Super Bowl LIV cheat sheet: 49ers-Chiefs picks, bold predictions, key matchups, more

It’s finally time. Super Bowl LIV is here, and the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs are gearing up for all the marbles.

Doing some last-minute prep before Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff (Fox) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida? Our NFL team has you covered with everything you’d ever want to know, including team previews, bold predictions and game picks. We also provide betting advice from our ESPN Chalk experts, game-plan breakdowns from our analysts and in-depth statistics from our ESPN Stats & Information team.

Let’s dive into 49ers-Chiefs with our one-stop-shop cheat sheet.

Jump to:
Picks | Stats to know | Bold predictions
Matchup | Betting advice | MVP watch
Mahomes-Garoppolo | Reid-Shanahan
Officiating report | Tale of two seasons

Previewing 49ers vs. Chiefs

The 49ers and Chiefs have plenty in common. They’re both built in the image of brilliant offensive minds in Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid. Their offensive philosophies, at their core, are identical: speed kills. They force defenses to guard every blade of grass on the field and punish them in seconds when they try to get away with taking a play off. At their best, it seems absurd that anybody could stop them. For most of this postseason, nobody has.

Of course, these teams serve up the same problems in two totally different ways. The Chiefs have to set an alarm on their phone to remind themselves to run the ball; this is the offense that called 31 pass plays against just six runs while scoring seven consecutive touchdowns in a furious onslaught of a comeback against the Texans in the divisional round. The 49ers, meanwhile, have dialed up runs on 71 of their past 88 plays.

You can make a credible case for each side using the weapon the other doesn’t have to win in Miami. The 49ers have a dominant front four and the league’s second-best defense. The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, and that seems to grant them access to a previously unimaginable realm of football at his best. — Bill Barnwell, senior NFL writer

Read Barnwell’s complete preview of Super Bowl LIV
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1:03

Bill Barnwell makes the case for why San Francisco needs a lead at halftime in the Super Bowl more than Kansas City.

  • FPI predicts a Chiefs victory in 64.8% of its simulations by an average of 5 points. It is the heaviest favorite that FPI has predicted in a Super Bowl since the metric’s inception in 2009.

  • Our matchup rating grades 49ers-Chiefs as 97.2 on a scale of 1 to 100. It is the sixth-highest Super Bowl matchup rating since 2009.

  • The Chiefs were No. 1 in FPI this season, while the 49ers were No. 4.

  • In the preseason, the Chiefs had a 27.1% chance to make the Super Bowl per FPI, but the 49ers were looking at a slim 2.8% chance.


Who wins the game?


Key stats to know

  • This will be the second Super Bowl between a team that led its conference in rush yards (49ers) and one that led its conference in pass yards (Chiefs). The Chiefs have gained 73% of their yards this postseason through the air, and the 49ers have gained 71% of their yards on the ground.

  • Mahomes has an NFL-best 91 QBR vs. zone coverage this season, but the 49ers play zone at the second-highest rate (64%) and limit opposing quarterbacks to an NFL-low 4.7 yards per dropback when using zone.

  • This is the first Super Bowl matchup between two tight ends who each had 1,000 receiving yards during the regular season. San Francisco’s George Kittle leads all tight ends in yards after the catch and has the most yards after contact by a tight end since Rob Gronkowski in 2015. The Chiefs’ Travis Kelce has 21 catches on throws 15-plus yards downfield this season, the most in the NFL at his position. The last tight end with that many deep catches was Greg Olsen in 2015.

  • The 49ers offense improved by 8.6 points per game from the previous season, and the defense improved by 7.8. They are the seventh team since the 1970 merger to improve by a touchdown on both offense and defense from the previous season.

  • Including the playoffs, Kansas City has held opposing QBs to a 62% completion rate on play-action passes, the third-lowest in the NFL. The 49ers used play-action on 32% of dropbacks this season.


Bold predictions

After throwing for a combined 208 yards in the previous two playoff games, Jimmy Garoppolo will have at least 209 passing yards and could finish closer to 300. The Chiefs have made it clear they want to take away the Niners’ rushing attack and force Garoppolo to beat them. And considering his yards per attempt (8.6) and touchdowns against man coverage (23) both rank second in the NFL and Kansas City’s knack for playing a lot of man (57%, fifth-most in the league), it could be set up for Garoppolo to have a big game on the biggest stage. — Nick Wagoner, 49ers reporter

Tyrann Mathieu will intercept two passes and edge Mahomes for Super Bowl MVP. The safety should be heavily involved in coverage on Kittle, so he may see some action that way, but he’s made so many plays this season with his smarts and instincts that he figures to be around the ball no matter where it’s going. — Adam Teicher, Chiefs reporter

George Kittle will put up 130 receiving yards and score a touchdown. That may sound crazy for a guy with 35 total yards during the playoffs, but the Chiefs have shut down opposing wide receivers while allowing plenty of production to tight ends and backs in the passing game this season. Garoppolo should be looking his way often. — Mike Clay, NFL analyst


Breaking down the matchup

Matchup to watch: Mahomes vs. the 49ers pass-rush. Reid can script route concepts designed to target the 49ers’ zone-heavy scheme. However, given the pass-rush ability of the San Francisco defensive line, Mahomes will have to showcase his ability to make second-reaction plays in critical game situations on Sunday in Miami. — Matt Bowen, NFL analyst

Read Bowen’s complete breakdown of the Super Bowl game plans
Peyton Manning breaks down Chiefs, 49ers in latest ‘Detail’
Ranking Chiefs and 49ers players from 1-53


How to bet Super Bowl LIV

Current line from Caesars Sportsbook: KC -1.5 (54.5)
PickCenter | Prop bet scorecard

Total passing yards for Garoppolo: Over/under 237.5
Total passing yards for Mahomes: Over/under 299.5
Total sacks by both teams: Over/under 4.5
Shortest touchdown yardage: Over/under 1.5

Over the last six seasons, favorites and underdogs have alternated winning and covering in the Super Bowl. Last season, New England won as a 2.5-point favorite. Underdogs have covered in 12 of the last 18 Super Bowls, going 11-6 against the spread under the current playoff format (since 2002). And each of the last 10 seasons, the winner has also covered the spread. The last time the winner did not cover the spread was in Super Bowl XLIII (2008 season), when Pittsburgh won 27-23, but Arizona covered as a 5.5-point underdog. — Mackenzie Kraemer, ESPN Chalk researcher

Read more betting nuggets from Kraemer
Ultimate Super Bowl betting guide
Chris Berman’s Super Bowl pick
Biggest Super Bowl bets

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1:11

Daily Wager breaks down the prop bet of who puts points on the board first in the Super Bowl, which currently has both the 49ers and the Chiefs at -110.

Who wins Super Bowl MVP?

Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: Nick Bosa, 49ers DE. The 49ers’ front four will dictate the pace, and when massive tackles Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner cause havoc up the middle, Bosa will be there for a sack or a forced fumble when Mahomes tries to escape.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs QB. Simply because he’s Mahomes.

Mina Kimes, NFL writer: Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers QB. I’ve got the Niners winning a high scoring game, and while I don’t think Garoppolo will necessarily be the reason why they win, I think he’ll do enough to make a case for MVP.

Jason Reid, The Undefeated writer: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs QB. If you have to ask why, you haven’t been paying attention.

Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Nick Bosa, 49ers DE. He has three sacks in the playoffs, and even though the Chiefs have a strong offensive line, he is in position to dominate this game.

Field Yates, NFL analyst: Raheem Mostert, 49ers RB. Forecasting that the 49ers will win stems from a confidence they can run the football effectively once again. Mostert should handle the heavy load, as Tevin Coleman will not be at 100% (shoulder) if he even does suit up on Sunday.


Garoppolo was the only quarterback to rank within the top five in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passing touchdowns this season. According to ESPN coverage metrics using NFL Next Gen Stats, Garoppolo had the second most passing touchdowns vs. man coverage in the regular season but had more interceptions than touchdowns vs. zone.

2019 stats: 3,978 passing yards, 27 TD, 13 INT, 58.8 Total QBR

Mahomes won NFL MVP honors in 2018, and per the Elias Sports Bureau, he could join Emmitt Smith as the only players, regardless of position, ever to win an MVP and Super Bowl before turning 25 years old. Over the last two seasons (including the playoffs), Mahomes has 87 completions and six touchdown passes on plays where he traveled 20 or more yards before throwing the ball, according to NFL Next Gen Stats (both lead the NFL). And he most recently became the first player in postseason history with 250 passing yards and 50 rushing yards in back-to-back games.

2019 stats: 4,031 passing yards, 26 TD, 5 INT, 76.3 Total QBR

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1:14

Dan Orlovsky breaks down what Patrick Mahomes needs to do in order to lead the Chiefs past the 49ers in the Super Bowl.

Meet the coaches: Kyle Shanahan vs. Andy Reid

Shanahan and his father, Mike, will be the first father-son duo to each serve as head coach in an NFL championship game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this has happened only once before across the four major sports leagues (Lester Patrick and his son Lynn each coached in the Stanley Cup Final). Shanahan is 40 years old, and if the 49ers win, he’d be the fourth head coach age 40 or younger to win the Super Bowl.

Reid is back at the Super Bowl for the first time in 15 seasons, after previously leading the Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX following the 2004 season (they lost to the Patriots). He is sixth on the all-time wins list for an NFL head coach but has never won a title. Every other coach ahead of him has won multiple titles.

Stories from inside the offensive genius of Reid and Shanahan
From 0-9 to Top Gun to a Super Bowl: How Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch found a way
Why Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s legacy is on the line
For Shanahan, leading 49ers to Super Bowl is childhood ‘dream come true’

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1:41

Louis Riddick and Bobby Carpenter describe what it would mean for Andy Reid’s legacy if the Chiefs coach finally wins a Super Bowl.

Inside Super Bowl officiating

Super Bowl LIV referee Bill Vinovich has worked eight consecutive postseasons. His regular-season crews almost always rank at or near the bottom in average flags per game. That trend has been especially acute during the past two seasons, when his crews have thrown 402 flags in 30 games, an average of 13.4 per game. That’s 18% lower than the league average over that period and 29% lower than the referee at the top of the list. Just remember postseason crews are mixed, though. — Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer


How the 49ers, Chiefs got here

The 49ers went 13-3 this season, and all three losses came in the final minute of play. An eight-game win streak to begin the season gave them a jump in the NFC West before they had to endure a late-season run in which they faced five playoff teams over eight games. A big Week 17 win over the Seahawks gave the Niners the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The playoff berth came just one season after a 4-12 campaign. In the postseason, the 49ers held Dalvin Cook at bay in the divisional-round win against Minnesota before reaching the Super Bowl with a run-heavy win against Green Bay in the conference championship. Mostert found pay dirt four times on the ground, but Garoppolo was held to eight passes.

The Chiefs appeared to lose their grip on the AFC West at times during the regular season, but a six-game win streak led them to a 12-4 record, a division title and the No. 2 seed in the AFC (thanks in part to a Patriots loss in Week 17 to the Dolphins). In Week 6, Kansas City had a scare when Mahomes suffered a knee injury — but the QB would miss just two games and return to throw for 446 yards in a Week 10 loss to Tennessee. In the playoffs, the Chiefs faced a 24-0 hole early in the divisional-round, but Mahomes marched the Chiefs back with 51 points and a win. Then it was on to the Titans, where the Chiefs again faced an early deficit. But again, Mahomes and Co. pulled off the comeback to set up the Chiefs’ first trip to the Super Bowl since 1970.


More preview must-reads

Still hungry for more Super Bowl content? Check out our best stuff from the past two weeks.

49ers

One son killed, another in the Super Bowl: How a football family is coping with tragedy
How the 49ers being back is good for the NFL
How the 49ers’ defensive line inspired a dramatic turnaround

Chiefs

Super Bowl IV Chiefs have waited 50 years to see this
With Mahomes, Chiefs always have a chance
Five moves that propelled Chiefs from 2-14 to the Super Bowl

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