Two terrific and efficient offensive units are going to be on display in Super Bowl LIV. The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers both finished the 2019 regular season as top-5 scoring offences, and haven’t disappointed in the NFL playoffs thus far. In four combined games this postseason, the lowest amount of points scored by either side in a single game was 27 (Niners vs. Vikings).
The involvement of the quarterback in these two offences is very different. Patrick Mahomes is the ultimate playmaker that is able to have a good game while throwing a lot, as he did against the Titans with 35 pass attempts. Considering that he’s also effective on the ground and under pressure, there’s nothing the former Texas Tech product and 2018 NFL MVP can’t do right now. He opens as a +125 favorite to win the Super Bowl LIV Most Valuable Player award, according to BetOnline.
On the other hand, Jimmy Garoppolo completed 6 of 8 passes for 77 yards amid true domination by Raheem Mostert and the 49ers running game versus Green Bay. However, Jimmy G proved more than once that he could deliver in close games and win games throwing the ball. The 49ers’ plan should be to prioritise their ground game against a subpar Chiefs rush defence but if that doesn’t work out, Garoppolo has enough weapons to lead the Niners.
On February 2nd, they will face off in Miami in their teams’ effort to capture the Lombardi Trophy.
QB Comparison – the numbers
Mahomes – 319/484, 65.9 %, 4 031 pass yards, 26 TD, 5 INT, 105.3 rating (7th in NFL)
Garoppolo – 329/476, 69.1 %, 3 978 pass yards, 27 TD, 13 INT, 102.0 rating (8th)
Both quarterbacks have been limited due to either an injury or team tactics and that’s why their stat lines aren’t so impressive. Then you add up the fact the three of the 6 QBs that are ranked higher in passer rating have played 12 games or less.
There was no question about Mahomes whatsoever after an MVP performance in his first full year in pro football. He missed two games because of an injury and has been lights-out since then. While the KC defence has experienced its fair share of improvement, Mahomes’ resurgence has been the true catalyst for the Chiefs and his playoff performance more than serves as evidence for his place amongst the league’s best. His efforts have amounted to a fascinating 131.5 passer rating between the games against the Texans and the Titans.
Things are different in Santa Clara. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have established a great core that’s made for a balanced football team. Defence and running game carry the Niners, and it’s been that way almost all season long. Garoppolo has had a few games when he’s been asked to just hand the football off, and Sunday Night was peak 2019 49ers.
Yet, he’s always been successful doing what he’s asked to do. He was good at that even when he has a backup to Tom Brady in New England and has kept doing so in north California. He’s more accurate than Mahomes despite making nearly the same number of attempts and has given up the ball less often after a rough start to the season with 4 interceptions in three games.
Kyle Shanahan pretty avidly doesn’t hesitate about giving him a vaster role if he thinks the ground game can’t win it for him. Jimmy G’s wins over New Orleans and Arizona during the regular season prove than he could deliver when given more workload.
The road to the Big Game
Patrick Mahomes: He had an incredible finish to the still-ongoing 2019 NFL season but it’s also worth acknowledging the fashion Mahomes began the campaign in. Mahomes threw for over 350 passing yards in all of his first three games of the season. Following Week 6 he was 5-1 and was on pace to best Peyton Manning’s passing yards single-season record.
Five days later, he had to be carted off in the second quarter against the Broncos. He missed the next two games and returned in the middle of November against the Titans. He lost that game despite a strong effort in which he recorded a rating of 119.3 in his return.
Two shaky performances at home versus the Chargers and the Raiders were followed by a winning effort against the Patriots. In two of his last three games, he had a passer rating north of 110.
His regular season was constantly plagued by problems – those of him and his weapons – which kept him from replicating his historic 2018. But the Chiefs, and Mahomes himself, were keeping that for the playoffs. Throwing eight touchdowns en route to Miami, Mahomes is playing the best football he’s played since last year’s postseason.
Jimmy Garoppolo: We already mentioned his problems giving the ball away. They didn’t disappear after Week 4 – he was responsible for at least one in 12 of 18 starts this season. But for a QB that came into 2018 with great expectations, didn’t live up to them due to an injury, had been problematic during training camp and had the comfort of a prolific running game in most of his games, his brilliance saved the team’s top seed in a couple of games, in which he was in uncomfortable situations.
One of his best performances came in Week 2 against the Bengals (3 TDs, 131.0 rating) but he wouldn’t become a topic for at least another 5 weeks of NFL football. San Francisco blew out Carolina at home with him recording a rating of 111.0, and by the 49ers’ Week 8 MNF clash with Seattle he was 8-0 with having thrown more than 30 passes in just 1 of 7 efforts.
Then came a whole new Jimmy G. He wasn’t good in the overtime loss to the Seahawks but his true big game was the week before – against the Cardinals on TNF. On a rare occasion when he had to take matters in his own hands, he threw for 317 yards and completed 28 of 37 with TD throws for all four of SF’s scores in a hard-fought 3-point win on the road.
Garoppolo would go on to have two very similar performances – versus the Saints and the Cardinals again, both wins. Those games show that he be relied on and save the team when the running game isn’t on its usual level.
The case for each quarterback at the Super Bowl
Mahomes is peaking at the right time. In addition, he has a lot on his side at the moment – he has his most dangerous weapons fully healthy and is protected by an offensive line on the upswing. His profound connection with Sammy Watkins, who caught 114 yards through the air against the Titans, makes the air raid yet more promising.
He’s going up against one of the best secondaries in the NFL and Richard Sherman is capable of shutting down Tyreek Hill. Still, Mahomes is probably the only quarterback in the league that can make struggling players look great – imagine the prospect with Hill and Kelce at their best. Even if the running game and the O-Line fail to help him, his ability to make a quick release and be accurate under pressure surely cover that up.
As previously shown, Garoppolo can be reliable to carry the 49ers throughout a big game. A bad day for the running unit would be a huge blow but not a game-ender. Garoppolo has a good O-Line and the best tight end in the game on his side. The rest of the air game – even with Deebo Samuel and experienced Emmanuel Sanders – isn’t something that can carry a QB. That only goes to show how much Garoppolo is capable of.
Who will prevail at Hard Rock Stadium? How much will it matter?
Most people’s money should be on Mahomes to have the better game. Regardless of how much the running game is used, Garoppolo doesn’t have a consistent receiving option other than George Kittle while Mahomes has been working successfully with so many receivers for so long and takes advantage every time Hill or Watkins get separation, which is why he’s been so explosive.
There are factors and conditions, of course. The KC secondary is subpar but promising enough to stop Kittle while the pass-rush is also dangerous, ranking 11th in sacks in the regular season. And then again, we have the San Francisco running duo that is Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman as well as a top-5 Niners defensive line that is capable of chasing Mahomes down all day long.
Who has a better game might not be the most impactful thing, however. We witnessed just that two years ago when Tom Brady lost despite throwing for Super Bowl-record 505 passing yards. This time around, the 49ers hold the key to the game running the ball. Kansas City stopped the league’s top rusher in the AFC Championship, so that will be another intriguing matchup, maybe more important than Mahomes vs. Garoppolo.