It’s the day we’ve all been waiting for.
Super Bowl Sunday.
The most significant day of the year for us sports bettors.
While our Super Bowl betting coverage has been primarily prop-based, this is the official Philadelphia Inquirer Super Bowl against-the-spread betting guide.
Let’s waste no time and dive into the full game breakdown and my favorite main game wager for Super Bowl LVIII between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.
49ers vs Chiefs Odds
49ers vs Chiefs Analysis
It’s been a down year for the Chiefs’ offense.
They rank 11th in EPA per Play and eighth in Offense DVOA, uncharacteristic marks for a Patrick-Mahomes-and-Andy-Reid-led squad.
Mahomes ranks ninth among qualified quarterbacks in EPA per Play and 10th in Completion Percentage Above Expectation. He ranks fifth in Pro Football Focus’s Passing Grades, but his 85.7 mark is the second-lowest of his career.
But, there is a significant caveat within all this.
The Chiefs’ receiving room was dreadful. The Chiefs lead the league in drops (44), with Kadarius Toney, Justin Watson, Mecole Hardman, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, Richie James and Skyy Moore all receiving Pro Football Focus grades under 63.
Meanwhile, Travis Kelce had a down regular season, dropping eight balls and recording the fewest receiving yards in a season since Mahomes took over for Alex Smith (1,246). His yards after catch numbers dropped significantly, as he sometimes showed his age.
Even worse, Toney and Valdez-Scantling singlehandedly cost the Chiefs three wins.
Valdez-Scantling with this horrendous drop against the Packers:
Toney, with his horrendous four-drop performance against the Lions, including one that was snatched for a pick-six and another that killed a fourth-quarter drive:
And also Toney with the most egregious and discussed offside call of the season:
Mahomes played OK, but a hilariously bad receiving room hamstrung him. At times, his only two reliable receivers came out of the backfield with Isiah Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
But something changed around Thanksgiving.
Specifically, the Chiefs realized the potential of rookie Rashee Rice.
Since Week 11, Rice has snagged 43 receptions (seven per game) on 56 targets (nine per game) for over 500 yards with a 77% catch rate. He added four touchdowns and four 90-yard explosive games.
He proved himself an explosive (2.5 yards per route run), sure-handed receiver who dominated the middle of the field and added over 800 YAC at 8.3 YAC per reception.
He ended up as the Chiefs top wideout despite only seeing targets in the season’s second half.
And in the playoffs, Rice has converted 20 of his 25 targets (80%) for 223 yards and a touchdown.
Throw in Kelce’s playoff renaissance – 262 yards and three touchdowns on 23 receptions, including a perfect 11 receptions on 11 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore in the AFC Championship – and Mahomes has a legitimate two receivers to throw to in the Super Bowl.
The 49ers play a lot of zone defense, and Mahomes now has two capable pass-catchers with whom he can shred zone. The Niners played zone at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL during the regular season, and Mahomes sliced and diced zone coverages all year long.
His completion rate jumps 13% against zone compared to man, his quarterback rating jumps eight points, and his deep pass completion rate jumps 17%.
(Data via FTN)
The uber-talented Mahomes plus pass-catchers against a zone defense is a recipe for a Kansas City win.
San Francisco’s secondary is highly talented, but its front seven gets too much love for how it’s producing.
If anything, the 49ers’ front seven is the team’s weak link.
They generate sacks behind Nick Bosa (48, eighth most). Still, they rank closer to league-average in pressure rate (21%, 17th highest), only generating sacks because they were on the field for the third-most pass attempts against during the regular season, likely because they led so much.
And their run defense is downright lousy. The Niners rank bottom-seven in EPA per Rush and Rush Success Rate allowed, ranking 21st in Stuff Rate and 15th in Rush Defense DVOA.
During this playoff run alone, they allowed 136 rush yards to the Packers and 182 plus three touchdowns to the Lions, good for 318 total yards at 5.6 per carry.
So, we turn to Isiah Pacheco, who, including playoffs, has rushed for almost 1,200 yards with 10 scores at almost 4.5 yards per carry.
The Chiefs’ offensive line ranks only 18th in Line Yards, but Pacheco keeps chugging by recording over 800 yards after contact, the fifth-most among qualified running backs.
I think Pacheco could cut through the 49ers’ front seven like a block of soft cheese. And if he can pull San Francisco’s talented coverage linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage — specifically Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw — that’ll open up more room for Mahomes, Kelce, and Rice to work.
The Chiefs can create methodical drives against the 49ers’ front seven and explosive drives against their zone defense.
But can they generate stops on the other side of the ball?
The answer is a resounding yes.
The Chiefs’ defense is the best unit on the team. They were young to begin the season, but Steve Spagnuolo coached them up, as they rank top-10 in EPA per Play allowed since Week 9. After a second-half surge, the Chiefs finished the regular season as the NFL’s second-best scoring defense (17.3 points per game allowed).
And they dominated in the playoffs. Spagnuolo’s blitz-heavy, man-to-man scheme overwhelmed Miami and Baltimore. And even if they had trouble with Buffalo, Spagnuolo made critical half-time adjustments that helped them pull out a close win, including shadowing Josh Allen to prevent those costly quarterback scramble runs – only 21 of Allen’s 72 rushing yards came after halftime.
The 49ers are a different beast, ranking first in EPA per Play and Success Rate this year. Brock Purdy, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Christian McCaffrey obliterated opponents in Kyle Shanahan’s wide-zone play-action-heavy scheme.
But Purdy struggles under pressure. The Chiefs blitz on 33% of plays, the seventh-highest among NFL defenses, and Purdy’s completion rate drops to 54% in a pressured pocket, where he made 12 big-time throws to 13 turnover-worthy plays.
(Data via Pro Football Focus)
The Chiefs blitzed Lamar Jackson on 44% of passing plays, and he responded by completing only 8-of-18 passes (44%) under the pressure.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Purdy respond similarly.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs’ rush defense is lousy, ranking 27th in Rush Defense DVOA, 28th in EPA per Rush allowed, 25th in yards per carry allowed and 31st in Stuff Rate.
Even worse, their lousy rush defense means they’re a terrible play-action defense, as the Chiefs have allowed the third-most play-action passing yards of any team.
Theoretically, that bodes poorly against Shanahan’s scheme. McCaffrey could shred the Chiefs’ front, and Purdy could eat on play-action plays.
But the handicap here is Spagnuolo’s ability to adjust on the fly, as alluded to earlier.
Spagnuolo will make critical second-half adjustments and exploit San Francisco’s weak spots, just as he always does. Over their past eight games, the Chiefs have allowed fewer than four second-half points per game.
49ers’ coordinator Wilks will not make the same adjustments, as he’s not as talented of a coordinator.
“People talk about the adjustments Steve Wilks made in the NFC Championship game, but the only thing he did was play more man coverage. The 49ers are always going to have a four-man front. Their linebackers, who are really good, are always going to be a little back, which makes them more vulnerable to the run, but they can make some plays elsewhere. But that’s their only adjustment.”
And how do you even adjust against Mahomes? He’s arguably the most talented quarterback to play the game and will make the late-game throws needed to clinch the Super Bowl.
Furthermore, if the game comes down to a late kick, I’d trust Harrison Butker over rookie Jake Moody any time.
The Chiefs might struggle to stop the 49ers in the first half, but Spags will figure it out while Mahomes, Kelce, Rice and Pacheco score enough to cash their second consecutive Lombardi Trophy.
Finally, you have to bet on Mahomes when he’s catching points, as he’s near-perfect as an underdog in his career, including two straight outright wins in these playoffs.
I’ll take Mahomes, Spagnuolo and the points in Super Bowl 58.
49ers vs Chiefs Prediction
Pick: Chiefs +2.5 (-115) at FanDuel | Play to +1 (-110)
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