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49ers pass rush will be the key in Super Bowl 54

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The 49ers pass rush is unlike anything the Chiefs have faced to date. If the 49ers win Super Bowl 54, it will be in large part because Dee Ford and Nick Bosa create havoc for Patrick Mahomes.

The Super Bowl is a little over 48 hours away, and the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs are wrapping up their practice weeks. We’ll get the final injury reports Friday afternoon, and for the time being both teams appear to be relatively healthy for the game.

The Chiefs are a 1.5-point favorite at DraftKings Sportsbook, with the point total sitting at 54. The Chiefs are -122 on the money line and the 49ers are +108. The only significant movement has been the point total, which climbed from 53 to 54.5, and is sitting at 54 for the time being.

Injury report

The Chiefs are about as healthy as they can expect to be heading into the Super Bowl. Defensive tackle Chris Jones (calf), tight end Travis Kelce (knee), center Austin Reiter (wrist), and tight end Deon Yelder (Achilles) all opened game week on the injury report, but all have been full participants. Jones was the most significant question in the playoffs, having sat out the Divisional round. However, he got back in for the AFC title game, and was in good shape coming out of it.

The 49ers are in relatively good shape as well, but do have some banged up plays. Linebacker Kwon Alexander (pectoral), running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder), and safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) are all listed as limited this week. Alexander and Tartt are more precautions than anything else. Coleman is the bigger question. He dislocated his shoulder in the NFC Championship Game and was a DNP during the bye week practices. He is making progress, but even if active will likely be limited to a certain degree.

Pick against the spread

With a close line, whomever covers the spread is winning this game. In a look at 169 (and counting) media picks for the Super Bowl, five had the game a one-point Chiefs win, and thus 49ers cover. 61 percent of the picks were for the Chiefs and 39 percent were for the 49ers.

You can make an argument for almost any result, and frankly, there are few results in this game that would genuinely surprise me. Both offenses can put up big points. The Chiefs defense is problematic but has made enough big plays in spite of giving up some early points. The 49ers defense can be downright dominant, but Robert Saleh’s decision-making can sometimes create frustrations and he is facing Andy Reid, who brings his own offensive wizardry to this.

With all that in mind, I am taking the 49ers to cover and win Lombardi No. 6. I’m a 49ers fan, so take this discussion with as much salt as you need to, but there are two reasons I see the 49ers winning this one.

Pass rush

The Chiefs have done solid work keeping Patrick Mahomes clean in the pocket, and even when he is under pressure he does solid work. However, the Chiefs have not faced a pass rush quite like the 49ers. Nick Bosa and Dee Ford put this unit over the top, and when the unit is healthy, it’s the best in the NFL.

Ford is off the injury list and he and Ford’s matchup with Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz will make or break this game. If Fisher and Schwartz can keep those two contained, the Chiefs likely will win this game. They have speed at the skill positions the 49ers defense can’t match. If the 49ers can break through and keep Mahomes consistently pressure, the 49ers have an excellent chance of winning this game in decisive fashion.

Kyle Shanahan

The matchup of Shanahan vs. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will be a fascinating one to watch. The 49ers did what they wanted against Minnesota and Green Bay in the first two rounds, and neither could stop San Francisco’s ground game, even as they knew it was coming at them. The Chiefs’ defense has done well the past two games in containing Derrick Henry and Carlos Hyde, but it remains a shaky unit.

There is plenty of talk about Jimmy Garoppolo needing to make plays for the 49ers to win Super Bowl 54. If the 49ers defense struggles against Patrick Mahomes & Co., this could turn into an aerial shootout. Garoppolo is one of the best third down passers in the NFL, and has impressed in big spots against the Seahawks, Saints, and others. If it comes down to him, he has that ability, even with his penchant for one mind-blowingly dumb mistake each week.

Pick

My homerism is showing through to some degree, but I do legitimately think this 49ers defense is good enough to create serious problems for the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes is a great quarterback, but he has not faced a pass rush quite like what the 49ers bring to the table. A strong pass rush coupled with a 49ers run game facing a shaky Chiefs run defense, and I think this actually ends up turning into a 49ers win by a touchdown or more.

There is not a ton of value on the point spread at this point given how close it is. You can consider alternative point spreads in which you get some value taking a bigger risk. I decided to take the 49ers -7.5, for which I got +280 odds (bet $100 to win $280). If you think the Chiefs win big, adjust accordingly, but my pick is 49ers covering well.

Point total pick

The point total has climbed as high as 54.5. It has come down to 53.5 at DraftKings, which is making this a difficult proposition. I grabbed the under at 54.5 because I think the 49ers defense can contain the Chiefs enough to keep it under. That being said, this number is back in a difficult spot. At 54.5, a 30-24 win keeps it under. There will be plenty of points scored, but under 54 is getting a little too tight. It’s worth waiting to see if it climbs back to 54 or higher if you want the under.

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