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Super Bowl LIV Preview

January 29, 2020
The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers meet in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday in what seems like an even matchup. Both teams ranked in the top five in the NFL in scoring this season, and their defenses were separated in points allowed by two points.
Here are three things to watch in this game from a statistical perspective.


49ers Rushing vs. Chiefs Run Defense

The 49ers have won the last two games handily by running the ball well. First, it was Tevin Coleman rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-10 win over the Vikings in the Divisional Round. Then it was Raheem Mostert dominating with 220 yards on 29 carries in the NFC Championship Game win over the Packers.

This continued something that has been important to the 49ers in the latter part of the season. Since Week 12, 49ers running backs averaged the third-most Expected Points Added per rush among NFL teams (Expected Points estimates the number of points that each play is worth). Simply put: The 49ers got good value when they handed the ball off to a running back.

Meanwhile, though the Chiefs allowed only 94 and 85 rushing yards in their playoff wins over the Texans and Titans, respectively, their run defense has not been a strength. They allowed the highest percentage of rushes with a positive Expected Points Added (this is known as "positive percentage") in the regular season.

The Deep Ball

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t throw deep often, but when he does, he consistently connects. Garoppolo was 19-of-32 with seven touchdowns on passes at least 20 yards downfield this season. His 59% completion percentage was the highest of any quarterback who threw at least 20 passes of that length.

He was a little better than Patrick Mahomes, but Mahomes throws the ball downfield more often. Mahomes completed 29-of-62 long passes. His 47% completion percentage ranked third in the NFL behind Garoppolo and Gardner Minshew (49%). Most notably, Mahomes led the NFL with 12 touchdown passes on throws that far downfield. No other NFL quarterback reached double figures.

By Sports Info Solutions’ Total Points Earned stat (which measures a player’s overall value to his team), Garoppolo’s long passes were worth 23.8 Points Earned. Mahomes’ netted 22.4. That ranked fifth and sixth in the NFL, respectively.

Great Tight Ends

This Super Bowl also features the top two players at one position. George Kittle of the 49ers led all tight ends with 63 Points Earned. Travis Kelce of the Chiefs ranked second with 55.

Kittle had 85 catches on 107 targets for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season. His 75.2 receiving yards per game ranked second to Kelce’s 76.8, but he had only two dropped passes to Kelce’s eight. Kittle also had an edge in yards after contact per reception (3.4 to 2.2).

Kittle hasn’t been much of a factor in the passing game this postseason (four receptions for 35 yards). On the other hand, Kelce had 10 catches and three touchdowns in the Divisional Round against the Texans, and three receptions for 30 yards in the AFC Championship game against the Titans (a game in which he was listed as questionable due to a knee injury).

Who Wins?

Bill James devised an NFL Power Rankings System, available at Bill James Online, to compare the relative strength of NFL teams. The updated Power Rankings have the 49ers as approximately two points better than the Chiefs on a neutral field. Here’s hoping it’s a good, close game.


COMMENTS (2 Comments, most recent shown first)

About 20 years ago I read that the best prediction system is to count the linemen weighing 300 pounds or more. They’re likely to dominate the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs have the advantage, 14 to 8.​
10:12 AM Feb 2nd
I’m hoping the Chiefs win because they haven’t won a Super Bowl since Super Bowl IV. Hopefully they will successfully matriculate the ball down the field enough times to win.
6:54 AM Feb 1st
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