses typically don’t have time to look downfield to their top targets very often. The Niners pass defense ranks first in lowest average depth of target allowed this season. They also rank 10th in DVOA and No. 1 in fewest yards per game allowed to opposing No. 1 WRs and 14th in DVOA and 22nd in yards per game allowed to No. 2 WRs. San Francisco’s goal with their Cover 3, zone-heavy defense is to keep receivers in front of them and not allowing passes to be thrown over their heads.
  • Tyreek Hill has seen an uncharacteristic drop in big plays this season and is averaging 5.1 receptions and 67.8 receiving yards per game with Mahomes under center. He does not have a single game above 72 receiving yards since a Week 10 game against the Titans. He has also not seen more than 8 targets in a game since that Titans game. Somehow, Hill ranks 81st among all NFL WRs with an aDOT of only 9.16 since Week 13. According to Next Gen Stats, the 49ers CBs play off-coverage with 5+ yards of cushion on 60% of receiver routes this season. In the last two seasons, Hill has struggled against this type of defense, where he has averaged 11.7 air yards per target as compared to 19.7 air yards per target against press coverage.
  • Sammy Watkins broke out against the Titans with a 7-reception, 110-yard, 1 TD game but before the conference championship, Watkins did not have a single 100+ yard receiving game since Week 1. With Mahomes under center, Watkins has averaged 3.8 receptions and 58 yards per game. He has four TDs all season and those have come in Week 1 and in his last game against the Titans. Nothing in between. If the Chiefs intentionally move Hill to avoid Sherman, Watkins will most likely be matched up against Sherman the most among KC WRs. 
  • Mecole Hardman surpassed Demarcus Robinson last week by out-snapping him 40% to 37%. That was Hardman’s highest offensive snap rate since Week 11. Robinson dropped three passes against the Texans in the Divisional Round and seems to have fallen in the WR pecking order. It wouldn’t surprise me if KC leans on Hardman even more on Sunday, as opposed to Robinson, mainly to get as much speed on the field as possible. This is not to say Hardman will see an increase in his target share, as he has not received more than four targets in a game since Week 5. But if he does get the ball in his hands, he has a chance to break off a big play with his 20.7 yards per reception figure.
  • Assuming the Niners continue their heavy zone approach on defense, expect Mahomes to target Travis Kelce often. Kelce has averaged 6.2 receptions and 81 yards per game with Mahomes at QB. The Niners rank first in DVOA pass defense against opposing TEs. Kelce has faced five teams that rank in the top 10 in pass defense against TEs and in those games he has averaged 7 receptions for 80 yards. Kelce didn’t receive much action in the conference championship against the Titans, finishing with only 3 receptions and 30 yards. However, much of this was due to the Titans rushing 4 or less on most downs and bracketing Kelce.