By MIKE HERNDON
Whoever wins the Super Bowl on Sunday, we can all be thankful that we at least know one thing – it won’t be the Patriots.
You’ll perhaps disagree with that sentiment if you live in New England, but you’ve had enough parades already.
This week last year, I offered a half-hearted prediction for a Super Bowl I had no interest in watching: the Evil Empire of Flying Elvises against an illegitimate NFC champion Rams squad that advanced thanks to one of the worst no-calls that you or I or anyone with eyes can remember.
I ended up watching the second half. It was not particularly memorable.
This year, instead of my only rooting interest being a “Giant Meteor,” I see two interesting teams that give me several reasons to pull for either of them.
- Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who moved past Marty Schottenheimer into seventh on the NFL’s all-time wins list, is the winningest coach in league history who’s never won a championship. His teams are consistently solid, his offenses are fun to watch, he’s spawned a coaching tree as strong as any, and he’s always handled himself with class. After the Chiefs beat Tennessee in the AFC Championship game to send him to his second Super Bowl, Reid said he had a cheeseburger and went to bed. I can pull for that guy.
- If you enjoy old-school football, this 49ers team is your jam. They led the league this year in rushing offense (235.5 yards per game), rushing defense (41.5 yards per game) and total defense 252.5 yards per game). And they do it largely without marquee superstars – riding guys like undrafted running back Raheem Mostert, who was released by six teams before finding success in San Francisco. That, my friends, is the kind of team I like to watch.
- The 49ers’ starting safeties are a unique story. Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt both came from smaller colleges and both were relatively unheralded, but that’s not the headline. They also played together at the same high school – Davidson High School in Mobile, Alabama, which also happens to be where both of my daughters attend. (Go Warriors! #251)
- Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes may be the new face of the league, an insanely talented passer putting up insane numbers. If he continues at this rate and can stay healthy, he will end up being one of the game’s all-time greats – potentially THE greatest. And he’s doing it all while also doing remarkably gracious things like this:
So who’s going to win? This appears to be one of the tougher Super Bowl matchups to predict. The Chiefs are favored by a point and a half and most of the predictions I see favor them in a close, high-scoring game. Allow me to present a counterpoint.
Kansas City has started slow and had to rally in each of the last two weeks. If that pattern holds, it’ll be much tougher against a San Francisco defense, after surviving a mid-season lull caused largely by injuries, is eliminating the run and limiting the big plays in the passing game. Kansas City was successful in slowing down Tennessee’s run game, but the Niners present a different challenge – speed instead of power. And anyone thinking San Francisco can’t win a shootout may need to be reminded of its 48-46 win over New Orleans in December.
Mahomes should be the best player on the field and will no doubt get his yards and his share of points, but the 49ers have the better defense and the better run game. If they can control the clock, they can control the game. They may not control it completely, but I think they’ll control it enough. And I suspect that after attempting only eight passes in the NFC Championship win over Green Bay, Jimmy Garoppolo may come up big on play-action in this one.
Michael Day’s going to hate this, but the pick here is: San Francisco 38, Kansas City 35.