It has been a while since a Super Bowl has appeared to be such a toss-up. This one between the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers and the AFC champ Kansas City Chiefs is a difficult game to judge.
The 49ers (15-3) have gone from the No. 2 pick in the draft last April to the verge of another championship. The Chiefs (14-4) were in the AFC title contest last year and fell in overtime.
In 2019, both teams were dynamic and won a bunch of big games. Now they meet in the biggest one.
Here’s how the Chiefs and 49ers match up in the Super Bowl:
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
It’s not difficult to figure out how the Chiefs will approach any game. QB Patrick Mahomes (15) will test defences with his arm and skill for reading schemes. He has game-breakers in WRs Tyreek Hill (10) and Sammy Watkins (14), which means single coverage on either is a gamble. TE Travis Kelce (87) is a first-down machine and a clutch performer all around.
Damien Williams (26) keys the backfield and comes off two exceptional post-season showings, even though Mahomes has often been the leading rusher by creating the way he did in the AFC championship game with a brilliant tap dance down the sideline for a go-ahead score.
That puts a huge onus on the Niners to get an effective pass rush, something they have done virtually every week. They will harass Mahomes with a front seven led by rookie Nick Bosa (97), a force on the outside. DT DeForest Buckner (99) has had a strong impact, and LBs Fred Warner (54) and Kwon Alexander (56), who is finally healthy, are formidable. Having edge rusher Dee Ford (55), who was a Chief last season, bolsters the unit.
They will challenge a good Kansas City offensive line anchored by RT Mitchell Schwartz (71) and LT Eric Fisher (72). But if the O-line holds true, San Francisco could struggle in coverage against the speedy Chiefs wideouts. CB Richard Sherman (25) remains outstanding, even if the rest of the secondary isn’t at his level.
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
After seeing the star turn by RB Raheem Mostert (31) against Green Bay, the Chiefs must be wary of what usually is a three-pronged rushing attack. Tevin Coleman (26), if healthy, and Matt Breida (22) give QB Jimmy Garoppolo options in the backfield, although Mostert is certain to be the main man. They operate behind a veteran line led by LT Joe Staley (74) and second-year RT Mike McGlinchey, and Kyle Juszczyk (44) is the NFL’s top fullback — as a blocker and receiver.
If the Niners run the ball effectively, it could open some wide spaces for All-Pro TE George Kittle (85), the most dynamic offensive player they have. Kittle is a difference-maker who will force the Chiefs to use double coverage at times. S Tyrann Mathieu (32) will see a lot of Kittle, and S Daniel Sorensen (49), who has had a monstrous playoffs, will be in the mix.
Covering WRs Emmanuel Sanders (17), Kendrick Bourne (84) and emerging rookie Deebo Samuel (19), who is fearless going over the middle, is another chore the Chiefs must handle well. That will require big-time contributions up front from Chris Jones (92) and Frank Clark (55) and LBs Anthony Hitchens (53) and Damien Wilson (54).
Kansas City has a dangerous kick returner in Mecole Hardman (19), one of the NFL’s fastest players. The rookie does get antsy to return the ball, though, and that can lead to bad decisions. Harrison Butker (7) is a reliable placekicker with good range. He did miss three extra points, one fewer than his misses on field goals. Veteran punter Dustin Colquitt (2) had a kick blocked by the Texans for a TD, but he’s generally reliable.
So is San Francisco PK Robbie Gould (9), in his 15th pro season. He kicked in a Super Bowl for the Bears in 2007, so this stage won’t unnerve him. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky is a mere pup in comparison, finishing off his first NFL season. Richie James ranked fifth in overall kick and punt returns for the 49ers, but isn’t a game breaker like Kansas City has available.
Kyle Shanahan, in his third year at the helm, took the 49ers from choosing second in the 2019 draft (Bosa was the prize) to their seventh Super Bowl. His versatile offence has been solid, and the defence under co-ordinator Robert Saleh has looked immovable at times. The front line is superb, and Saleh, like Shanahan, stays aggressive all game. That showed particularly in the past two weeks.
Andy Reid lost in the Super Bowl with Philadelphia in 2005, and he has a better team now. He has been masterful in his handling of Mahomes and the schemes that make KC’s offence as dangerous as any. He was wise enough to bring in an aggressive defensive co-ordinator after last year’s debacle on that side of the ball cost the Chiefs a shot at the NFL title. It took a while before Steve Spagnuolo’s system took hold, but it has looked strong in the second half of both playoff games. Kansas City must beware of falling behind again, though.
Reid seeks his first Super Bowl title as a head coach, which could be the catalyst to eventual Hall of Fame selection. The Chiefs haven’t won it all in 50 years, and this is the best team they’ve had in that span. They are more balanced than in past years, have a nice mixture of youth and experience and plenty of confidence.
Shanahan has something to prove after the super debacle of the second half of the big game against New England when he was the Falcons’ offensive co-ordinator in the 2016 season. San Francisco seeks its sixth overall crown in the Super Bowl era, which would tie for the most. And after romping over Minnesota and Green Bay, there is no shortage of confidence with the Niners.
James questions media disparity in coverage of Irving tweet, Jerry Jones photo
LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James has questions about the disparity of media scrutiny he believes is being applied to a 1957 photo of Jerry Jones and the recent controversy surrounding Kyrie Irving.
The photo of Jones, captured by an Associated Press photographer, shows him standing among a group of white students at North Little Rock High School in Arkansas on Sept. 9, 1957. The group was blocking six Black students who were attempting to desegregate the school and news reports said that moments after the image was taken, the students were shoved down a flight of stairs.
The photo accompanied a Washington Post story last month that was about Jones’ legacy as owner of the Dallas Cowboys, including how the team has never had a Black head coach.
James has spoken often about the Cowboys — he was a fan of the team for years before saying in October on Instagram Live that he has switched allegiances — but said Wednesday that he found it interesting that he wasn’t asked about the Jones photo.
“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, ‘I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America,” James said after the Los Angeles Lakers’ game on Wednesday night. “And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.
“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, ‘Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”
Irving was suspended for an eventual eight games by the Brooklyn Nets earlier this season after the guard — a former teammate of James’ with the Cleveland Cavaliers — tweeted a link to a film containing antisemitic material.
James was asked by reporters about that last month, and he made clear that he thought Irving made a significant mistake.
“There’s no place in this world for it,” James said in November. “Nobody can benefit from that and I believe what Kyrie did caused some harm to a lot of people. … We as humans, none of us are perfect. But I hope he understands how what he did and the actions that he took were just harmful to a lot of people.”
Jones told reporters last week that he was at that school entrance as “a curious kid.” He was 14 at the time.
“That was, gosh, 65 years ago, and (I was a) curious kid,” Jones said. “I didn’t know at the time the monumental event really that was going on. And I’m sure glad that we’re a long way from that.”
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Canada coach John Herdman disputes Croatian counterpart’s account of skipped post-match handshake
Canada coach John Herdman is disputing his Croatian counterpart’s account of why there was no handshake after their World Cup game.
Herdman had antagonized the Croatian camp with a heated postgame message to his players after Canada’s opening 1-0 loss to Belgium at the soccer showcase. Asked in a pitch-side interview what he had said in a postgame huddle to his players, Herdman replied: “I told them they belong here and we’re going to go and eff – Croatia. That’s as simple as it gets.”
That prompted a stern lecture from Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic on the need for respect. And after Croatia beat the Canadians 4-1 Sunday, Dalic was asked if he had a chance to shake hands with Herdman following the final whistle.
“I did not see the other head coach after the match,” he said through an interpreter. “When I lose I always congratulate the winner. He was not there and that’s his way of doing things. He’s obviously mad. He is a good coach. He is a high-quality professional. But it will take some time for him to learn some things.”
Herdman, whose postgame news conference preceded Dalic’s on Sunday, disputed that account Wednesday when asked about it.
“Look, we shook hands before the game. So that happened,” he said. “At the end of the game, the usual process – no different than [with Belgium coach] Roberto Martinez. You shake hands with the coach, then you go shake hands with the referee.
“When I turned round, [Dalic] was already off down the touchline, which is his right to do. He’s celebrating. He’s just beaten Canada. It was a big celebration for him. He was off and I couldn’t get to shake his hand. I went into the field, shook the ref’s hand, shook players’ hands. And didn’t get to see him.
“That moment’s gone. We’re into process now – team huddle, see your fans, flash interviews, calm yourself down so you don’t say anything and move on.”
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