The Chiefs’ Travis Kelce is the premier pass-catching tight end in the game and a security blanket for quarterback Patrick Mahomes in coach Andy Reid’s offense. His versatility as a receiver will be a challenge for a 49ers defense that will be pressed to contain the Chiefs’ speed at wide receiver. Kelce can line up anywhere and beat any defender and has a knack for getting open on third down.
The 49ers counter with safety Jaquiski Tartt, who has been excellent against tight ends this season (although he allowed a 42-yard pass to the Packers’ Jimmy Graham in the NFC Championship Game). Linebackers Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander also figure to match up against Kelce. As good as the 49ers have been defensively, Kelce is a big-play threat on every down.
With an offensive line that appears perfectly in sync, the 49ers’ running game is on a glorious roll (42 carries for 285 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game after 47 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the divisional round against the Vikings).
Tevin Coleman had 22 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings. Castoff Raheem Mostert had a record-setting 220 yards rushing and four touchdowns against the Packers.
Coleman has been limited in practice after suffering a dislocated right shoulder in the NFC Championship Game, but the 49ers are optimistic he’ll play in the Super Bowl.
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Because of an uncanny inventiveness, an intuitive escapability, a slew of weapons, a flair for the dramatic and no fear of failure, Mahomes is the biggest trump card in the game.
Mahomes, the NFL Most Valuable Player in 2018, rallied the Chiefs from a 24-0 deficit against the Texans in the divisional round and a 17-7 deficit against the Titans in the AFC Championship Game. He probably can’t pull that off against the 49ers’ defense, but he has a knack for avoiding trouble he can’t get out of.
Neither the Chiefs nor the 49ers have extensive Super Bowl experience, but that’s an overrated factor. The two-week window of preparation is much more important, especially with the pomp of Super Bowl week taking up half of that time.
Reid is famously successful with extra time to prepare. He’s 22-4 after a bye week in the regular season and playoffs in his coaching career. And he has been here before (although not since the 2004 season with the Eagles).
But Kyle Shanahan is no slouch in that department. The 49ers are 2-0 after a bye week this season, including a 27-10 victory against the Vikings in the divisional round. And in Super Bowl LI against the Patriots, Shanahan’s offense was ready from the start, as the Falcons opened a 28-3 lead before collapsing in the second half.
So the big question is, can Reid and Shanahan coach the game as well as they prepare for it?