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Kansas City Chiefs v San Francisco 49ers: Complete guide to Super Bowl LIV including key storylines, match-ups and prediction

There is plenty of excitement over one of the most intriguing Super Bowl matchups of recent memory

A statue of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino stands outside Hard Rock Stadium, where Super Bowl LIV will be played. AP Photo
A statue of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino stands outside Hard Rock Stadium, where Super Bowl LIV will be played. AP Photo

Miami plays host to the most prestigious event on the US sporting calendar on Sunday as the NFL's champions for the 2019 season is decided in Super Bowl LIV.

The razzmatazz that dominates the build-up has been largely muted this week, with the sporting world still coming to terms with the tragic death of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.

There is plenty of excitement, though, over one of the most intriguing Super Bowl matchups of recent memory as AFC Champions Kansas City Chiefs and NFC champions San Francisco 49ers meet at Hard Rock Stadium.

It is a game that pits arguably the best quarterback in the NFL against the league's premier defense and, after the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams served up a disappointing spectacle last year, this is a clash that could truly live up to the moniker of 'the greatest show on Earth'.

Key questions

Can Reid finally win a ring?

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. AP Photo
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. AP Photo

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has 207 regular season wins and 14 playoff victories, but he has never succeeded in climbing to the top of the NFL mountain.

He came close in the 2004 season when in charge of the Philadelphia Eagles, losing 24-21 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX but, perhaps unfairly, his career has since been defined by postseason failures and criticism of his game management skills.

Reid, with the help of superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, has shed such critiques over the past two seasons and, with victory over the Niners, would add the finishing touches to a Hall of Fame resume.

Shanahan and the ghost of 28-3

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. Reuters
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. Reuters

Like Reid, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan experienced Super Bowl heartache at the hands of the Patriots, though the defeat he suffered while offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons was significantly more devastating.

The Falcons infamously let a 28-3 lead slip in Super Bowl LI three years ago, with Shanahan coming under severe criticism for his play calling in the second half as the Atlanta offense stalled and the Patriots stormed back.

Shanahan has faced relentless questions about that experience, which taught him he can never afford to ease up regardless of the size of the lead.

"You realise when you're playing good teams, good quarterbacks, that you can never relax," Shanahan said this week.

If the Niners get ahead against the Chiefs, Shanahan will unquestionably keep his foot on the pedal as he looks to banish the painful memories of the Falcons' collapse.

Can Jimmy G deliver?

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Reuters
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Reuters

It is a question that has dominated the build-up to the game, can 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo keep the 49ers in what many expect to be a high-scoring game with the explosive Chiefs?

There are many who doubt his ability to do so, despite the fact Garoppolo put the Niners on his back in a series of thrilling contests in the second half of the regular season.

The scepticism surrounding Garoppolo stems from the Niners' approach to their playoff wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Garoppolo completed only 19 passes across those two games as the Niners racked up massive yardage through the running game.

The expectation is that the 49ers will not be able to rely quite so heavily on the ground attack in the Super Bowl and they will have to put the ball in Garoppolo's hands. Should that prove the case then it will present Garoppolo with the chance to silence his critics on the biggest stage of all.

Key Matchups

Mahomes v 49ers pass rush

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. AP Photo
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. AP Photo

Patrick Mahomes' playoff campaign will live long in the memory regardless of the outcome of the Super Bowl. An electric postseason has seen him throw for 615 yards and eight touchdowns, with his remarkable AFC Championship game performance against the Tennessee Titans capped by an incredible 27-yard touchdown run.

In the 49ers' defense, however, he faces arguably his toughest challenge. Across the regular season and playoffs, they have 57 sacks, with their ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks while using only four pass rushers allowing them to devote more resources to covering receivers.

Success against the San Francisco defense is tough to come by. If Mahomes, the 2018 MVP, can dissect the Niners the way he did the Houston Texans and the Titans, then he will likely cement his place as an all-time great.

Kittle v Kelce

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle. Reuters 
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle. Reuters 

They will not be on the field at the same time, but the Super Bowl may settle the debate over who is the best tight end in the NFL.

There is no question that San Francisco's George Kittle and Kansas City's Travis Kelce are the top two at the position. Kittle (1,377) edged out Kelce (1,336) for the record in receiving yardage by a tight end in 2018.

He has solidified his reputation as one of the league's top all-round talents this year, while Kelce remains a remarkably effective focal point of the Chiefs offense. Both will be integral to their teams' respective game plans and the Super Bowl could be decided by which tight end shines brightest.

49ers run game v Chiefs defense

Derrick Henry is stopped short of the goal line by the Kansas City Chiefs defense. EPA
Derrick Henry is stopped short of the goal line by the Kansas City Chiefs defense. EPA

The Chiefs shut down the league's most prolific running back in Derrick Henry in their win over the Titans, but the 49ers' ground game presents a very different challenge.

Whereas the Titans built their offense around Henry's powerful downhill running style, the 49ers are a team that looks to open massive holes and attack the edge of the field to get their backs in space.

That plan worked incredibly well in their first two playoff games, the Niners amassing 471 yards on the ground over their defeats of the Vikings and Packers.

The Chiefs were extremely susceptible to the run in the regular season. If the Niners can exploit them in that area and control the pace of the game with the run, that will keep Mahomes off the field and limit his big-play opportunities. Should San Francisco struggle on the ground, it could result in a shoot-out few expect them to win.

Road to the Super Bowl

Chiefs

Regular-season record: 12-4 (Won AFC West)

Divisional Round: 51-31 v Texans

Conference Championship: 35-24 v Titans

49ers

Regular-season record: 13-3 (Won NFC West)

Divisional Round: 27-10 v Vikings

Conference Championship: 37-20 v Packers

Prediction

Unlike Jennifer Lopez and Shakira's half-time show, the consensus is this is matchup that will live up to the hype. It's the league's most talented quarterback against its most complete team and, though Mahomes can win any game on his own, history says the latter should win out. The 49ers have won in a variety of fashions throughout this season and they should find a way to gain one more victory when it matters most.

Final Score: 49ers 27-20 Chiefs

Updated: February 1, 2020 08:18 AM

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