Ross Williams provides four bets in his in-depth preview of the Super Bowl, where Kansas City Chiefs look to hold all the aces.
3pts Kansas City Chiefs to win Super Bowl LVIII at 11/10 (General)
2pts Brock Purdy (49ers) Over 12.5 Rushing Yards at 10/11 (General)
2pts Chris Jones (Chiefs) to record a sack at 27/20 (bet365)
1pt Travis Kelce (Chiefs) to be named Super Bowl MVP at 16/1 (General)
The Super Bowl. Las Vegas. A rematch. A relationship that has taken the world by storm. The potential of the ultimate underdog story.
It really doesn’t get any bigger than this.
We’ll begin with Brock Purdy. If he wins on Sunday, the movie that inevitably follows will be scarcely believable.
Less than two years ago, the former Iowa State quarterback endured three painstaking days at the 2022 NFL Draft before his name was called.
He was eventually selected by the 49ers with the 262nd – and final – pick of the Draft. As has become tradition, he was named ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ and joined a long line of players that have had the dubious honour of being picked last of all.
Until that point, Ryan Succop was probably the most successful Mr. Irrelevant in history, as he went on to win a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ironically at the Chiefs’ expense – in 2021.
However, with respect to special teamers everywhere, Succop is a kicker and the chances of a seventh-round kicker succeeding in the NFL far exceed those of a player who had seen eight other quarterbacks taken before him that very weekend.
Nevertheless, here we are.
Since relieving an injured Jimmy Garoppolo in week 13 of the 2022 season, Brock Purdy’s record as a starting NFL quarterback stands at 21-5.
In that time, he’s thrown 49 touchdowns, just 16 interceptions and in winning his first six starts – while throwing at least two touchdowns in each of those games – he made NFL history, as that had never been done in the history of the league.
Nothing about these stats makes sense. Purdy was an average-to-good QB at Iowa State and, prior to December 2022, his career-best honour was being named in the All-Big 12 teams of 2020 and 2021.
But we’ve all witnessed it. With a backstory that overshadows even Tom Brady’s remarkable tale, Purdy is all set to lead his 49ers into the biggest game of all.
If San Francisco were up against any other team in the NFL, I would fancy the ultimate fairytale to receive its fitting finale. Alas, their opponents are the Chiefs and despite their underdog status, Kansas City have to be respected as the juggernaut they are.
It’s clear that – no matter what happens – the 49ers will need to put up a significant amount of points in this game and Purdy will have to facilitate that.
But here come the problems.
The 49ers offensive line – outside of Trent Williams – isn’t as strong as some assume. In fact, it’s relatively weak in comparison to some of the other lines we’ve seen in the NFL’s showpiece event. San Francisco ranked 20th in the NFL for pass-block win-rate % in the regular season, despite a legitimate star in Williams at left tackle.
Kansas City’s defensive line has proven time and time again that it’s designed for big moments like these. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is a master at sending the right packages at the right time and he has a weapon in Chris Jones that can cause as much damage as anyone in the NFL.
Having recorded a pass-rush win-rate percentage second only to Aaron Donald this season, Jones looks fair value to record a sack in the game as he’ll essentially be used as a quarterback-seeking missile for large parts.
What has perhaps gone a little unnoticed in the build-up to this game is the sheer consistency of the Chiefs’ defence. The offence takes the headlines, but we’re talking about a unit that has not given up 30 points in any of its 20 games this season.
If they can follow suit on Sunday, they’ll be the first team in the 17-game regular season era to go a full year without conceding 30+ points at any stage.
Relying on beating Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and co. in one-on-one situations for 60 minutes is just too brazen, so the Chiefs will go after Purdy early on and put the pressure firmly on the young quarterback.
The start he’s had to his career has been phenomenal, but nothing can fully prepare a player for the Super Bowl and Purdy has struggled to get things going early in this playoff series.
Let’s not forget that the Niners found themselves 17 points down at half-time against Detroit last time out. If that happens Sunday, Usher may as well hand the Chiefs the Lombardi Trophy himself, mid-performance.
I expect to see a number of moments – particularly in the first half - where Purdy has no choice but to take off to avoid on-rushing danger.
He’s not a prototypical runner, but he’s cleared 12.5 yards in six games this season and – crucially – he’s put up 62 rushing yards across his two most recent games alone.
For that reason, I like Purdy’s chances of hitting his rushing yardage line, but I suspect the pressure will ultimately take its toll and limit his overall production.
My Sporting Life NFL colleague has gone enormous with his MVP shout for this year’s landmark game – opting for 49ers defensive back Dre Greenlaw at a cool 700/1 – but Matt Temple-Marsh has also called out the very distinct possibility of Travis Kelce making short work of his receiving yardage line, which has been set at around 70 yards by most bookmakers.
Kelce heading north of 70 yards is the foundation for what is already one of the most popular bets of Super Bowl week – and for good reason.
When the match-up was set almost a fortnight ago, it was possible to find quotes of 20/1 for the Chiefs’ tight-end to finish the night as MVP. Now, as the big day looms, prices have shortened to around 16/1 and may go shorter still.
Regardless, outside of tiny sprinkles on the truly huge-priced chances like Greenlaw, it’s tough to find better value than Kelce.
If we’re all honest, we know the ultimate reason for the steady price collapse. There’s a Grammy Award-winning elephant in the room.
Like it or loathe it, the presence of Taylor Swift at Allegiant Stadium will be documented from the moment she enters Nevada airspace. The Swift-Kelce story is the biggest of its kind since the Beckhams and it’s transcended Travis from future NFL Hall of Famer to bonafide global superstar.
He won’t win the award on Sunday via popularity alone, but the fact that 20% of the vote tally is decided by the viewing audience certainly gives him a leg-up. It’s also worth noting that the other 80% is decided by a panel of broadcasters and writers at the game. Coincidentally the same broadcasters and writers that have spent the past four months wearing out the K, E, L and C keys on their keyboards. They love a story.
Kelce needs to deliver a performance first, of course, if he’s going to become the first tight-end to claim the honour, but there’s little reason to suggest he can’t.
First of all, he’s not simply a tight end. Kelce is Patrick Mahomes’ #1 receiver option and with at least one more game to go in what has become a storied career, he’s defined himself as an all-time postseason great.
To date, he’s racked up 1,810 receiving yards in playoff appearances, at an average of 86 yards per game. The fact that his regular season career average is 71 yards per game speaks to Kelce’s uncanny ability to turn up in the big moments.
As for scoring, his current postseason touchdown tally stands at 19 in 21 games. That’s four more TDs than the great Rob Gronkowski and only three short of legendary 49ers receiver Jerry Rice, who played a whopping 29 playoff games. If Kelce sticks around for another season or two, there’s little doubt that he will finish up as the NFL’s all-time scoring leader in the playoffs.
He’ll need to score (at least) his 20th postseason TD this Sunday to be in consideration for MVP honours, but he’s more than capable.
Kansas City’s #87 scored two against the Bills in the Divisional Round and found the endzone in a remarkable AFC Championship performance at Baltimore, in which he caught all eleven balls that came his way to the tune of 116 yards.
So, can the 49ers stop him?
It can’t be ruled out, but Kelce has played 179 games since entering the league in 2013 and the odds of a team finally discovering his kryptonite on appearance no. 180 are pretty slim.
The 49ers can opt to double and potentially even triple-cover Kelce for as long as possible on Sunday, which would certainly limit his effectiveness in the short-term, but against arguably the most-talented quarterback we’ve ever seen in Patrick Mahomes, it’s an approach that can be exploited quickly.
There’s an argument to be made about the quality of the Chiefs’ other receivers, but Mahomes has made excellent use of rookie Rashee Rice this season and – albeit inconsistent – there are other flashes of talent and explosiveness on the outside for Kansas City. They can’t be completely ignored, as the history books show.
If Mahomes can make some plays to his other options early and cause San Francisco to revert to their more comfortable zone-defensive scheme, they’ll be rendered practically helpless as Kelce strikes and strikes hard.
Four years ago in Super Bowl LIV, San Francisco committed to stopping #87.
Kelce scored a touchdown anyway, while Tyreek Hill and a resurgent Sammy Watkins ran riot in easier match-ups with over 200 yards between them, securing the win.
That’s the dilemma facing the Niners and I’m hopeful that the scars of what Mahomes did to them in 2020 will be too deep to ignore. They must take on Kelce and, if he beats them, so be it.
Traditionally the MVP award goes to the quarterback and the market reflects that. But with Kelce so essential to the Chiefs’ game-plan, the deafening media furore around his very-public relationship and the recent history of Cooper Kupp and Julian Edelman scooping the award from the receiver position, 16/1 looks to be a very backable price.
There are thousands of numbers and stat lines that I could add to this preview, beyond what I’ve already shared. But, sometimes the eye-test and a gut feeling is as important as anything.
Through three games of these NFL playoffs, Kansas City have looked like a team that know exactly how to reach and win a Super Bowl. The reason for that, of course, is because they do.
They’ve ran a gauntlet of the best the AFC has had to throw at them and looked impressive in victory.
The 49ers have shown some grit in coming back from deficits in two straight games, but they’ve also rode some luck along the way due to poor starts and some interesting coaching decisions from their opposition.
It’s been beneath their usual standards and they can be better – we’ve seen it – but the preparation is far from ideal.
From a psychological point-of-view, it feels like KC have the edge. Head coach Andy Reid and his star quarterback are seasoned winners at this stage, on the brink of securing a dynasty.
While San Francisco are hunting for a first Championship in almost 30 years, with a head coach haunted by that previous defeat four years ago and the part he played in the Super Bowl’s ultimate humiliation as a member of the Atlanta Falcons’ staff on a fateful night in 2017.
And they’re telling me the Chiefs are underdogs?
Don’t overthink it.
Posted at 1715 GMT on 08/02/24
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