Super Bowl 54 is expected to be one for the ages. A year after last year’s snoozer between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, we have what figures to be a thrilling matchup between a couple of teams that have been among the NFL’s elite all season long.
The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs have never met one another in a playoff game. Despite being two of the league’s oldest and most iconic franchises, the Niners and Chiefs have rarely crossed paths at all. San Francisco is 7-6 all-time across 13 regular season meetings with Kansas City. The Chiefs picked up a 38-27 win over the Niners in their most recent clash in September of the 2018 season.
Despite the Niners having finished the season with a better record than the Chiefs, the vast majority of the betting action has come on Kansas City to win Super Bowl 54. The game opened as a pick’em at most sportsbooks and NFL betting sites, but oddsmakers quickly shifted the spread in favor of the Chiefs after a massive amount of early money came in on Kansas City.
The betting amounts have evened out since then, but the Chiefs have steadily maintained their status as favorites in the days leading up to the game. As of this writing, BetOnline has the Chiefs listed as 1-point favorites to beat the 49ers.
While the Chiefs have the edge, there is clearly plenty of merit to betting on the Niners to pull the upset. Here are a few things that make San Francisco an appealing underdog betting option to win Super Bowl 54.
Nobody Has Stopped This Running Game
Just ask the Green Bay Packers what the 49ers’ strength is. This is a team without many holes, but their offensive game plan is simple. They’re going to run the ball right down your throat, and you’re probably not going to be able to stop them.
The Niners cruised to an easy 27-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round thanks to a dominant showing on the ground. Tevin Coleman racked up 105 yards with a pair of rushing touchdowns as the Niners rushed for 186 yards on a whopping 47 attempts. Jimmy Garoppolo threw just 19 passes. They didn’t need to throw the ball, so why should they even try?
The NFC Championship Game was one for the ages, as Raheem Mostert racked up 220 yards with 4 rushing scores of his own in the 37-20 demolition of Green Bay. In all, the 49ers accrued 285 yards on 42 attempts for an average of nearly 7 yards per carry. Garoppolo had to attempt just 8 passes all game long.
The Chiefs’ defense is vastly improved over the one we saw a season ago, but I’ll believe someone can slow this running game down when I see it. The Niners have gotten this far without having to really use Matt Breida, who happens to be the most explosive of the 3-headed monster the Niners typically rely on in the backfield. Breida has 9 carries for 19 yards so far in these playoffs.
Kansas City did a good job of slowing down Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship Game, but the Titans were also forced to take to the air more often than they would have liked after falling into a halftime deficit.
The 49ers rushed for 144.1 yards per game during the regular season. Only Lamar Jackson’s Ravens, who ran for an absurd 206 yards per game, were more prolific in the ground game. Suggesting the Chiefs should force Garoppolo to beat them is an easy thing to say, but it’s a much more difficult thing to actually do.
If Mostert, Coleman and co. are able to gash the Chiefs early and often, Sunday could be a long, grueling and unpleasant afternoon for the Kansas City defense.
The 49ers Can Keep Patrick Mahomes Sidelined
Other than taking a physical toll on the opposing defense, controlling the game with the ground attack can also help the 49ers set the tempo of Super Bowl 54. If this game turns into a track meet, the Niners are in trouble. San Francisco has plenty of playmakers, but they’re not an offense designed to run-and-gun with the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and the rest of the Chiefs’ high-octane attack.
Slowing the game down and controlling the clock is something the 49ers absolutely have to accomplish offensively if they want to pull the upset. One of the main reasons the Chiefs have garnered so much of the early betting interest is because of Mahomes. Garoppolo is a nice player, but the Chiefs clearly have an edge when it comes to the quarterback position.
So, a key for San Francisco will be to ensure that Mahomes will have limited opportunities to inflict damage. The best way to do so is to keep him on the sidelines as the 49ers’ offense manages the game with the rushing attack.
Time of possession is a telling stat in the NFL. San Francisco held the ball for 38 of the game’s 60 minutes in the Divisional Round against Minnesota. The Packers had more possession in the NFC Championship Game, but that had more to do with the Niners being able to break off a number of massive scoring plays that killed possessions early. San Francisco led 27-0 at the half.
The Niners Can Rush the Passer
The 49ers have endured several lean years since losing at the hands of the Ravens in Super Bowl 47. In fact, this was the team’s first season since 2013 with a winning record. Over the course of their 5-year playoff drought, the 49ers have consistently used premium draft picks on players capable of rushing the passer.
Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are all former first-round picks. Bosa, Buckner and Armstead were all first-round picks by the 49ers, while Ford was ironically the Chiefs’ first-round selection in 2014.
Eli Manning and the New York Giants pulled off two of the biggest Super Bowl upsets in history over the Patriots thanks to the team’s ability to generate pressure on Tom Brady. Brady is a master of picking teams apart when he’s given enough time to see the field. The Giants were one of the few teams capable of rattling the future Hall of Famer.
Obviously, the 49ers need to take a similarly aggressive approach when it comes to squaring off against Mahomes in Super Bowl 54. If the Chiefs’ offensive line is able to protect Mahomes and give him enough time to go through his reads, the Chiefs’ offense will be incredibly difficult to slow down.
According to Football Outsiders’ rankings, the 49ers had the second-best defense in football this season in terms of Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). Only New England was more prolific on that side of the football. San Francisco ranked fifth in the league with 48 sacks. Kirk Cousins was sacked 6 times in the Divisional Round by the 49er defense, while Aaron Rodgers was sacked 3 times in the conference title game.
San Francisco Generates Turnovers
Rushing the passer is typically thought of as the best way to slow down an elite offense. Obviously, taking the football away is the other. The 49ers are elite in terms of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, and they also happen to be elite in terms of generating turnovers.
Winning time of possession is important to an offense. Winning the turnover battle is often even more indicative of how a game will pan out. Whichever defense gets more takeaways has a clear advantage. The 49ers have been a whole lot better than the Chiefs in that regard.
The Niners have forced 5 turnovers through their first 2 postseason games. The Chiefs have only forced one, and it came on a kickoff return against the Texans. The defense is still looking for its first takeaway of these playoffs.
The 49ers ranked sixth in the league in takeaways during the regular season with a higher interception and fumble recovery rate than the Chiefs. Kansas City intercepted just 5 passes all season long, while the 49ers picked off 13.
The Super Bowl 54 Betting Value is Obvious
As mentioned, oddsmakers see this game as a toss-up. There’s a reason the matchup began as a pick’em. The only reason the Chiefs are favored is because the majority of the betting public sided with Mahomes and Kansas City early on.
Would either result truly surprise you? Certainly not. The 49ers have shown that they’re capable of beating anybody. So have the Chiefs. This figures to be one of the more closely-contested Super Bowls in quite some time, which is why there is so much anticipation.
Prognosticators seem to think this game could go either way. If that’s the case, the odds clearly don’t reflect it. The deluge of cash coming in on the Chiefs has left the 49ers in the enviable position of being plus-money underdogs.
Betting on a plus-money ‘dog in a game that seems to be a 50/50 proposition is generally appealing. The 49ers have looked like a championship-caliber team since Week 1, and they have been able to overcome a steady stream of injuries along the way. The Chiefs have been more up-and-down. Kansas City has Mahomes, but let’s not forget that the Ravens were the talk of the AFC all year long. Kansas City flew under the radar, for better or worse.
Combine that with Robert Saleh’s aggressive and ruthless defense and you have all the hallmarks of a Super Bowl-winning squad.
The game having a 1-point spread is just silly. Who on earth would bet on the Niners to cover a 1-point spread at -110 when you can simply bet the San Francisco moneyline at +105? The 49ers literally cannot cover a 1-point spread and lose. So, if you think they’re going to win, just take the plus odds that come with the moneyline. The conversation shifts if the line moves to KC -1.5, but as of now that SF moneyline just stands out as an obvious value.
The 49ers look awfully tempting as a betting underdog heading into Super Bowl 54.