The Super Bowl LIV matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers is regarded as one of the best of recent years.

Opinions are firmly split on whether the league's most talented quarterback, Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes, or the NFL's most talented team, the 49ers will prevail at Hard Rock Stadium.

Regardless of the outcome, it is anticipated to be a game that will live long in the memory.

Here we look at the aspects of the game where a mouth-watering contest will likely be won and lost.


Patrick Mahomes v the 49ers pass rush

Mahomes is dangerous not just because of the explosive plays he makes look routine, but also because of the way in which he is able to avoid negative plays.

He was sacked only 17 times in the regular season and threw just five interceptions. However, the Niners' ferocious pass rush, which including the playoffs has racked up 57 sacks, will provide the superstar passer with his stiffest challenge of the campaign.

The 49ers' path to victory involves getting to Mahomes and forcing uncharacteristic mistakes, if they fail to do that, it could be a long evening for the best defense in the NFL.

The battle of the elite tight ends

The 49ers' George Kittle has cemented a reputation as the premier player at tight end. However, the Chiefs' Travis Kelce is also among the elite at the position and has the opportunity to state his case as the class of the tight end field on the grandest stage of them all.

Kittle is an outstanding all-around player who makes an impact on almost every play through his remarkable athleticism and pass-catching ability, along with his incredible contributions as a blocker.

Kelce has developed a near-telepathic rapport with Mahomes and is crucial to helping his quarterback dice up zone coverage schemes such as that employed by the 49ers.

Both Kittle and Kelce will be imperative to their respective teams' gameplans and whichever tight end enjoys the better outing could have a decisive impact on an encounter that looks tantalisingly poised.

A heavyweight coaching matchup

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Super Bowl LIV is the coaching matchup between Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan, two of the finest offensive play-callers in the modern game.

The offenses of the Chiefs and the 49ers have each proved near-impossible to stop this season. Kansas City's attack has thrived as the combination of Reid and Mahomes has proved a match made in heaven, the Chiefs possessing unquestionably the most dynamic deep passing attack in the NFL.

Like Reid, 49ers head coach Shanahan is a renowned innovator who excels at exploiting mismatches, with the way he has developed his father Mike's outside-zone running game turning San Francisco's rushing attack into a juggernaut. 

Reid and Shanahan are known for their meticulous preparation and have had two weeks to plan for this contest. The winner of what many expect to be a shootout may be decided by which coach put together the superior gameplan during that fortnight.

San Francisco's surging ground game

That San Francisco running game is likely to be the focus of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and with good reason.

The Niners totalled an astonishing 471 yards and six touchdowns on the ground across their playoff wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, controlling the clock and taking pressure off quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo while ensuring the defense stayed rested.

Should the 49ers succeed in doing the same in the Super Bowl and keep Mahomes off the field, the advantage will tilt firmly in their favour.

The Chiefs' need for speed

Kansas City can produce consistently huge games largely because of the track-star speed the Chiefs have in their receiving corps.

Tyreek Hill may be the fastest player in the NFL and rookie Mecole Hardman cannot be far behind. 

Their pace puts a huge strain on opposing secondaries, but the 49ers – despite not being blessed with significant speed among their defensive backs – have done a superb job of limiting explosive plays.

The Niners gave up just five passing plays of 40 yards or more in the regular season, thanks to a combination of their pass rush and a vastly improved secondary, with All-Pro corner Richard Sherman and safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt enjoying excellent seasons.

That trio will need to maintain that form to keep the most dangerous offense the Niners defense has faced at bay.

Super Bowl LIV is considered too close to call by many.

The San Francisco 49ers' swarming defense and punishing ground attack versus the Kansas City Chiefs' lightning-fast offense, led by perhaps the NFL's best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes.

We asked current and past NFL greats for where they thought the game might be won and lost at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on Sunday.

 

Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle: "San Francisco's front, that defensive line, is going to be putting a lot of pressure on Mahomes. If they can continue to do that, keep Patrick Mahomes from running down the field, I think they can come out with the victory."

Five-time Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick: "I think you're going to see offense, offense, offense. The 49ers defense has been so good and you have such talent on the Chiefs defense, but those offenses are both really good. I think whoever has the ball last is going to win the game."

Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews: "I'm a big Patrick Mahomes fan, I like the kid a lot, the way he carries himself, what he does in interviews, obviously what he does on the playing field and the way the Chiefs have responded in their two playoff games. I like the Chiefs but it's a great matchup. Kyle Shanahan, I know, will have the Niners ready to play and they're a pretty solid team on defense."

Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs: "The 49ers are a complete team, I feel like. That defensive front is crazy, that front four, front seven. But they're going against Patty. It's never a certainty of a win when you're going against him. It's going to be a good one. I'm thinking all the time that system [the 49ers rushing attack] would be a great system to be in. I'm proud of them guys, they're making the running backs look good. They're bringing the value and love for running backs back."

Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott: "If you look at the entire defensive line of the 49ers, that's real. Those guys make it hard to throw. They're going to make it hard for the Chiefs passing game, I imagine. I'm sure [Chiefs head coach] Andy Reid will have a great plan. Andy and I worked together in Philadelphia for 12 years and so expect his team to be well prepared for it. [San Francisco] will bring a lot of heat from that front four."

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett: "In order for the Niners to win, it's going to come down to their receivers other than Emmanuel Sanders and George Kittle, they’re going to have to step up and do everything. For the Chiefs to win, they need that defensive line to keep the pressure on Jimmy G [Garoppolo] and everybody to play their run gaps. If you can't stop the run, they're going to eat you alive."

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr: "It comes down to quarterback play. Both defenses are solid, both offenses are explosive. It comes down to the quarterback who can make the most plays and keep the momentum going for their teams."

Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz: "You've got to look at the Kansas City tackles. Those are the guys that, when I was playing and when we were going into a big game, the head coach would say, 'The hat would go on you'. We have two hats and those are going to be on the two tackles, [Eric] Fisher and [Mitchell] Schwartz, those are the guys that if we can see them do a pretty good job, you're going to see some points by the Kansas City offense."

Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci: "I have loyalty with the team I used to coach for several years, the 49ers. I've got a lot of respect for that organisation. They've got five Super Bowls, looking for number six. But I also have loyalty with a friend, Andy Reid, we cut our teeth together 28 years ago with the Green Bay Packers. Friendships never die, right? So I have part of me that's really rooting for his success."

Five-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner: "I hope Sherm [49ers cornerback Richard Sherman] has five interceptions."

Kyler Murray believes he can reach the level of the last two NFL MVPs Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson after being named Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Quarterback Murray turned his back on an MLB career to declare for last year's NFL Draft and the Arizona Cardinals made him the first overall pick.

He had over 4,000 yards of total offense – 3,722 of those coming through the air – and on Saturday in Miami he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year ahead of Josh Jacobs, A.J. Brown and Miles Sanders.

Later that evening Baltimore Ravens quarterback Jackson was named MVP by unanimous vote, succeeding Kansas City Chiefs signal caller Mahomes, with both men winning the NFL's most prestigious individual prize in their second years in the league.

Asked about the possibility of elevating his game to those heights in his second year as a professional, Murray said: "Those two are obviously different for a reason, they've always been good players.

"Taking their games to the next level that next season, I think they probably went back at it and worked hard.

"They've got great team-mates around them, great coaches. It's a team game.

"Those two are obviously very different guys and for me personally I feel like I can be at that level.

"This being my first year, I think it's possible to make that step and that's what we're striving for. I think that's what everyone's striving for – to be the best."

Murray defied the doubters who thought that, at 5ft 10ins, he was too small to be a successful NFL quarterback.

"Everybody sets out individual goals," Murray said of his rookie season.

"I knew if I played well enough... that [award] is not obviously the [main] goal, but just doing my part on the field, leading my guys to wins and trying to play as best as I can that I would be in a good position to do so, with a lot of help around me, [from] God, my parents, team-mates and coaches.

"I'm standing here right now with it so, yeah, it was a goal of mine."

Lamar Jackson joined Tom Brady in becoming a unanimous NFL MVP on Saturday, but the Baltimore Ravens quarterback now wants to emulate his success in Super Bowls too.

Jackson was confirmed as the MVP of the 2019 NFL season in Miami having starred for the 14-2 Ravens in his first full year as the starter.

As well as breaking Michael Vick's single-season rushing record for a quarterback, Jackson also led the league in passing touchdowns with 36 scores and delivered a series of astounding plays with both his legs and arm.

That earned him all 50 first-place votes for the MVP award, making him only the second winner by unanimous vote after New England Patriots great Brady in 2010.

However, collectively Jackson's season ended in disappointment as the Ravens lost a Divisional Round clash to the Tennessee Titans, and it is Super Bowl rings – of which Brady has six – that the newly crowned MVP wants now.

Informed that he was only the second unanimous MVP winner, Jackson replied: "I'm trying to chase Brady.

"I'm not worried about any other quarterback because he's got six Super Bowls.

"I've got to get my first one and then it's on."

Reaching the pinnacle of a sport is usually a time for reflection, yet Jackson, who turned 23 last month, highlighted how he is still at the start of his NFL journey.

"I'm still young, I've got a lot of work to do," he added.

"I'm not really trying to dwell on what I just did. [If] I win a Super Bowl, you'll probably see a lot more emotion.

"I'm good with what I've got now. I'm satisfied."

The Ravens coaching staff reaped the rewards of altering their offense to suit Jackson's unique skillset.

Their 14-2 record also earned John Harbaugh the NFL Coach of the Year award, not that he wanted to take any credit for Jackson's MVP campaign.

Instead he lauded Felicia Jones, Jackson's mother, for fighting her son's corner when others said the athletically gifted player should switch position to running back or wide receiver.

"You know who deserves the credit for Lamar? Lamar. The good lord who gave him the talent and his mum," Harbaugh added.

"I think his mum is the hero in this whole thing. His mum had his back the whole way. We raise our kids, and you want to see them do well and fight for them a little bit.

"All the way, because of the circumstances and situations of football, he wasn't supposed to be a quarterback. And his mum made sure he was a quarterback and here he is, playing at the highest level, differently."

Antonio Brown and Logan Paul teased a potential fight on Twitter on Saturday.

Having apologised over issues that have kept him out of the NFL since September, Brown asked if he should fight Paul.

A YouTuber, Paul lost to KSI in a bout which attracted plenty of interest in Los Angeles in November last year.

On Saturday, Brown tweeted: "Should I fight @LoganPaul for 4.1m with possibly 8.2m raise?! I'll donate proceeds to charity...he keep coming at me about this non-stop."

Paul responded: "If you do, I'll match your donation."

Brown apologised to the NFL following a series of alleged off-field incidents as he played just one game in the league in 2019.

Wide receiver Brown has been without a team since he was cut by the New England Patriots after just 11 days in September amid allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he strenuously denies.

The seven-time Pro Bowler played just one game for the Patriots, who he joined from the Oakland Raiders after leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers in March last year.

An arrest warrant was issued for the 31-year-old last week on charges of burglary with battery and criminal mischief, with a judge freeing Brown from house arrest on Tuesday.

Lamar Jackson was drained.

On January, 6, 2019, in his first NFL playoff game, the Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback had been restricted to under 200 yards passing by the Los Angeles Chargers, he was sacked seven times and the offense he led failed to score a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter, at which point the game was gone.

Boos from his own fans ringing in his ears; critics questioning whether he could make it as an NFL quarterback.

He told his personal quarterback coach Josh Harris he needed some time off before they reconvened for their offseason work.

When they did, two weeks after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl LIII, the aim was to get back to basics.

"This is going to be a very slow offseason and it's going to be boring," Harris told Jackson.

Sometimes they would spend an hour mimicking the basic action of the throwing motion. Some days that was all they did.

Other days Harris would swing a broom at Jackson's legs, abdomen and head to replicate the pressure he feels in the pocket.

"He hates the broom drill," Harris told Omnisport.

"I always do this after he frustrates me to scare him. 'If you don't listen to me, I will hit you with this broom!'"

The mantra all offseason was "finding your rhythm" and Harris preached it for four days a week. It was supposed to be five but Jackson "always found a way to get out of Fridays".

On September 8, 2019, in his first NFL game of the season, Jackson got the chance to put the lessons he had learned with Harris just 26 miles away into practice.

He threw for 324 yards, torched the Miami Dolphins in their own stadium with five touchdown passes and had a perfect passer rating. It was the start of a campaign that would end with the MVP award, given to him in the same city on Saturday night.

--

Harris has known Jackson since his college days at Louisville. Jackson's mother, Felicia Jones, and his youth football coach, Van Warren, believed Harris could take the quarterback's game on. They were right, he won the Heisman Trophy later that year.

"He never acted like a person that was this gifted at football," Harris said.

"He's very teachable. He's a perfectionist, he gets frustrated when things aren't going well."

And if Harris wants the perfect rep out of Jackson, he knows just which buttons to push.

On his iPhone Notes app are a series of criticisms pundits have levelled at Jackson. Comments from the people who didn't think he could throw. Those who, like former Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts general manager, Bill Polian, thought he should change position.

"You can see when you give him a criticism, it turns into fuel," Harris explained.

"I've had other players, they wither under it. It motivates him, he's seen that [criticism] every step of the way."

-- 

The critics did not think Jackson, unquestionably an elite talent with his legs, would ever be able to lead the NFL in touchdown passes - as he did in 2019 with 36 scores.

So when Harris was designing Jackson's unique pro day before the 2018 NFL Draft, the aim was to prove to those in attendance that he could win from the pocket. Jackson took every snap from under centre and threw to multiple receivers instead of just one.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was there and so was Baltimore's quarterback coach James Urban, who impressed Harris by showing a keen interest in his drills.

When it came to draft night, Harris wore a purple tie, hoping it would prove a lucky omen and that his pupil would be selected by the Ravens.

One by one the players on the tables next to Jackson that night in Texas were drafted. Saquon Barkley to the New York Giants. Josh Rosen to the Arizona Cardinals. Jaire Alexander, Jackson's college team-mate, to the Green Bay Packers.

Soon only one pick remained in the first round. Amputee linebacker Shaquem Griffin was in the green room, though he was never going to be selected that high, as were running back Derrius Guice, and Jackson, whose entourage had flights booked back for the following morning thinking he would be chosen in the first round.

All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey had stuck around too, an interested observer in Jackson's fate.

When Guice's phone rang with the Philadelphia Eagles on the clock, Harris figured he knew what that meant. But there was another call coming into that room, to Jackson's phone.

"Everybody's in a daze," Harris said.

"He's just sitting there. I slapped him, 'Man, pick up the phone!'"

It was the Baltimore Ravens. They had traded up to select Jackson with the final pick of the first round, a move that would look incredibly shrewd less than two years later when he led them to an NFL-best 14-2 record.

-- 

Harris was a little worried as Jackson continued to compile an MVP-calibre campaign. The sensational 47-yard touchdown run against the Cincinnati Bengals. The ludicrous touchdown pass to Mark Andrews when off-balance in Cleveland. The accumulation of yards on the ground (1,206) that would see him break Michael Vick's single-season record for most among quarterbacks.

"He's the media darling now," Harris thought.

Where then was he going to find the criticism to fuel Jackson?

Then came the shock 28-12 Divisional Round playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, which happened despite Jackson producing over 500 yards of total offense.

Not only did the Titans' defensive scheme give Harris and Jackson something to mull over this offseason, it also provided the coach with some new entries for his iPhone Notes.

"They're saying you're 0-2 in playoff games," Harris intends to tell Jackson when they next meet.

"They were even critiquing your precision passing in the Pro Bowl skills challenge. 

"I know it's silly but cool, I can use it."

Jackson will trot back out onto the practice field in Pompano Beach in two weeks' time as the freshly crowned MVP - the best player in the entire NFL.

But Harris will be ready, with his iPhone Notes, and his broom.

"I already know how to motivate him," Harris concludes.

"I've got a couple of bullets in the chamber for the MVP!"

Lamar Jackson has been named the NFL's MVP for the 2019 season.

In his first full season as the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback, second-year signal caller Jackson threw for 3,127 passing yards, a league-leading 36 touchdowns and tossed only six interceptions.

He also broke Michael Vick's single-season record for rushing yards for a quarterback, amassing 1,206 yards on the ground as the Ravens went 14-2 in the regular season.

They exited the playoffs at the first hurdle, falling 28-12 against the Tennessee Titans, though Jackson still had over 500 yards total offense during that Divisional Round clash.

Jackson started in sensational fashion, torching the Miami Dolphins for 324 passing yards and five touchdowns in a game where he had a perfect passer rating.

The 23-year-old had two other games with five touchdown passes and also had a perfect passer rating against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10, when the Ravens were in the midst of a 12-game winning streak.

That victorious run also helped Jackson's coach John Harbaugh win the Coach of the Year award at the NFL Honours on Saturday night.

Elsewhere, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas was voted Offensive Player of the Year, New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore claimed the Defensive Player of the Year award and Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill won Comeback Player of the Year.

San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Nick Bosa was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year ahead of his appearance in Super Bowl LIV, with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Lamar Jackson is the NFL's MVP - an honour that comes as no surprise.

The Ravens quarterback delivered a sensational season in his first full year as Baltimore's starter, guiding them to an AFC-best 14-2 record.

Jackson, 23, not only proved how potent he is with his legs but showed he could win with his arm too, leading the league with 36 touchdown passes.

We look at five defining moments in Jackson's MVP campaign.

 

NOT BAD FOR A RUNNING BACK!

A Week 1 matchup against a Miami Dolphins roster that had been gutted of most of its star power allowed Jackson to feast. However, it was through the air, rather than on the ground, where he did his damage.

Jackson completed 17-of-20 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns - including two bombs to rookie receiver Marquise Brown - while rushing for just six yards on three attempts.

It was a defiant response to those who thought Jackson could not win with his arm. After posting a perfect 158.3 passer rating, he took aim at his critics by saying: "Not bad for a running back!"

BOUNCING BACK AGAINST THE BENGALS

Five of Jackson's six interceptions in 2019 came in Weeks 4 and 5, so he needed a response in Week 6 and, boy, did he deliver one.

He became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to pass for at least 200 yards (236) and rush for at least 150 (152), burrowing in for a 21-yard score on the ground too.

Jackson fell 21 yards shy of Michael Vick's single-game rushing record for a QB in the regular season, though another of his marks would soon be surpassed...

YOU MADDEN, BRO?

Four weeks later and the Bengals once again had no answer to the man quickly establishing himself as the best dual-threat QB in the NFL.

In going 15-of-17 for 223 yards and throwing three touchdowns, Jackson posted his second perfect passer rating of the season.

Yet it was his jaw-dropping 47-yard TD run that justified the MVP chants as Jackson spun away from three defenders as if he was being controlled by a Madden video game player.

LIKE MIKE... ONLY BETTER

Another primetime outing, another primetime performance; this time on Thursday Night Football against the New York Jets in Week 15.

The Ravens clinched the AFC North title, and Jackson possibly the MVP award, with a 42-21 demolition of the Jets in which the quarterback once again threw five touchdowns.

He also broke Vick's single-season rushing record (1,039 yards) for a QB on the opening drive, finishing with another 86 yards on the ground on just eight carries.

DEFYING LOGIC AGAINST CLEVELAND

If the spinning TD against the Bengals showcased Jackson's running ability, his connection with Mark Andrews in Week 16 highlighted his pocket presence, touch and poise as a passer.

With 15 seconds left before the half and no timeouts left, blitzing Cleveland Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie looked to take Jackson down.

Yet the former Louisville quarterback juked past the onrushing Carrie, kept his eyes downfield and, from an unbalanced platform, dropped a dime over Damarious Randall to Andrews in the endzone.

Antonio Brown has apologised to the NFL following a series of alleged off-field incidents as he played just one game in the league in 2019.

Wide receiver Brown has been without a team since he was cut by the New England Patriots after just 11 days in September amid allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he strenuously denies.

The seven-time Pro Bowler played just one game for the Patriots, who he joined from the Oakland Raiders after leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers in March last year.

An arrest warrant was issued for the 31-year-old last week on charges of burglary with battery and criminal mischief, with a judge freeing Brown from house arrest on Tuesday.

Brown posted an apology to anyone he "offended or disrespected" at the Hollywood Police Department on his official Instagram page on Friday, and he has now announced regret at his recent behaviour.

"I think I owe the whole NFL an apology for my past behaviour," Brown said in an interview with ESPN. "I think I could have done a lot of things better."

On Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell declared that it was the league's aim to help Brown.

"I was pleased to hear that, after 140 days, there was some positivity about me, because as of late, I've just been the cancer of the NFL," Brown said when asked what he thought of Goodell's comments.

He added of Goodell's commitment to provide help: "I'll believe it when I see it."

Emmanuel Sanders will remember Kobe Bryant at Super Bowl LIV as the San Francisco 49ers wide receiver shared pictures of his custom cleats.

NBA great Bryant, 41, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in California last weekend.

Both the NFL and Super Bowl half-time acts Shakira and Jennifer Lopez are expected to remember Bryant's life in Miami on Sunday when the Niners face the Kansas City Chiefs.

The day before the sport's showpiece event, Sanders revealed details of a personal tribute, uploading images of red and gold cleats with a picture of Bryant, the words 'rest in peace' and the numbers 24 and 8, which adorned his jersey when he played for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Alongside the images, Sanders wrote the Bryant quote: "I'll do whatever it takes to win. Whether it's sitting on the bench waiving a towel. Handing out cups of water to my teammates or hitting the game winning shot.”

When the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers square off in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, it will not just be a meeting of the league's most talented quarterback against its most complete team. It will also be a matchup of the two greatest offensive minds in the game today.

They are in different stages of career and their journeys to this point have been markedly different, but no other offensive coach in the league does creativity and innovation to the level of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and 49ers boss Kyle Shanahan.

Despite the strength of the Niners defense and the improvements made by that of the Chiefs down the stretch, you will find few in Miami willing to bet against a shootout at Hard Rock Stadium.

It's a 61-year-old veteran against the 40-year-old christened as a genius almost throughout the league, and their intelligence and incredible acumen are sure to help keep the scoreboard ticking in what many expect to be a classic Super Bowl.

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid

A former assistant of Mike Holmgren with the Green Bay Packers, Reid was schooled in the West Coast offense that Holmgren was immersed in during his time working under the legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh. 

The West Coast is an offense that is built on the principle of getting the ball to the receivers in space from them to gain yardage after the catch. 

Reid has stuck to that tenet of the scheme, but the genius in his approach lies with how he has incorporated the deep pass. The West Coast system may be designed to put players in space, but the Chiefs, through drafting the likes of Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, have added players so fast that they create their own space.

Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes attempted a deep pass of 20 yards or more at the ninth-highest rate in the NFL this season, despite missing the best part of 11 quarters with a knee injury, with the 2.4 yards of separation from the nearest defender his receivers averaged on those passes the second-highest amount in the league.

Such is Reid's faith in Mahomes' arm and the speed of his receivers, that one of the Chiefs' most frequent play-calls if four verticals – essentially just four receivers running straight down the field.

The raw pace the Chiefs have at their disposal allows Reid the luxury of stretching defenses deep, but he also uses their physical gifts to test opponents horizontally as well. Reid will frequently send his running back in motion to shift defenders over to a certain side of the field and make them respect the possibility of a short throw to that area, opening greater pockets of space downfield.

Respect for such motion is a result of the impact Hill has made on jet sweeps and reverses out of the backfield, the former fifth-round pick adept at ripping off significant gains through plays that are effectively an extension of the running game.

Further downfield, Reid also utilizes the speed of his wideouts with deep crossing patterns that give defenders, as Raiders safety Karl Joseph found out in Week 2, a difficult decision to make as to who to cover. The combination of the Chiefs' speed and Reid's play-calls so often puts defenses in a bind, which is something his opposite number Shanahan seemingly revels in finding new ways to do.

San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan

The only team that ranks above the Chiefs in average separation on deep passes is the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo's completion percentage of 58.1 on deep throws is the best in the league, above Mahomes in second (47.1).

San Francisco and Garoppolo's presence at the top of those respective lists will surprise many given their postseason successes over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers were built around a dominant running game.

But the fact the Niners are able to flourish on the ground and send it deep is testament to Shanahan, who creates huge holes for his troop of electric running backs with an outside zone scheme that is an extension of what his father Mike ran in Denver and Washington. Shanahan also does an excellent job of recognising a defense's weak link and relentlessly taking advantage of it to get his receivers open.

A master of misdirection and disguise, no coach in the NFL relies on motion and play-action more than Shanahan, and the results have been devastatingly impressive for a team that finished the regular season second in points per game with 29.9.

The two players that are most crucial to Shanahan's consistent success with deception are Kyle Juszczyk and rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Juszczyk is the Niners' Swiss Army knife. Many balked at the $21millon contract the Niners gave the fullback in 2017, but he has more than proved his worth.

The Niners do not use him as strictly a traditional fullback, they deploy him as a tight end and as a slot receiver as well as in the backfield, and the fact he has the athleticism to block and catch passes from each of those spots makes it near-impossible to decipher what his responsibility on a given play.

Juszczyk was the lead blocker on Samuel's touchdown on a reverse in the 49ers' crucial Week 17 win at the Seattle Seahawks that clinched a bye and homefield advantage in the playoffs for San Francisco.

Samuel has slotted seamlessly into the offense, racking 802 receiving yards, but the threat of him as a runner out of the backfield has allowed Shanahan to add another dimension to his attack, forcing defenders to hesitate when he comes across the formation, as they did when he ended up being the lead blocker for one of four Raheem Mostert touchdowns in the NFC Championship game.

Stopping the Niners' diverse ground attack will be a primary focus of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo but, with Shanahan being such a savant of disguise and having the likes of Juszczyk and Samuel at his disposal, it is difficult how to see that goal can be achieved in what will be a points fest if he and Reid perform at their play-calling peak.

This Sunday the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will hope their gameplans can deliver the Super Bowl LIV title in Miami.

Though the Niners are viewed as the team with the vaunted defense, and the Chiefs the explosive offense, the reality is San Francisco scored more points per game during the regular season (29.9 to 28.2) while Kansas City allowed fewer (19.3 to 19.4).

To preview Super Bowl LIV, we used Stats Perform's advanced analytics and data analysis to profile the area where the game is likely to be won and lost - in the trenches.

 

SAN FRANCISCO'S FRONT FOUR v KANSAS CITY'S OFFENSIVE LINE

The Chiefs have aired the ball out on offense over the past two postseasons, and Patrick Mahomes' career playoff passer rating is 115.00 - the highest of all time among quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts.

He might be slowed down if the Niners' front four can continue their excellent pass-rushing production across the regular season and playoffs, though.

According to Stats Perform's metric for adjusted pressure on pass-rush opportunities, rookie Nick Bosa has generated pressure 26.6 per cent of time this season - way higher than his expected pressure rate of 13.1 per cent.

Former Chief Dee Ford, used almost exclusively as a situational pass rusher, also performs well (26.1 per cent compared to an expected pressure rate of 12.4 per cent), while both DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead (19.8 per cent and 18.8 per cent) also way exceeded their expected pressure rate (10.8 and 11.5 per cent).

Mahomes' two tackles will therefore be key, and while one has excelled, the other has struggled.

Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has allowed pressures on only 6.23 per cent of his 369 pass-protection opportunities, having been expected to give up pressure on 10.74 per cent of those snaps.

Schwartz has performed way better than the Niners' two bookends Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey in the allowed pressures category (10.08 per cent and 10.73 per cent).

However, where Bosa et al may have more joy is against former first-overall pick Eric Fisher. The left tackle, who only played half of the regular-season games due to injury, allowed pressure on 17.50 per cent of his 160 pass-protection opportunities - considerably higher than any offensive lineman playing on Sunday.

Look for 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to attack the weakness on that Chiefs line - Mahomes' blindside.

 

SAN FRANCISCO'S RUSHING ATTACK V KANSAS CITY'S RUN STUFFERS

This postseason the 49ers have 44.5 rushing attempts per game - the most of any team in a single postseason since 1976. The Niners clearly want to run the ball. A lot.

The men tasked with clogging up gaps and making that a less-than-appealing strategy are Kansas City's defensive tackles Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Mike Pennel.

When it comes to Stats Perform's run-disruptions metric - which measures how often a player disrupts a designed run play - Jones and Pennel excel.

From his 184 run snaps, Jones has produced disruptions 27.2 per cent of the time, considerably more than his expected disruption rate of 15.3 per cent.

Pennel, who has proven to be a nice pickup since joining in October, produced disruptions on 27.3 per cent of his 55 run snaps, with Nnadi at 19.8 per cent.

When it comes to the 49ers' rushing attack, San Francisco tend to ride the hot hand. Matt Breida led the team in yardage on the ground in September, Tevin Coleman had that honour in October and November, and Raheem Mostert has been the most productive back in December and the postseason.

Mostert has had 194 touches of the ball in the regular season and playoffs - more than any other skill-position player involved at Super Bowl LIV.

He has forced missed tackles on 24.2 per cent of those touches, the second best among running backs in the NFL.

Should he be asked to carry the load in Miami, he may be advised to run away from Jones and Pennel.

There aren't many similarities between the San Francisco 49ers and Conor McGregor.

While McGregor plies his trade in blood-and-thunder five-round contests in the UFC Octagon, the 49ers operate in an NFL world where almost cinematic sporting dramas play out over around three hours in gargantuan stadia.

Yet there is one parallel that runs through McGregor's dominant recent victory over Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone and the Niners' surge to Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Sunday, and it relates to their shared use of a postural therapy method.

The Egoscue Method, created by founder Pete Egoscue, is a form of therapy used to eliminate chronic pain and increase functional mobility.

Jack Nicklaus said Egoscue "totally changed my life" following his well-documented back problems, and should the 49ers lift the Lombardi Trophy by beating the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, two former Egoscue staff members now employed by San Francisco will be among those celebrating.

Niners general manager John Lynch, who joined the team along with head coach Kyle Shanahan in 2017, knew Egoscue from high school, and their long-standing relationship led to the team hiring Elliott Williams and Tom Zheng as functional performance staff.

Brian Bradley, Egoscue's vice president of brand development and strategic partnerships, worked with the 49ers into Lynch's second year in charge but distanced himself from taking credit for San Francisco's success in 2019.

He told Omnisport: "I've worked with John since his college years, into his pro years and then afterward when he was an analyst, and then when he became GM, we knew we were going to do something together because he knows he has the best interests of every player at heart and he knows Egoscue has the foundational movement for that.

"They're in their third year and the reason why this kind of stuff is successful is because John has built a congruent organisation.

"They're not in the Super Bowl because of Egoscue, they're in the Super Bowl because they've drafted five number one draft picks for defensive line. They have an amazing quarterback, they have amazing running backs, they have a great tight end, they have a great team and the athletic trainers and the medical staff work very well with the strength staff, and then the functional performance coaches, who are right in between there, are doing an amazing job.

"They [Williams and Zheng] used to work for me and I hired them but I won't take any credit for anything other than that. They're just good guys."

However, the aforementioned tight end, All-Pro George Kittle, was effusive in his praise when asked about Williams and Zheng ahead of the Niners' seventh Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

Kittle, who recently revealed he has played with a torn labrum since 2018, told reporters: "I've worked with them almost every single day since I got here. They've been one of the most important parts of my recovery every single week, just from a function movement standpoint.

"After a game when you get hit a bunch of times, your body's kind of out of whack and they always help me get it back to square one which allows me to play week in, week out.

"They're incredible, incredibly professional, they have a great time doing what they do and the amount of guys that they've helped in the three years I've been here has been uncountable."

Getting the body in the right alignment is a key tenet of the Egoscue Method, and Bradley's influence in assisting McGregor in that regard was a factor in his devastating 40-second win over Cowboy.

Bradley said: "I got hooked up with Conor because, after the Khabib [Nurmagomedov] fight, I lost my mind about it.

"The minute I saw the fight with Khabib, I'm looking at it on my television saying, 'This is an unfair fight', and nobody knows that it's unfair because the way that Conor was aligned with his head position, upper back and hips, he wasn't able to drive punches from his hip.

"He was driving from his shoulder and he was trying to breathe with his shoulders, just watch him in the first round and the second round, he's heaving his shoulders up and down to try to breathe.

"My good friend and colleague [motivational speaker] Tony Robbins got a hold of him, and I took pictures of the TV and sent these to Tony and said, 'You've got to get these to McGregor somehow because something in his camp has gone wrong'. About six months later, he says 'Look, I'm meeting with him'.

"The idea of being a hip-driven athlete fully resonated with him [McGregor] because he said, 'I felt like I wasn't getting enough power out of my punch and I couldn't breathe, and I see by the pictures that you took when I was fighting, I see the cause'.

"I gave him five things to do 12 days out from the fight [with Cowboy]. I gave him a more resilient, hip-driven movement so that no matter what he was doing, you weren't going to see a kid who was out of breath in this fight.

"When he was fighting Cowboy, he drove his shoulder into his face four times, he didn't just raise his shoulder up, he drove from the leg through the hip, through the shoulder and up into his face. He won the fight with four punches off his shoulder and one kick to the head."

It is unlikely the 49ers will land such a quick knockout blow against the Chiefs, but if the stars align for them at Hard Rock Stadium, it will be in part because their functional performance staff got their bodies in the right position.

Tom Brady's cryptic social media post left Jalen Ramsey convinced the Patriots quarterback is leaving New England, and DeSean Jackson adamant he is retiring.

He may not be at the Super Bowl for the first time in four years, but Brady ensured he remained the focus in Miami with an uncaptioned black-and-white photo he uploaded to his social media accounts on Thursday.

Six-time Super Bowl champion Brady, who could be seen walking in the tunnel at the Patriots' stadium in the picture, is due to become a free agent this offseason and the 42-year-old has indicated he wants to carry on playing.

The possibility of him starting his 21st NFL season away from New England is therefore seemingly a realistic possibility.

"Oh, that means he's out the door," Los Angeles Rams cornerback Ramsey said when shown the tweet.

"He's out the door. He's definitely out the door. He's gone from New England. That's exactly what that means."

The Los Angeles Chargers and Indianapolis Colts have been mooted as potential destinations for Brady.

Though when asked where he thought Brady could wind up, Ramsey added: "I don't know, the [Las Vegas] Raiders maybe."

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jackson interpreted the tweet in another way, believing Brady is about to hang up his cleats after 20 glorious years with New England.

"He's walking away. He's retiring," said Jackson, who, like Ramsey, was speaking at the EA SPORTS Bowl.

"I don't know, man, he's walking out the tunnel, man. He's leaving. I'm surprised you don't see a deuce sign! 

"I don't know, he's playing with you, man. He's playing with you."

New York Jets Pro Bowler Jamal Adams had implored Brady to "please leave the AFC East!", yet Jarvis Landry, who plays in the AFC North for the Cleveland Browns, feels it would be strange to see the veteran in a different jersey.

"It's not right to take the Patriots out without Tom Brady there," Landry added.

"Like, does it even count anymore? You know what I mean?

"I'm kidding. But, you know, he's a true competitor.

"I'm sure whatever decision that he makes is going to be the right one for him and he's going to make it work."

If the San Francisco 49ers have a big lead in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, their coaching staff are unlikely to let minds drift to thoughts of confetti, parades and rings.

They may have been forgiven for doing so three years ago when the Atlanta Falcons led the New England Patriots 28-3 late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI.

Lady Gaga, the half-time act that year, had long finished singing. But it turned out the fat lady had not.

Back came the Patriots, Kyle Shanahan's offense unable to add further points to their total, and Tom Brady perhaps cementing his legacy as the G.O.A.T by inspiring a 34-28 overtime win that stunned the Falcons.

Shanahan has since left Atlanta, taking the Niners' head-coaching post shortly after, but he admitted this week that Super Bowl scars remain.

The same is true for the staff he brought with him. Those aiming to banish the demons of Houston. Of '28-3'.

"I'm not gonna lie; you still think about it quite a bit," the Niners' passing-game coordinator Mike LaFleur told Omnisport.

Shanahan said the only play he would have called differently in that second half was a second-and-11 pass play that resulted in Matt Ryan being sacked and pushed out of field-goal range.

Yet the Patriots' comeback was a brutal reminder of how even sizeable advantages can be eroded in the NFL.

At Super Bowl LIV, the Niners face a Kansas City Chiefs team that have already overturned 24 and 10-point leads this postseason.

Those who know Shanahan best believe a return to the Super Bowl will not suddenly trigger post-traumatic stress because '28-3' has always been with him ever since it happened.

San Francisco's run-game coordinator Mike McDaniel, who, like LaFleur, worked with Shanahan in Atlanta and at the Cleveland Browns, told Omnisport: "It's just the final game of the season, the stakes are incredibly high but I wouldn’t say that it would venture into Kyle's head any more than any other lesson.

"You'll never forget. Once you lose a Super Bowl like that, you just never feel comfortable with a lead, but that's been every single game since that we've been burying that weight.

"That's a lesson that you'll always be mindful of and you'll lose leads in the future but you'll do your best and better understand and think through how to handle situations - like all coaches that are able to have sustained success like Kyle."

LaFleur is adamant that Shanahan remained an aggressive playcaller in Houston, but he also recognises that, should the Niners find themselves in a similarly dominant position against the Chiefs, no one will be getting complacent.

Not with Patrick Mahomes on the other sideline. Not with '28-3' in their minds.

"I just know up in the box on Sundays, I don't care what the score is," LaFleur added.

"We had numerous times this year where we had big leads and you don't feel comfortable.

"I'm not saying the clock has to hit zero but the knees better be out or a lot of running the ball and the other team not using their timeouts."
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