The San Francisco 49ers have not trailed in the playoffs, earning home wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers as the number one seed in the National Football Conference. The Kansas City Chiefs have trailed in both their postseason games, overcoming deficits of 24 points and 10 points while downing the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium.
The fact that the Chiefs even got a pair of home games in the playoffs as the number two seed in the American Football Conference twice required upsets. On the final day of the regular season, Kansas City was elevated from the third to second seed when the New England Patriots were upset as a 17 point home favorite against the Miami Dolphins.
The Chiefs got to host the AFC Championship Game when their conference top seed, the Baltimore Ravens, were upset at home while favored by ten points against the Tennessee Titans. What did the Chiefs do with these two gifted home games?
They fell behind the Texans 24-0 and then outscored Bill O’Brien’s team 51-7 enroute to a 20 point win. Two weeks ago, in the AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs allowed Tennessee to take an early 10-0 lead and also were down 17-7 midway through the second quarter before out-scoring Mike Vrabel’s squad 28-7 over the final two-and-a-half quarters.
The 49ers suffocated the Vikings offense in the Divisional Playoff round, 27-10, and had already built a 27-0 second half lead before allowing Green Bay to register a point in the NFC Championship Game.
From these scores alone, wouldn’t one think the top seed 49ers were the better team?
San Francisco has rushing and passing edges over the Chiefs and come into Super Bowl LIV as healthy as they have been all season. Before midseason injuries created some holes in the 49ers stop unit, they were playing defense on a par with the 1985 Chicago Bears. After sweeping their first three games of the regular season, the 49ers returned from their bye week with three consecutive games in which they didn't allow their opponents to break single digits. San Francisco downed the Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins while surrendering 3, 7 and 0 points respectively.
After seven games, the 49ers were 7-0 and had allowed only 77 points.
Then the defense, somewhat based on injuries and also driven by the motivational problems that came from their lofty position in the standings, the young 49ers team got dented for 25, 27 and 28 points in consecutive weeks in a pair of wins over the Arizona Cardinals, sandwiched by their first loss of the season, an overtime setback to their primary NFC West Division rival, the Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers also had Drew Brees and his New Orleans Saints tag them for 46 points in December … but before you hang your head on that one as a San Francisco fan, know this, they also won that game, 48-46.
Defense was the primary reason the 49ers secured the top seed on the final day of the regular season when they held Seattle out of the endzone on a goal line stand. Indeed, that stop unit that opened the season so strong, has been back in full force in the postseason and that is one of the reasons the 49ers are favored this week over the Chiefs in their quest for a sixth franchise Super Bowl win.
They aren’t favored?
The Chiefs, who got gift home games in the playoffs and required comebacks from double-digit deficits in both their postseason games, are favored on the point spread against a San Francisco team that has dominated their postseason competition?
How can this be?
Perhaps the comeback wins are a greater test of character than dominating victories. It could be attributed to simply a case where the betting public is much more attracted to a high scoring offense than stout defensive play. But, in reality, during their 16 game regular season, the 49ers scored more points than the Chiefs, but San Francisco’s defense allowed more points than Kansas City's.
I suggest it is something more, something more significant than simple stats as to why the Chiefs are favored and why they are going to win.
Before that final call is made, we get to monitor these two teams and the wagering patterns in the final 24 hours leading up to Sunday’s kickoff. Already in Reno, fans of the 49ers have descended on the Biggest Little City and plunked their money down on their hometown team. The point spread at the Peppermill, which is an independent book, has seen the line drop to a pick ‘em.
That move indicates that the onslaught of San Francisco fans are prompting a major line adjustment while the Peppermill looks to attract Kansas City money. If the national books were inclined to do the same, change their line to attract money on the Chiefs, then the prospect of a 49ers win would be enhanced.
But, while the books leave the Chiefs favored in search of San Francisco money, that indicates the likely prospect of a first Super Bowl win for Andy Reid.
Numbers matter, and while most will study the rushing and passing stats with an eye on them making the biggest difference, I’m a lot more interested in how the books will tip their hand on this game with their number.