The Kansas City Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years. This time, they'll face the same team they beat in Super Bowl LIV, the San Francisco 49ers.
In addition to the standard roster turnover, both teams have changed a lot over the past four years, such as the Chiefs becoming more of a defense-centric team and the 49ers switching quarterbacks as well as defensive coordinators (multiple times).
Kansas City is just one victory away from cementing themselves as an NFL dynasty. With a win, they'd be the first team to repeat as champions since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots and the fourth franchise to win three Super Bowls in five years (Pittsburgh in the 1970s, Dallas in the 1990s, and New England in both the 2000s and 2010s).
This is going to be their toughest test so far this postseason and they are also underdogs for the third consecutive game. If the Chiefs are going to emerge victorious, they'll need to do a lot on both sides of the ball, but this an extremely winnable game for them, especially for a Super Bowl. Although they are a fantastic team, there's a lot they need to avoid to win this game. There have been several games this season they've lost despite being the better team most of the time. If they can avoid certain situations, they should be home free to go back to back.
Here are the five the most important things the Chiefs must avoid Super Bowl LVIII:
The AFC Championship Game versus Baltimore was the first time since Week 6 that the Chiefs outright won the turnover battle. It was also only the third time this year in which they didn't turn the ball over at all. That has to remain true in this game.
The 49ers were 8th in turnover differential in the regular season and Top 7 in both takeaways and giveaways. Although the Chiefs have struggled to force turnovers for much of this season, Brock Purdy is one of the more reckless quarterbacks in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus ($), among 25 passers with at least 400 dropbacks this season, Purdy has the 7th highest turnover worth play rate. Purdy, similar to Lamar Jackson, has been one of the more lucky quarterbacks when it comes to turnovers this season.
On the flip side, the Chiefs need to play a super clean game offensively. That sounds obvious but the number one way they lose this game is if they play sloppy and give the Niners free possessions. It wasn't a coincidence that Kansas City got super conservative on offense in the second half once they had a double-digit lead. Given how good their defense is, a 0 giveaway day is probably the most important part of winning this game, but they have struggled for most of the season in that department.
2. Nick Bosa wrecking the game
There's a valid argument that the best overall defensive player in this game is San Francisco edge rusher Nick Bosa. He was the NFL's 2022 Defensive Player of the Year and has been a Top 5 player at his position since the second he stepped onto an NFL field.
Due to how both teams are built, the Chiefs are well-positioned to exploit the 49ers' defense and the primary way that things could go sideways for Kansas City is if the pass rush of San Francisco wrecks the game, especially Nick Bosa.
Other than wide receiver, the biggest weakness on the Chiefs offense are their offensive tackles. Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor have both had penalty issues this year. Bosa himself said that those two "hold a lot", which is annoying to say but isn't technically wrong. Both players are in the Top 25 in most offensive holding penalties, while right guard Trey Smith has been whistled eight times for holding, the most in the NFL.
Whether it be through numerous holding penalties or surrendering pressures and sacks, the Chiefs cannot permit Nick Bosa to ruin the game. He's done it a lot throughout his NFL career and it cannot happen in this game. If Patrick Mahomes is kept clean, Kansas City should be able to move the ball with ease. If not, this might not be a pretty game on offense. Bosa primarily, but not exclusively, lines up against the right tackle, so Jawaan Taylor needs to come to play this game. He's been pretty bad the last two games and that can't continue against San Francisco. If he plays well in this game, barely anybody will remember his rough start to the season. If he doesn't, he'll become one of the most polarizing players on the team. He needs to have one of his best games of the season in pass protection.
3. Run CMC
I don't many people will argue that Niners running Christian McCaffrey is the second-best offensive player in this game, behind only Patrick Mahomes. He won Offensive Player of the Year at Thursday's NFL awards and he's the most dangerous player on the 49ers roster. He's fantastic as a runner and is exceptional as a receiving option out of the backfield. The 49ers boast one of the most prolific running games in the NFL, thanks in large part to McCaffrey's dominance.
If the elite Kansas City defense does have a weakness, it's stopping the run, although that wasn't a huge issue against the Ravens. The problem for the Chiefs is that San Francisco will likely be more patient with the running game early in the matchup compared to Baltimore. Though the 49ers abandoning the running game was a key reason why they lost Super Bowl LIV, so never say never.
CMC is a generational talent at the running back position. He's rushed for at least 100 yards seven times, the most in the NFL, and has recorded at least 60 receiving yards thrice, tied for the most in the NFL among running backs.
A basic concept in football is not allowing the other team's best players to go off and that will definitely remain true in this game. We already discussed how important it is to stop Nick Bosa and that also applies to Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey can hurt the Chiefs in multiple ways and Steve Spagnuolo needs to be ready to counter him. Spags has proved that he can stop elite running games in the postseason, just look at the AFC Championship Game, so he needs to go deep in his bag again to win another Super Bowl.
4. Brock Purdy staying clean
Brock Purdy is a good quarterback but he's a completely different player when under pressure. Per PFF ($), his passer rating drops from 123.1 to 85.1 when under pressure. In addition, also according to PFF ($), he has the 6th highest turnover-worthy play rate when under pressure, among 25 passers with at least such dropbacks.
Steve Spagnuolo is known for a lot of things, but confusing young quarterbacks with bizarre blitzes and coverages is probably number one.
Although Brock Purdy did make his NFL debut against the Chiefs back in Week 7 of the 2022 season, it was 10 dropbacks in garbage time and he was only blitzed once. Spags did not show Purdy anything exotic that day. That will not be the case in Super Bowl LVIII.
Expect the Chiefs to generate a ton of pressure in this game, whether it be through blitzes or their defensive line cooking. Even without Charles Omenihu, they shouldn't have a ton of issues getting to Purdy in this game. Although the 49ers' offensive line is very good in the run game, they are an objectively below-average unit in pass protection and, outside of future Hall of Fame left tackle Trent Williams, the rest of the group is downright awful.
The weak links on the San Francisco offensive line are definitely their left guard and center combo, Aaron Banks and Jake Brendel. Their right tackle, Colton McKivitz, has also surrendered nearly ten sacks this season.
If the Chiefs can exploit an underwhelming line, mixed with their excellent secondary, the 49ers should struggle to move the ball through their air in this game. If not, Brock Purdy could lead San Francisco to a productive offensive game, which would spell trouble for Kansas City.
5. Field goals in the red zone
One recurring issue this year for the Chiefs has been their inconsistent red zone offense. Over the entire season, they score touchdowns at a 52.7% rate in the red zone, 19th in the NFL. In the playoffs, they're converting just 46.15% of the time, which would rank 30th this season. This cannot be a game where Kansas City has an off night in the red zone. Every point matters in the Super Bowl.
Another reason why getting 7 points in the red zone is important is because the 49ers have been the best team in the NFL at scoring touchdowns when inside the 20 at 68.49%, including 83.33% in the postseason.
The good news for the Chiefs is that the 49ers defense has been average in the red zone, surrendering a touchdown in 54.72% of trips, 14th overall. The Chiefs defense is 8th at 50.91%.
As great as Harrison Butker is, except for end-of-half field goals and extra points, it would be best if he never stepped foot inside the 20-yard line. If the Chiefs can win the red zone battle on both sides of the ball, they should emerge victorious in this game. If not, it could get sketchy for them.