What to watch for on Super Bowl Sunday

Hard+Rock+Stadium+in+is+readied+in+anticipation+of+Sunday%27s+Super+Bowl%2C+featuring+the+Kansas+City+Chiefs+against+the+San+Francisco+49ers.+

Mike Stocker, Sun Sentinel | TNS

Hard Rock Stadium in is readied in anticipation of Sunday's Super Bowl, featuring the Kansas City Chiefs against the San Francisco 49ers.

By Ben Mankowski, Staff Writer

After a few weeks of nonstop action in the NFL playoffs, there are finally only two teams remaining. The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs will face off Sunday at 6:30 p.m. to conclude an NFL season to remember. Both teams firmly belong here after dominating the competition in their respective conference championships. The following are some matchups to watch as well as what to ultimately expect on Super Bowl Sunday.

Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes lit up the playoffs in Kansas City’s two playoff matchups, passing for an average of 307.5 yards and four touchdowns per game. Defenses have had no answer for the young gunslinger. He takes over games with big throws and quick scoring onslaughts, like the one that erased a 24-point deficit in the first half against Houston in the divisional round.

To complement Mahome’s incredible performance through the air, he also has a team-leading 106 rushing yards this postseason. This is the most we’ve seen Mahomes run this season, jumping from 15.6 average rushing yards per game in the regular season to 53 yards per game now.

On the other sideline is Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s had an underwhelming postseason in the 49ers’ run-heavy scheme, throwing for only 208 yards in two games. Garoppolo’s stat line for the entire postseason almost resembles one half of football for Mahomes — a scary thought if you’re a 49ers fan. But while his stats won’t blow anyone away, the Niners have won all year behind Garoppolo and shouldn’t panic just yet.

49ers’ Rushing Attack vs. Chiefs’ Run Defense

In the NFC Championship, the 49ers exploited Green Bay’s weakness in defending the run. Running back Raheem Mostert rumbled for 220 yards and four touchdowns, basically giving Garoppolo the night off on offense. With backfield mate Tevin Coleman doubtful to play on Super Bowl Sunday, all eyes are on Mostert to see if he can duplicate his dominant performance.

Looking to shut down San Francisco’s dynamic run offense is a Chiefs’ defense that largely contained leading rusher Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship. After Henry single-handedly slayed the Patriots and Ravens, holding him to 69 yards may have been Kansas City’s greatest defensive accomplishment all season.

The Chiefs’ run defense has been otherwise porous, ranking in the bottom third of the NFL in the regular season. To win this game, Kansas City needs another big effort in shutting down the run, and head coach Andy Reid needs to make Garoppolo try and beat his team through the air.

Chiefs’ Wide Receivers vs. Niners’ Secondary

The Chiefs are the fastest offensive team in the NFL, as its ball carriers average a league-high 13.36 miles per hour according to Next Gen Stats. This is in large part thanks to receivers Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson, who torch defensive backs with blazing quickness. This intangible speed allows not only for long Hail Mary plays, but helps Mahomes when a play breaks down and his receivers need to get open.

The Niners’ secondary — led by Richard Sherman, who has found new life in San Francisco — was the top unit in football, allowing a league-best 169.2 passing yards in the regular season. San Francisco’s defensive backs — including Pitt alum K’Waun Williams — will face their toughest test this season against the Chiefs’ speedy playmakers, making for an interesting matchup that could be the key to the game on either side. 

In Conclusion

The Chiefs are currently 1.5-point favorites to beat the Niners, showing the tossup nature of the matchup. Both sides will get the ultimate test come Super Bowl Sunday as an electric offense meets a shutdown defense. Though the odds are in favor of Kansas City, expect the Niners to put up a substantial fight against Mahomes. If Mostert can get the ball moving on the ground to complement his team’s defensive efforts, then get your popcorn ready — this could be a thrilling game.

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