49ers, Chiefs meet in rematch for Lombardi Trophy: A KC win would put Mahomes in select QB company

The ultimate game of the 2023 season takes place in Las Vegas on Sunday February 11 when the defending Super Bowl champs the Kansas City Chiefs (14-6) take on the San Francisco 49ers (14-5) in Super Bowl LVIII (58).

The Chiefs will be looking for their second straight Lombard Trophy (they defeated Philadelphia 38-35 on a last-second field goal a year ago) and the fourth in team history, while the 49ers will be looking for their sixth Super Bowl win, which would tie them with Pittsburgh and New England as the only three NFL franchises with six Lombardi Trophies.

SF and Dallas currently have five SB titles each.

You can bet the 49er faithful would like nothing more than to stick it to Jerry Jones’ team psyche and win No. 6.

Before we take a look at the game and some of the historical aspects of it, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing job first-year Houston Texas head coach DeMeco Ryans and rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud did for the hometown team this season.

Ryans, the former defensive coordinator of the 49ers, took a 3- win team and led them to 11 wins, the AFC South title and a dominating (45-14) win over Cleveland in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs. The Texans season ending on a disappointing note when they dropped a 34-10 decision to Baltimore in the AFC Division round. Stroud, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, had one of the best seasons a rookie quarterback has ever had in league history by throwing for 4,108 yards and 23 TDs (he missed two games in December after sustaining a concussion Dec. 10 against the Jets) and should be the Offensive Rookie of the Year when the NFL announces it awards winners on Feb. 8 on CBS and Ryans should be Coach of the Year. If he isn’t, they should retire the award.

The future is indeed bright for the Texans, but fans should be aware that by winning their division, Houston will play a much tougher schedule in 2024 (they will have to play fellow division winners Kansas City, Buffalo, and Baltimore just for starters). They could also lose some players to free agency, but with their success and a dynamic head coach, other free agents might want to give Houston a serious look. The Texans need another weapon at wide receiver to help out Stroud and need to improve the running game.

Now it’s up to the front office to get Ryans and Stroud the help they need to go even further in 2024, and maybe, just maybe, put them in the same position the Chiefs and 49ers are.

Speaking of this year’s Super Bowl, it has the makings of another classic. These two teams met four years ago in Super Bowl 54 in Miami. The 49ers carried a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, but KC QB Patrick Mahomes lead the Chiefs to 21 points, en route to a 31-20 win, giving Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid their first championship. The Chiefs are definitely the class of the NFL, having played in six straight AFC title games and four of the last five Super Bowls. They kind of remind me of a certain baseball team that calls Minute Maid Park home!

Last year, the dynamic duo won their second title as Harrison Butker kicked the game-winning field goal with just seconds left to defeat a game Eagles team, 38-35.

Should Mahomes win on Sunday in the City of Lost Wages, he would become just the fifth quarterback in NFL history to win three or more Lombardi Trophies. Tom Brady leads the way with 7, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw have four each and Troy Aikman has three.

The Chiefs are also looking to become just the sixth NFL franchise to win back-to-back titles. Green Bay won SB I and II, Miami won back-to-back in SB VII and VIII, while Pittsburgh did it twice with wins in SB IX and X and XIII and XIV and Denver did it in SB XXXII and XXXIII. Dallas was the last team to win back-to-back titles when Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys dominated SBs XXVII and XXVIII.

This will be KC’s sixth Super Bowl (they played in the first one in 1967, in 1970, 2020, 2021 and 2023), while SF will be making its eighth appearance (1982, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1995, 2013 and 2020).

Both teams took different routes to get to Vegas. The Chiefs struggled during the regular season as the offense sputtered and Mahomes lacked a go-to receiver. Even reliable tight end Travis Kelce (93 receptions, 984 yards, 5 TDs) was not his usual dependable self, but he and his QB have come alive in the playoffs.

Mahomes (4,183 yards, 27 TDS/14 interceptions during regular season) and Kelce have been on a roll in their first three playoff games. Mahomes has completed 70-103 (68%) passes for 718 yards, with four TDs and no interceptions, while Kelce has grabbed 23 passes for 262 yards and 3 TDs. While Mahomes struggled to find a dependable wide receiver during the regular season, he seems to be clicking with rookie wideout Rashee Rice (79 receptions, 938 yards, 7 TDs in regular season) as Rice has latched on to 20 passes for 223 yards and one TD in the postseason. Having a second goto guy has been a huge boost to Mahomes and the KC offense.

The Chiefs also have a solid running game led by second-year man Isiah Pacheco (935 yards, 7 TDs in regular season as the former seventh-round draft choice has picked up 254 yards on 63 carries (4 yards a carry) with three TDs.

Many figured the Chiefs would be finished when they lost the home field advantage to Baltimore and had to play back-to-back playoff games on the road for the first time in Mahomes’ career. KC accepted the challenge with a 27-24 win at Buffalo and a 17-10 win at Baltimore in the AFC title game.

While the offense appears to have found itself, the defense has carried this team for much of the season and continues to be the strength heading into the Big One on Sunday. KC’s defense has allowed 41 points (13 points per game) in its first three playoff games. The Chiefs defense collected 57 sacks during the regular season, along with eight interceptions. SF will need to slow down edge rusher George Karlafis (10.5 sacks in regular season) and big and quick defensive tackle Chris Jones (10.5 sacks in regular season) if it hopes to have a chance on Sunday.

While Mahomes is connecting with new weapons, SF QB Brock Purdy has a plethora of talent to turn to on offense. Purdy (4,280 yards, 31 TDs in regular season) has struggled a bit in the 49ers first two playoff games, but he rallied them for home wins over the Packers (24-21) and led SF from a 24-7 deficit in the NFC title game to a 34-31 win over Detroit by leading the 49ers to 27 second-half points. This will be Purdy’s (43-70 519 yards, 2 TDs/1 interception in the playoffs) first big test, and how well he handles the pressure will be a key factor if the 49ers are to win the game.

The 49ers have perhaps the best offensive weapon between the two teams with running back Christian McCaffrey (1,459 rushing yards, 14 TDS/67 receptions, 564 yards, 7 TDs in the regular season. McCaffrey has rushed for an additional 188 yards and 4 TDs in the playoffs. The KC defense must slow him down if it hopes to win its second straight SB title.

Purdy also has three solid options in the passing game in wide receivers Deebo Samuel (60 receptions, 892 yards, 7 TDs in regular season), Brandon Aiyuk (75 receptions, 1,342 yards, 7 TDs) and tight end George Kittle (65 receptions, 1,020 yards, 6 TDs). In the playoffs, Samuel was injured early in the Green Bay game but returned for the NFC title game and has grabbed 10 passes for 113 yards, while Aiyuk has 6 catches for 100 yards and 1 TD. Kittle also has 6 catches for 108 yards and a TD in the playoffs.

The Chiefs front seven must first slow McCaffrey, which is a tall task. Don’t be surprised if head coach Kyle Shanahan (whose father Mike won back-to-back Super Bowls with Denver) has Purdy come out throwing it all over the place to help calm him down and keep the KC defense on its toes. If the 49ers can be successful early with the passing game, that will make McCaffrey all the more dangerous as the game progresses.

The 49ers defense has some issues in the secondary, but its front seven can rush the passer as well at Nick Bosa (10.5 sacks) and Co. recorded 46 sacks and picked off 21 passes this season.

Mahomes, though, is such a cool customer who can move around in the pocket to avoid pressure. The KC offensive line is a veteran bunch and takes pride in keeping Mahomes upright.

SF linebackers Fred Warner and Drew Greenlaw have the speed and quickness to keep up with Kelce. I would expect them to be tasked with keeping tabs on the tight end with the famous girlfriend (I won’t mention her name) all afternoon.

This game should be competitive and could be high scoring since it will be played on a fast turf indoors at Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium. I expect another nail-biter, just like last year’s game.

Purdy has proven he can shake off a bad start and be there when his team needs him the most, but it’s tough to bet against Mahomes and Reid. All they’ve heard all year is that their time at the top has come to an end, but all they’ve done is keep proving the critics wrong.

Look for Mahomes and Kelce to be the key players down the stretch, as Mahomes leads the Chiefs to their second straight Super Bowl win and third in the last five years. It’s been an amazing ride, and it’s not done yet. My pick, Kansas City 33, San Francisco 31