You can make a case for both sides

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The two weeks of hype and anticipation are drawing to an end. On Sunday the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers will play Super Bowl 54 in Miami to determine the champion of the 2019 NFL season.

As we went to press on Tuesday afternoon the Chiefs were 1- point favorites at most Nevada sportsbooks with just a couple  hanging a -1.5. The Total was mostly up to 55 with several books still at 54.5.

In many respects this game features strength vs. strength on several levels. Many analysts consider Kansas City to have the major edge on offense and San Francisco the major defensive edge.

Over the course of the regular season San Francisco averaged more yards per game than the Chiefs, barely, 381-379. Yet on a yards per play basis Kansas City had the edge, 6.2-6.0. Defensively the 49ers allowed 282 yards per game, KC 350, giving the Niners and edge of 17 yards per quarter. On a yards per play basis the 49ers had a 4.7-5.4 ypp edge.

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Of course, the game is about more than numbers and statistics — much more. But certain numbers and stats can provide insight into how the game may be played and thus won or lost.

There is one key statistic that could play a significant factor in determining the outcome. Kansas City’s offensive success revolves around the performance of Patrick Mahomes. The third-year QB may be more dangerous with his ability to move around and elude tacklers than in his impressive ability to complete passes.

The 49ers have one of the top defensive lines in the NFL and figure to pressure Mahomes and keep him off balance as much as possible. The 49ers’ defense led the NFL in allowing just 9.7 yards per pass completion — one of only two teams (Buffalo) that allowed under 10.0 yards per completion. The NFL average is 11.4 and Kansas City’s defense allowed 11.4. Making this more evidence of strength vs. strength is that the Chiefs average 12.4 yards per completion.

Of concern to Chiefs backers is their slow start in their two playoff games, falling behind 24-0 to Houston in the Divisional round and 10-0 and 17-7 to Tennessee in the AFC Title game. Backers will counter that despite those early deficits Kansas City overcome each to lead 28-24 and 21-17 in both games. Yet it must be kept in mind that both games were played in Kansas City and the 49ers have a much better defense than either the Texans or the Titans.

There are also concerns for the 49ers. They’ve yet to trail in the playoffs and against the Chiefs they may be forced to play from behind at some point. This brings up the question of QB Jimmy Garoppolo. In starting all 18 games this season he’s led San Francisco to a 15-3 record. Overall that’s 21-5 in 26 career starts.

There’s no question but that Mahomes is the better QB both in terms of the “eye test” and his efficiency. Despite missing two games he had only one less touchdown pass than Garoppolo (26 vs. 27) and tossed eight fewer interceptions (5 vs. 13). He was sacked roughly half as often (17 vs. 36).

When all the factors that go into the NFL’s convoluted QB rating formula Mahomes has a relatively slight edge of 105.3-102.0. Yet the above cited “eye test” would suggest the gap is much greater.

Garoppolo’s interception rate of 2.7 percent is a concern. Only once this season did he have back to back games in which he was not picked off at least once. In attempting only eight passes in the NFC title game he was not intercepted but he was picked off once the week before by the Vikings despite attempting just 19 passes.

As the pointspread suggests there are more compelling reasons to play on either side than to play against. There are far more positives in support of each team than there are negatives that detract.

Over the years I’ve generally preferred to go with defense over offense, especially when the defensive team’s strength matches up against the offensive team’s strength. Such is the case here with San Francisco’s outstanding pass defense matching up against Kansas City’s top notch pass offense.

And San Francisco’s own offense matches up nicely in the running game against Kansas City’s rush defense. The Niners averaged 144 rushing yards per game, second only to Baltimore. The Chiefs allowed 128 rushing yards per game, ranking No. 26. This suggests that the 49ers, unless forced to pass the football by being well behind, should be able to control the clock with its ground game.

At the same time, the KC offense will face the best pass defense it will have seen all season. My forecast for is for San Francisco to win 27-23, making for plays on 49ERS and UNDER

Season: 53-56-3 

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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