Chris Berman is back to make his NFL pick for Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.
Berman has picked the winner in four of the past five years, and in each of the past two Super Bowls, he has correctly picked the winner AND the exact margin of victory.
Odds courtesy of ESPN BET.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers (-1.5, 47.5)
Sunday, Feb. 11, 6:30 p.m. ET, Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas
Super Bowl LVIII. If it’s anything like when these teams met in Super Bowl LIV, we’re all in for a treat. As you might remember, the 49ers led the Chiefs 20-10 with under seven minutes to go, before the Chiefs scored 21 unanswered points to win 31-20. But don’t overlook the deep ball from Jimmy Garoppolo to Emmanuel Sanders that was almost complete with under two minutes remaining and the Niners down by four. Had it connected, the result might have been different.
Let’s look at this Super Bowl from a historical perspective. There hasn’t been a repeat champion in 19 years, when the Patriots did it in the 2003 and ’04 seasons. There used to be at least one each decade: Green Bay in the ’60s, Miami and Pittsburgh (twice) in the ’70s, San Francisco in the ’80s, and Dallas and Denver in the ’90s. But now there has been a gap. The Chiefs weren’t able to do it three years ago, but they have another chance Sunday.
This makes four Super Bowl trips in five seasons for the Chiefs. Only two other franchises have ever done that: the Patriots (2014, 2016-18) and the Bills, who did it four straight seasons to start the ’90s. It’s important to understand the greatness we are seeing. The Chiefs really have become the Patriots, with their own legendary coach (Andy Reid) and their own legendary quarterback (Patrick Mahomes).
Let’s not look too far past the 49ers, who just played in their fourth NFC Championship Game in the past five seasons. A Super Bowl win would cement what Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have put together, and then we would better recognize that they have been the dominant force in the NFC over the same span of time.
Before the season, Kansas City was the top choice to win the Super Bowl at 6-1, while San Francisco was tied for the third choice at 9-1. The teams took different paths to get here.
The 49ers jumped to a 5-0 start, then suddenly hit the skids, losing three straight in October. But following their bye, they rolled just about everyone. They won seven of eight games to clinch the No. 1 seed (before resting most of their starters in a Week 18 loss). All seven wins came by double digits, with the only loss in that span coming at home to Baltimore on Christmas night. That loss might have been a blessing in disguise. Instead of dominating, the 49ers trailed in both playoff games — 21-14 after three quarters against Green Bay and 24-7 at the half versus Detroit — and had to come from behind to win. They were clutch in crunch time and here they are.
The Chiefs began 6-1, the only blemish being the opening night upset loss to Detroit. That strong start might have masked what was brewing, though. They went 3-5 in their next eight games, including a home loss to the Raiders on Christmas. The Chiefs weren’t scoring. In fact, they had problems catching the football. The defense was better than the offense. Maybe the loss to the Raiders was their blessing in disguise … and also interesting that it came on Christmas, just like the Niners’ did. There was a realization that “we’re not the Chiefs we’d thought we’d be, but we’re pretty darned good and if we want to win, we’ll have to do it in a different way than we were planning or that we’re accustomed to.” Since that game, they’ve gone 5-0, including three impressive playoff efforts: 26-7 in arctic Arrowhead against Miami, 27-24 at Buffalo (allowing only seven points in the second half), and 17-10 at Baltimore, a game in which they never trailed.
On to Sunday, San Francisco is a slight favorite. Four years ago, Kansas City was a slight favorite. Why the change? The 49ers more than pass the eyeball test on offense. They scored 120 more points in the regular season than the Chiefs. Christian McCaffrey was the NFL’s rushing leader and amassed more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. You know the other names, all dangerous: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, tackle Trent Williams. And then there’s quarterback Brock Purdy. Detractors are missing the point. He wins. He’s very precise as a passer in Shanahan’s purring offense. He’s also impressive with his legs, just ask the Lions. The defense also has many household names, like Nick Bosa, who can wreck a game, and linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, just to mention a few.
Kansas City’s defense, under maestro Steve Spagnuolo, one of the great defensive coaches of our time, has allowed only Buffalo to score more than 20 points in the past eight games. The Chiefs have fewer household names than the Niners. Chris Jones is, of course, a stalwart. L’Jarius Sneed is a budding superstar, just ask the Ravens … and there are many others, like defensive end “Furious” George Karlaftis. The Chiefs are a great tackling team, and they know they better be against the Niners, who excel in yards after the catch. Spags runs the “Rolodex” defense: a lot to choose from and no real pattern for opponents to lock in on. You just know something’s coming.
Again, the Chiefs’ offense is quite different than originally imagined. No surprise that in the playoffs Travis Kelce all of a sudden was open once again. Rashee Rice catches the ball, Isiah Pacheco runs angry and their interior O-line — despite the injury to Pro Bowl guard Joe Thuney — is outstanding. Then, there’s Mahomes. He’s still the best quarterback in the game. He completed 30 of 39 passes in Baltimore, but for under 250 yards. The yards don’t matter. Complementary football does. So … when push comes to shove, wouldn’t you want the ball in Mahomes’ hands come crunch time? Especially as an underdog, as the Chiefs were the past two weeks and as they were in last year’s Super Bowl against Philadelphia? That’s my thinking.
Kansas City 23, San Francisco 20