(KPIX)- Super Bowl Sunday is rapidly approaching, and the matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs appears to be a close one. Both teams have the ability to exploit the other’s weaknesses, and both have spectacular strengths that are going to be difficult for their opponent to stop.
The play of the two teams in their playoff matchups has fans expecting a memorable Super Bowl. Those expectations, combined with the tight matchup on paper, has led to a similarly difficult line for oddsmakers to set. As of this writing, the Chiefs are slight 1.5-point favorites over the 49ers. But that could change as we near game-time on Sunday. SportsLine senior NFL analyst Larry Hartstein points out that the split at the moment appears to be that the public loves the Chiefs, while the pros are leaning towards the 49ers.
“So far, about 60 percent of the money coming in [is] on the Chiefs. The public loves their explosive offense. I mean, how could you not? They have covered eight straight games, they’ve put up 86 points in two playoff games. Mahomes is healthy. They look like they can score at will,” said Hartstein. “But, then again, I think the professionals who have not shown their hands that much, are waiting, waiting, trying to get a little bit better number. Maybe get 1.5, get 2, they dream of getting three with the Niners. I don’t think it will ever get to a field goal, but that is how it’s breaking down right now. The public more on K.C., and the professionals a little more tilted towards the 49ers.”
The 49ers defense is likely to inspire more confidence because they have proven over the course of the year to be capable of shutting down passing attacks. They led the league in pass yards allowed (169.2), yards per attempt (5.9), and second in pass plays of 40+ yards allowed (5). The Chiefs, with all of their offensive weapons, like to pick up big chunks through the air, topping the league in pass plays of 40+ yards with 18. So it would seem the 49ers are well equipped to combat what the Chiefs do well.
On the other side of the ball, there isn’t as much confidence in the Chiefs stopping what the ‘Niners like to do on offense. Kyle Shanahan’s group has punished opponents on the ground throughout the season with running back Raheem Mostert turning into one of the breakout stars of this year’s playoffs. The group has averaged 5.3 yards per carry through its first two playoff matchups, and Jimmy Garoppolo has barely been asked to do anything as a result. Kansas City’s run defense in the regular season struggled, finishing 26th in yards allowed per game and 28th in yards per carry. But last week’s performance against Derrick Henry (19 carries, 69 yards, 1 TD, 3.6 YPC) does inspire some confidence.
Still, like many of the professionals, Hartstein is inclined to take the 49ers. But there is one gnawing caveat that is bugging him. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has a long track record of success when he has an extra week to prepare.
“I’m kind of leaning San Fran but I do worry about Andy Reid. With extra time to prepare, he covers two-thirds of the time. He’s such a great play-caller,” said Hartstein. “So, even against this 49ers defense I can see him having success. That’s kind of where I am. I’m leaning San Fran, but I have not locked it in.”
That wavering is the order of the day heading into this matchup, because even though San Fran’s defense has been strong this season against the pass, they have not faced a team with the same kind of speed that the Chiefs’ receivers present. The combination of Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman can really stress a defense looking for ways to slow them down. Combined with Mahomes’ ability to avoid sacks and extend plays outside the pocket, it has made the Chiefs’ offense arguably the league’s most explosive unit. Which is why, despite the ‘Niners strong defense, people are expecting a lot of points. However, Hartstein would caution against that.
“The public loves offense. They want to bet over. They see the Chiefs are explosive and the Niners had a 48-46 game with the Saints,” said Hartstein. “But, that said, in Super Bowls where the spread is below three points, the under is 5-2, these teams play it a little closer to the vest. And, if you look at the head referee Bill Vinovich, he has a history of going under. He doesn’t call a lot of penalties, about 20 fewer penalty yards than average. 57 percent of his games have gone under.”
Kickoff in Super Bowl LIV is set for Sunday, February 2nd, at 3:30 p.m. PST.