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Super Bowl Preview: The Data Prediction

| January 29th, 2020

I’m very excited for this Super Bowl matchup between two of the best teams in the NFL. Here’s what I’ll be watching for on Sunday night.


When Kansas City Has the Ball

  • I can’t wait to see Patrick Mahomes vs. San Francisco’s defense. The NFL’s best QB against the NFL’s best front 7. How can you not love that?
  • San Francisco has played 4 games against the top 10 QBs in passer rating this year (Wilson 2x, Lamar Jackson, Drew Brees). 3 of the 4 averaged less than 7 yards per attempt, threw 2 or fewer TDs, and led their team to 27 or fewer points. San Francisco’s defense is really good.
  • The 4th was Drew Brees, who averaged 8.7 yards/attempt, threw 5 TD, and put up 46 points. What did Brees do differently? He got rid of the ball before he could get hit. His average time to throw was 2.45 seconds, which was faster than any QB in the NFL as a whole this year (the other 3 were all over 2.7 seconds). As a result, Brees didn’t get sacked. This meant that he had to throw the ball short, with his average completion traveling only 5.1 yards past the line of scrimmage. Instead, he relied on his pass catchers to pick up yards after the catch, and they responded with an average of 6.9 YAC.
  • Patrick Mahomes generally doesn’t get the ball out super fast; his average time to throw this year was 2.82 seconds, and it was 2.91 seconds in 2018. Yet he’s had 5 games in his career where the ball has come out in under 2.6 seconds, and his results there have been remarkable: 73% completion, 10.2 yards/attempt, 19 TD, 0 INT, and only 6 sacks on 198 dropbacks. His team has averaged 35 points per game in those contests too. If you want to get even pickier, he’s had 2 games getting the ball out in under 2.5 seconds: 79% completion, 11.5 yards/attempt, 9 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack. He’s capable of getting the ball out quickly and effectively, even if it’s not his preferred style.


When San Francisco Has the Ball

  • Did you know the 49ers scored more points than the Chiefs in the regular season this year? I certainly didn’t until I started doing a little cursory research. Don’t sleep on their offense.
  • They really depend on running the ball effectively. They’ve averaged more than 5 yards/carry in exactly half of their 18 games this year. The table below shows their scoring and passing splits when that does and doesn’t happen.

  • This is where I mention that Kansas City gave up 4.9 yards/carry this year, the 4th worst mark in the NFL. Of course, that has been better lately; they’ve given up 4.3 yards/carry in their last 7 games, and never more than 4.9 yards/carry in a single game in that stretch. And they did just shut down Derrick Henry last week, something that 2 of the best defenses in the NFL had failed to do in the 2 weeks before that.
  • The last time Kyle Shanahan was in the Super Bowl, his team gave up a 28-3 lead because he went away from the run game. Something tells me he learned a valuable lesson from that (see Jimmy Garoppolo’s 8 pass attempts in the NFC Championship game against Green Bay). The Chiefs can’t count on a big comeback should they fall behind early like they did against Houston.

My Pick

The Super Bowl is always difficult to predict just because you never know how much teams will be impacted by all the hoopla and weird scheduling around the game. Neither team has much Super Bowl experience on their roster, though both coaches have been there before and should know what they’re dealing with.

I think San Francisco has the better overall team, and I won’t be surprised if they win, but I’m going with the Chiefs here. Patrick Mahomes is absolutely on fire, and he’s shown the ability to get the ball out quickly, which he’ll need to do in order to neutralize San Francisco’s pass rush. Kansas City’s run defense should be able to somewhat contain the 49ers’ ground attack if they can maintain their recent form, and the 49ers are in trouble if they have to rely on Garoppolo to out-duel Mahomes.

Chiefs 34, 49ers 27

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