Super Bowl LIV is nearly upon us, and the football world is elated to see a matchup that does not include the New England Patriots.
Instead, we’ll see a battle between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. One team has an elite passing offense with a creative defense, and the other a group of ground-and-pounders who rely on dominating in the trenches. It’s somewhat of a new school vs. old school matchup.
But which battles within the battle will decide the game? Let’s take a look.
5. Nick Bosa vs. Eric Fisher
Leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, we’ve seen a lot of stories about Nick Bosa vs. Patrick Mahomes, but that’s not how football structure works. Bosa will not have free lanes to chase Mahomes around. Instead, in order to get to the quarterback, he’ll have to get through offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who finished the regular season with a Pro Football Focus grade of just 64.3. Despite that grade, Fisher excelled in pass protection, allowing just a single sack while committing just two penalties. He’ll need to find that same success against Bosa or risk having the rookie completely disrupt the game and force Mahomes to make plays under pressure.
4. Joe Staley vs. Frank Clark
Frank Clark is feeling himself leading up to Super Bowl LIV, essentially crediting himself for the team’s defensive turnaround. While that might be a bit hyperbolic, he has certainly played his part, but it doesn’t mean a thing if they come up short. The ageless wonder, Joe Staley, certainly knows that. He will use his years of experience competing against Clark from his time in Seattle to his advantage. After missing half of the season due to a fractured fibula, Staley returned and immediately made an impact, saving his best performances for the playoffs. He’s played off the charts in recent weeks, and the 49ers need him to dial up one more top-end game before potentially calling it a career.
3. Chris Jones vs. Laken Tomlinson
Some would argue that Mitchell Schwartz vs. Dee Ford should be in this spot. However, Schwartz has played at a very high level this season and should matchup well with Ford, whereas Chris Jones has been a pocket-collapsing monster at times, impacting both the run and the pass. Tomlinson will likely be tasked with stopping him on most snaps throughout the game, and that battle could be just as important as any other. Jones should enter Sunday’s game relatively healthy, which could give him a slight advantage, but Tomlinson has seen a career rebirth with the 49ers, using his strength, athleticism and football IQ to anchor what has been a physically dominating offensive line. If Tomlinson and the other interior linemen can contain Jones, it opens San Francisco’s full bag of tricks. If not, they’re going to have to adjust on the fly and switch things up mid-game.
2. K’Waun Williams vs. Tyreek Hill
I’ve touched on this matchup previously, adding Williams to a list of players/coaches who could directly impact the outcome of Super Bowl LIV. Since then, there’s been some talk about Richard Sherman shadowing Hill, but that’s not what Sherman does. As talented as Sherman is, Williams is speedier and capable of keeping up with Hill and has limited big plays with the best of ’em. The 49ers will rely heavily on Williams to keep that pace for four quarters because if he can’t, it’s going to put San Francisco in a deep hole.
1. George Kittle vs. Tyrann Mathieu
As the Super Bowl nears, it appears more and more likely that San Francisco will lean heavily on Kittle offensively. And why wouldn’t they? In just a few short years, Kittle has established himself as one of the best all-around tight ends in football, capable of breaking a game wide open if not contained. That onus falls on the shoulders of veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has been up-and-down against TEs this season. It will be up to him and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to find a way to limit Kittle’s production or, ideally, take him out of the game entirely and force the 49ers to rely on other offensive weapons.