What you need to know for the Super Bowl
Including: A Canadian lineman/doctor and a Kool Aid Man-looking genius
The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers square off for the NFL championship on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET in Miami. Whether you're a big football fan or just want to sound like one at your Super Bowl party, here are some things to know to help you enjoy the large game:
It should be a close game…
That's what the oddsmakers are telling us. And if you can't trust a bookie, who can you trust? Most have the Chiefs listed as only a 1.5-point favourite. This is the shortest point spread since the New England vs. Seattle Super Bowl five years ago. That one went down to the final seconds and was decided by one of the most famous plays in NFL history.
...And a high-scoring one too
The consensus over/under total is 54.5 points, which is high for an NFL game. The Chiefs have the most explosive offence in the league, and the 49ers have one of the better ones too. San Francisco's excellent defence is keeping the total down a bit, but the Chiefs have looked unstoppable in the playoffs. So this has all the makings of a shootout. Of course, last year's total was 55.5 points, and the Patriots and Rams treated us to a 13-3 snoozer. So you never know.
A long championship drought will end, either way
The 49ers' last Super Bowl win came in 1994. But they at least made it to the big game six years ago, and the franchise has won five Super Bowls — one short of the record shared by New England and Pittsburgh. Chiefs fans have had it a lot rougher. Their team hasn't won (or even played in) a Super Bowl in 50 years. That's so long ago that it was still socially acceptable for quarterback Len Dawson to do this in the locker room:
San Francisco has the better overall team...
The Niners have talented, tough and unselfish players all over the field — and the tactics to match. Their offence is built on running the ball (rare these days) and everyone, even the receivers, are eager blockers (also rare these days). Almost any NFL running back could excel in this system, but San Fran has discovered a guy with a little extra juice in Raheem Mostert. He took over the starting job late in the season and, well, ran with it. In the NFC championship game he trampled Green Bay for 220 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The 49ers will try to run that back against the Chiefs, whose defensive weakness is stopping the run.
When the Niners want/need to put the ball in the air, they can throw to one of the two best tight ends in football (George Kittle) and reliable receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Deebo Samuel.
On the other side of the ball, the Niners' defence is scary. Rookie Nick Bosa and former Chief Dee Ford are the most talented pass rushers. If the opposing quarterback escapes them, he still has to worry about Richard Sherman and his pals lurking in the secondary for interceptions.
... But Kansas City has a big edge at the sport's most important position
Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in football. He's only 24 years old, but he's on a path to becoming an all-time great. He won the MVP award last year, when he threw for 50 touchdowns. Injuries almost derailed him this year. A sprained ankle hobbled him for a while before a dislocated kneecap put him on the sidelines for two games in the middle of the season (yes, only two for that gruesome injury). But Mahomes is back to the MVP version of himself now: in two playoff games he threw eight TDs, no interceptions and even ran for 106 yards — including an electrifying 27-yard TD in the AFC championship game.
San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has his moments, but he's not very good and the Niners know this. They prefer to keep the ball out of his hands.
Both head coaches are offensive geniuses — but they're quite different
Knowing his quarterback is a weak spot, San Fran's 40-year-old Kyle Shanahan designed his offence around the running game. Keeping the ball on the ground is considered an outdated (and boring) way of playing football, but not the way Shanahan draws it up. He uses a ton of fakes and misdirections to give his ball carriers (which can include wide receivers) open space. This is how an overlooked (though talented) back like Mostert ends up dominating the NFC title game like he did.
K.C.'s 61-year-old Andy Reid is Shanahan's opposite in some ways. He pretty much ignores the running game. Normally you need some balance to keep the opposing defence honest. But Reid's play designs (and his quarterback) are so brilliant and his pass catchers are so fast and so good (including receivers Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman and superstar tight end Travis Kelce, who plays like a receiver) that it doesn't matter. Reid has always been a passing-game savant, but it took him all these years to finally get the perfect quarterback to translate his genius to the field. Mahomes is the De Niro to his Scorsese. This Super Bowl could be their Goodfellas.
Reid also might be the most beloved coach in football. His players adore him, and fans love his self-deprecating, big-eating, regular-guy persona — captured perfectly in this famous meme:
A Canadian is an important player for the Chiefs — and also a doctor
No joke: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is the first active NFL player to hold a medical degree. He earned his doctorate in medicine from Montreal's McGill University in 2018 by working on it in his spare time and during off-seasons. He would probably be a practising doctor by now if he wasn't so good at football. The 6-foot-5, 321-pound offensive lineman is in the middle of a five-year contract that guaranteed him at least $20 million US. It's extremely unlikely to have this solid a career when you played your college ball in Canada instead of the U.S.
If you want to look for Duvernay-Tardif on Sunday, he wears No. 76 and he's Kansas City's starting right guard. He lines up directly to the right of the centre (the guy who snaps the ball to the quarterback). The doctor has a big job: helping protect Mahomes from the Niners' fierce pass rushers.
You won't see the American commercials
Let's be honest: the Super Bowl is as much an advertising delivery system as it is a football game. A 30-second ad this year cost more than $5 million US, so brands pull out all the stops to make them memorable. But Canadians won't see most of them because our Supreme Court overturned a CRTC ruling that had allowed us for the last few years to watch the American-network Super Bowl feed if we wanted to.
Now it's back to the way it used to be: no matter what channel you watch the game on, Bell Canada (which owns the Canadian rights) overlays its own feed so that you get the commercials they sell. A few of those might be the same as the American ones, but that's it.
The halftime show features Jennifer Lopez and Shakira
It's a nice nod to Miami's Latin flavour. But seeing as how this is Super Bowl LIV in roman numerals, they could have gone with Paul McCartney, ELO or maybe even Ja Rule. OK, I'll show myself out now, thanks.
This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, the CBC Sports daily newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.