So it’s Super Bowl weekend and oh boy aren’t we excited about this matchup, the San Francisco 49ers taking on the Kansas City Chiefs for the biggest prize in American sports. There’s just one question to be asked first:
How about the fact that 49ers veterans Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Sanders each have as many Super Bowl appearances themselves as the entire Chiefs roster combined? And then there’s arguably the two best tight ends in the game today — San Francisco’s George Kittle and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce — squaring off on football’s biggest stage.
I could go on and on. This game has so many angles to cover, so many matchups to explore. But they’re all dancing around the one basic question everyone wants to know: What’s going to happen at Hard Rock Stadium on February 2nd?
Below are five numbers to arm you with the predictive contextualised information that is most likely to determine who will win the Lombardi Trophy … and who’ll just be picking 31st in the 2020 NFL Draft in Las Vegas. These figures flag as the most important factors when it comes to forecasting each team’s ability to earn (or prevent) first downs and touchdowns.
The Niners have rushed the ball on 81.8% of first down snaps in their two postseason wins. These rushes per game averaged 4.86 yards, with 4 rushes of 10 plus yards.
The Chiefs have only rushed ball on 43.8 % of first down snaps in their past two games, but averaging 5.5 yards and six rushes of 10 plus yards – over the course of the regular and postseason, both defences have yielded 4.72 yards per rush on first down, and in the past two playoff games, each has allowed more than 72% of passes to be completed.
Since the start of last season, 16 of Patrick Mahomes’ 17 interceptions have come when the defence rushes four or fewer players. Next Gen Stats shows that dropping seven or more into coverage is a strategy that Niners’ defensive coordinator should employ against the chiefs.
San Francisco has been able get pressure on opposing passers on a number of occasions, 33.5 % to be exact, a figure that would top the league if Ford had played enough snaps.
When George Kittle is on the field, the Niners average 5.6 yards per rush on outside-the-tackles runs, per NGS. When Kittle is off the field, outside-the-tackles rushing gains drop to 3.3 yards per rush. Kittle also has forced the most missed tackles among tight ends (20, per PFF), with Travis Kelce ranking second (18).
No quarterback this season has a higher yards per attempt on deep passes (20-plus air yards) than Jimmy Garoppolo‘s 20.3. His 58.1 completion percentage on such passes also paces the NFL.
Part of the reason for this? In Kyle Shanahan’s prolific scheme, per NGS, receivers have averaged a league-best 2.9 yards of separation on deep passes. Another element of efficiency? Emmanuel Sanders’ precise route-running has drawn defenders away from other pass catchers, earning him the eighth-highest off-ball win share among receivers, per my win share model.
Here’s the thing, though: Garoppolo only throws deep balls on 6.2 percent of his passing attempts — the lowest figure among qualified quarterbacks. So Jimmy G and the Niners pick their spots on when to go downfield.
While shutting down deep passes is a source of strength for the Niners’ defence, completing deep passes is where the Chiefs’ offence thrives.
Despite missing two games due to injury, Mahomes leads the NFL with 13 deep touchdown passes this season. The Chiefs have the most receptions of 30-plus (34) and 40-plus yards (20) this season. Not only have these passes kept the chains moving fast for Kansas City, but the Chiefs have scored 24 touchdowns of at least 20 yards.