Super Bowl preview: 49ers-Chiefs stats, prediction, more

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Who doesn't love a good rematch? Sunday brings us a matchup of the NFL's most consistently dominant teams over the past five seasons, each of whom have something to accomplish with a victory.

A win for the Chiefs would confirm them as a dynasty. The list of teams to win three Super Bowls in five years isn't long. the mid-1970s "Steel Curtain" Steelers, the mid-1990s Cowboys built by Jimmy Johnson, the Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick managed to pull it off twice in two different decades. That's it. A victory would put the Chiefs among the greatest five-year runs in league history, full stop.

The 49ers might believe they would be the dynasty if a few things had broken their way. They led the Chiefs by 10 points with seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, only for Patrick Mahomes to carry Kansas City back. In the 2021 NFC title game, the Niners had a 10-point lead on the Rams to start the fourth quarter, but Jaquiski Tartt dropped an arm punt and the offense went cold at the wrong time. In the 2022 NFC title game, down to their third-string quarterback in rookie sensation Brock Purdy, the 49ers went into Philadelphia and lost Purdy to a serious elbow injury in the first quarter, which led to a 31-7 rout.

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Purdy and coach Kyle Shanahan aren't going anywhere, but a win would dramatically impact their stories. Purdy would go from being Mr. Irrelevant and a quarterback carried by his skill-position players to the guy who beat the most talented quarterback ever in a Super Bowl. Shanahan can't go back in time and hold on to those two leads his teams blew in the Super Bowl, but winning one as a head coach would rewrite his legacy.

Oh, and Taylor Swift will be watching, too. Five months ago, the season began with a Chiefs loss. Will it end with one?

Jump to a section:
What Mahomes does better than anyone
The Chiefs' lucky number is ...
Do the 49ers have a talent advantage?
Defending San Francisco's 'death lineup'
Will Kansas City play more man or zone?
How the Chiefs might defend the 49ers
The Purdy referendum ... solved?
Which team has the special teams edge?
Which coach has the game management edge?
49ers-Chiefs final score prediction

Patrick Mahomes' secret superpower

As the 49ers get started thinking about how they'll stop the Chiefs, they will have to contend with the quarterback who broke their hearts four years ago in Miami. Mahomes wasn't perfect for four quarters against the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, but he was nearly flawless on the final three drives. The Chiefs scored 21 unanswered points, and a game that had been dominated by the San Francisco defense turned into the ultimate example of a lesson too many teams have sadly needed to learn: Never count out Mahomes.

On that day, he made his biggest impact by hitting a pair of deep shots to Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins to set up touchdowns. Both of those wideouts are long gone, and the offense the Chiefs ran during the early days of the Mahomes era has been forced to evolve into something different.

During his MVP season in 2018, Mahomes' passes traveled an average of 8.8 yards in the air, which was the sixth-highest rate for any quarterback. That number has come down with each advancing season, owing both to changes in personnel and the utter fear instilled in defenses of allowing him to beat them deep. In 2023, his average pass traveled 6.2 yards in the air, the shortest mark for any full-season starter. He had a league-high 37 deep completions in 2018; that number dropped to 17 this season. Early-career Mahomes was Steph Curry; now, he's Nikola Jokic.