The stage is set of the culmination of the NFL season on Sunday, Feb. 2 in Super Bowl LIV. The Kansas City Chiefs (14-4) and San Francisco 49ers (15-3) were both extremely impressive in their respective conference title games and there is much anticipation for them to tangle on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.
Kansas City is in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years, while the Niners last appeared in the big game in 1995, winning the fifth title in franchise history.
As of Jan. 24, the Chiefs were either 1 or 1.5-point favorites at sportsbooks across the US. Below, we’ll make our picks for the Super Bowl 54 point spread.
Why the 49ers can cover the spread
The best way to contain an elite QB is to get pressure with four down lineman and devote extra resources in coverage. The Niners have been able to do just that with the second-best adjusted sack rate (9.1%) this season. San Francisco also stuffed run plays at the second-highest frequency per Football Outsiders and allowed the fewest passing YPG (169.9) on the back end. Kansas City’s offensive line ranked 28th in adjusted sack rate (8.6%) this season. Nick Bosa and company could make life difficult on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are ultra dependent on his play-making ability.
The Chiefs allowed 5.4 YPC on the road or at neutral sites and their best run stopper Chris Jones (calf) remains hobbled. While they buckled down to contain Derrick Henry in the AFC title game, it’s far to wonder if the Chiefs front seven can stop red hot Raheem Mostert, who is averaging 5.96 YPC over his last 8 outings. A steady diet or running plays would be the best way to keep Mahomes off the field and the 49ers have been able to do just that with a 67.6% run play percentage over their last 3 games. They’ve had tremendous success against the Vikings (9th in DVOA rush defense) and Packers (21st) this postseason, and the Chiefs ranked 29th in rush defense this season.
KC is strong in pass defense, but mostly against WRs, and the Niners best receiving option is TE George Kittle. The Chiefs coughed up the fourth-most receptions (96) to TEs this season.
Since San Francisco is likely to have early success running the ball before the Chiefs make adjustments, we’d recommend taking the Niners (+0.5) at halftime even though the odds (-125 at DraftKings Sportsbook) aren’t ideal.
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Why the Chiefs can cover the spread
The argument for the Chiefs covering can be made very simple: Patrick Mahomes is the best QB in football, and Jimmy Garoppolo is mediocre. Garoppolo posted solid numbers with a 102 passer rating and 69.1% completion rate, but he did not pass the eye test at times. This is evidenced by Kyle Shanahan calling an extremely run-heavy game in both of the Niners playoff games to date. Garoppolo took 24 sacks during the second half of the season and fumbled 5 times in that span. The Chiefs found their struggling pass rush during the second half with 27 sacks since Week 10, and 8 sacks in two playoff games.
Kansas City demonstrated an ability to load up against the run and still hold the Titans passing attack in check in the AFC Championship. While the Niners are a bit more dangerous, the Chiefs sixth-ranked pass defense should be able to hold Garoppolo in check and potentially force a key turnover or two. Since San Francisco has converted just 53.7% of red zone opportunities into TDs (21st in NFL), it’s far to wonder if the Niners can keep pace with such a prolific opponent.
Mahomes is far more mobile than Garoppolo and that’s been key in recent matchups, when he’s been able to scramble while defenders turn their backs and double Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The Chiefs have converted 83.3% of red zone opportunities into TDs over their last 3 outings and are averaging 19.3 PPG during that span in the second half. The Niners were also very high scoring in second halves, so we’d take a prop on the second half (-109 at DraftKings Sportsbook) as the highest scoring half.
My Super Bowl spread pick
While the Niners have an advantage in terms of several different position groups, quarterbacks tend to swing the Super Bowl. Mahomes has shown no signs of nerves in any of his four playoff starts and the Chiefs slow starts against the Texans and Titans were mostly the product of uncharacteristic drops by his receivers. Kansas City’s defense is playing much better than it was during the first half and should do enough to limit Garoppolo, if not force a key turnover to swing the matchup.
The Chiefs are 6-2 ATS on the road or at neutral sites and are 10-4-1 ATS when listed as favorites this season. The Niners steamrolled flawed teams in the NFC bracket, but were just 2-5 ATS when facing a team on equal rest this season. This spread is so small that even if it requires a last-second drive by Mahomes and a FG, the Chiefs should still cover. We’ll take those odds.
The Pick: Chiefs -1.5 (-110 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
While researching for your 49ers versus Chiefs picks, be sure to check out my Super Bowl Betting Preview at TheLines. It breaks down the statistical and betting trends of both teams and highlights the key on-field matchups.