A matchup straight out of NFL Central Casting awaits in Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. In one corner is a high-octane Kansas City attack that features some of the more dynamic playmakers in the NFL. On the other is a relentless San Francisco defense that has often made life nearly impossible for its opponents.
And, the lesser-ballyhooed units on each squad aren’t exactly riding the coattails of their respective teammates. The Chiefs defense, while vulnerable to the run at times, was one of the better units in the league at getting after the quarterback and limiting passing production. In turn, the 49ers offense is spearheaded by one of the best rushing attacks in the league. The passing game has also demonstrated an ability to turn it up several notches when called upon.
Despite the presence of that suffocating San Francisco defensive unit, the oddsmakers are expecting plenty of scoring. The projected total stands at 54 or 54.5 points in the majority of regulated sportsbooks across the U.S. as of Friday night, January 24th. That number began its trek upward from a 51 or 51.5-point opening figure.
As that movement implies, the betting public has been firmly in the camp of the offenses consistently finding success. For example, FanDuel Sportsbook had seen 90 percent of the money on projected total bets come in on the Over as of the 24th.
Will Super Bowl LIV ultimately live up to the high-scoring expectations? Or will it be a flop in this regard, akin to last year’s Big Game that saw the Patriots and Rams combine for 16 points? We’ll first break down a potential case for either the Over or Under prevailing.
The Case for Over 54.5 points
Even with Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill missing two and four games this past season, respectively, the Over is 10-8 (55.6 percent) in the Chiefs’ games, including 2-0 in KC’s two postseason games thus far. The prior mark includes a 3-1 tally (75.0 percent) in games versus NFC opponents.
Although the two teams did not meet during this past regular season, their most recent matchup carries relevance, considering it just transpired during the 2018 campaign.
In a Week 3 battle, the two squads combined for 65 points in a 38-27 victory for Kansas City. Many of the major components presently on each roster also played prominent roles in that game. As the final score implies, each team’s passing game enjoyed success, with star tight ends Travis Kelce and George Kittle serving as the pacesetters in receptions and receiving yards for their respective squads.
The 49ers’ defense is undeniably legitimate, but it played its best football on its home field of Levi’s Stadium. Four of San Francisco’s games this past regular season eclipsed a combined total of 55 points. So did its 37-20 win over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Unsurprisingly, the Chiefs have an even cozier relationship with extremely elevated totals. Kansas City also saw four of its regular-season games finish over 55 points, and two others land right on that figure. Additionally, both of its postseason games overshot the mark. Kansas City also finished in the top five in yards per drive (39.1), points per drive (2.7) and drive success rate (.761).
The Case for Under 54.5 points
As football fans, we’ve seen it before, especially in high-stakes matchups like the Super Bowl. Two teams with big-name, explosive offensive players on each side take the field and the air is thick with anticipation of a shootout.
The human element then rears its head, and nerves overcome talent for at least the early stages of a contest. A couple of short-circuited drives later, the hyperventilating has gone down, but each defensive unit has settled in as well. With perhaps a quarter-plus already gone by the time things are more or less “normal”, a particularly high projected total becomes that much more challenging to reach.
Given the early jitters often present in Super Bowls, it bears noting both the 49ers and Chiefs have been particularly adept at limiting scoring in the first half during this past regular season and postseason. San Francisco is tied with the Patriots for third-fewest points per first half allowed (8.4). Kansas City is only slightly more generous in surrendering 10.4 points per first half. That still ranks them in the top 10.
Then, both teams also were proficient at stopping opponent drives by causing timely turnovers. The Chiefs finished with a +11 in turnover differential this past regular season on the strength of the fourth-most interceptions (16). The Niners were a less impressive +4. However, they still corralled 12 picks and picked up the third-most fumbles (15).
Finally, when considering the possibility of the Under, factor in the 49ers’ stellar defensive drive ratings. San Francisco ranked 2nd in yards per drive allowed (25.5), along with fourth in both points per drive allowed (1.7) and plays per drive allowed (5.6). In other words, opposing punters often got a workout when facing the Niners this past season.
1st Quarter Total (Over/Under 10.5 points at FanDuel Sportsbook)
While I respect the talent on both defenses, this figure seems particularly modest. The Chiefs’ firepower and quick-strike ability is beyond corroborated. The 49ers’ offense features the NFC’s top-ranked running game (154.2 YPG). And, both teams ranked either in the top 5 or top 10 in yards per drive and points per drive this past regular season.
Additionally, factoring in their two postseason games, the Niners are third in first-quarter points per game (6.7). The Chiefs round out the top 10 with 5.4 per first quarter. On the other side of the ball, Kansas City has allowed the fourth-most points per opening period (6.2), including the playoffs.
The Pick: Over 10.5 points
1st Half Total (Over/Under 26.5 points at DraftKings Sportsbook)
Each defense was actually among the best in the league at limiting first-half scoring. The 49ers check in No. 4 (including the postseason) with just 8.4 points surrendered per game over the first pair of quarters. The Chiefs check in within the top 10 as well. They’ve allowed 10.4 points per first half, including the playoffs.
However, these two offenses have too much going for them to fall under this relatively modest combined total for 30 minutes of play. Even factoring in the possibility of a couple of early sputters by each side, I’m in the camp of the Over.
The Pick: Over 26.5 points
Final analysis: Game Total
As the first two predictions hint, I’m of the mindset this game will feature a healthy amount of points. Each squad will be rested and should be at full health at all key skill positions. The aggressive nature of the Chiefs and Mahomes, regardless of score, is well-documented. Meanwhile, the 49ers weren’t above going toe-to-toe with an elite quarterback when forced to – their memorable 48-46 win over the Drew Brees-led Saints in New Orleans back in Week 14 serves as Exhibit A in that regard.
Given the caliber of players on the field for either side, I lean toward the Over.
The Lean: Over 54.5 points