The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs complete the 100th season of the National Football League today when they square off in Super Bowl LIV. The weather for today’s game is Miami nice, and the teams are both healthy. What we have here are two quality teams from quality organizations that have stocked their squads with high character men as well as talented athletes.
One of the least effective ways to handicap a Super Bowl is to identify a player or two that you think is going to make all the difference. Both teams have star quality athletes playing at the top of their game. It could be Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle or a stable of other stars on the 49ers side that could prove to be the one that is credited with making the biggest difference.
If the Chiefs are to win, perhaps it will be Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill or one of their other stars that is hailed as the key to today’s victory.
In truth, both teams have athletes on both sides of the ball capable of carrying the day and gleaming with star quality. But to pick a player before the game is pure folly, but recognizing that the player or players credited most will consistently be on the team that comes into the game with the motivational edge can serve the quest for a point spread win.
While both teams want to win this game equally, one of them could prove to have the edge that seems to get them to loose balls just a split second quicker and break tackles on the way to a score. It is an edge that can’t be sparked by a coach's pep talk, but one that comes from a real healthy fear of an opponent.
The 49ers defense, a unit that dominated early in the season, allowing only 77 points through their first seven games, endured injuries and motivation situations that had them play no more than average for two months. Then, as the drive to the number one seed in the National Football Conference took shape, San Francisco got healthy again and it has been their defense most responsible for them advancing to today’s Super Bowl.
That unit will be stoked to challenge the dynamic Chiefs offense under the direction of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City attacks defenses with reckless abandon, and Mahomes is most effective while challenged by a hard-charging defensive front. Against the blitz this season, Mahomes has completed 23 touchdown passes while surrendering only one interception.
The 49ers defense will have to be more content to contain Mahomes than to challenge him with all-out blitzes. While that unit is surely motivated to battle the Chiefs, the Kansas City defense is also on full alert against a ground oriented San Francisco offense that rushed for 285 yards and averaged nearly 7 yards a carry in their Championship Game victory over the Green Bay Packers.
I have found that a more reliable way to identify point spread winners than focusing on the teams is to take cues from the people that have the most at stake, and vast sources feeding them information, the books. They can lead bettors one way or the other with point spreads that invite wagers on one side … and by their method of operation, that is to lure the wagering public to the wrong side.
This weekend, 49ers fans have flocked to the sports books like swallows descend on Capistrano each year. It has been 25 years since their team has won a Super Bowl and they are making their first appearance in the game since their only Roman Numeral loss, suffered to the Baltimore Ravens to complete the 2012 season.
National books online, or those tied to Las Vegas, have maintained the Chiefs as a slight favorite since this matchup was confirmed two weeks ago. But, independent books, like the Peppermill or Atlantis in Reno, have been forced to adjust their point spreads in an attempt to counter the heavy San Francisco action. On Saturday night, the Peppermill actually listed the 49ers as a one-point favorite in a game they are nationally posted as a 1½ point underdog.
That is the most obvious way the books shift lines to balance the wagering on both sides of a contest. The Peppermill is screaming for Kansas City money with the imbalance caused by the San Francisco fans. If that were to happen on a national basis, the books looking to draw action to one side with an adjusted point spread, my tendency would be to take the better line and avoid taking what the books were baiting with their point spread.
Not giving the books what they want is a real good way to secure consistent profits.
As of right now, the books aren’t playing with the line, seemingly satisfied with the action coming in while the Chiefs are a slight favorite.
Want to know what has happened to slight favorites in the first 53 Super Bowls? There have been seven games with a favorite of 2½ points or less, and the underdog has collected the money in those seven games five times.
Is that a reason to take the 49ers today?
No, there are a lot more important factors that dictate results, and whether a team was a favorite or underdog when they had the critical factors to dictate a win is not tied to whether they were getting or giving points.
The key today, by my charts, given the books haven’t lent a clear edge, is the rungs on the ladder the Chiefs have established in landing themselves in their first Super Bowl in 50 years. This has been a long progression for Andy Reid to get the Chiefs to the final leg of the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy. Last year, the Chiefs were on the doorstep of a Super Bowl berth in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
They would have gotten it too, except an off-side penalty wiped out a game clinching interception and Tom Brady took advantage with a game tying touchdown and overtime TD for the win. The Kansas City player called for off-sides on that critical play was Dee Ford, who is in action today … as a member of the 49ers.
This year, the Chiefs opened the playoffs by spotting the Houston Texans 24 points, and then rolled by the visitors while scoring 51 of the next 58 points tallied. They fell behind the Tennessee Titans two weeks ago, and again blew by their opponent on way to a double-digit victory.
While the 49ers two postseason wins have been more dominant, 27-10 over the Minnesota Vikings and 37-20 over the Packers, they were in spots where they held solid motivational edges in both those games.
Today, it comes down to winning experience. The 49ers are riding this season’s crest while coming off a four win campaign in 2018. The Chiefs are looking to complete what they almost accomplished last season.
I have seen a lot of preseason longshots get to the doorstep of a Super Bowl win in the 50 plus years I have followed the game. But, history shows that the long odds teams that crack the playoff field consistently fall a rung or two short of winning it all.
This is a great game, and also a great bet.
Qoxhi Picks: Kansas City Chiefs (-1½) over San Francisco 49ers