Let’s make next Sunday’s Super Bowl real simple. If the game becomes a duel of the quarterbacks throwing the ball downfield, Patrick Mahomes enjoys a big edge over Jimmy Garoppolo.
But if the 49ers defensive front harasses Mahomes with a four-man rush and records two or three sacks, the 49ers can control the game with their ground attack and short passes to tight end George Kittle. Style of play will determine the winner.
Two nights ago I broke out the tape of Atlanta upsetting San Francisco 29-22. It was the 49ers’ last loss before they made their run through the Rams, Seahawks, Vikings and Packers.
One player spelled the difference – wide receiver Julio Jones. He caught 13 passes thrown by Matt Ryan, including the game winner with five seconds remaining. He was ruled down at the 1-yard line, but instant replay reversed the call when it was clear that Jones extended the ball past the goal line before he was pushed back.
The game should have ended 23-22, but the 49ers’ bid for a Nashville Miracle resulted in a gift, final touchdown on a fumbled lateral.
Garoppolo was OK, but he was forced to throw the ball 34 times – completing 22 for 200 yards, 1 TD and a 93.3 rating. Those 34 passes compared with 27 running plays by the 49ers.
In four victories since, Garoppolo has thrown 27, 22, 19 and eight times including two TDs and three interceptions. Compare that with Mahomes, who during the same four-week run threw 33, 25, 35 and 35 passes including 11 TDs and one interception.
Clearly, 49er coach Kyle Shanahan needs to control the game and the clock with his running attack. Will he succeed? Clearly, the answer to that question will determine who lifts the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
As we await the Super Bowl (and my prediction), there are plenty of fascinating storylines.
Will Tom Brady really move on from the Patriots?
Is Philip Rivers finished as a Charger?
Is Derek Carr going to throw the first Las Vegas Raider pass?
I could go on, but you get the idea. There’s enough quarterback gossip to keep us talking about the NFL until training camp opens.
Let’s begin with the Raiders. I’ll let Jon Gruden make the final quarterback decision. If I had to guess, I’d predict Carr will be the starter when the doors swing open at Allegiant Stadium. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Gruden brings in a young quarterback from April’s draft and begins the process of challenging Carr in his new home.
There are two areas that the Raiders must improve before next season: wide receiver and linebacker. Competing against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC West means the Raiders must score at least 30 points in each of those two head-to-head matchups.
This college class is loaded with quality wide receivers, and the Raiders should be able to select a No. 1 with either of their first round picks – 12th or 19th overall.Tyrell Williams is fine as a No. 2, and Hunter Renfrow delivered as a slot receiver. But there isn’t a Julio Jones or a Keenan Allen on the roster.
At linebacker they need a stud from the SEC who can keep Travis Kelce and Hunter Henry under control.
If you thirst for football action this weekend, take a flyer on the over-under total in the Pro Bowl. Your choice. It makes for a lot of laughs with family and friends. And if you’re lucky, you’ll cash a ticket, because that’s what it’s all about.