Super Bowl 58 Early Preview: Do the Chiefs or 49ers Hold the Advantage?

A rematch of Super Bowl LIV awaits as the Chiefs and 49ers punched their tickets to Vegas. But are the Chiefs the underdogs to hoist the Lombardi Trophy?

The first Super Bowl in Las Vegas will now get the eighth Super Bowl rematch in NFL history.

For the second time in five seasons, the San Francisco 49ers are heading back to the big game. But this time, they’re out to avenge that 31-20 loss against their opponent in two weeks: the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Are the 49ers the favorite this time? Or do the Chiefs look like they’re bound to go back-to-back? Time for a breakdown.

How San Francisco Stacks Up This Time Against Kansas City

San Francisco has been building itself up for this moment since that Miami failure that started the Chiefs’ run of Super Bowl appearances.

They’ve gone through a quarterback change from Jimmy Garoppolo to Brock Purdy. They got aggressive and added a Pro Bowl talent in the backfield via a 2022 trade for Christian McCaffrey. The front office bolstered a No. 1 defense one year ago by adding past Pro Bowlers Javon Hargrave and Chase Young in a span of nearly eight months in ’23 …

And it’s obvious why — they want to topple the Chiefs for league supremacy.

SF still has its ground-and-pound identity, especially with Pro Bowler and 2019 NFC champion Deebo Samuel getting some handoffs. Only this time, “Run CMC” gives the Niners an added running and catching threat — a backfield element KC hasn’t dealt with during these playoffs.

Furthermore, this Chiefs’ defense has to deal with another set of legs … Purdy’s. The final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft used his rare mobility to keep the 49ers alive against the Detroit Lions.

He averaged an astonishing 9.6 yards per carry. He was clutch, keeping drives alive by hitting Jauan Jennings on third down and, of course, that Lynn Swann-like Brandon Aiyuk catch that switched the momentum the 49ers’ way.

MORE: Are the Chiefs Officially a Dynasty?

The 49ers boasted a loaded front four in the last Super Bowl meeting with the Chiefs. But this time, Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead are all that’s left.

Yet, they got new reinforcements in the form of last year’s NFC champion with the Philadelphia Eagles, Hargrave, while also having past top-five pick Young and veteran rusher Randy Gregory. There’s also added championship experience on the interior in Sebastian Joseph-Day, who won the big game with the Los Angeles Rams in 2021.

But the 49ers have one option they can turn to regarding insight into the Chiefs’ playbook and route tree: cornerback Charvarius Ward is now on the other side of this rematch. And since he departed from KC, Ward has emerged as the Niners’ top lockdown CB.

How the Chiefs Measure Up to the 49ers

This has been, arguably by many NFL fans, the worst Chiefs team in the Patrick Mahomes/Andy Reid era.

Yet, they’ve willed their way back to the big game for the fourth time in five seasons — and they’ve pivoted to a different identity to go on this run.

Kansas City has gotten defensive — a rare trait for Reid-led teams. However, it certainly helps the offensive whiz Reid to have a past Super Bowl-winning coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo.

The Chiefs fielded the NFL’s second-best defense in 2023, which outranked their offense. KC’s defenders upped their game versus the favorite for the Most Valuable Player award.

Lamar Jackson lost the football on a strip sack by Charles Omenihu (a former 49ers edge rusher) and then got picked off by Deon Bush in the end zone. But post-Ward, L’Jarius Sneed has come into his own as a fast-rising All-Pro at CB.

Sneed did more than break up 14 passes and swoop up two interceptions in ’23. He delivered the game-altering forced fumble of Zay Flowers before he crossed the end zone in the third quarter.

MORE: Kansas City Chiefs Depth Chart | San Francisco 49ers Depth Chart

It all starts up front for this Chiefs’ unit. Perennial Pro Bowler Chris Jones delivered 10.5 sacks. But the trenches witnessed the rise of “Furious George”, second-year edge rusher George Karlaftis who rose to 10.5 sacks alongside Jones.

Elsewhere, former AFC West rival from the LA Chargers Drue Tranquill has established himself as the linebacker leader of KC. He produced eight solo stops in the AFC Championship game.

Safety Justin Reid has become an interchangeable option as a rare extra pass rusher from the third level of the defense. Reid, who will soon face his former Stanford teammate McCaffrey, finished with career-highs in tackles (95) and sacks (three).

Who Has the Advantage? Are the Champs the Underdog?

The 49ers are a 1-point favorite to win, according to DraftKings.

The Chiefs weren’t considered the underdog in last year’s Super Bowl, let alone when they met SF four years ago.

San Francisco, though, is once again the team with the better record in this matchup with a 13-win regular season. The schemes and overall structure may look the same, but the 49ers look far different than that ’19 run.

Again, this front office got aggressive by building through trades in getting McCaffrey and Young, plus signing Hargrave. The 49ers made these moves to snatch what the Chiefs own.

Still, Kansas City holds the edge in Super Bowl-winning experience through Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Reid. Only this time, they’ll need to rely more heavily on their defense now more than ever with a dual-threat passer plus decorated Pro Bowl RB joining the SF run.

San Francisco comes with more star power than ever before on offense. Plus, they have someone from the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs team on their side. All the more reason early signs have the 49ers ending their long Vince Lombardi Trophy title drought.

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