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Power Rankings: Brock Purdy, Travis Kelce, Taylor Swift among Super Bowl LVIII's 32 key people

On Sunday, there will be 96 active players, eight referees, dozens of coaches and, well, lots of other people roaming around the field at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, not to mention the fan-packed seats and luxury boxes (hint, hint).

All of them, to one degree or another, will have an imprint on Super Bowl LVIII. Naturally, some people will have a bigger effect on the game than others.

With that in mind, we've done our best to boil down the list to the 32 most important people in the Super Bowl.

Define important how you may. As for me, I could have gone hardcore, listing every key special teams performer, God bless each and every one of them. It's certainly possible that a Malcolm Butler-esque hero could emerge from the ether.

But I'll take my chances with a mixture of in-depth analysis and irreverence here, having a little fun with this look at the big game. And if you don't like it? Well, now we got bad blood.

FILE - Usher arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif. The NFL, Apple Music and Roc Nation announced Sunday that Usher will headline the 2024 Super Bowl on Feb. 11 at Allegiant Stadium. The music megastar, who has won eight Grammys, said he's looking forward to performing on the NFL's biggest stage. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
Super Bowl LVIII halftime performer

We're talking about an R&B legend here. There will be people tuning in to the game just to watch him perform the halftime show. My wife is one of them. I was asked one year ago to give her a heads up when Rihanna was about to come on and can only assume this year will be no different. Usher is her Super Bowl, and I guarantee she's not the only one for whom that is true. 

Referee Bill Vinovich (52) at work during an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Westerholt)
Bill Vinovich
Super Bowl LVIII head referee

Vinovich has a reputation for letting players play, and that was on display in his crew's work in the Bucs-Lions Divisional Round game, with a tidy eight combined penalties called. He's also infamous for his crew's no-call on Nickell Robey-Coleman's helmet-to-helmet contact in the 2018 NFC Championship Game against the Saints that sent the Rams to the Super Bowl. We can't speculate too much on how tightly the game will be called, because this will not be the crew Vinovich regularly works with, as the league selects all eight officials based on merit. But one way or another, the officials and crew chief have an effect on the game, and every close Super Bowl call will be hyper-scrutinized. That makes Vinovich top-32 important in my eyes. 

Kyle Juszczyk
San Francisco 49ers · FB

The 49ers' do-it-all weapon contributes in a number of ways on offense. This season, he's lined up as a fullback, tight end (inline and detached), wide receiver and even at quarterback for one snap. He's Kyle Shanahan's dirty-work hero, often leading the way for others with his blocking, earning All-Pro mention this season in spite of touching the ball a mere 19 times all season. But last time the 49ers were in a Super Bowl against the Chiefs, Juszczyk played a major role, catching the game-tying TD pass in the second quarter among his three receptions for 39 yards. Both of his catches in the NFC Championship Game, for 23 and 10 yards, also helped prime key scoring drives. And given how his wife's clothing line has blown up in recent weeks -- thanks, Taylor Swift! – it's possible that Kristin Juszczyk could receive some quality air time, too. One way or another, the Juszczyk clan should have a nice imprint on this game.

Chase Young
San Francisco 49ers · DE

The 49ers swung a bold trade at the deadline in October to land Young for a third-round pick, and it was viewed as a potentially massive move to help upgrade the defense down the stretch. But Young's impact has been far smaller than expected. After some pass-rush bursts in his first few games with the Niners, Young has been very quiet -- and at times, even a detriment. The free agent-to-be has a lot on the line in this game, as his future hangs in the balance, and you can bet that Andy Reid and Matt Nagy will test Young, perhaps by running the ball right at him. A big game from Young could give the 49ers an added boost against the vaunted Chiefs offense and heat up Young's free agency. But a poor showing could expose a weakness on this defense -- and cool Young's offseason market.

Dre Greenlaw
San Francisco 49ers · LB

Some may say Greenlaw is the sidekick to Fred Warner on the 49ers' LB unit, but in some ways, Greenlaw might be the emotional pulse of this defense -- on Monday, Warner himself praised Greenlaw's intensity. We can't wait for the first meeting in the hole between Greenlaw and Isiah Pacheco; sparks might fly after that. Greenlaw also showed in the Divisional Round that he's no one-trick pony, picking off Jordan Love twice, including the game-clincher to cap that thriller. The potential downside to the way Greenlaw, as Warner put it, "toes the line" is that in a close game, an unnecessary roughness flag could be the difference between a win and a loss. But so can a jarring hit.

Nick Bolton
Kansas City Chiefs · LB

Big-game Bolton stepped up with a huge performance in Super Bowl LVII a year ago against the Eagles, running one fumble recovery back for a key touchdown -- and he would have repeated the trick in the second half, if that play had not been called back by penalty. Bolton's coverage limitations expose him a bit, and the Chiefs certainly will miss Willie Gay Jr. (neck) if he's unable to return Sunday. But Bolton will be keyed in on Christian McCaffrey and the 49ers' run game, and he also might be asked to mind Brock Purdy as a scrambler a bit, too. The 49ers wouldn't be here without either of those elements.

Arik Armstead
San Francisco 49ers · DT

The sometimes overlooked Armstead was on a mini-tear heading into December, and then he missed the final five regular-season games with foot and knee injuries. The 49ers' defense took a hit -- especially against the run -- while he was out. Armstead returned to play the majority of the snaps in San Francisco's two playoff games, but he's now listed on the injury report with, yes, foot and knee injuries. If Armstead plays, he'll have a tough assignment against the Chiefs' Trey Smith, a wide-bodied mauler. Although he might not be considered a great run defender, Armstead could be the steadiest in that role among the 49ers' interior linemen, and you know the Chiefs are going to test that run defense after seeing the holes teams found against San Francisco the past several games. 

Harrison Butker
Kansas City Chiefs · K

Somehow, Butker wasn't named to the Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams, but he's coming off the best regular season of his career, having nailed 33 of 35 field-goal attempts (he was a perfect 12-for-12 from 40-plus yards out) and all 38 XP tries. In three playoff games, he's somehow been better, making all 14 attempts (seven field goals, seven extra points), and he has range out to 60 or more yards. If all that doesn't impress you, consider his career record at Allegiant Stadium: 18-for-18 on XPs and 4-for-5 on field-goal tries, with his one miss being a 46-yarder at the end of the half in a blowout win over the Raiders in 2021. In a game that looks pretty even on paper, kicking might provide the razor-thin difference, and Butker -- who has a long history of making clutch kicks -- would seem to have the edge over his 49ers counterpart, rookie Jake Moody, who has missed FG tries in each of the past three games and was 2-for-5 in back-to-back losses against the Browns and Vikings this season.

George Karlaftis
Kansas City Chiefs · DE

With Charles Omenihu out with a torn ACL, Karlaftis might carry even more of the load than he has already this season. Karlaftis broke out in Year 2, notching 10.5 sacks in the regular season and adding 2.5 more in three playoff games. He can play a little loosely and freely at times, losing gap integrity here and there, but he's a constant pressure source even when not getting sacks. The Chiefs have been riding Chris Jones, Mike Danna and Karlaftis hard so far in the postseason, and that certainly will continue to be the case in this game, as Omenihu's injury has left their depth pretty thin. Karlaftis might not leave the field a lot Sunday, and he might have a good matchup against 49ers RT Colton McKivitz, who will give up his share of pressures.

Javon Hargrave
San Francisco 49ers · DT

The 49ers brought in Hargrave last March to upgrade their interior rush, and he did that, providing seven sacks and 14 QB hits. But Hargrave also was slowed by a few minor injuries down the stretch, and only one of his sacks came after a December game that he missed with a hamstring injury. A strong Chiefs interior, led by center Creed Humphrey, promises to make life tougher for the 49ers' rush unit. But if Hargrave and Arik Armstead can come out close to full strength, thanks to the extra week of rest ahead of the Super Bowl, they really could make a massive difference up front. As with Armstead, the Chiefs likely will test Hargrave's mettle by running the ball right at him; he's known better as a gap shooter than a gap plugger.

Trent McDuffie
Kansas City Chiefs · CB

McDuffie earned first-team All-Pro honors this season as one of the best slot corners in the NFL, equally able in coverage and as a blitzer. The Chiefs weaponized McDuffie in a blitzing role quite often, in fact, at least a handful of times per game. It is worth wondering how much Steve Spagnuolo will want to send extra people at Brock Purdy, who has been effective against the blitz this season. Still, McDuffie can line up inside (in nickel and dime defense) and outside and has been terrific defending screen passes, with his season highlight being the fumble he forced against Tyreek Hill that McDuffie's teammates returned for a game-changing touchdown in the win over the Dolphins in Germany. The 49ers love to screen teams to death, so McDuffie could be a busy man Sunday.

Taylor Swift arrives at the 66th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Taylor Swift
Global superstar

I'm not going to belabor the point here, but plenty of non-players and non-coaches have left their marks on past Super Bowls. We still talk about Betty White, Left Shark and wardrobe malfunctions, and Swift is more popular than all of them combined right now. She's at the peak of her powers and is half of sports' (and arguably entertainment's) biggest power couple, with her tight end boyfriend, Travis Kelce. Like her or not, Swift is cashing in because we're talking about her, and she's helped usher in a new legion of NFL fans. That's a good thing! Me? I'm more of a Bob Weir guy, personally, and I'm still holding out hope the Deadheads can give the Swifties a run for their money in Vegas, maybe in some kind of bizarro "West Side Story" remake. Maybe they'll reprise the infamous scene at the Aladdin in 1981, when a bunch of faded hippies flooded the casino floor after that show, to the shock and horror of many that night. Allegiant Stadium might not be prepared for that.

Jawaan Taylor
Kansas City Chiefs · RT

One of the league's most scrutinized offensive tackles will have his hands full in his first career Super Bowl game. Nick Bosa often lines up on the defensive left side, so Taylor is likely to see plenty of Bosa, who has had successful reps against both Taylor and Donovan Smith in prior meetings, with Taylor often receiving some type of blocking help when those two are matched up. Taylor was the most penalized player in the NFL during the regular season -- by a long shot -- with 17 flags, and he's had three more in three postseason games. False starts and holding penalties have been the biggest bugaboos. You can bet 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will do everything in his power to throw the kitchen sink at Taylor to see how he handles the blast furnace of the Super Bowl.

Charvarius Ward
San Francisco 49ers · CB

Ward cut his teeth in the NFL with the Chiefs, rising to standout status before signing a $40.5 million deal with the 49ers in 2022. Since then, he's turned into one of the better cover corners in the NFL, fully breaking out in 2023, with career bests in interceptions (five) and passes defensed (23, which led the NFL) and earning his first Pro Bowl mention. He spends the vast majority of his time at left cornerback, but because the Chiefs move their receivers all over the field, it's not clear who he will be covering. Still, it'll be interesting to see how often the Chiefs test a player whom Patrick Mahomes locked horns with many times in past practices. The Super Bowl will be a celebratory one for Middle Tennessee State fans. Ward is one of three former Blue Raiders (along with Chiefs WR-RS Richie James and special-teamer Darius Harris) who will be rostered for this game.

Steve Spagnuolo vs
Steve Spagnuolo
Kansas City Chiefs · DC

He's going for his fourth ring as an assistant coach and third with the Chiefs, which is in part why "In Spags We Trust" has become a rallying cry for Kansas City. The work he's done with this Chiefs defense might represent his finest hour -- at least, as things stand right now. The unit has been rolling aces all season, but especially in the playoffs, dispatching Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. Spags now has a different challenge in front of him: trying to slow down the multi-layered, playmaker-laden 49ers offense, and without the injured Charles Omenihu at his disposal. If can pull it off, Spagnuolo deserves mention as one of the great assistant coaches of his generation, even taking into account a few wayward twists and turns in his career.

Nick Allegretti
Kansas City Chiefs · LG

We're still waiting to see if Joe Thuney can return from the pectoral injury that kept him out of the AFC Championship Game. Based on NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport's description of the injury as "significant" and Andy Reid's subsequent sobering assessment of Thuney's status, Thuney's return would be heroic and probably unexpected. So we could see Allegretti once again fill in for the All-Pro at left guard, as he did -- admirably -- against the Ravens in the conference title tilt. The Chiefs won't put Allegretti in bad spots if they can avoid it, and he'll be shielded by two great interior blockers to his right (Trey Smith and Creed Humphrey) and a stalwart in Donovan Smith to his left. Allegretti has typically been a very capable pass protector, which matches well against a 49ers D-line that seeks to get upfield in a hurry. As a draft guy, I can't help but get excited when late picks and undrafted players have great opportunities on stages such as this. The former Round 7 talent alone stands out, comprised of Butker, Isiah Pacheco, Richie James and Allegretti for the Chiefs, plus Brock Purdy and Jauan Jennings for the 49ers.

Fred Warner
San Francisco 49ers · LB

Warner has been a starter and a star for the 49ers from the minute they used a third-round pick to grab him back in 2018, and he'll be one of the key figures as San Francisco tries to slow down Patrick Mahomes and Co. The last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl, Warner had one of the Niners' two picks of Mahomes. This season, Warner set career highs in interceptions (four) and forced fumbles (four) and almost never came off the field. He's one of the best two-way linebackers in terms of both stopping the run and defending the pass, but he's also become a leader. Warner said last week that the 49ers' defensive effort in two playoff games was "not good enough at all." They'll likely need their best defensive performance of the postseason to beat the Chiefs, and Warner is the kind of playmaker who can make that happen.

Trent Williams
San Francisco 49ers · LT

When healthy, the 35-year old Williams has been arguably the best offensive tackle of his generation, even if it's been a full decade since he last played a full regular season. Williams' only missed games of 2023 came in Weeks 7 and 8, and the 49ers happened to lose both. There's likely a connection there. Including the playoffs, the Niners have averaged 5.2 yards per rush when he's been on the field in 2023 (compared to 3.2 without him), according to Next Gen Stats, and he's allowed just two sacks all season. Will the Chiefs try to unleash Chris Jones against Williams at all? Williams is just so clean in pass protection and has the movement skills of a younger man; he's able to get to the second level with ease in the run and screen games. He's a special blocker, the kind who's so good at what he does, it's easy to forget he's out there -- until he's not on the field, and then we really notice.

George Kittle
San Francisco 49ers · TE

Kittle's ranking might be lower than you expected. That's no disrespect to the tight end, but rather a testament to the star power in this game. His total output against the Lions (two catches) in the NFC title match was on the quieter side, but one of those grabs -- a 28-yarder in the fourth quarter of a tied game -- was absolutely massive. Kittle might not receive the same volume that his counterpart, Travis Kelce, does for the Chiefs. Still, Kittle outgained Kelce this season, averaging a career-high 15.7 yards per reception, and he was a major factor in the Divisional Round win over the Packers. He's also a beast against man coverage, catching 19 of 26 targets for 367 yards (most among TEs) and three TDs vs. man-to-man defense in the regular season, per Next Gen Stats. Notably, the Chiefs play a healthy amount of man coverage, even if they've clamped down on tight ends pretty well this season. Kittle is dealing with a toe injury, so that bears watching, but if he's good to go, he should be a big factor.

Rashee Rice
Kansas City Chiefs · WR

It took Rice some time to get his footing in this offense, but for all the talk about the Chiefs' disappointing wide receivers this season, the rookie really has been pretty terrific down the stretch. Would you believe that he has the same number of TD catches as Travis Kelce and only 85 fewer receiving yards this season (including playoffs)? Rice has split his time almost evenly between the slot and outside, and between the left and the right side of the field, so the 49ers will have to be smart about how they prepare to defend him. In three playoff games, Rice has averaged 74.3 receiving yards and 8.9 yards per target and caught 80% of the passes thrown his direction. You had better believe he'll be a big part of this game plan.

L'Jarius Sneed
Kansas City Chiefs · CB

When the Chiefs allowed Charvarius Ward to sign with the 49ers before the 2022 season, they presumably believed Sneed could one day rise to CB1 status in Kansas City. That day has arrived. Sneed has been terrific for the Chiefs as their top cover guy -- and unlike Ward, Sneed will travel with an opponent's best receiver if that's what is needed. Against the Ravens, Sneed gave up some catches to Zay Flowers, including a 54-yarder deep in Chiefs territory. But anyone watching that game will remember Sneed's clutch punchout against Flowers mere inches from the goal line, preventing a touchdown. It was arguably the biggest play of that game, and Sneed will be plenty busy against the 49ers' contingent of playmakers, perhaps shadowing Brandon Aiyuk for a lot of Super Bowl Sunday.

Chris Jones
Kansas City Chiefs · DE

Jones is Kansas City's defensive centerpiece, even if he hasn't been quite as destructive as he was in 2022. But -- considering how the Chiefs handled his holdout this summer, allowing Jones to sit out the opener (a loss to the Lions) and then restructuring his deal days later to get him back on the field -- Sunday's game could mark his final outing with the team. Jones is set to hit free agency, and it might be difficult for them to keep him and fellow free-agent-to-be L'Jarius Sneed. Jones typically is on the field for 75% to 80% of the defensive snaps, and he will line up in nearly every technique up and down the defensive front, making it tougher for opponents to game-plan for him. One of Jones' sneaky superpowers is batting down passes; he's knocked down one in each of the past two playoff games. Brock Purdy was among the league leaders in passes batted, and the Lions got him twice in the NFC title game. Bet you Jones gets at least one Sunday. I don't know if this will be the last time we see him in red and white, but if it is, I'd be surprised if Jones goes out with a whimper of a game.

Nick Bosa
San Francisco 49ers · DE

Even before the Niners landed in Vegas, Bosa was talking about how the Chiefs' offensive tackles "hold a lot." (Refer back to our note on Jawaan Taylor for a stat check on that one.) Bosa's right, but he's probably going to need to do more than draw a few flags to truly dominate Sunday. With apologies to Chris Jones and the two cornerbacks, Bosa is the most potentially impactful defender who will take the field. Despite missing 14 games in 2020, he has generated the most pressures (409) in the NFL since he entered the league in 2019 (including the playoffs). You might see that his sack total (10.5) was down from 15.5 and 18.5 the past two seasons, but Bosa's 104 pressures in 2023 (again, including playoffs) are the fourth-most in a single season since 2018. If he somehow can will himself to 10 more against the Chiefs, it would tie Aaron Donald for the most in that span, per NGS. Bosa cooled down as a pass rusher late in the regular season but heated back up against the Lions in the NFC Championship Game (two sacks, seven pressures). His run defense can be lacking, but the path back to defensive good times for the Niners starts with Bosa being in Mahomes' face for four quarters.

Brandon Aiyuk
San Francisco 49ers · WR

This is a homecoming of sorts for Aiyuk, who grew up upstate in Reno, Nevada. OK, that's actually farther from Las Vegas than it is from the Bay Area, and there wasn't even an NFL team in Nevada when Aiyuk grew up there, but we can still have fun with this fact. Getting Aiyuk the ball has been a little bit of a hit-or-miss proposition for the 49ers through two playoff games, but they might not have beaten the Lions had Aiyuk not hauled in his miracle 51-yarder off the facemask of Detroit's Kindle Vildor. That's what makes Aiyuk so dangerous; you can contain the guy for most of a game, and one catch can change everything. He was the 49ers' leading receiver by a mile this season, and yet Aiyuk sometimes is forgotten about.

Isiah Pacheco
Kansas City Chiefs · RB

He's my sleeper pick for game MVP, even if Pacheco is dealing with a toe injury that's kept him limited in recent practices, and even if quarterbacks tend to dominate that award. (Heck, running back Damien Williams probably deserved it when the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV, but no matter.) Pacheco can be a horse in this game as a runner, and he's caught 50 of 55 targets this season, playoffs included. His two highest carry totals of the season have come in the playoffs (he logged 24 apiece against the Ravens and Dolphins), and I expect a similar diet in the Super Bowl, unless the Chiefs fall into a multi-score hole early. The 49ers have been a sieve against the run down the stretch, and even stacking the box against Pacheco might not fully slow him down. He's going to leave it all on the field Sunday night.

Deebo Samuel
San Francisco 49ers · WR

You can't overstate how big Samuel's performance was in the NFC Championship Game, especially when we weren't even certain he'd suit up -- Samuel just pummeled Detroit with a bunch of in-cuts and led the 49ers in receiving yards. His big third quarter really fueled San Francisco's comeback, and like Pacheco, he's just a royal pain to bring down, often powering through contact for extra yards. The Niners will move him all around the formation and force the Chiefs to respect him wherever he lines up. And don't forget: Samuel can throw it, too. It wouldn't be shocking at all if the Niners cooked up something special for him in this game.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan stands for the National Anthem before playing against the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Seattle, Wash. 49ers won 21-13. (AP Photo/Jeff Lewis)
Kyle Shanahan
San Francisco 49ers · HC

In some ways, Shanahan is at the same point in his coaching arc as Andy Reid was in the mid-2000s. Many regard Shanahan as one of the best at what he does, but with a caveat: He hasn't yet won the big one. For years, Reid battled the stigma of being the best coach not to win a Super Bowl, having lost a few heartbreakers along the way, and Shanahan finds himself in that spot now, especially after two of his teams -- the Falcons when he was offensive coordinator and 49ers four years ago -- couldn't close out Super Bowls despite holding double-digit fourth-quarter leads. 

Travis Kelce
Kansas City Chiefs · TE

Kelce and Patrick Mahomes have played in 17 postseason games together, with the tight end racking up 133 catches on 162 targets for 1,516 yards and 18 TDs in those games. (Backup QB Chad Henne chipped in a bit of injury relief in two of those contests.) Kelce has scored touchdowns in all but four of those games, and he's been Mahomes' most consistent pass catcher over the course of he season, so it's hard to imagine a scenario where he's not a major part of what the Chiefs will try to do Sunday. These 49ers have defended tight ends well, though, allowing just four TDs to that position all season, playoffs included. They're a zone-heavy operation, with two linebackers (Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw) who can lock up with tight ends and are excellent in coverage. It's not as strong a group defensively as the one that "held" Kelce to six catches and the touchdown that kick-started the Super Bowl LIV comeback four years ago. Can the 2023 Niners keep him under wraps? That's a tall order.

Christian McCaffrey
San Francisco 49ers · RB

He's the dude in this Super Bowl, at least as far as non-quarterbacks go, able to significantly impact the game in so many ways. And as prolific as McCaffrey is, he's also just so darned consistent. The first-team All-Pro back has totaled 20-plus touches in 13 of his 18 games this season, including the playoffs, and has had at least 91 yards from scrimmage in 16 of those games. He's also scored four of the 49ers' seven TDs in this postseason. The Chiefs have generally done a good job against backs this season, allowing a total of 12 rushing TDs in 20 games thus far. But they also arguably haven't faced one as good as McCaffrey. Two somewhat-similar types of backs, Buffalo's James Cook and Philly's D'Andre Swift, gained 141 and 107 yards from scrimmage, respectively, against the Chiefs in the regular season -- and they did so on just 15 touches apiece. This is a great Kansas City defense, but McCaffrey is the kind of player who might be able to severely dent it over four quarters.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
Andy Reid
Kansas City Chiefs · HC

Bill Belichick. Chuck Noll. Bill Walsh. Joe Gibbs. That's the list of NFL coaches with three-plus Super Bowl titles. Reid can join that illustrious, best-of-the-best group with a victory in Super Bowl LVIII. It's almost fitting that Reid is getting his chance just as Belichick -- the man who, in some ways, cloaked Reid for almost two decades -- is not set to be a head coach in 2024. Reid has captained the ship of the most dominant team over the past half decade and is one of the league's best coaches ever, regardless of the outcome of this game. But winning it would make it easier for some people to put Reid in that lofty conversation, and doing so would make Reid one of only two head coaches to win back-to-back Super Bowls in the past 25 years, alongside only Belichick.

Brock Purdy
San Francisco 49ers · QB

After two up-and-down playoff games, the vultures are circling a bit on Purdy. He's fended them off by leading two fourth-quarter comebacks to get the 49ers to this point, and a lot of the criticism has felt like piling on following Purdy's remarkable recovery from elbow surgery and the clear elevation of his game in Year 2. But results are results, and the outcome of this game could cast a big part of his reputation and standing in the league, as well as how he's viewed in his own building. A strong performance almost certainly would pave the way to a lucrative extension down the road. A flop of a game could spawn doubt on his long-term foothold of the 49ers' franchise-QB mantle. Purdy also is facing one of the best defenses in the NFL, one that will have had two weeks to gameplan for him. He busted up a good Cowboys defense back in October, but also had his two worst games against the Browns and Ravens, perhaps the only two units that you clearly can say were better than Kansas City's D this season.

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · QB

Not much needs to be said here. This wasn't Mahomes' most prolific individual season, statistically or otherwise, but he kept the whole operation together while the Chiefs' offense worked through some real struggles. He's played a different brand of ball down the stretch, understanding that he doesn't need to be Superman most games, backed by a terrific defense. It's another layer of maturity Mahomes has shown in his ascension toward being the greatest ever to play the position. He might never reach Tom Brady and his seven rings, but winning Sunday would give Mahomes three at age 28. Brady got his third in his age-27 season, but wouldn't win another Super Bowl for a decade, so are you ruling it out? It's almost the Tiger Woods-Jack Nicklaus majors debate we had in the mid-2000s. Either way, Mahomes reaching the Brady-Terry Bradshaw-Joe Montana-Troy Aikman tier of three-time Super Bowl champion QBs would bring him to another elite level of greatness.

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