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NFL playoffs: Four things to watch for in 49ers-Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII

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San Francisco 49ers
2023 · 14-5-0
Kansas City Chiefs
2023 · 14-6-0
  • WHERE: Allegiant Stadium (Las Vegas)
  • WHEN: 6:30 p.m. ET | CBS, Nickelodeon, Paramount+, Univision, NFL+

The stage is set in Las Vegas as the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs clash in Super Bowl LVIII.

It’s a rematch of Super Bowl LIV, where the Chiefs authored a fourth-quarter comeback to topple the Niners and become champions of the 2019 season.

San Francisco will make its eighth Super Bowl appearance on Sunday after defeating the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship Game. Kyle Shanahan makes his second Super Bowl as a head coach and is surrounded by playmakers.

Kansas City is set for its sixth Super Bowl following a win in the AFC Championship Game against AP Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens' No. 1 ranked scoring defense. Andy Reid has been the mastermind behind Kansas City’s success along with Patrick Mahomes since 2018. It has been the most up-and-down roller-coaster season for the Chiefs during that span, one with a low point that saw Mahomes frustrated in late December after a loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Mahomes has persevered for a fourth Super Bowl appearance in the last five seasons, and now has an opportunity to win back-to-back Lombardis for the first time since the New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVIII and Super Bowl XXXIX in 2003-04.

Here are four things to watch for in Super Bowl LVIII between the 49ers and Chiefs:

1) Will Brock Purdy keep up with Patrick Mahomes on the big stage? Purdy, the 2022 NFL Draft's Mr. Irrelevant, heads into his first Super Bowl and though he might not deliver the same jaw-dropping plays as Mahomes, he's making the right decisions when needed. Shanahan this past week pushed back against the narrative of Purdy being labeled a “game manager.” Purdy has checked off what needed to be done in every playoff game so far. Meanwhile, Mahomes enters the week with ample Super Bowl experience under his belt. Mahomes was asked earlier this week if he can surpass Tom Brady in the G.O.A.T. conversations, and he gave a humble response while saying he's focused on getting his third ring. At 28, Mahomes will be the youngest QB to start four Super Bowls. The 49ers stand in the way of Mahomes on this stage for the second time in his illustrious career. Many can expect Mahomes to be Mahomes, but on the flip side, how Purdy keeps up and deals with the additional pressure of the Super Bowl will be an important storyline to follow Sunday night.

2) Niners' defense vs. Travis Kelce. The 49ers have a stacked defense led by Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Charvarius Ward and Chase Young, to name a few. But the battle to get your popcorn ready for is the matchup between Fred Warner and Kelce, two Goliaths at their respective positions, battling it out for a Lombardi Trophy. After Taylor Swift won her 13th and 14th Grammy last Sunday, Kelce is determined to return home with "some hardware" of his own this Sunday. The Chiefs tight end is coming off an 11-catch, 116-yard receiving performance in the AFC title game against Baltimore. It displayed a vintage Mahomes-Kelce connection that hasn't been seen since Week 7, when Kelce last had 100-plus receiving yards in a game. As for Warner, he has allowed a 61.9 passer rating as the nearest defender in coverage in 2023, the lowest among linebackers with a minimum of 25 targets, per Next Gen Stats. In his career, Warner has allowed five receptions for 63 yards on six targets as the nearest defender in coverage against Kelce. The Chiefs Pro Bowler will have to Shake it Off with Warner in coverage, or he'll be looking at a Cruel Summer examining what he could have done differently in the Super Bowl.

3) Who will step up on offense for the Chiefs? Kansas City will be short-handed in the run game with All-Pro offensive tackle Joe Thuney ruled out due to a pectoral injury. Running back Jerick McKinnon has a "slim" chance to be on the field, as well, per Reid, and he is officially questionable for Sunday. That leaves the door open for someone to step in and contribute. Will we see Kadarius Toney on the field after he was inactive in the AFC Championship Game? Skyy Moore was activated from injured reserve this week after dealing with a knee injury. Rookie Rashee Rice has been a WR1 as of late, but second-year running back Isiah Pacheco could be the one to step up. During Kansas City's 2023 playoff run, Pacheco has averaged 4.0 rushing yards per attempt while contributing three touchdowns. He also leads the team with 281 scrimmage yards. Pacheco has also never experienced an NFL postseason loss. He enters Super Bowl LVIII with six wins in six tries as a Chief. If Kansas City wins, Pacheco would become the first RB in NFL history to start in a Super Bowl and win in each of his first two career seasons, per NFL Research.

4) Can the Chiefs contain Christian McCaffrey? The last time these two teams faced each other in the Super Bowl, McCaffrey was not on the roster. He was having a Pro Bowl and All-Pro season with the Carolina Panthers in his third year in the NFL. McCaffrey, who earned the same honors in 2023, had a career-high 1,459 rushing yards and produced 21 total touchdowns during the regular season. He's carried that reliability into the 49ers' two playoff games. Whenever McCaffrey is in the backfield, the AP 2023 NFL Offensive Player of the Year has a chance to score. The young Chiefs defense faces a daunting task as it prepares to deal with not only McCaffrey, but also Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk. With Chiefs defensive end Charles Omenihu suffering a torn ACL, the battle in the trenches will be that much tougher for Kansas City to keep McCaffrey in check. Look for Chris Jones and George Karlaftis to be difference-makers defending the run game. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his unit have allowed only 13.7 points per game in their three playoff contests. Linebackers Nick Bolton, Willie Gay and Drue Tranquill, along with Justin Reid, will also be watching where McCaffrey is at all times in Sunday's game.

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