By DANIEL WATERS
Kansas City Chiefs (14-4) vs. San Francisco 49ers (15-3)
Fundamentally, these two teams are polar opposites. Kansas City is built on its stellar passing game while San Francisco focuses on running the ball and defense.
Chiefs Offense vs. 49ers Defense
Damien Williams has struggled to make an impact as a rusher for the Chiefs. Against San Francisco’s standout defensive front, this trend should continue. However, Williams can catch the ball out of the backfield, so he could gain some yards there. If LeSean McCoy can get back on the field, the Chiefs will have a duo of decent pass-catchers at the running back spot. Kansas City’s receivers against the San Francisco secondary is perhaps the most crucial matchup of the day.
The success of the Chiefs offense will hinge on how well they can pass the ball as there won’t be much room on the ground. Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman are all big-play threats that the defense has to account for. In terms of the short and intermediate passing game, Travis Kelce is the main target along with Hill and Watkins.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid is also a great offensive mind who should come up with creative and successful play designs. One trend to consider is that Kansas City has been slow to start in both of their playoff games thus far. They’ve had to battle back from large deficits against the Texans (down 24-0) and Titans (down 17-7). In both of those games, quarterback Patrick Mahomes passed the ball remarkably to advance his team through the playoffs.
Against the 49ers, it will be significantly more challenging. The Texans and Titans both had poor pass defenses, but San Francisco has allowed the fewest passing yards in the league. Coming back from a deficit against them will require methodical drives and Kansas City is not used to playing that way. They are an impatient team that is used to scoring quickly as opposed to stacking smaller gains towards the endzone.
If the Chiefs take too many risks, the 49ers defense will force a turnover. Mahomes may not have the time to throw in the pocket against San Francisco’s deadly pass rush. The 49ers also have the personnel to effectively contain Patrick Mahomes, limiting his ability to extend or create plays with his legs. Mahomes may not get the separation from his receivers that he desires at times which could lead to him taking costly sacks. Regardless, Kansas has electric skill position players that will make big plays and put some points on the scoreboard.
49ers Offense vs. Chiefs Defense
The Chiefs were able to do what New England and Baltimore could not when they limited Derrick Henry’s impact. Now they face another hot running back in Raheem Mostert. With Tevin Coleman injured and Matt Breida cast in the shadows due to fumble problems, no other back should be relevant for the 49ers. Mostert is not as big as Henry, but he makes up for it with his hard running and versatility. Unlike Henry, Mostert is a talented pass-catcher. Stopping Mostert will be more difficult for the Chiefs due to his varied skill set.
San Francisco has shown that when they need to pass the ball, they can do it effectively. There is a narrative that Kansas City’s defense has improved over the second half of the season, but they simply have not been tested. Their last opponents in the regular season were the Chargers (twice), Oakland (twice), New England, Denver, and Chicago. All of those teams have bad offenses.
In their playoff games, the Chiefs have given up 17 significant points to the Titans and 24 to the Texans. The 49ers have a better overall offense than both of those teams.
Mostert along with George Kittle and Deebo Samuel give San Francisco a balanced offense. Jimmy Garoppolo is a capable passer who prioritizes mistake-free play. The Chiefs do not have the pass rush to force bad throws from Jimmy Garoppolo. Coach Kyle Shanahan is also a gifted play-caller and he has valuable experience from when his Falcons blew a 28-3 lead back in the 2016-2017 Super Bowl.
Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt had 41.2 net yards per punt. For the 49ers, Mitch Wishnowsky put up 41.6 net yards per punt. Any advantage here is negligible. One bright spot for the Chiefs is the outstanding kicker Harrison Butker. He is a consistent kicker with one of the best ranges in the league. Robbie Gould is also reliable but from a reduced distance. Nerves are more likely to affect Butker as he is a much younger player, but that is pure speculation.
31-24 San Francisco 49ers
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