When the 49ers run: Few teams in the NFL do it better. The 49ers were one of only two teams in the league to run the ball more than they threw it this past season, with 587 rushing attempts against 544 pass plays. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is a big part of the league’s second-ranked rushing attack (144.1 yards per game) as a lead blocker. The 49ers have three capable running backs in Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. Mostert has been the lead back lately. He had 220 rushing yards in the NFC Championship Game, second most in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era. San Francisco has run the ball on 71 of its last 88 offensive plays. Expect that to continue against a Kansas City rush defense that ranked 26th in the NFL against the run in the regular season. EDGE: 49ers.
When the 49ers pass: All that running sets up play action. No team uses it more than the 49ers. No team runs more pre-snap motion or throws to the middle of the field than the 49ers as well. Because of how well they run the ball, the 49ers’ pass offense doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo leads a passing attack that is West Coast-oriented, featuring short, horizontal passes. The 49ers averaged 8.4 yards per completion, which was second in the NFL. Garoppolo’s favorite target is tight end George Kittle. He has just four catches in the postseason, but led the team in the regular season with 85 catches for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns. Expect the 49ers to try and get Kittle matched up against Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen. EDGE: 49ers.
When the Chiefs run: Old friend LeSean McCoy has been a forgotten man in the Chiefs’ offense. He hasn’t received a carry since Week 15 and could be a healthy inactive against the 49ers. Damien Williams has taken over as Kansas City’s every-down back. He’s rushed 29 times for 92 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason. The running game is secondary for the Chiefs, who understandably choose to rely more on quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ arm. The 49ers will line up in a Wide-9 look on defense, which presents opportunities for opposing offenses straight up the gut. For that to happen, Kansas City’s interior offensive line will have to get a good push. Mahomes, by the way, has rushed 15 times for 106 yards and a touchdown in the postseason. EDGE: 49ers.
When the Chiefs pass: Plain and simple, Mahomes is the best player in the NFL. The reigning league MVP has been incredible in the postseason, becoming the first player in playoff history to throw for at least 300 yards, rush for at least 50 yards and throw at least five touchdowns when the Chiefs beat the Texans in the divisional round. In two playoff games, Mahomes is 46 of 70 for 615 yards, eight touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 131.5. Tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and old friend Sammy Watkins are Mahomes’ favorite targets. Expect the Chiefs to target whichever receiver doesn’t draw 49ers top cornerback Richard Sherman more often. The 49ers’ front four defensively is excellent, starting with rookie pass rusher Nick Bosa. He’s got the speed to chase down Mahomes. Edge: Chiefs.
Special teams: The Chiefs ranked sixth in Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings, well ahead of the 49ers, who came in at No. 19. Kansas City rookie Mecole Hardman made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist. He averaged 26.1 yards per return on kickoffs and 9.3 yards per return on punts. Both of the Chiefs’ coverage units ranked in the top five in the regular season in yards per game allowed. San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould went just 23 of 31 on field goals this season, but he’s rounding into form at the right time, having made 15 straight attempts. Gould didn’t make a field goal of 50-plus yards in 2019. Punter Rick Mitch Wishnowsky is averaging 44.9 yards per attempt. EDGE: Chiefs.
Coaching: It’s not overstating things to say Andy Reid’s legacy is at stake. Only six coaches in NFL history have won more games than Reid. Each on that list has multiple championships. Reid, of course, is seeking to join that club. Reid’s playoff failures have defined him more than his numerous victories, but that can be erased with a win over the 49ers. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan will be looking to exorcise some demons of his own. He was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator three years ago who watched as Atlanta somehow blew a 28-3 lead with 2:12 left in the third quarter before losing in overtime. Shanahan’s play calling in that game was rightfully criticized in the days and weeks that followed. Shanahan is the young guy, but he takes an old-school approach with his willingness to stick with the running game. Reid, meanwhile, is the old guy who has no problem passing it up and down the field. It’s criminal that both Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh got passed over in this offseason’s hiring cycle for head coaches. Both look to be ready for their shot at a head job. EDGE: Chiefs.
Prediction: Chiefs 27, 49ers 23