Expected Game Pace, Tempo, and High Level Matchup Factors:
Chiefs: — Chiefs rank 2nd in yds/play, while SF ranks 31st in YPP allowed. — Chiefs Avg. 60.9 plays/gm. They ran 64 plays vs. Ten, & 57 vs. HOU. — 49ers have allowed 59.5 plays per game. — Chiefs ranked 6th in situation neutral pace in 2019. — Chiefs ranked 25th in rush%, which increased substantially when leading 7+. — Chiefs faced the 5th easiest schedule of opponents in the regular season. — 49ers ranked 2nd in defensive efficiency per Sharp Football Stats.
49ers: — 49ers rank 5th in yds/play, while KC ranks 17th in YPP allowed. — 49ers Avg. 62.8 plays/gm. They ran 68 plays vs. Min, & 51 vs. GB. — Chiefs have allowed 65.5 plays per game. — 49ers rank 20th in situation neutral pace. — 49ers rank 3rd in rush%. They ran at a ridiculous 55.28% leading 7+. — 49ers faced the 23rd easiest schedule of opponents in the regular season. — Chiefs ranked 14th in defensive efficiency per Sharp Football Stats.
Based on the data above, I projected both teams near 62 plays. That is a very average pace.
Expected Game Flows:
The game is projected to be extremely close. The public expects the favored Chiefs to prevail based on betting percentages early in the week. If that is to be the case, that would mean KC found a way to slow down the SF rush attack in combination with a passing game plan that was effective against a tough defense. I am not in agreement with the public betting trend, though I would not call this crazy or unlikely to occur.
My issue with this prediction is that other good teams were largely unsuccessful in stopping the 49ers run game, and they could not generate passing game production against their defense. Patrick Mahomes is a QB you can’t dismiss as being capable of beating any defense, but the data suggests to me that the 49ers are the more likely team to carry the lead in this game.
I think the most likely outcome is that the 49ers win, exploiting a big matchup mismatch I will detail below. San Francisco has strength in the areas where Kansas City has shown weakness throughout the season.
High Level Matchup Factors:
The biggest mismatch I see: 49ers rushing offense vs. Chiefs run defense. Surface level stats indicate the Chiefs have struggled against the run, and a deeper analysis of their performance when trailing reveals even more alarming stats.
Surface Level Stats — KC ranked 3rd in expected points added: rushing. — KC ranked 29th in rush DVOA. — KC ranked 3rd in rush success rate allowed — KC ranked 2nd in early down success rate allowed — KC ranked 8th in total rushing yards allowed — KC ranked 4th in yards per carry allowed
Deeper Analysis: — KC time spent leading per game: 17:04 (rank 4th). — KC allowed a league low 306 yards rushing when leading by 1 or more. — When trailing by 3 or more, KC allowed a league high 1148 rushing yards. — In neutral spots (-3 to +3), KC led in yards allowed (930) and YPA (5.47) — In neutral spots, KC rated the worst BY FAR in EPA (29.2, 6x next worst) — KC strength of rushing opponent: 14th per Sharp Football Stats
The concern here is that the Chiefs spend a lot of time with the lead and in control of weaker foes. If this game is neutral or if the 49ers’ defense helps them get a lead, we know what the 49ers’ rushing offense is capable of against a soft run defense. In scenarios where the Chiefs do not obtain a lead, the pathetic Chiefs’ run defense will be exposed. There also is a possibility that they’ll be exposed no matter the score.
If we were to flip that script and assume Patrick gets the Chiefs ahead, we would need the Chiefs’ passing offense to deliver the goods. This should also concern you by the numbers:
— SF was the 2nd most difficult pass defense in terms of both EPA and DVOA. — SF rarely allowed explosive passing plays (5.96%, 31st). — SF allowed the fewest passing yards per game. — Only Brees, Goff, and Dalton were able to gather 300+ yards in game. — Kirk Cousins managed just 5.9 YPA and 172 yards in the divisional round. — Aaron Rodgers was only able to rack up 243 yards last game. — SF ranks 2nd in adjusted sack % and tallied 9 sacks in the playoffs.
At a high level, I don’t think there is any defense that is totally shutting down Patrick Mahomes. He will make plays in the big game, and I sincerely doubt we see the 49ers run away with it. However, the metrics described above give me confidence in a prediction of a 49ers advantage that relies on the exploitation of the Chiefs’ soft run defense. On the flip side, the 49ers’ strong pass defense should provide just enough production limitation to keep Mahomes from carrying Kansas City to a lead. If the Chiefs don’t carry a lead for most of the game, they are unlikely to stop what the 49ers do best on offense.
DFS Recommendations – Per My Analysis Below
Next in Line Captain/MVP: Travis Kelce
Next Best Mid Salary Flex Option/CPT: Emmanuel Sanders