There was a time this season when the San Francisco 49ers and their supporters had to wonder how far they could actually go. After looking virtually unbeatable, tney lost three consecutive games and looked confused offensively as they were without wide receiver Deebo Samuel and left tackle Trent Williams.
But they recovered, and later surged. As the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs, some BetOnline customers expected a cakewalk on the way to the Super Bowl. Well, they have gotten to the Super Bowl alright, but it has been anything but easy.
The Niners had a life-and-death struggle with both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. This was somewhat unforeseen. They came into those games as a favorite of a combined 18 points, but could have easily lost either.
So why in the world would we think they could beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night in Super Bowl 58?
Well, we are going to explain their case to you.
To begin with, as you'll see below, the Niners are a short favorite. And they have been comnfortable in that role this season, winning and covering all four times.
And their big story is the quarterback who was the last man taken in the draft. Brock Purdy of Iowa State has proven himself to be anything but "Mr. Irrelevant" as he picked up where he left off after getting injured in last season's NFC title game. He led the National Football League in yards per pass attempt, with 9.6, and he also was the highest-rated passer in the league. Of course, he was also named to the Pro Bowl roster.
He is a player much less experienced than his counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, but he has been able to respond to the pressure in his playoff games, leading comebacks in both of them. He is cold as ice, and he gets the ball down the field as well. Purdy averages 8.2 Intended Air Yards per attempt, which means he is not playing the "putt-putt" game. San Francisco is looking for some chunk plays here, and they have the weaponry to do it with.
The Niners convert. They are #3 in the league in third down conversion percentage and #1 in red zone touchdown percentage. This level of efficiency could mean they are less likely to squander opportunities than either Buffalo or Baltimore, who the Chiefs stopped in their last two playoff games.
In the Super Bowl 58 odds that have been posted on this game by the folks at BetOnline, the 49ers are laying a couple of points:
San Francisco 49ers -2
Kansas City Chiefs +2
Over 47.5 Points -105
Under 47.5 Points -115
One of the advantages Purdy has over Mahomes is that he can spread the ball around to more people. You can't place extra emphasis on any of their weapons, whether it is Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle or the incomparable Christian McCaffrey, who can burn an opponent on the ground (as the league's leading rusher) or through the air. And when you look at the fact that the Chiefs were outgained in each of their last two playoff games might offer a little comfort here.
With Trent Williams, the Niners have a premier pass protector to afford Purdy some time. And much of the time, they will have Pro Bowl caliber Jon Feliciano lined up opposite Chris Jones, who is Kansas City's most dangerous player on the defensive line.
We realize that the Chiefs have made some progress on both sides of the ball as the season came down the stretch, but even so, there are analytical advantages for San Francisco all over the place. Look at one of those analytics sites - Pro Football Focus - the 49ers are graded first in receiving, first in run offense and run blocking, third in overall defense and pass rush, third in pass coverage. Kansas City is no better than tenth in any of those categories.
There should exist a matchup advantage when San Francisco is on defense, as Nick Bosa and Chase Young might find the Kansas City tackles rather beatable. Because the Niners aren't likely to blitz, they could work a coverage scheme to thwart wide receiver Rashee Rice, or even Travis Kelce. At least one of them is likely to get a very bumpy time of it out there.
All they have to do is make sure Patrick Mahomes doesn't scramble his way to a victory. But such a thing is attainable.
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