Photo courtesy ABC News
Three days separate us from the crowning of a new king in the NFL. For just a few hours, the sporting world will stand still and watch Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs square off against Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers. From a Vanderbilt standpoint, two former Commodores will vie for Super Bowl rings.
Vanderbilt will be well-represented on the gridiron this Sunday, with a total of four former Commodores suiting up. Rookie quarterback Kyle Shurmur and linebacker Emmanuel Smith will take the field for the Chiefs, while veteran wideout Jordan Matthews and rookie offensive lineman Justin Skule will represent the 49ers.
The Vanderbilt Hustler sports staff gives its predictions before Sunday kickoff:
Max Schneider, Sports Editor
Even days before the Super Bowl, I’m still trying to figure out my own rooting interests. Usually the Patriots being the AFC representative decides that for me, but this year, with an actually tolerable AFC team in the mix and an upstart San Francisco team that gives bottom dwellers like my Jets hope, I’m conflicted.
In all seriousness, I’m giving the slight edge to the 49ers because of how strong their defensive front four is. Patrick Mahomes is incredible and is the future of this sport, but I remember watching Peyton Manning in arguably the greatest quarterback season of all-time get demolished 43-8 in the Super Bowl by a truly great defense. San Francisco has the defense to match its high-powered offense. The 49ers enter Sunday with 57 sacks on the year, most in the NFL. In the history of the Super Bowl era, only six teams prior to the 49ers have entered a Super Bowl with at least 55 sacks on the season. All six of those teams won. The Chiefs will get their points, but against Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, George Kittle and that standout offensive line, I’m not sure Kansas City can get stops when it needs them in big time moments. San Francisco can. Give me the Niners.
Prediction: San Francisco 33, Kansas City 30
Alyssa Muir, Deputy Sports Editor
This year’s Super Bowl should be a far-cry from last year’s defensive slugfest. The Chiefs and 49ers both have outstanding offenses and superb, young quarterbacks, so points will not be at a premium like they were last season. Additionally, both teams are extremely likeable this year, adding to the intrigue of the match-up. The minute that Patrick Mahomes took over as quarterback for Kansas City, he captivated football fans everywhere with his weekly highlight throws. On the other side, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Brady’s former back-up, has been the epitome of resilience this year as he came back from an ACL injury that cost him all but three games last season.
Both teams have been dominant over the course of the entire regular season as well as their two playoff games. On paper, the teams seem extremely evenly matched, with the 49ers having a defensive edge and the Chiefs having a slight offensive one. San Francisco’s defensive line has been a major issue for opposing teams all season, and no one in the league cans score faster than Kansas City can. In the end, I believe too much in Mahomes’ ability to make the big plays in crunch time, and, ultimately, Andy Reid’s squad will be victorious.
Prediction: Kansas City 38 San Francisco 34
Justin Hershey, Deputy Sports Editor
A Super Bowl without the Patriots in it? Finally. After appearing in five of the last nine, Tom Brady and Co. were eliminated by the Kansas City Chiefs, and without them, this game should add a fresh, new brand of football to February’s big game. It seems like every year I am simply rooting for the NFC team (i.e. not the Patriots). But this year is different, and for maybe the first time in my life, I will be pulling for the Kansas City Chiefs and the former head coach of my Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid.
Both the 49ers and Chiefs are enticing teams. With Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs are one of the most dynamic offenses in the entire NFL. They rank in the top five of almost every statistical category, and few teams are more exciting with the ball. The Niners are a terrific story. After going 17-64 over the past four years, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shannahan have built a defensive powerhouse that has brought football back to the bay area. The big question mark for me will be how Jimmy Garoppolo will respond to the biggest stage. Garoppolo has been steady all year, but consideringhow good the Chiefs’ offense is, he will have to lead this 49ers team to multiple offensive touchdowns. In the end, Reid will get his illustrious first Super Bowl title in a thrilling and competitive game.
Prediction: Kansas City 30, San Francisco 24
Bryce Smith, Staff Writer
Echoing what Max said, I’m really not sure who I am rooting for going into this year’s Super Bowl. On one side, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes have put together one of the most dominant offensive stretches in NFL history over the past two seasons. On the other side, Kyle Shanahan is one of the most inventive play callers in the sport and has turned journeyman running back Raheem Mostert into one of the best running backs in the league during the playoffs. Each team has dominated virtually all season long. They both feature dynamic offensive minds at head coach, steady quarterback play, elite tight ends, and improved defenses.
Both sides will have their offenses ready to go. The Chiefs seemed like the natural pick based on their plethora of talent on that side of the ball, and Mahomes has truly been special during the playoffs especially. For the Niners, Jimmy Garropolo has led the Niners’ offense all year long and Mostert has been a force of late. And you can’t forget about George Kittle, San Francisco’s tight end who is one of the best in all of football.
But I’m going to go with San Francisco because of their defense. The defensive line is fearsome; opposing teams have to pick their poison against the likes of Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford, and others. On the back end, they have veteran corner Richard Sherman who has won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks. Kyle Shanahan gets his first ring, and the Niners are appreciated for the first time all year.
Prediction: San Francisco 37 Kansas City 30
Jaime Perez, Staff Writer
After last season’s defensive-minded and uneventful Super Bowl, this year’s matchup promises to be a much more exciting and high-scoring game. Throughout the regular season, both the Chiefs and the 49ers made it clear that they were two of the best teams in the league. This postseason, their elite play continued, as they both looked dominant in their respective playoff victories. In a clash of styles, we will get to see the Chiefs, who have arguably the most dynamic offense in the league, face the 49ers’ defense, which is widely regarded as one of the NFL’s best.
The battle between two offensive geniuses in Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid will also be fascinating to watch, especially since both are coming into the game with their own subplots. Just three years after his Falcons offense sputtered in a historic Super Bowl loss, Shanahan looks for redemption on the sport’s biggest stage, while Reid hopes to finally conquer the only accomplishment that has eluded him throughout his legendary career: a Super Bowl victory.
The 49ers and the Chiefs are two teams that have been impressively built by their front offices and will compete for the title for many years to come. But this year, I am going with the Chiefs, who are hungry after last year’s disappointing elimination in a game they should have won against the Patriots. The 49ers may be a more balanced team, but the Chiefs proved their defense can rise to the occasion and stop an elite run game with the right gameplan. In what will likely be a close game throughout its entirety, Mahomes will carry the Kansas City to victory, cement himself as the best player in the game and win Andy Reid his first Super Bowl.
Prediction: Kansas City 31 San Francisco 28
Christopher Hugh, Staff Writer
In a showdown between Andy Reid’s gunslinging offense and the lockdown San Francisco defense, this contest is shaping up to be one of the better Super Bowls in recent memory. Although Mahomes will do his best to conduct one of his trademark air raids, as the saying goes, defense wins championships. And Shanahan’s squad is certainly up to the task. Sporting the second-best pass defense in the league, led by Richard Sherman, the unit gave up a meager 173.8 passing yards per game, the lowest in the NFL. Although Sherman is the biggest name in the secondary, his counterpart, Emmanual Moseley, is by no means the weak link. Moseley allowed a lower success rate on balls thrown to his side of the field than the right side of the field, where Sherman covers.
San Francisco’s offense threw the ball just eight times in the NFC championship game, while handing the ball off a whopping 42 times. With a solid running back trio in Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman, the 49ers will have more than enough in the tank in order to continue pounding the rock against the Chiefs. Kansas City, with their bottom-ten run defense, will have their hands full attempting to bottle up the three speedsters. SF’s potent run game should set up big play-action opportunities for Kittle and the 49er receiving core. With a win in Super Bowl LIV, the 49ers will successfully cap off one of the most drastic turnarounds in recent NFL history.
Prediction: San Francisco 30, Kansas City 24
Bobby Kent, Staff Writer
With my Eagles out of the race, I am faced with the taxing decision of who to root for in the Super Bowl. This year, however, it’s not difficult. I want the Kansas City Chiefs to win for one reason and one reason only: I want Andy Reid to finally win the biggest game of his career. Even though I was only four at the time, I still feel the anguish of the Eagles narrow 24-21 defeat at the hands of the Patriots that gave Tom Brady the thirdtitle of his illustrious career. Reid has had a borderline Hall of Fame career (his 221 wins rank sixth all time and most of any Head Coach who has not won a championship) and a ring would surely catapult him into not only Canton but also the conversation of the greatest coaches of all time. Everyone in Philadelphia, myself included, ison his side.
Widely known as a quarterback guru after previously coaching Brett Farve, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, Reid has another game-changing signal-caller in Patrick Mahomes under center. Given Mahomes’ ability to deliver in clutch moments, I have no doubt he will be able to provide more than enough plays to help the Chiefs beat the Niners and their vaunted defense. In what will most likely be a tight back and forth game for most of the way, the Chiefs will find the one or two plays on the back of soon-to-be Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes to turn the tide of the game and come out victorious. Andy Reid will finally claim the title that has eluded him for so long.
Prediction: Kansas City 24 San Francisco 21
Will Fritzler, Staff Writer
I caught a strong case of Titans fever this year and am disappointed to not see Ryan Tannehill returning to Miami this weekend. My impulse is to support the team they lost to, but the Chiefs look vulnerable. Having gone down 24 points to Houston and 10 to Tennessee, Kansas City has relied on a dynamite offense led by Patrick Mahomes to resuscitate both their playoff games. On the other hand, the 49ers have left no doubt in their two games, jumping out to early leads against Minnesota and Green Bay and not looking back. I’m partial to a stellar defense, and San Francisco has just that. A key turnover will decide this game, and it will return the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Bay Area for the first time since 1995.
Prediction: San Francisco 28, Kansas City 24
Ethan Stern, Staff Writer
For the Chiefs, the hype is all around Mahomes. After a “down year” in which he threw for 26 TDs and 4,031 yards in 14 games of action, he has been virtually unstoppable in the postseason. Meanwhile, his receivers that have struggled at times throughout the year are starting to break out – namely Sammy Watkins, who caught for 114 yards and a big TD en route to the win against the Titans. The track team receiving corps of the Chiefs will not struggle to get open against the 49ers’ secondary, the team’s defensive weakness with the exception of star corner Richard Sherman. Sherman has never been known for speed, so safety help will be crucial against a burner like Tyreek Hill.
For the 49ers, their offensive identity is almost the polar opposite. Coming back from major knee surgery, Jimmy Garoppolo has quarterbacked his team to some incredible wins during the year, especially breaking out in the latter half of the season. Once the playoffs started, however, it was all the running game. He threw just eight passes against the Packers, but it didn’t matter, as breakout star Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards and four TDs. The 49ers’ backfield has become a three-headed monster of Mostert, Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman, and we should expect a lot of yardage on the ground. The Chiefs’ run defense, however, just shut down the hottest running back in the NFL, doing a nice job of keeping Derrick Henry to just 69 yards two weeks ago.
I predict the Niners will take a ground-oriented approach, with Jimmy G handing off the ball many more times than he throws. I predict that the Chiefs will do the exact opposite. Unless something goes very wrong, this is going to be a close game until the end. I expect Mahomes to struggle early against Bosa and the pass rush, but as he continues to tire them out with his escapability, he’ll start to find receivers deep down the field. After this Sunday, Andy Reid will be walking away with something he’s never had before: a Super Bowl win.
Prediction: Kansas City 38, San Francisco 34
Jack Hollier, Staff Writer
Although the spotlight is shining on quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Patrick Mahomes, I believe the upcoming Super Bowl is best viewed as a matchup between Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan, two dynamic coaches with notable missteps in their playoff pasts. On one hand, Andy Reid has turned the speedy Kansas City offense into a machine like the NFL has never seen, but this is the first time he’s been able to return to the Super Bowl since 2005. Despite his impressive number of wins, Reid has been unable to capture the elusive Lombardi trophy.
On the other hand, Kyle Shanahan has completely transformed the 49ers organization and elevated players like Raheem Mostert into household names. After closely watching the devastating Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51, I was unsure that Shanahan has the ability to close out games when holding early leads. However, even with early leads, the 49ers have soundly beaten both the Vikings and the Packers in the playoffs this season, indicating that Shanahan may have learned from his mistakes. As a result, I think Kyle Shanahan, Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers will bring a title back to San Francisco and Andy Reid and the Chiefs will leave empty-handed.
Prediction: San Francisco 28, Kansas City 17