We're down to the final two in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. Mark Kirwan takes an early look at the Super Bowl LIV odds....
"Do the 49ers have what it takes to knock Mahomes off his game? There's a better chance of that than KC shutting down San Fran's runners. Rookie Nick Bosa and former Chief Dee Ford will be tasked with pressuring Mahomes while their secondary, led by former Legion of Boom member Richard Sherman will need to cover his range of great receivers."
Super Bowl LIV: San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, February 2, 23:40
Live on Sky Sports Action
Chiefs taking it Mahomes
In the AFC title game, the Chiefs once again found themselves down double-digits early, and this time it wasn't due to luck breaking for their opponents.
The Titans pounded their way to the brink of a Super Bowl appearance through Derrick Henry's running, and early at Arrowhead on Sunday evening it looked like he could set up another giant-killing act as Tennessee scored early and dominated possession.
For the first quarter.
Then Patrick Mahomes stepped up and showed why the future looks so bright in Kansas City. The league MVP for 2018 turned the Titans' Cinderella carriage back into a pumpkin with 294 yards passing, 53 on the ground, three passing TDs and one rushing, decisively ending the Nashvillians' fairytale, and covering the spread as predicted last week.
The performance underlined the fantastical storyline the third-year QB is writing himself.
He's played four playoff games in his career and scored over 31 points in all four - for perspective, Peyton Manning did that five times in 27 attempts. Mahomes would probably have a Super Bowl ring already if the Chiefs defence could've held up last season against the Patriots.
Fortunately, this year they improved without the ball.
They went all-in on stopping Henry and it worked. Chiefs lineman Frank Clark talked a big game before Sunday and his team backed it up, limiting the league's best rusher to 69 yards and one touchdown despite having to manage Chris Jones' snaps.
They forced the Titans away from the running game in the second half as they failed to keep pace with Mahomes and co, who provided an encore to their seven touchdown drives in a row against the Texans last week with five consecutive scores against the Titans.
It all means they open the fortnight build-up to Super Bowl LIV as -1.5 favourites, at 1.981/1, over the NFC Champion 49ers in Miami. Perhaps the decisive factor for the market in giving them the edge is the rate at which they can suddenly accumulate points. Tennessee managed to slow them down early, but their defence couldn't hold them up for four quarters.
Can the 49ers fare any better?
San Francisco have certainly been as impressive throughout the season. They emphasised their superiority by demolishing Aaron Rodgers' Green Bay Packers in the Championship game.
With just under three minutes left in the third quarter of that game Dee Ford gave up the 49ers' first penalty of the game, and Troy Aikman joked: "That'll give Kyle Shanahan something to coach up this week."
You can understand why. The Niners were leading 34-7 having shut out the Packers up to the half. They'd built a huge lead on the back of Raheem Mostert's shredding of the defence, Shanahan's dazzling rushing scheme and the relentless blocking of the rest of their offence.
Jimmy Garoppolo (pictured above) threw just eight times in the entire game. It wasn't because he was bad, it's just because the Niners didn't need to use him as the ball was moving so easily on the ground. Mostert ran for four touchdowns and 220 yards, a record number for any Niners back in any game ever.
That's pretty good timing.
George Kittle, the heir to Rob Gronkowski's throne as the preeminent tight end in the league, was targeted just once. He was still a crucial part of the blocking that helped Mostert scythed through the Packer lines, but his bare stat line shows there's plenty more in reserve for this team.
Mahomes versus the 49ers defence
Can the 49ers rushing attack repeat the feat against the Chiefs? The simple answer is yes. While KC have improved on defence, it's primarily been against the pass - they ranked 28th in the league against the run in DVOA this season. That could be a crippling deficiency in the title decider.
They shut down Henry, but they took risks doing so, and San Francisco's running game is far trickier to control than Tennessee's.
The Chiefs best hope resides in their quarterback. If he can get a lead, the Niners will have to pass more. That's not necessarily a problem as Jimmy G has receivers to work with too, but it would be friendlier terrain for KC's defence to fight on.
Do the 49ers have what it takes to knock Mahomes off his game? There's a better chance of that than KC shutting down San Fran's runners. Rookie Nick Bosa and former Chief Dee Ford will be tasked with pressuring Mahomes while their secondary, led by former Legion of Boom member Richard Sherman will need to cover his range of great receivers.
They ranked as the second-toughest team to pass on this season because they could press QBs - but they haven't faced Mahomes yet.
This Super Bowl will be a true conflict of styles, with the Niners playing an old-style, run-heavy game, albeit in an exciting and inventive way, while the Chiefs are all about huge passing plays and explosive, devastating moments.
It saddens me to say it because most people would like to see Chiefs coach Andy Reid (pictured below) win a Super Bowl, but I have to stick with my pick and take the 49ers to win, at 2.1211/10, because of their advantage on defence and their diversity and inventiveness in offensive scheme. If you want to take them getting points on the handicap, all the better, but I think they are good value on the moneyline.
I would expect money to come in for them too, so it's probably worth betting them now, rather than just before the game.
The Total Points line lies currently at 53.5, the price hovering around 1.9310/11. With what we've seen from both teams in recent weeks, I cannot recommend the under. I would expect a lower-scoring game to correlate with a Niners win, but San Fran are more than capable of holding it with high-scoring offences - they split 94 points with the Saints this season, 65 with the Rams and poured 51 on the Panthers.
In other words, I can see this being a nip-and-tuck shootout with the NFC team just edging it at the last. It would be a fitting finale to another great season.
If you want to take a look at an early MVP shot, the 14/1 on George Kittle is tempting. That is said with the proviso that it can be difficult for a non-QB offensive player to win the award, but Kittle is the kind of talent that defies such odds, and 14/1 is a generous price given his talent.
On the defensive side of the ball, if the Niners defence gets after Mahomes, Nick Bosa will have a large hand in it. 35/1 on him appeals.
1pt on San Francisco on the Moneyline market @ 2.1211/10 on the Exchange
1pt on Over 53.5 on the Total Points market @ 1.9310/11 on the Exchange
.25pt on George Kittle for Super Bowl MVP @ 14/1 on the Sportsbook
.25pt on Nick Bosa for Super Bowl MVP @ 35/1 on the Sportsbook