Super Bowl 58 Preview: Chiefs versus 49ers
Reading Time: 5 minutes The Kansas City Chiefs and San Fransisco 49ers are highlighting Super Bowl 58 this Sunday, how did each team get here?
The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers are the two teams left standing after a particularly grueling and injury-riddled 2023-24 NFL Season. As the two teams head to Las Vegas to play in Super Bowl LVIII, it is important to understand where these teams came from, what they went through to get here, and what they stand to gain from a Super Bowl victory.
The highlight of the playoffs was the AFC Championship which featured two Black quarterbacks for the first time in NFL history and just the second time ever in the playoffs.
Lamar Jackson of the Ravens and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs are both former MVPs. Jackson is expected to take home the hardware again this season after he threw for 3,678 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 821 yards and five touchdowns.
The Ravens finished with the best record in the NFL despite falling in the AFC Championship.
Patrick Mahomes has continued as one, if not the best, quarterback in the NFL. Mahomes had arguably the worst season in his NFL career and still threw for 4,183 yards and 27 touchdowns with a poor receiving effort from his team who led the league in drops.
Call it whatever you want: luck, league tampering, the Swift effect, or just plain devil magic. But Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid have found themselves back in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in the last five years and have a chance to be the first back-to-back Super Bowl Champions since Tom Brady and the Patriots did it in 2004 and 2005.
At the end of a turbulent season that saw one of the worst wide receiver corps in the league got even worse as the season went on, with the group leading the entire league in drops. Players like Kadarious Toney playing so poorly with former all-pro Travis Kelce taking a major step back, people began to talk about the possible decline of the Chief’s stranglehold on the AFC. Combine all of this with the biggest media circus the league has ever seen, if there ever was a year that the Chiefs would falter it was this one. But fortunately for Missouri and unfortunately for those who are upset with Taylor Swift’s 30 seconds of NFL broadcast time, the Chiefs are simply inevitable.
The Chiefs have torn through a murderous row of opponents: the Dolphins led by former Chief Tyreek Hill, the red-hot Buffalo Bills (who had already beaten the Chiefs once before this season), and a Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens.
This is a different Chiefs team from years past, however, trading out the usual high-flying, pass-heavy offensive torrent for a suffocating Steve Spagnuolo lead defense that made probable MVP Lamar Jackson look pedestrian. Spagnuolo has coached a formidable defensive line anchored by Chris Jones, but even more impressively he has turned the Chiefs secondary into borderline league leaders.
Most importantly, the rock upon which this team is built is Mahomes. In only his sixth year as a starter, Mahomes has tied Peyton Manning in career playoff wins. This playoff run has been hallmarked less by crossbody 60-yard bombs to the endzone and more by simply winning football. Mahomes is taking what the defense gives him and tearing apart secondaries with a resurgent Travis Kelce who is playing his best football of the season, a receiving core led by Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Rashee Rice who finally remembered how to catch a football.
The Chiefs have taken the crown from the Patriots as the most hated team in the league and must embrace their new role as league villains if they hope to follow in their footsteps. A win here would propel them further than just a great team; they would be considered the NFL’s newest Dynasty.
Always the bridesmaid and never the bride’ has been the theme of the San Francisco 49ers struggles since Steve Young led them to a Super Bowl back in 1995. They have been to the NFC Championship eight times since then and have nothing to show for it but a pair of heartbreaking Super Bowl losses. In recent years they have appeared as almost everyone’s preseason Super Bowl picks, but something always seems to get in the way. COVID, injuries, poor quarterback play, injuries, clock management issues, Matthew Stafford, and even more injuries have stood between them and the Lombardi Trophy for the better part of a decade. But this year, it seems that the stars have aligned, and luckily for coach Kyle Shanahan, he seems to have his most talented group yet.
Christian McCaffrey, with his prowess on the field as both a receiving and running back, has been one of the most important parts of the 49ers’ success this season. The biggest question mark about McCaffrey coming into San Francisco from Carolina was whether he could stay healthy; fortunately for the 49ers, not only has he stayed healthy, but he has also turned into the undisputed best and most dynamic running back in the league. McCaffrey’s versatility out of the backfield and his shiftiness with the ball turn potential three-yard losses into big gains, and every time the ball is in his hands there is potential for a big play. This, with the talent of receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, combined with Shanahan’s bevy of pre-snap motion and scheme it is not uncommon for these pro bowlers to catch the ball with nothing but green grass in front of them. In addition to having the best running back in the league, and one of the best receiving corps, the 49ers also employ the best overall tight end in the league—Iowa alumni George Kittle—and a suffocating defense filled to the brim with all-pro talent. Fred Warner out of BYU is the best outside linebacker in the league by a country mile; paired with a frightening defensive line led by Joey Bosa, the talent overall is simply astounding.
The question for the 49ers has never been the defense or the skill positions; the issue since the last time the Niners were in the Super Bowl against these very same Chiefs has always been quarterback play. This quarterback carousel has been the bane of every Niners fan’s existence, going from Jimmy Garoppolo to drafting Trey Lance, having both get injured and finally putting the keys to the most talented offense in the league in the hands of the last pick of the 2022 draft: Iowa State’s Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy.
Purdy has gone from an afterthought to possibly the most polarizing player in the league. Some say he merely rides the coattails of the talent he surrounds himself with, some say he is the quarterbacking savant who has unlocked the potential of this team, and others simply think he is fine. But one thing is for sure: Purdy has won games, led his team to a come-from-behind victory against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, mounted a historic comeback against the Detroit Lions to win the NFC Championship, and is currently a starting quarterback in the Super Bowl.
This Super Bowl is the chance for many of these people to find vindication. Can Shanahan finally win the big game? Can the talented Niners’ defense stop teams when it matters most? And can Purdy show that he belongs in the conversation of the best quarterbacks in the league? How fitting that these demons can only be exorcised by beating the team that stole the Super Bowl from them back in 2020. The pressure is as high as it has ever been for this team, and time will tell if they can rise to the occasion.