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Fantasy Index Weekly

Super Bowl Preview: Kansas City

Oddsmakers give edge to San Fran

Overview: These teams have faced each other three times since Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan have been running things, and Kansas City has won all three meetings. The highest-profile encounter was in Super Bowl LIV after the 2019 season, while the most recent was during the 2022 regular season.

The 31-20 Super Bowl win was Reid's first; in that one, San Franciso led 20-10 with 9 minutes remaining, but Kansas City went on 83- and 65-yard touchdown drives its next two possessions, tacking on a final score after a failed fourth-down attempt by San Francisco. The 2022 meeting was also close into the fourth quarter, before Kansas City went on 80- and 72-yard touchdown drives in a 44-23 win.

It's somewhat surprising (to us, anyway) that San Francisco is about a 2- to 2.5-point favorite. (The line has fluctuated, with it dropping as low as 1- to 1.5 points, but most commonly San Francisco is favored by 2.) The 49ers had the better regular season (12-4 in meaningful games, while Kansas City was 10-6), but Kansas City has been a lot more impressive in the postseason, beating Miami soundly and winning at Buffalo and Baltimore, while San Francisco barely got by Green Bay and then Detroit, trailing late in both contests. Reportedly, there's been more money coming in on Kansas City, but there's been enough support for the 49ers to keep them as the favorites. The over-under has held steady at about 47.5 -- expectations of a 25-23 type of game.

Kansas City

Best explanation for the betting lines is that more stock is being placed in the regular season than the most recent performances of the two sides. San Francisco was just slightly above-average defending the pass (14th), but allowed only 20 touchdown passes, while Patrick Mahomes was a little off all season long. He averaged 261 passing yards and threw 27 touchdowns, which was 47 yards per game and 14 touchdowns below his 2022 totals, and well below all of his previous healthy seasons, too. He hasn't lit it up in the postseason, either (239 yards per game, with 4 TDs in three contests), although it should be noted that he was very sharp the last two games, completing 75 percent of his passes; Kansas City's defense kind of controlled things against Baltimore (Mahomes was 30 of 39 that day).

San Francisco limited Jordan Love to 194 yards, but 2 TDs, with Green Bay leading 21-14 in the fourth quarter. Jared Goff was better (273 yards and a touchdowns, with the Lions building a 24-7 halftime lead). But both games the defense made enough plays late to enable the offense to come back and pull out wins. San Francisco recorded only 2 sacks across those games, but had 3 total takeaways.

Mahomes, though, isn't making many mistakes right now. He hasn't turned it over in three postseason games, and has been sacked just twice. He put up big numbers in the last meeting (423 yards and 3 TDs) and was solid in the Super Bowl (286 yards and 3 total touchdowns). Straight off the numbers Mahomes would be expected to throw for 245 yards and 1.4 touchdowns. We're putting him down for 270 and 2 -- definitely the better performer this week among the two quarterbacks. Mahomes didn't run for any touchdowns during the season, but averaged a career-high 24 yards on the ground, and continued that pace in the playoffs (14 carries for 75 yards).

San Francisco ranked 3rd in run defense during the season, allowing just 90 yards per game and only 10 touchdowns (tied for 4th-fewest). Where has that gone? Green Bay ran for 136 yards, with Aaron Jones (18 for 108) averaging 6.0 yards per attempt. Detroit ran for 182 yards and 3 TDs, with David Montgomery (15 for 93) at 6.2 per carry. Green Bay had a hot running back and Detroit had a vastly superior ground game (5th during the season) than Kansas City (19th), but there doesn't seem to be much reason to think Kansas City won't be able to move the ball on the ground on Sunday.

Isiah Pacheco leads the way. He carried it at least 15 times in nine of his last 12 regular-season contests, and has been even busier in the postseason: an average of 21 carries for 85 yards, with a rushing touchdown in each game. None of those defenses (Miami, Buffalo, Baltimore) were quite as good against the run during the season as this one, but all were above-average, and San Francisco isn't playing at that level right now. Another 70-80 rushing yards from Pacheco looks reasonable, and he's the heavy favorite for any rushing touchdowns (including the playoffs, he has 10 of the team's 12 on the season). Pacheco was limited in practice last week with toe and ankle injuries, but he practiced even less leading up to the AFC Championship and handled the ball 28 times.

Pacheco's involvement as a receiver is shakier. In general, and particularly this week. Seven times (including in the last game) he caught at least 4 passes. But just 1 or no catches nearly as often (six times), including the other two playoff games. And now the team has opened up the practice window for Jerick McKinnon, on IR with a groin injury since Week 15. McKinnon caught 2-3 passes in nine of 12 games during the season, with huge receiving numbers a year ago -- 56 catches for 512 yards and 9 touchdowns. If he's active (and for now we're assuming he will be), he'll probably see more targets than Pacheco, and will be on the field for at least some passing formations near the goal line. Unrealistic to think he'd have a heavy-duty workload after being sidelined for six weeks, but he'll be a factor, and a candidate for any short touchdowns throws.

Only if McKinnon is inactive would Clyde Edwards-Helaire look viable. His 2 touchdowns this season came in an early-season blowout of Chicago (all three backs scored in that one) and a game Pacheco missed. With the others available, he averaged 18 total yards per game, with a third of his production against Chicago. About 5 touches is his ceiling (7-8, perhaps, if McKinnon in unable to go).

We don't see anything special with regard to Travis Kelce. He's upped his game in the postseason. After averaging 4 catches for 29 yards in his final three regular-season games, with just 1 TD in his final nine, he's blown up for 23 catches for 262 yards and 3 TDs in three playoff games; only 4 of the 27 passes thrown his way have fallen incomplete. Sam LaPorta (9 for 97) and Green Bay's duo (6 for 23 with a touchdown) haven't had any problems against this defense. Those forced to use a backup tight end in this game should go with Noah Gray over a San Francisco option. While the 49ers really only involved George Kittle all season, Gray caught 2-3 passes in just over half (11) of his 20 games, with 2 TDs. Just 3 TDs by tight ends against San Francisco, but they haven't really shut down any top players this year.

Rashee Rice had a huge season -- and better as the season went on. Through the first 10 games he caught 36 passes; solid production, but not eye-opening. In his last nine including the playoffs, he's caught 63 balls (7 per week), with three 100-yard performances and two more with 70-plus. He's caught 8 touchdowns, leading a team that tends to spread things around (six different receivers caught multiple touchdowns during the season). Of the 20 touchdowns allowed by San Francisco, 16 were caught by wideouts.

After Rice, it's a hodge-podge of lesser performers, any one of whom could emerge as the No. 2 in a given week. Marquez Valdes-Scantling rises up with a big game every once in a while, most notably catching 6 balls for 116 yards and a touchdown in last year's AFC Championship win. But then he didn't catch a pass in the Super Bowl, and those quiet games have been far more prevalent this season. Valdes-Scantling scored just once all season, and caught more than 2 passes in only one of his 19 games. The game-clinching reception at Baltimore, but just 5 total grabs in the postseason. A better dart throw than the other wideouts, however.

Justin Watson totals 3 for 36 in his last four games. Richie James (3 for 21 in those same contests) is primarily used on returns. Neither Skyy Moore (knee) nor Kadarius Toney (hip, personal) has played since Week 15, but both were practicing last week and might be available; Toney looks more likely, with the team saying he could return punts, apparently untroubled by his Instagram outburst claiming he wasn't injured. Even Mecole Hardman could get some chances, despite fumbling both of his touches at Buffalo and playing only one offensive snap at Baltimore. Only MVS looks remotely viable; none of the others look certain to catch a single pass even if they're active. Rice and at least three different San Francisco receivers look better than any of these options.

Harrison Butker is the clearly better kicking choice. He's been doing it for years, and he's facing the defense that allowed 7 more field goals (29-22) during the season. He missed only 2 field goals (no extra points) all season, and has kept it going in the playoffs (7 for 7 on both field goals and extra points). Sharp contrast with Jake Moody, who missed 4 field goals during the season and one in each playoff game, both from 48 yards.

Edge also to the Kansas City Defense. It has a better pass rush (57 sacks to 48) and slightly more fumble recoveries (9-6), though a lot fewer interceptions (22-8). But its matchup looks a lot better, especially given how the two quarterbacks have seemed this postseason. Mahomes has taken 2 sacks without turning it over in three games. Brock Purdy has taken only 3 sacks while throwing 1 interception in the two games, but has had a lot more errant throws, including a dropped Pick Six against Green Bay and several other reckless throws in both contests. If one of these quarterbacks should happen to meltdown with a few late turnovers (as Jimmy Garoppolo did four years ago), far more likely it will be Purdy. Kansas City will use either Richie James (former 49er) or Kadarius Toney on returns, but doesn't seem to have difference-making potential in that regard.

Next: San Francisco 49ers.

--Andy Richardson

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