Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! This is arguably one of the happiest Super Bowls for me as my beloved 49ers have an excellent opportunity to end their 29 year championship drought. Of course there have been much heartbreak since their last title during the 1994 season or Super Bowl XXIX (29 for those who are Roman Numeral challenged). Let's count the ways the 49ers have been the bridesmaid/maid of honor.
1997: Loss to Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game; 49ers were 13-3, had home field advantage, and boasted a top 5 offense and defense
2011: Loss to NY Giants in the NFC Championship Game thanks to Kyle Williams fumbling two kickoff returns
2012: Loss to Baltimore in the Super Bowl; Harbaugh had Kaepernick throw it to Crabtree three straight times in the red zone with just a few minutes left in the game instead of handing the ball off to Gore
2013: Loss to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game; 49ers fought hard in that game against arguably one of the best NFL defenses in the last 20 years
2019: Loss to Kansas City in the Super Bowl; Shanahan was out coached as the 49ers blew a 20-10 lead in the 3rd quarter
2021: Loss to LA Rams in the NFC Championship Game; 49ers had an improbable run by sneaking into the playoffs and pulling off nail biter wins against Dallas and Green Bay on the road but they simply ran out of gas by the time they saw LA
2022: Loss to Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game which was probably the 49ers biggest meltdown in franchise history
Clearly there was a lull in the 49ers contending for a title from 1998 - 2010 and again from 2014 - 2018. Those were dark years for 49ers fans who were accustomed to seeing the 49ers compete at a high level during the Joe Montana/Steve Young era. Still, the 49ers are considered one of the most successful NFL franchises in NFL history with 5 Super Bowl wins and now 8 trips to the big game. There are still a few teams that have never been to the Super Bowl such as Detroit and Cleveland.
What is interesting is that here we have the 58th Super Bowl being played and the last time the 49ers won a Super Bowl was in the 29th such event. That is exactly half! Perhaps the Math Gods are working in favor of the 49ers!
But let's get serious here. What will it take for the 49ers to stop being the bridesmaid/maid of honor and to finally make it to the altar? To be honest, it won't take much. All the 49ers have to do is to keep playing their style of football and they should find themselves hoisting a 6th Lombardi trophy later this evening in Sin City.
Think about it. What is it that the 49ers do well? Two things: third down conversion and red zone efficiency. It's not rocket science. If your offense can keep the chains moving and score 7 points instead of 3 points each time they reach the red zone, you are going to win more times than not. During the last six Super Bowls, there have been four instances in which one of the Super Bowl teams entered the Super Bowl with both a better 3rd down conversion rate and red zone offense than its opponent. Each of those four teams won the Super Bowl: 2017 Philadelphia, 2019 Kansas City, 2021 LA Rams, and 2022 Kansas City.
During the 2023 regular season, the 49ers ranked 1st in red zone efficiency at 68.49% and 3rd in third down conversion rate at 48.79%. Meanwhile, Kansas City's red zone efficiency plummeted this year to 19th at 52.79%. Usually the Chiefs would rank in the top 2 or 3 with a percentage hovering around 70%. Their third down conversion rate is still solid ranking 6th at 43.02% and the Chiefs boast the strongest defense they have ever had in the Mahomes/Kelce/Reid era. But is the Chief defense really that intimidating? Not once have the Chiefs allowed an opponent to crack 30 points this season but they have lost to some teams who were able to score TDs in the red zone. Detroit and Green Bay were successful in doing that against Kansas City and of course San Francisco beat both teams in the postseason to get to the Super Bowl. Denver also had success in the red zone when they played Kansas City. Here is how each of those three team performed in the red zone against the Chiefs.
Detroit: 2-3 and won 21-20
Denver: 3-5 and won 24-9
Green Bay: 3-4 and won 27-19
That is 8-12 or 66.67% which is close to the 49ers red zone percentage. Don't expect the 49ers to put up a ridiculous amount of point but definitely count on them to punch the ball into the end zone once they get in the red zone. Not since the 1994 49ers with Ricky Watters or the 1980s 49ers with Roger Craig have I had so much confidence in the 49ers to score easily with the run game once they were close to the end zone. Christian McCaffrey is the 49ers best player and you win games with your best player. Yes, Brock Purdy has been great and the 49ers have plenty of firepower with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle but just hand the rock to McCaffrey. After all, you have All-Pro talent with left tackle Trent Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk helping pave the way for McCaffrey to chew up yards and score TDs. That is how the 49ers convert 3rd downs and settle for TDs, not FGs, once in the red zone. Don't overthink it. 7 points is four more than 3 points. Simple math.
We can get into what KC can do when they have the ball but now they are missing Pro Bowl left guard Joe Thuney. I can see the 49ers defense getting after the QB and having more success at stopping the run with Thuney out of the picture. Nick Bosa and the rest of the defensive front seven need to shine today and not let the Chiefs hog the clock which might be their strategy to keep the 49ers offense on the sidelines. If Bosa, Chase Young, Arik Armstead, Dre Greenlaw, and Fred Warner all step up big time on defense and limit the Chiefs offense, then the 49ers have an excellent chance to do some damage when they are on offense.
I still think this game is close given the Chiefs' rich experience in the Super Bowl (after all it's their 4th trip in the last 5 years), excellent coaching, and perhaps the best QB-TE duo in NFL history. This won't be easy for San Francisco and this represents their biggest test yet but if you want to be a champion, you have to rise up to that challenge. I think the 49ers are up to the task and that is not just my heart talking. Both my heart and head tell me the 49ers win a close one.
San Francisco 27
Kansas City 24
MVP: Christian McCaffrey (2 TDs)
Enjoy the game and GO NINERS!