Two great teams. The NFL’s biggest star. And, yes, Taylor Swift. Sunday’s game has the makings of a classic.
Sunday’s game has the makings of a classicJesse Campigotto · CBC Sports
· Posted: Feb 08, 2024 6:00 PM EST | Last Updated: 1 hour ago
Patrick Mahomes can join an exclusive club by winning his third Super Bowl MVP award. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.
Two great teams. The biggest star in football. A matchup that’s too close to call. And, yes, Taylor Swift. The ingredients are in place for a memorable night when Super Bowl LVIII kicks off Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET in Las Vegas.
Here’s what to know for the big game:
It’s a toss-up.
This San Francisco vs. Kansas City matchup is about as close as it gets. The 49ers are favoured by two points in the betting markets, implying they have about a 54 per cent chance of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. But everyone you talk to seems to pick K.C. to repeat as NFL champions.
That’s mostly because of Patrick Mahomes. Last year’s regular-season and Super Bowl MVP saw his numbers fall off this season as Kansas City’s weak receivers unit struggled and superstar tight end Travis Kelce finally started to show his age. The defending champs finished a relatively pedestrian 11-6, giving them the No. 3 seed for the AFC playoffs.
But Mahomes, like he always seems to do, came through when it mattered most. After freezing out Miami in a frigid first-round game at Arrowhead, football’s best player overcame hostile environments to win the first two true road playoff games of his career. He beat Buffalo, then upset top-seeded Baltimore in the AFC championship game with a big assist from K.C.’s defence, which this year ascended from underrated to sort-of feared. Kelce stepped up too, racking up 17 catches for 191 yards and three touchdowns over the last two games to show that he’s still more than just Taylor Swift’s boyfriend.
San Francisco’s journey to the Super Bowl seemed more pre-ordained. Apart from a three-game losing streak in October when some of their stars were banged up, the 49ers won 12 of their 13 other meaningful games to take the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 12-5 record. They had a tough time getting past underdogs Green Bay and Detroit in the playoffs, but the second half of the NFC title game against the Lions showed what kind of firepower the Niners can unleash. Facing a 24-7 deficit at the break, San Fran scored the next 27 points before holding on for a 34-31 win.
Kansas City can win its third championship in five years.
Only three teams in NFL history have pulled that off: the mid-1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, the mid-’90s Dallas Cowboys and, most recently, the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick New England Patriots, who did it twice. But this Kansas City team — led by the triumvirate of Mahomes, Kelce and brilliant head coach Andy Reid — certainly has the chops to join that dynastic group.
Mahomes can also ascend to elite company personally. If Kansas City wins again on Sunday, he’ll likely capture his third Super Bowl MVP. Only Brady (5) and 49ers great Joe Montana (3) have reached that level.
Before beating Philadelphia in last year’s 38-35 thriller, Mahomes captured his first championship ring and Super Bowl MVP at the expense of San Francisco in February 2020. The 49ers led by 10 points with seven minutes left before Mahomes rallied his team for three quick touchdowns and a 31-20 win.
But this is not the same 49ers team Mahomes beat last time.
Five years can be an eternity in the NFL, and Kansas City has undergone changes of its own — including the loss of superstar receiver Tyreek Hill in a trade with Miami. But San Francisco’s two most important current players were not around for that Super Bowl loss to Kansas City.
Christian McCaffrey, the undisputed best running back in the NFL after surpassing 2,000 total yards rushing and receiving this season, was acquired in a 2022 trade with Carolina. Second-year quarterback Brock Purdy, the league leader in passer rating, was famously picked last overall in the 2022 draft before supplanting starter Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie. Purdy and McCaffrey were two of the five finalists for the NFL’s MVP award this season. Mahomes did not make the cut.
Other key additions to Coach of the Year finalist Kyle Shanahan’s inventive offence include fourth-year wideout Brandon Aiyuk, the team leader in receiving yards, and All-Pro offensive lineman Trent Williams. Holdovers from the Niners’ last Super Bowl trip include bruising receiver/runner Deebo Samuel, versatile tight end George Kittle, rangy linebacker Fred Warner and fierce pass rusher Nick Bosa.
Purdy is a lightning rod.
Few players attract as much debate as the unassuming former Mr. Irrelevant (the nickname for whoever goes last in the draft). Purdy is a living Rorschach test. Some see a limited athlete whose impressive-looking stats are inflated by the bounty of talent surrounding him and Shanahan’s ingenious play designs. Others see an underrated technician who understands how to get the ball to his stars and can create plays outside of structure when things break down.
But most agree that Purdy is an upgrade over Garoppolo, so he could tip the matchup the Niners way this time.
Taylor Swift will be in the building.
Speaking of lightning rods, the world’s most famous entertainer finds herself at the centre of a truly unhinged conspiracy theory suggesting that the NFL will rig the Super Bowl for Kansas City in order to… covert Swifties to football fans and help her get Joe Biden re-elected? Or something. The fact that this has become something of a storyline is pretty embarrassing, let alone that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked to address it during his press conference this week. But such is life in 2024.
Swift plans to attend the game — like she has for the entirety of Kansas City’s playoff run so far — despite her busy schedule. After winning album of the year at the Grammys in Los Angeles on Sunday, she flew to Japan for four consecutive concerts at the Tokyo Dome. The last of those wraps up early Saturday morning, Las Vegas time, giving Swift plenty of time to make it to the Super Bowl. She’ll even be able to stick around for post-game festivities before resuming her money-printing Eras Tour the following Friday in Australia.
You can be sure that Swift will be shown many times during the CBS broadcast of the game (something that seems to bother a lot of people). But she’s not involved in the halftime show. R&B singer Usher will star in that, with the possibility of some surprise guests.