Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell: 49ers beat Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV

Feb 2, 2020 at 8:26 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers are hours away from a chance to secure the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy.

Standing in the way of this happening in Super Bowl LIV are the Kansas City Chiefs, who are listed as 1.5-point favorites, according to the Action Network. The Chiefs have been quite the story this season, reaching the NFL finale for the first time in 50 years and earning their own shot to secure their head coach, Andy Reid, his first Super Bowl title ever.

Then there's quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The 2018 MVP might be reason enough to give Kansas City the edge, although the Niners boasted the No. 1 pass defense in the league over the course of 2019. Most would probably argue Mahomes is higher up on the quarterbacking list than his San Francisco counterpart, Jimmy Garoppolo, especially in this postseason where Garoppolo hasn't been asked to pass much at all.

Yet ESPN's Bill Barnwell pointed out something about quarterback matchups that might be rather enticing in this contest: The best signal-caller doesn't always find himself on the winning side:

Would you believe that the team with the better quarterback in the Super Bowl actually has a losing record? I went back to Super Bowl I and measured each starting quarterback's adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) during the regular season, and the passer with the better AY/A of the two has won just 20 of the 53 Super Bowls, which is just below 38%. ... Amazingly, the inferior quarterback by AY/A has won each of the past nine Super Bowl matchups. The last quarterback to win a Super Bowl as the superior passer was Drew Brees over Peyton Manning in 2009. The ensuing nine-year run includes paper mismatches such as Joe Flacco vs. Colin Kaepernick, the last embers of Peyton Manning vs. Cam Newton, and Nick Foles vs. Tom Brady, and I mentioned the biggest quarterback mismatches in Super Bowl history as part of my preview.

Garoppolo vs. Mahomes isn't really a mismatch by AY/A. Mahomes averaged 8.9 AY/A this season, while Garoppolo was at 8.3 AY/A in his first full season starting for Shanahan.

Barnwell concluded the "better" quarterback doesn't necessarily lose the Super Bowl, rather a team having a superior quarterback doesn't boast the history of winning the big game the majority of the time.

So, who does Barnwell predict will win Super Bowl LIV?

Most predictions have this as a close game, as the odds suggest. And according to Barnwell, the 49ers win by a score, 27-23. His rationale makes sense, too:

The 49ers won't shut down Mahomes, and I would be worried about a fourth-quarter comeback if the 49ers are winning once the pass rush begins to tire and Reid finds a weakness, but this is the best defense Mahomes has faced during the postseason by a considerable margin. The 49ers should be better along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in this game, and that has won football games for a century now.

According to Barnwell, the 49ers do this on offense by targeting the Chiefs linebackers, Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson, who are both liabilities in pass coverage. On the defensive side of the ball, the Niners have to account for two of Kansas City's top pass catchers, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who create obvious mismatch problems. But those are somewhat negated by San Francisco's ability to rush only four against Mahomes, dropping back as many as seven defenders into coverage.

If that approach works well enough, Barnwell's prediction could wind up being correct.

The 49ers and Chiefs kick off Super Bowl LIV at 6:30 p.m. ET from Hard Rock Stadium.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.

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