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Slow start could cost Chiefs

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

January 31, 2020 12:20 AM

Because sports bettors best remember things that just happened, a narrative about slow starts and fast starts is forming for Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. 

Kansas City fell behind Houston and Tennessee in the AFC playoffs before storming back to win and cover. Some think that must mean it takes a while for coach Andy Reid and star quarterback Patrick Mahomes to figure things out. 

San Francisco led Green Bay 27-0 at the half. Some think that must mean tactically brilliant coach Kyle Shanahan is great at developing early game plans. 

If true, this would set up very easy bets against first-quarter and first-half lines in Sunday’s showdown. Wouldn’t San Francisco be a steal at pick-’em (-105) or %plussign& 0.5 (-160) in the first quarter and pick-’em (-105) for the first half? (Odds from William Hill.)

Obviously, that’s not much of a sample size. How can we check to see if these themes are true? They sound reasonable. Mahomes is a young magician who may need time to recognize what opposing defenses will give him. Shanahan was raised as a football chess player since birth. 

What happened when the Chiefs and Niners faced playoff opponents? Counting the postseason, Kansas City has a six-game sample, San Francisco a seven-game sample. Let’s look for more evidence about starts in those indicator matchups:

— First quarters

Kansas City was prone to dig early holes, going just 2-4 straight up in first quarters while getting outscored 47-37. But those were weighted down by a combined 31-7 debacle in the playoffs. K.C. was up 30-16 during the regular season against Baltimore, Houston, Tennessee and New England. 

San Francisco really does start fast. The Niners were 4-1-2 straight up in first quarters, with the loss coming in the Superdome against powerful New Orleans — and one of the ties resulting in a point-spread cover as underdogs at Baltimore. San Francisco won its combined first-quarter scoreboard 58-27 against Seattle twice, Green Bay twice, Baltimore, New Orleans and Minnesota. Wow.

— First halves

Kansas City typically had things figured out by the second quarter. So the slow starts involved just the first 15 minutes. The Chiefs won second quarters 85-43 to finish with a 122-90 scoreboard edge in six halftimes vs. teams that reached the playoffs. 

San Francisco continued to thrive in second quarters, with a 71-34 edge resulting in a combined 129-61 halftime advantage. That’s astounding considering the caliber of opposition. Even in that first-quarter loss at New Orleans,  the 49ers led 28-27 at the break. 

If you’re wondering about second halves, virtual dead heats. Kansas City won its last two quarters 76-75 vs. those opponents, while San Francisco lost 88-87. 

Bottom lines? San Francisco is definitely a fast starter, while Kansas City is at least vulnerable early even if its last two games overstate the trend. It’s something for smart bettors to think about as they map out their big-game strategies.

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