FOUR STORY LINES
1. WILL REID WIN THE BIG ONE?
Sentimental favorite Andy Reid, the NFL’s sixth-winningest coach, has zero championships. The five guys ahead of him: 26. Reid, 61, is 14-14 in the postseason. His only Super Bowl crack came 15 years ago with Philadelphia, when Donovan McNabb moved at a sloth’s pace while trailing the Patriots by 10 with 5:40 left. Philly scored a touchdown, but took 3:45 off the clock, leaving Reid as the guy who couldn’t win the big one. Will that change Sunday?
2. WILL JIMMY G’S ARM BE NEEDED?
The 49ers are used to winning Super Bowls with quarterbacks named Joe Montana (four) and Steve Young (one). Can Jimmy Garoppolo, the so-called next Trent Dilfer, prove he’s not just along for the ride if his vaunted running game stalls, or the 49ers’ extraordinary defense needs help winning a shootout with Patrick Mahomes? Montana came out this week defending Garoppolo’s readiness after the latter attempted only eight passes in the NFC title game.
3. IS MAHOMES THE NEXT BRADY — OR MARINO?
Mahomes will be 24 years and 138 days on Sunday. Only three Super Bowl starting quarterbacks — Dan Marino, David Woodley and Jared Goff — were younger. Tom Brady was 46 days older than Mahomes when he played in his first Super Bowl. Will Mahomes take Brady’s lead and start what might be a string of Super Bowl wins? Or will he lose, as a 23-year-old Marino did? Marino played another 15 years without ever going back to the big game.
4. SPEED RUSHERS OR DOWNFIELD SPEED?
Who ya like? Kansas City’s blazing fast receivers? Or San Francisco’s super quick pass rushers? Who wins that battle most likely wins the game. If Mahomes has time to survey the field and wait for his receivers to stretch the field, Kansas City is going to score. A lot. Per Pro Football Focus, the 49ers pressured Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers in an average of 2.43 and 2.58 seconds, respectively. They will need that kind of pressure to have any hope of beating Mahomes.
THREE X FACTORS
KC’S OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher, who missed eight games this year, has been OK. The 49ers will try to isolate rookie pass-rushing phenom Nick Bosa on him. On the other side, Mitchell Schwartz is the league’s best right tackle. He will be handling a healthier Dee Ford in passing situations. Per PFF, 32 tackles played at least 900 snaps this year. Schwartz had the fewest pressures (20) and is the only one not to allow a sack all year, including the playoffs.
DEE FORD, 49ERS DE
The 49ers pass rush is better with Dee Ford. Just ask the Vikings. And with two weeks to rest his ongoing hamstring woes, Ford should be good to go against his former team. The 49ers gave up a second-round draft pick in 2020 to get him after last season. He post 7½ sacks, but missed the last five games of the regular season. The NFC Championship Game was the first time since Week 1 that he played more than half of the defensive snaps.
McCOY AND JUSZCZYK
Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy is 31. He hasn’t played since Week 15. And he has one playoff snap. Will extra time to rest and heal help a guy who averaged 4.6 yards per carry? On the other side, can a fullback in today’s game really be a Super Bowl X factor? He can if he’s San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk, who averages 12 yards a catch and is facing a linebacking crew that struggles in coverage.
TWO UNSUNG HEROES
Ben Garland, 49ers C
The career backup has made five of his 14 career starts since the 49ers lost Weston Richburg to injury in mid-December. That includes two playoff wins in which the 49ers have rushed for 471 yards total. The former undrafted Bronco and Falcons backup will be tested by Kansas City’s Chris Jones and Mike Pennel. Jones is a premier inside rusher. Pennel is a formidable run stopper.
Mike Pennel, Chiefs DT
The guy who was cut by the Patriots before the season is in the Super Bowl as a run stopper four weeks after New England was run out of the playoffs. A former situational player with the Jets and Packers, Pennel was signed in October and immediately improved a run defense that had allowed four straight 180-yard games. In Pennel’s two playoff starts, Kansas City hasn’t given up 100 yards rushing.
ONE BOLD PREDICTION
Kansas City’s defense makes a key fourth-quarter stop!
Reid wins his first Super Bowl when his defense gets the ball back to Mahomes with a short-yardage stop late in the fourth quarter. The 49ers, who got here by steamrolling the Vikings and Packers with 186 and 285 yards rushing, can’t overpower an improved Chiefs front that stuffed Derrick Henry in the AFC title game. Mahomes will then rise above the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense. Final: Chiefs 31, 49ers 27.