Super Bowl Preview: These 3 match-ups will decide the NFL title

Who'll be going to Disney World? And who'll be crying in their nacho hat?

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA - JANUARY 25: Signage is displayed near the FOX Sports South Beach studio compound prior to Super Bowl LIV on January 25, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida. The San Francisco 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in the 54th playing of the Super Bowl, Sunday February 2nd. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)


San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs

Super Bowl LIV, Sunday, February 2, 11.30pm

This is it. With 268 games played, we are down to two teams. On Sunday the 2nd of February the Kansas City Chiefs will face the San Francisco 49ers to decide Super Bowl LIV.

On paper, we couldn’t have asked for two better sides to meet in the NFL’s showpiece event. The Baltimore Ravens may have finished with the best record, but few would argue that Andy Reid has the strongest AFC squad at his disposal.

Whereas Kyle Shanahan has taken his Niners from a 4-12 record to the most devastating force in the NFC. It’s a mouthwatering prospect just thinking about it.

Here are three key battles which will decide who lifts the Vince Lombardi trophy.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 19: Dee Ford #55 of the San Francisco 49ers runs onto the field prior to the start of the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Patrick Mahomes v Nick Bosa & Dee Ford

There was always going to be a regression from the 53 touchdown passes Mahomes managed in 2018, but with 34 in 16 games, including eight without an interception during the postseason, the 2017 first-round pick has been in sensational form since recovering from his knee injury.

Against the Houston Texans, down by 24 points, the 24-year-old took the game on his back and led the Chiefs on an astonishing comeback. Finishing 23/35, with 325 yards, five touchdowns and zero sacks. It was almost perfect.

However, this could be the biggest test he’s faced all season. During the regular season, only the Patriots conceded fewer yards than the Niners. No one has managed to match them in the playoffs, and with eight sacks, helped by the efforts of Defensive Rookie of the Year, Nick Bosa, and former Chief Dee Ford, they are the one team who could stop the superstar QB.

Slow down this dynamic duo and Mahomes will have a chance to control the game, but it won’t be easy.

When offensive lines need to scheme for both, the numbers show they struggle, but even without Ford, the number two pick of the 2019 draft finds a way to pressure the QB. He has quickly established himself as one of the most destructive forces in football.

Robert Saleh has created the best passing defence in the NFL, averaging a league-low 5.3 yards per attempt. Well, Patrick, no one said it was going to be easy.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 27: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers catches the ball and runs to the end zone only to have the ball called back for a penalty against Deebo Samuel #19 against Ross Cockrell #47 of the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

George Kittle v the KC secondary

How do you go about stopping arguably the best tight end in the NFL? As teams have discovered this year, you don’t – well, unless Coach Shanahan decides not to use him. In the postseason, Kittle only has four receptions for 35 yards, he’s yet to have a touchdown, but in San Fran’s destruction of the Green Bay Packers, the 6 foot 3 inch receiver was one of their lead blockers, assisting Raheem Mostert as he racked up four rushing touchdowns.

Chris Jones, although he made his presence known against Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill last week, is still not 100% fit and with the tight end blocking to benefit the ground game, Kittle has proven he is much more than just a pass-catcher.

No one in the NFL – including Christian McCaffrey – had more yards after the catch than Kittle this season. If Jimmy Grappolo looks for his most reliable receiver during the Super Bowl, you have to do much more than just tackle him. You must bring him down.

Luckily, in Tyrann Mathieu and Dan Sorensen, the Chiefs have two of the toughest hitters in their secondary. Both were superb against the Tennessee Titans, combining for 17 tackles.

Known as the ‘Honey Badger’ Mathieu joined as a free agent in the off-season and has made a huge impact in improving Steve Spagnuolo’s defence. Even if Kittle isn’t a huge part of the Niners offensive plan, the Chiefs will have to respect him, and that itself will cause them problems.

KANSAS CITY, MO – AUGUST 24: Tyreek Hill #10 of the Kansas City Chiefs catches a warmup kick prior to the preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers at Arrowhead Stadium on August 24, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

Tyreek Hill & Sammy Watkins v Richard Sherman

In 2018, Richard Sherman, one of the key members of the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom, signed for the 49ers. In 14 games, he failed to register an interception and only beat his tackles total from 2017 by two – playing five fewer games.

More was expected if the Californian side were to improve on their disappointing season. Sherman hasn’t disappointed. Three picks, one touchdown and 61 tackles later, the cornerback is back to his best.

Next Sunday he’ll need to continue on that path as he tries to stop both Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. It was the latter who stepped up against the Titans, and with 114 yards, he finished with more than Hill and Travis Kelce combined.

It was proof, regardless of your gameplan to battle the Chiefs, if you think you have their big name targets under control, there is always someone else to step up.

Given time in the pocket, Mahomes will look to burn Sherman against Hill’s lightning speed, but the former Buffalo Bill is no slouch either. It will be key for the pass rush to make the QB throw the ball early, otherwise their veteran corner could be in for a long day.

*All odds correct at time of publication

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