The state of play
It all comes down to this.
After 272 regular-season games and some thrilling playoff battles between the best teams the NFL has to offer, the 2023 campaign ends with Super Bowl LVIII as the biggest game in American football heads to Las Vegas for the first time.
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The Kansas City Chiefs could become just the eighth franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowls, and the first since Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
The Chiefs flattered to deceive for much of the regular season, posting fewer wins (11) than in any previous campaign since Patrick Mahomes became their starting quarterback in 2018.
Relying heavily on Mahomes’ connection with star tight end Travis Kelce and lacking top-class receivers elsewhere, the Chiefs scored on just 39 per cent of their drives during the regular season, ranking 10th in the league.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) February 8, 2024
However, Andy Reid’s team have grown as the playoffs have gone on, beating the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens – both of whom began the postseason among the favourites – on the road.
The Chiefs have poured resources into their defense in recent years, and that certainly paid dividends against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, as Steve Spagnuolo’s young unit limited Lamar Jackson and company to just 10 points while forcing three turnovers.
On the other side of the ball, it’s all about Mahomes, who has carried the Kansas City offense this term. Always reliable on the big stage, Mahomes didn’t throw a pick in last year’s triumphant playoff run and is still yet to do so this year. The Chiefs’ hopes are certainly in safe hands.
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Mahomes’ first Super Bowl triumph came against the 49ers at the end of the 2019 season, and Kyle Shanahan’s team are eyeing revenge on Sunday.
They finished the regular season with a 12-5 record before overcoming the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions in the playoffs, edging both games by a field goal. They looked like Super Bowl contenders right from Week 1, with Shanahan directing one of the most innovative, dynamic offenses in the league.
Running back Christian McCaffrey has received MVP shouts after leading the league for regular-season rushing yards (1,459) and ranking fourth for rushing touchdowns (14). The Chiefs will have to work hard to stop the 49ers’ ground game, but San Francisco will also threaten through the air via Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle.
One of the feel-good stories of this Super Bowl concerns 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, the last pick of the 2022 draft.
He has shaken off the ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ tag this year, ranking fifth among all quarterbacks for regular-season passing yards (4,280) and third for touchdown passes (29).
Everyone loves an underdog story, and if Purdy can collect his first Super Bowl ring on Sunday, his would be up there with the very best.
Will it all come full circle?
— NFL (@NFL) February 7, 2024
The quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes v Brock Purdy
Mahomes had a down year by his lofty standards, but as is so often the case, he has looked a player transformed in the postseason. The ultra-reliable 28-year-old went 30-of-39 for 241 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens last time out, finding his favourite target Kelce for that score.
While the Mahomes-Kelce partnership looks like Kansas City’s main route to victory, the 49ers are less reliant on moments of magic from Purdy, who is surrounded by talent everywhere you look.
‘Mr. Irrelevant’ led from the front in the NFC Championship game against the Detroit Lions, though, throwing for 267 yards and running for 48 as the 49ers overturned a 17-point deficit. Purdy can do damage through the air and with his feet, and the Chiefs’ D-line must get to him quickly.
— NFL (@NFL) February 8, 2024
The tight ends: Travis Kelce v George Kittle
Kelce’s high-profile relationship with Taylor Swift has perhaps been the story of the 2023 season, drawing an entirely new set of fans to the league.
The Chiefs tight end, much like Mahomes, experienced an up-and-down regular season, but he has his own love story with the playoffs and was back to his best in Baltimore last week, making 11 catches including one for a score.
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Kelce’s 984 receiving yards put him second among all tight ends in 2023, with San Francisco’s Kittle leading the way with 1,020. A survivor of the 49ers team beaten by Kansas City at Super Bowl LIV, he will be determined to make an impact on Sunday.
The running backs: Isiah Pacheco v Christian McAffrey
One of the NFL’s most powerful running backs, Pacheco rushed for a game-high 68 yards against the Ravens in the AFC Championship. While the Chiefs are not known for their mastery of the run game, he could have a crucial role to play in what some expect to be a tense, low-scoring affair.
If the 49ers are to capture the Vince Lombardi Trophy, McAffrey will likely be at the forefront of their success. San Francisco’s move to acquire him from the Carolina Panthers in 2022 has proven a masterstroke; he led the league for regular-season rushing yards by a huge margin this year, finishing nearly 300 clear of second-placed Derrick Henry.
What they said
Reid on his Chiefs team being rated as outsiders:
“I understand why we’re the underdog – I get that – we had some ups and downs during the season. I never feel like an underdog going into a game, but I understand why it’s been situated that way. It is what it is.
“It’s crazy how, in the playoffs, every game’s a little faster, the higher you go up in the playoffs. It’s fast, but it’s still the game. You’re professionals, arguably one of 32 guys at your position in the whole world, so you go play and do your job.”
Purdy on his journey from last draft pick to Super Bowl starter:
“It’s been crazy, just how it’s unfolded over the last two years of playing, being drafted last, becoming starter and now playing in the Super Bowl.
“It was just about taking it one day at a time, trying to learn the playbook, compete and see if I could play well in this league. I focused on that and everything else fell into place.”
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) February 8, 2024
When, where and how to watch
Sunday’s game will take place at Allegiant Stadium – the home of the Las Vegas Raiders – and will kick off at 11:30pm UK time. Like every other NFL playoff game, it is being shown live by Sky Sports in the UK, though it will also be broadcast free-to-air on ITV1.
Usher will be performing during the half-time show, after the likes of Rihanna, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd took centre-stage in recent years.
This looks to be one of the most difficult Super Bowls to call for some time. The 49ers possess a more well-rounded offensive unit and were far more impressive during the regular season, but the Chiefs, quite simply, have Mahomes.
Viewers might not be treated to an offensive shoot-out, with the Chiefs’ defense having done an excellent job of grinding their way through the postseason. However, Shanahan and his 49ers offense will have a few tricks up their sleeve.
It’s difficult to go against Mahomes, Kelce and Reid in the biggest game of all, though, so we’re siding with the Chiefs by three points.
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) February 8, 2024