It all comes down to this after 331 preseason, regular season, and playoff games.
The Kansas City Chiefs will attempt to win a Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years.
Their opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, has five Lombardi Trophies but hasn’t won one since 1994.
An explosive offense battles the NFL’s best defense for the right to call themselves Super Bowl champions.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup, the offense – Kansas City – remains a 1.5-point favorite to win, but can they capture the Super Bowl title?
Offense or Defense?
Remember the saying “ defense wins championships.”
It was so true in the NFL for years. Go back to the very first Super Bowls.
The Green Bay Packers, who won the first two Super Bowls, ranked first and third in scoring defense in 1966 and 1967.
The Miami Dolphins of 1972 and 1973 were the top-ranked defense in both seasons.
The dominating Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970s finished either first or second on defense in 1974, ’75, and ’78. The 1985 Chicago Bears and the following year’s New Giants were No.
1 and No. 2, respectively.
For years, “defense wins championships” was true, but that has changed over the last two decades.
Rules changes have favored offenses.
The results are evident in such recent Super Bowl scores as 34-28 (Patriots-Seahawks) and 41-33 (Eagles-Patriots).
The 2006 Indianapolis Colts ranked second on offense but just 23rd on defense.
It didn’t matter. Similarly, the 2008 New Orleans Saints ranked No. 1 on offense but 20th on defense.
Both teams won Super Bowls.
Heading into Super Bowl LIV, the Chiefs were a top-5 offense – 5th in passing (286.1 ypg) and 6th in total offense (379.2 ypg).
That offense, led by reigning NFL MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, has been even more explosive in the postseason averaging 43 points a game.
The 49ers, on the other hand, ranked second in total defense (281.8) and first against the pass (169.2) during the regular season.
San Francisco’s front seven can wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Just ask Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers who in two games against the Niners this season was sacked eight times.
The Case for Kansas City
A year ago, the Chiefs offense was putting up video game-like numbers.
Mahomes became just the second NFL quarterback to throw for 5,000-plus yards and at least 50 touchdowns in the same season (Peyton Manning is the other)
The problem for Kansas City was a defense that could open up the flood gates at any time and allow points by the dozens.
In 2019, the Chiefs offense is still putting it to opponents, but the defense is somewhat improved. Consider Kansas City’s performance in two playoff games.
Mahomes is 46-of-70 for 615 yards and eight touchdowns.
Running back Damien Williams has added 92 yards rushing and three touchdowns and the trio of WR Tyreek Hill, WR Sammy Watkins, and TE Travis Kelce is capable of carving up any defense, even one as good as San Francisco’s.
The difference this year has been on defense where new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s presence has been felt.
The Chiefs allowed just 19.3 points per game during the regular season.
That was good enough for seventh which was, interestingly, one spot ahead of San Francisco.
Sure, Kansas City has given up 55 points in two playoff games, but the defense has done enough to keep the Chiefs in both games.
The improved defense is also a reason why online sportsbooks continue to see the Chiefs as a 1.5-point favorite in Super Bowl LIV.
The Case for San Francisco
The 49ers recipe for success is simple – play great defense and run the football.
They have done both extremely well.
They were second in the NFL in rushing throughout the regular season averaging 144.1 yards per game.
In their win over Green Bay in the NFC title game, RB Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan will lean heavily on Mostert, Matt Breida, and a hopefully healthy Tevin Coleman.
Then, he will let his defense do the rest.
San Francisco held its two playoff opponents to 41.5 yards a game on the ground and just 252.2 total.
For the season, the 49ers held opponents to a league-best 169.2 passing yards per game.
The San Francisco front seven is intimidating and can get after the passer.
They sacked Rodgers three times in the NFC championship game.
What’s interesting is that when the Niners record at least three sacks, they are 11-1 straight up (SU) and 8-3-1 against the spread (ATS) this season.
How It Plays Out
Consider that both teams are 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS when playing away from their home stadium this season.
Kansas City has won eight straight.
Even more interesting is how the Chiefs did it.
They won those eight games by an average of 16.1 points.
The Chiefs will be looking for a track meet in Super Bowl LIV.
The 49ers will have trouble covering the speedy Hill, Watkins, and Kelce.
What is also troublesome for San Francisco is Mahomes’ mobility.
The Chiefs quarterback was the leading rusher in each of the team’s two playoff games.
If Mahomes is able to avoid sacks – Kansas City allowed just 1.6 per game, third-fewest in the NFL – Kansas City is in business.
For San Francisco, another Lombardi Trophy will come down to defense and how well quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo plays.
The 49ers went 8-1 SU in games where Garoppolo threw for at least 248 yards.
In the team’s two playoff games, Garoppolo has thrown for a TOTAL of 208 yards!
One of the benefits of a great running game is that you don’t have to throw as much.
Garoppolo is 17-of-27 in the playoffs. In the win over Green Bay, he attempted just eight passes.
Should Garoppolo exploit a suspect Chiefs pass defense and convert on third downs and in the red zone, the 49ers could tie Pittsburgh and New England for the most Super Bowl victories (6) in NFL history.
In the last 12 Super Bowls, the underdog has won eight times. More recently, a pattern has developed.
Last season, New England won (and covered) as a 2.5-point favorite.
The year prior, Philadelphia won as a 4.0-point underdog.
Over the past four Super Bowls, the underdog and favorite have alternated leaving a potential underdog win this year.
The line on Super Bowl LIV hasn’t changed much from its original 1.5-point spread in favor of the Chiefs.
The 49ers moneyline has remained near even money and giving a point-and-a-half, it just feels like defense does win a championship whether betting the moneyline or the point spread.
The Total has ticked up to 54.5, but again defense gets the nod in Super Bowl LIV.
Plus, the Under is 10-4 in Kansas City’s last 14 games as a favorite of 0.5 to 3.0 points.