Ed: After two straight 2-0 weeks, it falls to me to write the final NFL open thread post of the season. With my postseason record at 6-4 and only this game left, I’ve wrapped up the playoff crown, after Jazz beat me for the regular-season title. It’s been an unusual season, with not just one but two teams seemingly spending several weeks of it hoping to win the worst record in football, and Cincinnati finally succeeding at it. The playoffs have been interesting as well, with massive surprises like the Tennessee Titans going all the way to the AFC championship while the Patriots and Ravens, er … didn’t even manage to win one playoff game between them. Who would’ve guessed that?
In the end, though, we have two credible and dominant teams coming into this game, the 49ers and the Chiefs, neither one of which got in by a fluke.
Jazz: I managed my first playoff 2-0 in the conference championships, bringing me to a slightly less dismal 4-6 record. But since Ed also nailed both games it didn’t do anything for my prospects. I doff my cap to my friend Ed for a brilliant post-season performance and a well deserved win for the second part of our season. I’ll be forced to huddle up with my regular season trophy for comfort. If nothing else, we can join in with at least 90% of the country and be thankful that we won’t be watching the Patriots today. I have no idea what the new season will hold for the Jets or the Steelers next fall, but we’ll be sure to meet you back here for the usual fun and games. (Well.. games, anyway.)
Ed: Let’s break this down by squads:
- Offense — The two teams are almost identical on the O-side. The 49ers gained 381 yards per game during the regular season, and the Chiefs gained 379. San Francisco scored 29.9 points per game, and the Chiefs scored 28.2 points per game. The big difference here — and it came up in the NFC championship game — is that the 49ers rush for 45 more yards per game, allowing them to control the clock. That works against most opponents, but … it’s not going to work against the Chiefs, whose offensive is explosive and quick. The Titans tried to play that game against Kansas City with Derrick Henry and got stuffed. A healthy Patrick Mahomes can come back in a hurry, much more so than Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay could, as we saw in both . Advantage: Kansas City, at least by an edge.
- Defense — If we look at yards allowed, it’s no contest that San Francisco comes out on top. However, Kansas City gave up slightly fewer points during the regular season (308 to 310). Their defense is on the field longer because their offense scores more points quickly against most opponents. Both teams give up over 110 yards rushing per game, but KC’s passing defense gives up 53 yards more per game than San Francisco’s. Advantage: 49ers, but only slightly.
- Special teams and turnovers — There’s not a lot of great data available on special teams, but it’s worth noting that only KC has scored on a kickoff or punt in the regular season. Both have decent punt games, but the Chiefs are slightly better on limiting returns on punts (4.7 yards to SF’s 5.7 yards). The Chiefs’ field-goal percentage is better at 89.5%, while the 49ers only made 76.9% of their attempts, but SF’s better at extra points (98% to 93.8%). Now that Robby Gould is back for the 49ers, though, it’s probably closer to even. On turnovers, however, Kansas City is a +8 for the year, while San Francisco is only +4. The difference is mainly in the 49ers’s propensity to fumble (13, to KC’s 5). Note well that the Chiefs have eleven more takeaways this season than the 49ers. Overall advantage: Kansas City.
This should be an exciting game. I’d predict that San Francisco jumps out to an early lead, but that Patrick Mahomes turns it on in the second quarter and never looks back. Kansas City 31-21 over San Francisco. Whatever happens, though, I’ll be watching from my home rather than buying the $5,531 tickets Vivid Seating is hawking at the moment. I can buy a whole lotta televisions with that kind of cash.
Jazz: Ed already poached most of the good data, so I won’t rehash all of that broken down by squads. Overall, these two teams are very evenly matched, and Ed is correct in saying that neither of them got here on a fluke or some botched call by a ref at a key moment. They both fought for every yard they logged and each has a fair shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy when the dust settles.
While both teams have plenty going for them on both sides of the ball, the 49ers have arguably been more impressive on defense. This is somewhat offset by the fact that they have relied heavily on their ground game on offense, grinding out yards while the Chiefs rely on Patrick Mahomes’ cannon of an arm and Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill taking turns hauling them in. But as Ed mentions, Kansas City’s defense winds up spending a lot of time on the field, leaving them more worn out in the second half. Also, Mahomes’ doesn’t face the kind of rushing pressure he’ll be seeing from Kyle Shanahan and company every week.
I’m envisioning a scenario pretty much the opposite of Ed’s, where Kansas City puts up some big passing yards and takes the lead early, but as the game plays out, the defensive pressure starts to wear down both Mahomes and his front four. After that, mistakes start happening while San Francisco just grinds out the yards and the points for a second half comeback. As in previous years, if I have to pick between the stronger defense and the stronger offense in a championship scenario, I’ll almost always put my trust in the defense. I find Kansas City to be the more sympathetic team in my heart and I kind of hope I’m wrong, but I’ll go with the 49ers over the Chiefs 27-24 in an exciting finish.