Super Bowl pick against the spread: Why Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes will beat the 49ers again – The Athletic

By Vic TafurFeb 10, 2024

LAS VEGAS — Somewhere, in the back of your minds the last two weeks, you probably wondered if that clown was really going to pick against Patrick Mahomes four playoff games in a row.

Well … first off, I want to point out it’s not easy or fun being a clown, intentional or not. And second, it’s easier to just leave the makeup, red nose and wig on sometimes.

That said, I only picked the Miami Dolphins to cover the spread as underdogs against the Kansas City Chiefs, but yeah, I had the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens to win — which they should have. Those two teams were at home and if one of five things happened, the Bills win; and if the Ravens handed the ball off to their running backs more than six times, they would’ve won, too.

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And I probably would have picked against Mahomes again, but I was at the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago. Watching Chase Young going through the motions. Watching the San Francisco 49ers secondary with only two decent corners. This 49ers defense is worse than you think. Even their linebackers aren’t playing as well as they have in the past.

Las Vegas Raiders fans are going to think I am making a joke, but the 49ers really missed Clelin Ferrell, the injured former first-round bust who can set the edge. Young cannot or will not — since acquiring Young from the Commanders, the 49ers rank 23rd in rush EPA per play and 29th in rushing success rate — and Arik Armstead is doing the best he can but is battling a nagging foot injury and a knee injury.

Then, you factor in that Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 27-5 after bye weeks (regular season and playoffs) for his career, and 7-2 since the Chiefs traded up in the draft to get Mahomes. (The Chiefs have scored a touchdown four times on the first possession of those games.)

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What makes the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes partnership as special as any great coach-QB combo?

It’s pretty amazing the Chiefs screwed up their receiver position so badly this season and could win another Super Bowl on a down year.

Last week: 0-2 against the spread, 0-1 on best bets.

Postseason record: 5-7 against the spread, 2-3 on best bets.

Regular-season record: 135-130-7 against the spread, 48-41-1 on best bets.

All odds and prop bets are from BetMGM and are locked when the pick was made. Click here for live odds.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Kansas City Chiefs (+2) | 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

The Chiefs are a disciplined team with a great offensive script to start games, and then they turtle up and rely on a young, improving defense. In the AFC Championship Game, Mahomes averaged just 3.4 air yards/completion and threw the ball on average 3.6 air yards short of the sticks.

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The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions were both able to get out to early leads against the 49ers in the playoffs, but … kind of choked. The 49ers got gashed by the Packers, and then focused on stopping the run and got gashed again by the Lions. Aaron Jones averaged 2.71 rush yards over expectation per attempt in the divisional round and David Montgomery averaged 1.29 RYOE/attempt in the conference championship. So, what’s Isiah Pacheco going to do?

Isiah Pacheco’s hard-running style will give the 49ers problems. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

Pacheco only faced a stacked box 12 percent of the time this season because teams were worried about Mahomes. But if the 49ers try to load up, he is the hardest runner in the NFL since Marshawn Lynch, and led the NFL in yards per carry against stacked boxes during the regular season and the playoffs, averaging 4.7 YPC on such carries heading into the Super Bowl.

And then there’s Travis Kelce, who led all tight ends with 562 receiving yards in the middle third of the field during the regular season and leads all players with 833 receiving yards there in the postseason since 2016.

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If I were the 49ers, I would be worried as much about him being a decoy as I am about him as a receiving threat. He has been lining up outside more and more as the Chiefs roll out two- and three-tight end sets. And the 49ers don’t know anything about that. The 49ers have faced three tight ends on all of nine passing attempts this season and gave up five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.

So, the Chiefs are going to score some points. Can the 49ers keep pace?

They will likely try to pound the running game, like the Ravens should have, with NFL Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey. The Chiefs defense has allowed the third-most yards after contact per carry in 2024 (3.4), while McCaffrey led the league in rushing yards (1,459) and RYOE (+349) while facing a stacked box on 36 percent of his carries — also tops in the league.

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The Chiefs will play a lot of man coverage and blitz Brock Purdy, and I think the offensive line is nothing special outside of left tackle Trent Williams. The spotlight will be shining brightly on young cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed — Sneed has allowed zero touchdowns as the closest defender this season — and they should hold up.

The Chiefs will be able to put pressure on 49ers QB Brock Purdy. (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Finally, the Chiefs defense gets better when it’s backed up against offenses similar to the 49ers. The Chiefs generated a league-leading 70.6 percent success rate against red zone rushes using shifts and motion. (The 49ers used shift/motion on 76.3 percent of red zone rushes, fifth-most in the NFL.)

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Have I mentioned that do-everything linebacker Nick Bolton is 500-1 to be the MVP?

I guess I have to bet against Mahomes again on something.

I have it 30-20, Chiefs.

The pick: Chiefs

Prop bets

Noah Gray anytime touchdown: +900

The Chiefs’ backup tight end has five catches on eight targets last two weeks.

Christian McCaffrey under 90.5 rushing yards: -110

The rest of the planet is on the over, and I could see McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel catching more short passes against stacked boxes.

Isiah Pacheco over 66.5 rushing yards: -130

Jones had 108 yards against the 49ers and Montgomery had 93, plus Pacheco has done it in four straight games.

Look for the 49ers to run the ball at least a little with Deebo Samuel. (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Deebo Samuel over 15.5 rushing yards: -115

He ran for 53 yards against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl LIV.

Harrison Butker over 1.5 field goals made: -125

Indoor game and a non-explosive offense against an overrated defense.

— TruMedia research courtesy of Jason Starrett.

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(Top photo of Chris Jones and Patrick Mahomes: Rob Carr / Getty Images)

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Vic Tafur is a senior writer for The Athletic covering the Las Vegas Raiders and the NFL. He previously worked for 12 years at the San Francisco Chronicle and also writes about boxing and mixed martial arts. Follow Vic on Twitter @VicTafur

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