1 of 5 | Defensive tackle Chris Jones (L) and the Kansas City Chiefs defense will face a tough task in stopping the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday in Las Vegas. File Photo by Jon Robichaud/UPI | License Photo
LAS VEGAS, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Patrick Mahomes may mystify fans with his potent passes, but the Kansas City Chiefs defense's challenge of limiting the San Francisco 49ers offense is likely the most pivotal matchup to watch in Super Bowl LVIII.
The game, which will kick off at 3:30 p.m. local time and 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday in Las Vegas, pits the league's No. 2 defense against its No. 2 offense. Defensive tackle Chris Jones and cornerback Trent McDuffie will be among the All-Pro Chiefs facing off against running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, offensive tackle Trent Williams & Co., at Allegiant Stadium.
Oddsmakers expect a close contest. The 49ers opened as 2.5-point favorites, but the line dropped to 1.5 this week.
"We've been under-appreciated and undervalued my whole career, so it's OK," Jones said Thursday at a news conference in Henderson, Nev. "We're used to it now. We understand it. It gives us a competitive edge to go out and play harder and play more aggressive."
The Chiefs, making their fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years, bring championship experience into the contest. The 49ers fielded several talent-laden rosters over that same time frame but were unable to claim a Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Those shortcomings included a 2020 Super Bowl loss to Mahomes' Chiefs. The 49ers led that game by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, before allowing a Chiefs comeback.
"In terms of pain, I mean, I've broken my arm, my collarbone, a lot of things," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said when asked about the pain he still feels from losing the Super Bowl. "Those are more painful, but those [losses] last a while. It's all about getting back there again. That's what I'm excited for."
The 49ers, known for their dynasty in the 1980s, own five Super Bowl titles, tied for the third-most in the NFL. They claimed their most recent crown in 1994, the year before Mahomes was born.
The Chiefs are attempting to become the eighth team in NFL history to win back-to-back titles. They also will try to claim a title for the third time in five years.
"We know that this isn't the end of our run, but we want to maximize the moment and this is the greatest opportunity as ever to go out there and try to get that third title, and get that back-to-back championships," Mahomes said.
"We understand it's going to be a great challenge playing the 49ers. It's a great football team that's hungry as ever to get a Super Bowl title. But we're going to go out there and play our best football and try to see if we can get that third one."
The Chiefs and 49ers boast balanced rosters. They each ranked inside the Top 10 for the fewest yards allowed on defense and the most yards gained on offense during the regular season.
As far as momentum goes, the third-seeded Chiefs roll into Super Bowl LVIII on a six-game winning streak. The 49ers were streaky during the regular season, winning their first five before a three-game losing streak. They rebounded by winning their next six en route to the top seed in the NFC.
The 49ers were among the most balanced offenses in the NFL, with the No. 3 rushing attack and No. 4 passing game. They totaled the second-most yards and third-most points while being led by quarterback Brock Purdy, the last overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The 49ers defense, which allowed the third-fewest points and eighth-fewest yards, was strongest against the run. They allowed the third-fewest rushing yards and ranked No. 14 against the pass. They were among the best teams in taking the ball away from opposing quarterbacks, tying the Chicago Bears with an NFL-best 22 interceptions.
Mahomes threw a career-high 14 interceptions this season. He could be forced into more errors if he faces pressure from an aggressive defensive line, led by defensive end Nick Bosa.
The Chiefs, who typically rank among the most elite passing units in the league, totaled the ninth-most yards in 2023. The Mahomes-led attack logged the sixth-most passing yards and 19th-most rushing yards.
On defense, the Chiefs were strongest against the pass, allowing the fourth-fewest yards through the air. They ranked 18th against the run. That fact should lead to a heavy dosage of McCaffrey and the 49ers' strong running game.
"Football is the biggest team game on the planet and one guy can't do anything without all 10 other guys," McCaffrey said. "That's why this is a special team. You have All-Pros all over the field. You've got arguably the best mind [Shanahan] in football that I've seen. It's exciting."
The Chiefs will likely lean on Mahomes against the 49ers' average pass defense. Strong performances from tight end Travis Kelce and Chiefs wide receivers, who struggled with drops earlier this season, will likely play a key role in the outcome of Super Bowl LVIII.
The Chiefs' passing game could be more stable if left guard Joe Thuney can play. Thuney, who sustained a pectoral strain in the Chiefs' divisional-round win over the Buffalo Bills, did not play in the AFC Championship game and was held out of practice Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Reid said this week that Thuney's chances to play are "slim." Nick Allegretti, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, will replace the 6-foot-5, 304-pound starter if he is ruled out.
More than 65,000 fans, possibly including pop star Taylor Swift, are expected to attend Super Bowl LVIII. The least expensive ticket price on the secondary market was about $6,000, before taxes and fees, as of Thursday afternoon.
The Chiefs outpaced the 49ers in road-game attendance this season but could be outnumbered Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. Ticket search engine TicketIQ reported that about 65% of all visits and ticket sales from secondary sites are coming from San Francisco.
Super Bowl LVIII will air on CBS.
Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association, Lloyd Howell (L) and NFLPA President JC Tretter (R) stand with Vice President Calais Campbell as he receives the Alan Page Community Award at the NFLPA press conference leading up to Super Bowl LVIII at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas on February 7, 2024. The San Francisco 49ers will play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on February 11, 2024. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo