By kickoff time of Super Bowl LIV, it might not seem like there would be too much mystery left between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.
The two teams, after all, have spent the last week dissecting themselves and each other, both in media sessions and their own preparations. Between the 49ers’ hard-charging style on both sides of the ball and the Chiefs’ high-octane aerial attack led by Patrick Mahomes, each side’s style is known.
But whether from the Philly Special to the Saints’ onside kick, the Super Bowl has had its fair share of stunning moments. And with two bold coaches in Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan squaring off, we could be in for another bold move.
With that in mind, we asked NFL writers from USA TODAY Sports:
I could say Jimmy Garoppolo will throw more than eight passes, but that’s too easy. Instead, I’ll say that the San Francisco 49ers will not sack Patrick Mahomes.
The 49ers had arguably the best defense in the NFL this season, and they are tied for the lead in the postseason with nine sacks. (With one less game than co-leader Seattle, no less.) But Mahomes’ willingness to get outside the pocket, and make plays when he does, makes him hard to bring down. He was sacked just 17 times during the regular season, and has had only five games in his two years as a starter when he’s been sacked three or more times. Couple that with an offensive line that probably doesn’t get enough credit, and San Francisco will not be able to wreak its usual havoc.
The Patriots won’t win again. But while TB12 chills with Gisele, ex-Patriot Jimmy Garoppolo will tap his inner Tom Brady and lead the 49ers to a last-minute, game-winning drive that will give the franchise its record-tying sixth Super Bowl crown. And at least once, Jimmy G will draw a KC Chief into a penalty with a hard count.
My “bold prediction” for Super Bowl LIV is that 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo actually throws more passes than Chiefs counterpart Patrick Mahomes. I know what you’re thinking … Jimmy G. has thrown 27 passes — total — in the playoffs, including a mere eight in the NFC championship game. It wouldn’t be unusual to see Mahomes throw eight passes in one drive. But call it a gut feeling or a read on the tea leaves, but I’m wondering if you won’t see a more aggressive offensive approach Sunday from the 49ers, who have so effectively mauled opponents with their diverse run game all season. Still, having Garoppolo drop back more often would not only send a curveball to Kansas City, it might also be necessary. We’ve seen week in and week out how quickly the Chiefs can score — never more so than in their divisional round comeback against Houston — and the Niners might need to pile up points themselves, which isn’t as easy to do by staying so heavily committed to a ground assault. And conversely, might the Chiefs try to run it a bit more and remove some of the burden from Mahomes’ MVP arm rather than throw into the teeth of the league’s top-rated pass defense? Attacking a middling run defense, potentially exploiting lanes in San Francisco’s aggressive front, could provide hefty dividends … and mean fewer balls in the air.
Contrary to their primary postseason game plan thus far, the 49ers are actually capable of winning with the pass game. Exhibit A: Their 48-46 Dec. 8 win at New Orleans, a high-scoring offense like the Chiefs. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan isn’t afraid to stick with what works, and the run game has in January. But in the Super Bowl, against 2018 league MVP Patrick Mahomes, Shanahan and Co. will pull all the stops. Call me crazy, but I think Jimmy Garoppolo will return to double-digit pass attempts. Mismatch problems like tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk will threaten.
The biggest surprise will be the way that Patrick Mahomes executes at ease against a very, very good 49ers defense. They might get after him some, but he’s just in that zone now where he will not be denied. People talk about Deshaun Watson being the Michael Jordan of the NFL because of his unbending will, but Mahomes is about to go full MJ mode and will his team to victory, picking and choosing when to hurt the 49ers with his arm and when to take advantage of his mobility. Even if things get a little tense, he’ll find a way.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance. Jimmy G was largely a middle-of-the-road quarterback in the NFL this season, but I think he’ll have a surprisingly dynamic performance in the Super Bowl — in large part out of necessity. I expect this one to turn into a bit of a shootout, which will put more pressure on Garoppolo to engineer some big plays in the passing game. I don’t think he’ll lead the 49ers to a win, mind you. But I can see him putting up some big numbers and altering the “just a game manager” perception that he had coming out of the NFC title game.
The biggest surprise will be a scoreless first quarter. Because of what the Chiefs are capable of offensively and the fact they’ve had two weeks to put a gameplan together, logic says they should come out firing. But I think the 49ers having time to study Mahomes will give him some wrinkles and looks that he maybe hasn’t seen before. I think it will take awhile for both offenses to get going and it will be scoreless going into the second quarter.
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