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By: Ryan Watkins
The BFTB Staff talk through their picks for Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas as the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Here we are Bolts From The Blue! The culmination of every regular season of the National Football League is the Super Bowl and after 284 games over 21 weeks, the pinnacle of the 2024 season is upon us. Super Bowl LVIII (or 58 for those who prefer modern digits) will see a rematch of Super Bowl LIV (54) as the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs will face off at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Chiefs emerged victorious from that game four years ago so will history repeat itself or will we see an entirely different type of game? Let’s find out.
Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid’s version of the Chiefs is a dynasty, there is no denying that now. Four Super Bowl appearances in the last five seasons is quite frankly ridiculous. Whilst credit should rightly go to the championship caliber combination of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs’ duo of Reid and Brett Veach should be afforded more respect for executing the toughest requirement of continued success: change. Every single year a different type of winner emerges on Super Bowl Sunday, so for any team to have recurrent prosperity they need to be able to reinvent themselves to stay one step ahead of their opponents. In past seasons the Chiefs have been able to metamorphose, to begin again, without losing ground however this season was different. Think back to December when the Chiefs lost three games out of five, the same number as they lost all of last season meaning they came into the playoffs needing to play in their first wildcard game of the Mahomes era. Their offense was struggling to find consistency but since then this renaissance team have been able to find a way to shake it off and move onto yet another new style of winning football games; with an elite defense.
Steve Spagnuolo’s defense has been suffocating teams, in the AFC Championship game they held the Baltimore Ravens to 10 points and have not conceded more than 27 points all season long. Chargers’ fans know all too well how hard this team is to score on even in a bad year but the level they are playing at right now is unprecedented. Once you switch on the All-22 you can see why, the recruitment of Veach combined with Spags’ visionary use of coverage disguises make it the hardest secondary to play against in the league. The way Spags has achieved this is with trap coverages and creative blitz packages especially from the slot, this is a trend we are going to see more of next season as the rest of the league catches up to what the innovators are doing. One player who has really benefited from Spags’ unique blitz calls is Drue Tranquil. When Andy Reid messaged the former Charger “See red and think Super Bowls” in the off season, I don’t think he even predicted just how heavily he would be involved he would be in such a key position.
Reid’s offense has slowly started to earn back their reputation after a regular season to forget. At one point their receivers were arguably the weakest group in the league but as this offense struggled to find its place in the world, one receiver earnt Mahomes’ trust enough to make it so that he’s not forced to play superman just to move the chains. Rashee Rice and his ability after the catch has gotten his side out of the woods in plenty of tight situations, in fact over the course of the regular season Rice ranked third among all wide receivers with 653 yards after the catch. Another new factor has been the growth of sophomore running back Isiah Pacheco who has introduced a genuine ground game which has allowed Reid to finally utilize the run to take some heat off of Mahomes.
Since Mahomes last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy 12 months ago, everything has changed. There may be a new scheme and a new set of contributors but at the same time, there is nothing new about the key components. The duo of Mahomes and Kelce has been as potent as ever, their fearless approach to finding a connection in the most improbable ways means if their opponents leave these two with even 13 seconds left on the clock, they might see sparks fly in the wrong direction.
Challenge for the readers; find all the Taylor Swift references there were in the above section and let me know in the comments how many you thought there were.
San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive innovators of my lifetime but he has fallen short in both the Super Bowls he has had a part to play in, once with the Atlanta Falcons as their offensive coordinator and the other was to the Chiefs on this very stage four years ago as a head coach. For me as a film based analyst he doesn’t need a ring to define his impact on the league but there are plenty of fans who wouldn’t agree. The ‘titles define legacies’ crowd will really be out in full voice should Kyle fail to earn himself a ring with the incredible talent he has at his disposal on both sides of the ball. John Lynch has been as dominant in the front office as he was on the field, assembling a litany of stars that could, on paper, rival any super team since the salary cap was introduced.
On offense the conversation always needs to start with Christian McCaffrey who is, for me, the only running back who defies the conventional wisdom of their replacement value. CMC is seemingly immune to the expected fall off age, he is 27 and has been a bell cow three down back since he was 18 years old logging 2650 touches over that time. However his longevity whilst admirable isn’t what matters in a Super Bowl, it is the fact that he is the best back in the league by some distance. McCaffrey is consistently explosive and has great vision especially in the zone concepts than Shanahan has built his offense around.
So when take CMC and you add a pair of elite receivers, the criminally underrated Brandon Aiyuk and the versatile weapon Deebo Samuel, on top of a top three tight end in George Kittle, the best left tackle maybe ever in Trent Williams and the best full back in the league in Kyle Juszczyk, you can start to see why Brock Purdy is such a polarizing quarterback. Mr Irrelevant 2022 is the most challenging case in the league for the system vs talent discourse, yet for me it is pretty simple; Kyle Shanahan needs a high level operator with exceptional timing and a talented enough arm which he found in Purdy. If your team has a complex offense that has enough layers built in that it only needs someone to point and shoot (CC: Miami Dolphins) then he’s one of the best in the league for it. If your team needs a creator and a leader then he isn’t that. Purdy is a good enough captain of this AI powered wonder-ship; he is good enough to win this game but he is also not quite good enough to win this game on his own.
On Defense they have play makers at all three levels but it is the front seven that is their strength. Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, Chase Young, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave and Dre Greenlaw. That list shouldn’t be contained to one roster, that could be a Pro Bowl list in itself! Still though, this side of the ball has underperformed of late. Steve Wilks was able to set a very simple and static system and let his stars shine earlier in the season but the better coaches have been able to scheme their way around it. This philosophy of letting your players win is always a risky one at this time of year because the margins for success are so small but if they get it right, their star power can overwhelm even the best play designs with pure talent.
DraftKings Sportsbook opened their books with the 49ers as very narrow favorites however they have since grown into owning a 2-point spread. Interestingly the underdogs have won the last three Super Bowls but the last time a favorite won was when the Chiefs beat the Niners in 2020. The total points mark has been set at 47.5 which projects as about average for a Super Bowl however it is interesting to note that before last year’s shootout, the under had landed five straight times.
There are plenty of battles all over the field that will fill the sports panel talk shows air time over the next three days but I’m going to talk about what I think are the areas where each time can take advantage the most:
Spags vs Purdy’s Eyes
If you had a full year to come up with a perfect system to stop Brock Purdy it would be exactly like Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme. His two-high, disguise-heavy coverages are going to be very tricky to read pre-snap because of the levels of detail he goes to shifting after the snap.
Spags, you beautiful genius. Chiefs flip from two-high to one-high to a 2-Man coverage, and Tua has a WT entire F moment. pic.twitter.com/Fo7KgXh32J
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) January 14, 2024
On top of reading these nightmare inducing coverages he will also have to identify potential blitz concepts and Spags takes these to another level with his innovative usage of apex 5 man pressures. His slot corner blitzes are becoming a favorite tool to throw off pass protection calls so if Purdy hasn’t been able to spot when these are coming then this could spell trouble. Spags relies on quarterbacks reverting to the old trope of throwing to where the pressure is coming from, he hopes they do this as his coverage rolls mean there are takeaway opportunities for this elite level secondary.
Chiefs’ kicking advantage
When it comes to big time games, you need a big time kicker. The Chiefs have a significant advantage here as is by far and away a better kicker in all respects but especially on drives where his team are looking to steal points on a short clock.
- Harrison Butker – 12/12 over 40 yards with a longest of 60
- Jake Moody – 6/9 over 40 yards with a longest of 57
I see this playing a big role in a high scoring game. The question for me is whether Moody has his coaches’ trust to deliver or will they decide to take a page from Dan Campbell’s book and gamble on their explosive offense in a critical moment of the game.
49ers zone run game vs chiefs zone run defense
If the Chiefs do run a lot of two-high as I expect they will, then the 49ers should run the ball mercilessly until they change that fact. Their zone running game is pure art to watch, the sequential timing and blocking techniques should be studied by every player and coach in the game. It also happens to be one of the very few weaknesses of the Chiefs’ defense. The issue here is whether Shanahan is willing to run the ball down their throats drive after drive even if it’s not yielding points, even if they are behind? I sincerely doubt that will be the case and it may be their downfall.
4. The 49ers use zone blocking on a large majority (~75%) of their rush attempts.
The Chiefs run defense against runs with zone blocking:
– 4.62 yards per carry (29th)
– 51.9% success rate (29th)
– 31st in stuff rate
— Connor Allen (@ConnorAllenNFL) February 5, 2024
Mahomes vs Quarters Coverage
In Super Bowl LIV (54) Patrick Mahomes struggled through the first 50 minutes of the game mainly due to the 49ers usage of quarters coverage and their dominant pass rush. The league was only just getting to understand this type of coverage so Mahomes hadn’t seen much of it, since then however he has become the best in the league at picking it apart because he is always willing to take the easy shots underneath to his YAC monsters in Kelce, Rice and Pacheco. The 49ers run this at 23.5% of the time, their most used coverage so if they are going to rely on this to slow down Pat again, they may regret it.
Overall I see the key matchup will be the Chiefs’ defense against the 49ers offense and here is where the game will be won or lost. If the 49ers are willing to stick with their zone running game for four quarters and build everything off of that then it might be enough to keep pace with Mahomes & Co. Unfortunately for San Francisco fans I don’t see this happening, instead I think a panicked Kyle Shanahan will see ghosts of his past once Steve Spagnuolo starts to slowly unroll his disguised looks and he will feel the need to chase the game. Once this happens Purdy is going to force the ball somewhere his arm can’t achieve and the game will be done from there as Andy Reid is a master at stealing points away from turnovers.
All of this culminates in the Chiefs emerging as back to back Super Bowl champions, much to my dismay. I do not want it to happen and I really sincerely hope I am wrong however if this happens as I see it playing out so then there are some positives: a) we are all minorly richer, b) Mahomes gets bored of completing the main story and goes on side quests like winning MVP again and c) Kelce and Reid retire at the pinnacle never to terrorize the AFC West again.
Therefore my betslip looks like the following; my best bet of the day is taking the Chiefs moneyline at +100, and I also like the under 47.5 total points to land at -108. An additional prop bet I really like is Kyle Juszczyk Alternate Receiving Yards 25 + at +475. This hit against the Detroit Lions and I think he will act as a blitz relief option for Purdy this time so he could go for even more.
Here is how the BFTB staff sees the Super Bowl breaking down:
What do you think, BFTB? Are any of you placing bets on Super Bowl LIV?
Originally posted on Bolts From The Blue – All Posts