The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers punched their tickets to Super Bowl LIV with resounding wins on Championship Sunday.
Riding the Houdini act that is Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City came back from a 10-0 deficit to defeat the Tennessee Titans in the AFC title game.
Over in the NFC, San Francisco rode a dominant rushing attack to a 27-0 halftime lead and blowout win over the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium.
Heading into Super Bowl LIV between two evenly-matched teams, here are five questions we have for the big game in South Beach.
Will the Chiefs start slow again?
By now, it’s well known that Kansas City fell down 24-0 in the first half against the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. The Chiefs ultimately scored 51 of the game’s final 58 points. Then, on Sunday, Kansas City fell down 10-0 to Tennessee before getting it going on offense.
The question here is whether Kansas City will start slow in the Super Bowl. If that were to happen against the game’s best defense, it would be a bigger issue than what we saw against both the Texans and Titans.
Can 49ers sustain success without passing?
Through the first two games of the playoffs, Jimmy Garoppolo has completed 17-of-27 passes for 208 yards. That’s about a half worth of football for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. This speaks to the contrasting styles of the two offenses that will be on display in Miami.
We have no idea whether this is sustainable against a high-flying Chiefs offensive attack. San Francisco put up 471 rushing yards in its two NFC Playoff victories. It will want to repeat this against Kansas City. That doesn’t mean Garoppolo won’t have to put the ball up in the air more.
Who will protect their quarterback better?
Both the Chiefs and 49ers bring a plus-level pass rush to the mix. For Kansas City, that includes stud defensive tackle Chris Jones as well as edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Frank Clark. This unit sacked Deshaun Watson four times in the divisional playoffs before getting to Ryan Tannehill for three sacks this past Sunday.
The 49ers are a completely different monster with four former first-round picks making up their studly pass rush. San Francisco put up 12 quarterback hits and nine sacks in its two playoff games heading into the Super Bowl. Rookie Nick Bosa has three sacks during that span.
There’s good news on this front for the offenses. Mahomes has gone down just three times in his past four games while Garoppolo has found himself sacked five times over the past three outings.
Will Richard Sherman follow Tyreek Hill?
There’s been a lot made about Sherman staying true to his natural position on his side of the field rather than following the other team’s No. 1 receiver. It enabled the future Hall of Famer to give up an average of 10 passing yards in his previous 13 games prior to a dominant performance against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
At this point, no one can keep up with what Hill brings to the table. The 49ers are going to have to shade double coverage to his side. Even then, it will be interesting to see if the 49ers go away from their season-long scheme and have Sherman follow the electric All-Pro performer. If not, Emmanuel Moseley will be tasked with stopping Hill.
Can Andy Reid get over that hump?
The Chiefs’ coach being known as a choke artist in the playoffs is narrative street at its finest. It’s also a narrative that won’t die down until Reid earns that elusive first Super Bowl title.
Reid is now 14-14 in the playoff career. It’s not a terrible record. The issue here is that he’s led a team to the playoffs 15 times and is just now making his second career Super Bowl appearance.
It’s not going to be easy. Reid will be tested by up-and-coming 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. His defense will be thrown to the wolves against Kyle Shanahan’s absurd game-calling abilities. A win here would represent the high-water mark of Reid’s 21-year head-coaching career. A loss would continue a worn-out narrative.