I’ve Mastered Social Distancing for a Decade, So Why Does 2020 Feel So Different?

I haven’t left the house in two months.

While I may have been ahead of the curve on taking the coronavirus seriously, there’s a pretty good chance I would have still been this vitamin D deprived even if the virus didn’t exist.

When I did a Twitter poll a few weeks ago on my personal record for not leaving the house, 68% of you were generous in choosing only 3 or 6 months.

The correct answer is actually 9 months. I can still remember breaking the streak on Thanksgiving 2011, noting to my mom after she got the car out that “this is the first time I’ve left the house since February.” Her face turned to shock with a hint of disgust as she told me “you better never tell anyone that.” Whoops. That streak may also be broken this year.

Staying home and keeping my distance from human beings is just how I prefer to live. My grandma used to call me a hermit, but if I can take one positive away from COVID-19, it’s rebranding hermit into “social distancing.”

Suddenly, my lifestyle has gone globally mainstream as social distancing is the way we’re going to slow the spread of this virus. At least, that’s how countries with functioning leadership will handle it, but we can talk about how ratfucked America is later.

(Warning: this piece was written in three sittings and it has mood swings)

Asking me to stay home is akin to asking me to continue breathing oxygen. I am almost as selective in choosing when to leave the house as Daniel Day-Lewis was at choosing film roles. In a world of more than seven billion people, I have to be in the running — comatose patients excluded — for having the least amount of change to my life from the coronavirus pandemic.

However, I can’t say there hasn’t been a mental change already. I’m more pessimistic than usual and I find it hard to get excited about anything. Despite a decade of unrivaled experienced with social distancing, I find myself having to daily stem off a panic attack. I figured if I’m having a difficult time with this quarantine, then it must be a real shock to the system of the people who are so used to going out the door daily. Throw that change on top of the anxiety and uncertainty over what’s going to happen to your health and wealth. It’s a lot to handle right now.

I can’t promise this will be the most helpful of stories to read — maybe you’ll get a few laughs at least in a time we need comedy. I just knew I had to sit down and share my thoughts to feel the catharsis I only get from writing. While I may go on to regret sharing so many personal feelings about my life, there is a sinking feeling that something could happen this year where I never get another chance for people to understand why I lived the way I did.

So carpe fucking diem; this one’s for the misunderstood social hermits.

Why I Love Social Distancing

This has quickly gotten pretty dark, so let’s dial it back to the fun times of social distancing in a world before someone ate a bat at a wet market or whatever the hell happened in China to start this chaos.

What started me on social distancing? Well, if you’ve been around people before, you know that it’s not always the most pleasant experience.

You probably want to know what goes into the psyche of a person who would voluntarily not leave the house for nine months as I once did. Some of you might not even fathom why I’d do it for nine days for that matter. By the way, I know many people are struggling right now since 52.3% of you on Twitter said you’d rather do two weeks in prison than 12 months of house arrest.

I don’t think my lifestyle choice is better than anyone’s, but I can’t help but get the feeling that a lot of people would say there’s something wrong with mine. So I admittedly find myself writing this from a defensive position after seeing so many people on social media struggle and complain just a single-digit number of days into a self-quarantine. When you see people equate your lifestyle with the end of the world, it makes you question if you’re really okay.

But I do feel more than content with my way of doing things. We’re just cut from a different cloth. However, I would strongly deny being an anti-social person. In fact, I used to call myself the most social hermit you’ll ever meet because of how much I enjoy conversation with anyone. I’ll start up conversations with people at elevators, or with waitresses, doctor’s assistants, and any random Twitter user where I have over 22,000 followers. I simply enjoy talking, I’m very approachable, and people are comfortable at opening up to me. That’s why I probably should have been a psychologist so I could sit my ass at home and have people come to see me. I’d also be making way more money than I have.

Oh yes, work. If you’re new here that might be your main area of interest. How do you achieve a decade of social distancing with work? The answer is to be a freelance writer. Even when you don’t have any gigs, you can just say you’re working on a book or a screenplay, which are two things I have done already. I started covering the NFL full time in 2011 and worked on research projects for a few years before that. I can honestly say I have never once had to leave the house for a single task related to my coverage of football. Everything has always been done remotely and handled by emails, attachments and some phone calls. Some people are likely just discovering how amazing working from home can be, but that’s what I have always done. Sadly, I may not be able to continue doing this, which would really put a damper on my lifestyle. Hard to find a sportswriting job as it is, but even harder when sports are suspended. But enough for now about my depressing future.

Extreme social distancing was not always my lifestyle, but I have certainly taken on more social distancing post-college than I did as a teenager and college student. I graduated from college in December 2008, so 2009 was the first full year where I wasn’t constrained by the need to go to classes. Had I known how infrequently I was going to leave the house over the next decade, I probably would have kept track of every instance since I am a data nerd with OCD for such things. If you named a year since 2009, I could probably list a few of the events that drew me out the door. For example, 2010 got at least five trips out of me for jury duty and kidney stones, so definitely not my favorite year.

If I had to ballpark it, I’d say I probably average about 2.5 trips out of the house a month. For example, I left the house three times in January this year: once to a meal on New Year’s Day, one doctor’s appointment (stopped for a flu shot too, fortunately), and my last time out was on January 25 (two months ago today) to my best friend’s house. I didn’t go out once in February, and March (and probably April+) will be the same way of course.

A year ago, I left the house five times in March, but it was one of the worst months of my life. It started with a terrible case of the flu, which led to two ER trips. In between those I broke my MedExpress cherry, but it was short-lived as they denied me service because of my new health insurance. So we picked up Arby’s on the way home, because I’d rather die by roast beef than that flu. Another trip would have been to see my grandma after I finally got over the flu, but she passed away on the Sunday morning of St. Patrick’s Day. Later that week I had to purchase a suit jacket at a store before attending her funeral and wake two days later. So that’s five trips that I would gladly exchange for just one last time to see her for a proper goodbye.

You get the sense now that I’ve always worked from home, and I mostly just leave for medical reasons and family events. The next logical question is what do I do for fun? You know, living. The things people are freaking out from not having access to right now as the world has stopped. Well, this is where I feel I’m very consistent in my habits of what I like and enjoy:

  • I’d rather eat at home (with food brought to me) than go to a restaurant
  • I’d rather watch a movie on my HDTV than go to a theater
  • I’d rather listen to music on headphones than go to a concert
  • I’d rather watch sports on my HDTV than go to a game

Movies/TV, music and sports are my big hobbies in a nutshell. In each case here I prefer the option that is more efficient in terms of time and cost, and I choose private/small gatherings over being in public and in large crowds. That’s just how I am.

The only real inconsistency I have is that I do prefer seeing a friend in person over just texting or talking to them on the phone. Unfortunately, my inner circle these days is almost exclusively people from different states, so there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m still on brand in that I would prefer a friend to come over than to go to a party. In a party setting, I’m absolutely the person who latches on to a friend and just talks their ear off without circulating the room.

How do I manage online dating? By being a good texter (read: not a creep or fuckboy), I actually get most women to meet me at my house for the first date. And since I’ve been straight edge since I was 17, bars/clubs are not places I ever frequent or take interest in. Don’t need to go to the liquor store or to buy a pack of smokes. Never have the urge to go looking for the Dope Man.

But wait, there’s a lot more…

  • I don’t drive and being in a car long can make me physically ill (need the window cracked for air no matter how cold it is)
  • I never liked flying and haven’t been on an airplane since a couple months before 9/11
  • So asking me to fly to a conference or to the NFL Combine (my least favorite event) is a no go
  • I’m agnostic and haven’t been to church since I was a teenager
  • The only water I want to be in is a shower, so no thanks on going to the pool, beach or water park
  • Amusement parks/zoos are fun as a kid or if you have kids, so 33-year-old childless me isn’t so amused anymore
  • If a 33-year-old man is chilling at a park alone, he’s probably a pedo or a serial killer, so that’s not for me
  • People like to walk their dogs, but I’m 100% a cat person, and like me, they stay indoors
  • I’ve never had any interest in hunting, fishing, or camping
  • Dancing or hiking? Me not liking
  • Going for a run or to the gym? Nope, but I’d love to have a stationary bike I could sit on and exercise while I stream media…at home
  • Gun range to practice shooting? Nope, not into guns (not even paintball)
  • Bowling? Tried it once at a birthday party (that was enough)
  • Strip club? Waste of money (PornHub is free)
  • Unlike Robert Kraft, I’ve never taken a spa day or been to a massage parlor
  • Wrestling shows? Been to a ton, but stopped following in 2001
  • Casinos? I’ve been there twice, but I’d rather lose money betting on sports from home
  • Plays, museums and art galleries? Not my bags
  • My mom knows how to cut my hair so I stopped seeing my barber
  • My uncle is the flea market/garage sale type; not me
  • Haven’t been inside a library since college
  • I guess I’m a bad person for admitting I have no interest in going to a homeless shelter/soup kitchen, but I do donate many items to Vietnam Veterans
  • Circus? I’ve gone twice as a kid; threw up on a woman the first time and got a bad splinter the second
  • BINGO? I actually liked those as a kid, but I’m not that or a senior citizen now
  • I hate fireworks and saw more than enough of them as a kid

I think 25 bullets are enough to get the point. I’ve experienced many of these things in my life, had my fill, and the fact is I’d rather just stay home than do those activities. If that makes me weird then so be it, but I know what makes me happy. I also must acknowledge that my age and lack of a family has a lot to do with this. It’d be really hard to stay home all the time if you had a kid to take to school or a spouse that wanted to go out from time to time. I’m also an only child, so no siblings to do anything with.

I’d also be remiss not to mention the technology from this past decade that fuels my lifestyle. I wouldn’t have been able to do this in any other decade. Being able to stream movies/TV and music so easily has changed a lot. I used to actually go to the video store to rent a VHS or DVD or video game, which often meant a second trip out to return it or get more. I used to actually go to Best Buy on Tuesdays to buy new CDs, but mp3s and Spotify killed those days. Now we can also have food, groceries and medication delivered right to our homes. Then in terms of getting anything delivered, Amazon Prime and free two-day shipping has of course dominated shopping. I get almost all of my clothes from online orders. Those days of going to a shopping mall and trying stuff on are long gone for me. As many Americans know, malls in general are relics of our past. Future generations won’t know what you’re talking about if you mention a joke gift you once bought at Spencer’s or that some high school fraud only knew bands with merch at Hot Topic.

I’m of the age where I grew up in a pre-social media, pre-internet world where we actually had childhoods, birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s, and vacations to Disney were affordable. Now I’m older, streaming has taken over, and I’d shamelessly rather just stay home.

If I’m happy, then who cares? I’m going to continue enjoying social distancing, but not so much in this current situation.

Why 2020 Is Freaking Me Out

I saw a girl I follow on multiple social media platforms complaining that she has to stay in and can’t go to the bars and clubs. I felt like saying “Sis, you’re almost 30, you can’t keep a man, and it’s time to grow up. There will be plenty of chances for you to post your cute outfit on Instagram, post the random dude you’re grinding on for Snapchat, and then tweet a day later that all men are trash.”

These aren’t the end times. Those days aren’t over for her, but they need to be put on hold for at least several weeks if we’re all going to get through this together. Not enough people are taking this seriously. People like her would be among the first out the door should we ignore the social distancing guidelines before Easter (April 12) and act like there’s nothing wrong.

I’m probably preaching to the choir, but the concerns go far beyond the death rate that is fortunately not very high for COVID-19. Still, 2% of the population is no joke as anyone who has watched The Leftovers knows. The concern is that you can pass it to someone who will have a serious illness/death from it, as well as overwhelming the capacity of our hospitals. Just wait for the crow-eating tweets from people who called it a hoax and that it’s just the common cold when they’re stuck in the ER for eight hours with chest pains and can’t get a doctor because they’re overloaded. It’s coming. Also, people comparing it to the flu need to shut the fuck up already. It’s not the flu. It’s not any type of flu. It’s at least 10 times worse than the flu.

I don’t want to make this too political (follow my Twitter where I’ll lash out about that in real time), but the fact is I fear that America will be the worst-hit country from the coronavirus because of how incompetent our leadership is. We’ve managed to turn a global pandemic into more petty, partisan bullshit. You cannot half-ass a response to this virus where many people are staying at home, but too many are still gathering at parks or horrifically playing basketball on a public court. Guess what? All those people are still using the same grocery stores and pharmacies, which have to remain open of course. We’re not doing enough and certainly not doing the type of lockdowns that China and Italy strictly enforced.

You need a legit lockdown (plus high-volume, efficient testing) for at least three weeks to really slow this thing down. When a massive country like India can start that, then what is our problem? Oh that’s right, this is America, a country where people would rather boast about their patriotism and freedom than do anything logical or with empathy for others.

It starts at the top with Donald Trump, who then has his ghouls in the senate and media follow his lead, poisoning the minds of millions of his Kool-Aid drinkers. Yeah, I guess it would be ‘beautiful’ to see things return to normal for a holiday like Easter. You know what else would be beautiful? The NCAA March Madness tournament. WrestleMania with an audience. Rage Against the Machine name-checking Trump at Coachella. The NBA/NHL playoffs. The 2020 Summer Olympics. You know, the things that have been cancelled or postponed for logical reasons because of this virus.  People would love to enjoy those events too, but tough shit. These are unusual times and we have to take unusual actions to overcome it.

A decision to let people roam freely too soon could trigger the trifecta that would lock up Trump’s legacy as the worst president we’ve ever had: the worst coronavirus outbreak and most deaths from it in the world, record-setting lows for the economy, and record-setting unemployment. If this happens, it should signal the death of the Republican party after choosing greed over humanity. It’s really the legacy Trump and his party deserves, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that grim of a reality.

Our reality now is that many people are scared and we don’t see any reason to trust our leader. The total lack of common sense and empathy that many are showing just adds to our fears, because we’re not in full control of our health. I’m doing my part to stay home of course, but what happens if some asshole with a cough goes to the store, spreads his unknowingly infected germs on an item he puts back, and then my mom goes on to purchase that item and brings it home? A CDC study found the coronavirus lived on surfaces in the Diamond Princess cruise ship for as long as 17 days. There is a lot to be concerned about here.

You should have known there would be problems with this when people laughed off “it only affects the old and those with underlying conditions,” which has morphed into “let the old die to save the stock market.” The fact is we all know people who fall into the high-risk categories. They still matter and we can’t put a value on their lives.

I’m a high-risk person. I have sleep apnea and I’ve had pneumonia twice and a pulmonary embolism in 2016, so my lungs are anything but pristine. Furthermore, my immune system is not in good shape because I was taking Humira, an immunosuppressant drug. It’s the same drug I was taking a year ago when the flu kicked my ass for over two weeks. Now imagine how I might fare against a virus 10 times worse than the flu. I stopped taking Humira in late February for this reason, but I am absolutely scared about the prospects of catching the coronavirus in my condition.

My mom is also high risk for her age and she’s had a bad cough for two months now. Chronic bronchitis is an issue for her. You can tell I lean on her a lot as really the only family member I have left. If something happens to her, I don’t know what I’ll do. Chances are if she gets it, I’ll get it too. My little family tree could be all out of leaves if we’re not careful enough, and again, our health is not entirely in our control.

Am I willing to go 18 months without leaving the house until there’s a vaccine? That would be twice my personal record, and I already had a bit of a headstart at two months in. I think I could do it, but I sure as hell hope it doesn’t come to that. My thought process is if we get it, I hope it’s months down the road when there are more ventilators, the hospitals aren’t overwhelmed, and maybe they’ll have a good idea of which medicines to treat people with by then.

My only real hope in this situation is that we have the best minds in the world working hard on this virus, looking for effective treatments and ultimately a vaccine. I’m confident we’re going to get there eventually, but for now, these are scary, unfathomable times. It’s okay to be scared, because even though I am uniquely qualified to get through a long lockdown, I’m scared too.

If you’re looking for some media to consume to pass the time, just know I’m always offering recommendations as this is my zone. It’s never been my intention to implore the world to live life the way I do, but the longer you can stay home and grind it out, my family would appreciate that as we continue to flatten the curve and hope for the best.

Much like binging on a series, we just have to take this pandemic one episode at a time, and hopefully we’ll make it to the next season together.

49ers’ Blown Super Bowl Lead Was Historic Deja Vu

As I continue to work on the best database I could have for NFL game data this century, I keep finding new absurd facts about Kansas City’s comeback win in Super Bowl LIV.

Imagine a team leading 20-10 more than halfway through the fourth quarter in a nationally-televised game. Then that team goes on to lose 31-20 in regulation.

That’s what happened to the 49ers in the Super Bowl, but the last time the NFL has seen such a reversal of fortune — a double-digit lead halfway through the fourth turning into a double-digit loss — it also involved the 49ers, a 20-10 lead, and a 31-20 loss in prime time. 

Yep, same exact scores, but much different stakes. In 2002, the 49ers (10-6) were wrapping up a playoff-bound season on Monday Night Football against disappointing division rival St. Louis (7-9 finish). The 49ers rested and pulled starters from the game, but still led 20-3 in the fourth quarter. That’s when Rams backup quarterback Jamie Martin began to lead a comeback, pulling the team to within 20-17 with 7:09 left after throwing a touchdown pass to future HOFer Isaac Bruce. On the next play from scrimmage, Garrison Hearst fumbled and Dre’ Bly returned it for a touchdown to take a 24-20 lead. Hearst fumbled again on the next drive and the Rams had a chance to run the clock out, but on 4th-and-1, Martin threw a pass to tight end Ernie Conwell for a 32-yard touchdown to make it 31-20 after the two-minute warning. A bit of a rub-it-in-their-face score for sure for a team that rarely threw to the tight end. The Rams were actually 2-point favorites so it was a surprising cover and comeback to close a game that ultimately didn’t mean anything.

It’s not terribly rare to see a team trail by double digits in the last eight minutes (or 7:30 if you want to think of it as half the quarter) of the fourth quarter and come back to win the game. It happens about five times a season. But those games often go to overtime or are won in regulation by 1-7 points. An 11-point win in regulation like the 2002 Rams had goes way against the grain.

It wouldn’t happen again in the NFL until the 49ers blew yet another 20-10 lead in this Super Bowl. The infamous 3rd-and-15 “Wasp” play by the Chiefs for 44 yards came at the 7:13 mark. The Chiefs got into the end zone with 6:13 left and would return there two more times, including Damien Williams’ 38-yard run with 1:12 left that crushed my ticket of “Chiefs by exactly 4 points” to produce the historic 31-20 final.

So like the Falcons holding a 28-3 lead — as if this will ever happen again in Dan Quinn’s career — you just can’t trust the 49ers with a 20-10 lead halfway through the fourth quarter. Oddly enough, Quinn was a defensive quality control coach for the 2002 49ers too.

I haven’t been able to confirm the stats before 2001 yet, but it would be interesting to see a list of double-digit reversals like these two games in NFL history. I know the Chiefs are the only team since 2001 to do it in the final 7:00 while the 2002 Rams are the only other team in that time to do it in the final 8:00. I thought maybe the 1968 Jets-Raiders “Heidi” game would be one, but the Jets only led by 3 late and never more than 7 in the whole game. You’ll find that the “win by 10+” part is really hard to find.

Still, I’d love to see more so if you have any ideas of examples from pre-2001, leave them in the comments or hit me up on Twitter with them.

UPDATE: I’ve compiled a table of all seven games discovered since 1981. The first five I included all involved the 49ers or Chiefs if you could believe it, but then I also stumbled on an incredible comeback by the 1987 Cardinals against Dallas. They were down 13-3, but scored three touchdowns after the two-minute warning to win 24-13. They scored the first at 1:58, forced a three-and-out punt, then scored another, got a turnover on defense, and finally ran in a 15-yard touchdown on 4th-and-14 with 19 seconds left after Dallas used all three timeouts.

DDREV

NFL QB Fumble Rates: Russell Wilson Rarely Loses the Ball

In updating career stats through 2019, I wanted to look at the rate of lost fumbles for all 98 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 pass attempts since 1991.

First, a scatter plot with career fumbles (ranging from Teddy Bridgewater at 12 to Brett Favre at 166) versus lost fumble rate (ranging from Bridgewater/Tyrod at 25.0% to Kyle Orton at 63.6%).

LostFumPct

Orton may have only fumbled 33 times, but he lost 21 of them. He’s the only QB over 60%, and coincidentally he’s just ahead of his predecessor Rex Grossman (59.4%). Marc Bulger also lost 59.5% for the second-highest rate since 1991. Andy Dalton (57.1%) and Matt Ryan (51.4%) are the only active QBs above 50% in lost fumbles.

I wish we had fumble data broken down better into fumbles on aborted snaps/handoffs, fumbles on QB runs, and strip-sacks. You would assume someone with more strip-sacks would have a worse lost fumble%, but I couldn’t confirm that right now. Covering up a lot of bad exchanges with the center could also lower a QB’s lost fumble rate.

Russell Wilson has only lost 20 of his 74 fumbles (27.0%) and NFL dot com has his recovering 31 fumbles. I don’t have recovery data for all QBs, and I also don’t know if it’s available anywhere broken down by recovery of own fumbles vs. teammate fumbles, but that could provide some further insight into these numbers. Wilson has generally been very lucky at his fumbles not leading to turnovers. His rate is only bested by Bridgewater and Tyrod at 25%, though they only have 32 fumbles combined in their careers.

Here is the full table for all 98 quarterbacks since 1991 (regular season only):

QBFumTbl

On average these quarterbacks lost 41.6% of their fumbles, so recovery has been better than a 50/50 proposition for most.

NFL Quarterbacks: Franchise Records for Most Fourth-Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives

Nearly six years ago I posted a table of the franchise records for fourth-quarter comeback (4QC) wins and game-winning drives (GWD) for the 32 NFL teams. Here is the update to that through the 2019 season, and remember this includes playoff games.

Franchise4QCGWD

Among the changes since 2014:

  • Bengals: Andy Dalton surpassed Boomer Esiason in both categories
  • Raiders: Derek Carr surpassed Ken Stabler in 4QC, but he still trails The Snake by one GWD
  • Chargers: Philip Rivers surpassed Dan Fouts in both categories
  • Seahawks: Russell Wilson surpassed Dave Krieg in both categories
  • Eli Manning (Giants), Jay Cutler (Bears) and Tony Romo (Cowboys) all retired, but still hold their franchise records

The 2020 season could be a massive changing of the guard with Eli’s retirement and the Chargers parting ways with Rivers. We also don’t know if Cam Newton will return to Carolina, so Jake Delhomme may still hang onto these records. We don’t know if Andy Dalton will ever start another game in Cincinnati, clearing way for the Joe Burrow era to begin. We don’t know if Tom Brady will add to his record amounts in New England. We don’t know if Brees will do the same in New Orleans. We don’t even know if Carr is truly safe in what will now be the Las Vegas Raiders to break that Stabler record.

Deshaun Watson beating those low bars set by Matt Schaub in Houston is likely to happen in 2020 or 2021. Other than that, don’t expect many changes to this table in the coming years. Patrick Mahomes will be expected to have all the Kansas City records, but these two could take a few more years. The Chiefs, Jets, Raiders and Eagles are the only teams that have different players holding sole possession of the 4QC and GWD records.

The bottom four teams (SF/TB/TEN/WAS) have records held by quarterbacks who haven’t played for those teams since the salary cap era began (1994). That’s not likely to change any time soon either.

Oscars’ Diversity Problem Has a Simple Solution

There is no NFL on this weekend, but another passion of mine (film) is front and center with the Oscars on Sunday night. I used to watch the award show annually until Shakespeare in Love absurdly beat Saving Private Ryan, so I quit on it for a solid decade until I recaptured a love of film around the time No Country for Old Men won.

But now you can’t really have an Oscars discussion without the issue of diversity at the forefront ever since #OscarsSoWhite became a popular hashtag. The other issue has been about the lack of women nominated in categories that are open to both genders such as Best Director or Best Screenplay.

Personally, I’ve always been of the belief that you pick the best options available and you don’t discriminate over gender or race. The Oscars doesn’t need a Rooney Rule. If you think Greta Gerwig should have been nominated for Best Director in what became an all-male field, then that’s fine. Just tell me which of Martin Scorsese, Todd Phillips, Sam Mendes, Quentin Tarantino, and Bong Joon Ho you’re kicking off the ballot.

For me, the Oscars have always had diversity problems, though I’ve looked at it more from the viewpoint of they don’t pick enough foreign films to highlight great efforts from other countries, and they aren’t inclusive enough in terms of genre. You’ve basically had to make a drama to win a lot of the major awards for decades. Comedies rarely get anything and it’s even worse for action/horror/comic book type of “genre” movies. I think this was a big part of my Oscars burnout as a youth because I really couldn’t care less about The English Patient and other yawns they would push on us as being instant classics.

From that standpoint, I think the 2020 field is diverse and impressive to include a South Korean film with subtitles for the major awards of Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Parasite is an incredible film, and while I haven’t seen the full field of nominees yet — I’d really like to see 1917 — it’s the one I would pick to win most of these awards. I also think Joker being up for 11 Oscars is a phenomenal feat for a “comic book movie” that is far more of a character study than any traditional comic book movie. Still, 5-10 years ago I don’t think it would have received any Oscars buzz as the Academy has tried to include more genres. I haven’t seen Jojo Rabbit, but a dark comedy getting recognized is nice to see as someone who loves that genre. Don’t forget, Rushmore (1998) barely received one Golden Globe nominee, let alone anything from the Oscars.

So change has been slow, but the process has been improving over the years to include more diverse films. If the Academy wants to stop taking so much heat for its choices, then the solution is actually very simple.

Nominate more films. 

The most prestigious award of them all is Best Picture, yet did they not already dilute it a bit with raising the nominees to 10 in 2009? We have nine this year, so this has been the standard for a decade now. If you’re willing to “weaken” the field of the top award, why would you not nominate six or eight films for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and the four acting awards? Right now they go with just five nominees for those awards.

This way Gerwig could be nominated for Best Director and more non-white actors could also be included. It’s really that simple, and reading a few more names and showing a couple more short clips isn’t going to overrun a broadcast that is already too long each year anyways. Hell, get smarter and ditch the music performances. You’re not the Grammy’s. You’re supposed to be highlighting films.

How would it not be a benefit to all if more films are nominated? All of these companies would love to stick a “Oscar-nominated” sticker on the Blu-ray of their release. Underrated films like The Lighthouse and Midsommar could get more attention if you include them in expanded categories.

Continuing to nominate five films like they did in the 1930s doesn’t make any sense in a world where so many films are released each year. Just a little expansion can go a long way in making the field more diverse. At the end of the day the Academy still has to vote for the one best choice to win the statue. Sure, people are going to complain then too, because that’s just how people are.

Like how I still complain about that god damn Shakespeare in Love, which was a Harvey Weinstein production in case you forgot…Now that was a shameful moment in #OscarsSoWhiteSoMale history.

Go Parasite.

Pro Football HOF: You Vote for the Best, Peter King

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced their 2020 class this past weekend, and the only first-ballot choice was a logical one in safety Troy Polamalu. Long-time voter Peter King admitted in his column this week that he did not vote for Polamalu, because he wanted to push other more marginal candidates, feeling that Polamalu was safe without his vote. He explained here:

6. I think an explanation for the lack of vote for Polamalu on the final five is necessary. I believe he was one of the top five candidates this year, and I believe in voting for the best five candidates. But because I felt certain Polamalu would make it regardless of my vote, I decided to vote for three players I felt were marginal after listening to the deliberations—Atwater, Boselli and Lynch. I don’t feel great about doing that, honestly. Our jobs are to vote for the best five, and I was totally on the fence about the fifth yea vote had I marked down Polamalu. It still bothers me a little bit. But I felt so strongly about the cases of Atwater, Boselli and Lynch, who were exceedingly close in my eyes, that I wanted to vote for them, knowing that a vote not for Polamalu was not going to keep him out. I’ve done this a couple of times before, and I absolutely do not want to make it a habit. It just felt like the right thing to do this year.

This is a bad voting process to follow when the goal should be to choose the five best candidates. What happens if several others on the 48-person panel had the same idea to push an Atwater or Boselli forward and just assume Polamalu was safe? What if this happens next year and everyone assumes a Charles Woodson or obviously Peyton Manning are locks on their first ballot, so let’s start voting to get others out of the debate room?

That’s why you should always vote for your best five. Don’t assume what others will do in a vote. I think enough of us did that in 2016…

As for the fan outcry that accompanies every HOF class, I think I had a bit of an epiphany this year. I saw a list of 15 finalists where pretty much everyone is bound to get into Canton one day. Maybe Bryant Young or Sam Mills fall into the senior category down the road, but I would feel confident about most of those guys getting a gold jacket. So we should stop crying about snubs or putting the “wrong” players in when there’s a limit of five and they can’t help it that deserving players will have to wait. That’s just how it works.

The main goal for the voters should be to make sure they nail the first-ballot players. You get 20 cracks at putting a player in the HOF, but only one time to make him a first-ballot HOFer. That distinction has to mean a lot to a player. It may only matter enough to a media member if they choose to remember that fact when talking about the player, but being a first-ballot choice is extra special.

When I looked at the list of 15 finalists for 2020, Troy Polamalu is the only one that screamed “first ballot” to me. So since they got that one right, Peter King’s flub aside, I find it pretty hard to argue with their selections.

Let’s dial it back from the finalists and look at the semifinalists. Starting in 2004, the HOF has to list 25 (sometimes 26 or 27 due to ties) semifinalists. I’ve tracked how many of those players are in the HOF versus how many are still eligible or have been demoted to the senior nominee pool only.

Hall of Fame: Semifinalists Breakdown (2004-2020)
Year Semis HOF Pct. Still Eligible Seniors Only
2004 25 16 64.0% 2 7
2005 25 18 72.0% 1 6
2006 25 20 80.0% 1 4
2007 25 21 84.0% 1 3
2008 26 21 80.8% 1 4
2009 25 20 80.0% 2 3
2010 25 19 76.0% 2 4
2011 26 22 84.6% 1 3
2012 26 21 80.8% 2 3
2013 27 19 70.4% 4 4
2014 25 19 76.0% 2 4
2015 26 18 69.2% 3 5
2016 25 15 60.0% 5 5
2017 26 13 50.0% 7 6
2018 27 12 44.4% 10 5
2019 25 10 40.0% 12 3
2020 25 5 20.0% 19 1

It looks like roughly 75-80% of semifinalists eventually make the HOF when we focus on the older years when players had more opportunities to go through the process several times. Obviously the numbers in recent years are still low as players have only had a couple ballots.

The most recent season where the HOF% dips under 70% is 2015, but I think we’ll see Torry Holt and John Lynch get in soon to bring that rate up to 76.9%. You probably won’t ever see 90% or higher for one of these years since people do tend to nominate those who belong more in a Hall of Very Good rather than HOF. For some examples, look at the semifinalists for 2015-2020:

HOFSemi1520

It would be a surprise to ever see Fred Taylor or Simeon Rice or Ricky Watters get past the semifinalist round, to name a few. Focus on the players who have been finalists (top 15) recently as those likely to get in soon, but they will face a lot of stiff competition in the next few years from first-ballot choices: Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson, Jared Allen, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, DeMarcus Ware, Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski, Joe Thomas, Darrelle Revis, etc.

Those are the players that deserve top priority in voting. If you’re a fan of LeRoy Butler or Richard Seymour or Tony Boselli, you just have to have some patience. They’ll get it right eventually.

The Decade the Scoring Juggernauts Died in the NFL

The 12 teams with the most points scored in NFL history have won zero championships.

Read that sentence a second time and it comes off just as shocking. That’s a dozen teams, including eight from this decade, who scored more points — at least 527 — than anyone in the NFL’s first 100 years, and not a single one of them won the Super Bowl that year. Oh a few were pretty close, especially the 2016 Falcons and their 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, but even that was a disappointing outcome for the offense.

I said eight of these teams happened in the last decade. The 2019 Ravens were the latest to join the group, going one-and-done at home after a season-worst performance on offense in that 28-12 loss to Tennessee to sour Lamar Jackson’s MVP season. Baltimore scored at least 20 points in every week of the regular season on its way to 531 points, the 11th-highest mark in NFL history.

The upset that night had me looking into just how crazy this was for the decade. I found that the 2019 49ers (ranked 17th in scoring since 2010) were the decade’s last hope for a top 20 team in scoring to win a Super Bowl:

T30-2010s

Well, as you know now, the 49ers lost Super Bowl LIV to the Chiefs, who ranked 31st in scoring this decade. The 2014 Patriots (22nd) and 2017 Eagles (30th) were the only top 30 teams in scoring to win a Super Bowl this decade.

That doesn’t greatly differ from the results of the previous decade where only two of the top 30 scoring teams won Super Bowls, but at least the 2009 Saints finished fourth:

T30-2000s

When you go back to the 1990s, eight of the top 25 teams won Super Bowls, including every team ranked 2-5:

T30-1990s

That was back when the league was just getting used to the salary cap and the NFC tended to dominate the Super Bowls until the 1997 Broncos upset Green Bay. As for the offensively-fun 1980s, four of the top 12 scoring teams won a Super Bowl:

T30-1980s

When we get back to the defensive decade that was the 1970s after the merger, we still saw five of the top 30 teams win a Super Bowl with the 1979 Steelers ranking third to end the decade:

T30-1970s

We know winning a Super Bowl takes a lot of things going your way, but scoring a ton of points in the regular season has never really been a big requirement for pulling it off. You can combine the top 30 scoring teams from the 1980s, 2000s and 2010s and have the same number of Super Bowl winners (eight) as the top 30 scoring teams from the 1990s alone. The 90s were really the decade for juggernauts to go all the way and deliver in the playoffs too with not that many upsets around the league. Had Buffalo’s Scott Norwood made his field goal in Super Bowl XXV and if the 1992 49ers were able to prevail instead of the Cowboys (and dust off Buffalo) for that Super Bowl, then we would have had nine of the top 17 scoring teams with rings that decade. Eight of the top 25 is still pretty great when you look at the history here.

With the 2000s, Bill Belichick’s Patriots obviously have a lot to do with those results. The 2001 Rams (20-17), 2004 Colts (20-3) and 2006 Chargers (24-21) were three of the top six scoring teams that decade, but they all lost to the Patriots in the playoffs with disappointing performances on that side of the ball. Of course, the 2007 Patriots also blew it in the Super Bowl with the 17-14 loss to the Giants to deny themselves a perfect 19-0 season. The Patriots’ 589 points that year still ranks second all time. I’d also be remiss to not give the 2000 Ravens some love here. We know they got to face Kerry Collins in the Super Bowl and played a lot of shoddy offenses in the regular season, but they also shut down two of the 10 highest-scoring teams of the decade in Denver (21-3) and Oakland (16-3).

Putting a bow on the 2010s, we experienced so many famous crash-and-burn efforts from some of the best offenses in NFL history. None were bigger than the 2013 Broncos, who lost 43-8 in the Super Bowl to Seattle’s historic defense after setting the record with 606 points in the regular season. From the first snap that led to a safety the Broncos were out of sorts that night. We also saw the Patriots crumble three years in a row (2010-12) in playoff losses, Aaron Rodgers’ best season in 2011 ended with a playoff dud against the Giants, and Belichick once again denied several teams (2018 Chiefs, 2018 Rams, 2016 Falcons) on his way to more rings for the Patriots. But at the very least, Patrick Mahomes put up 31 points in the second half of that AFC Championship Game loss for the Chiefs, the second-highest scoring team of the decade. Very few of these historic offenses can say they delivered in their playoff defeat, but the 2018 Chiefs, 1998 Vikings (damn kickers), and 2011 Saints (36-32 in San Francisco) are three who can say that.

However, one thing we’ve seen several times is that it’s not always your best team that wins the Super Bowl. The 2011 Giants, 2012 Ravens, 2015 Broncos and now 2019 Chiefs are all certainly proof of that.

Finally, for those curious here are the results for the top 30 team scoring defenses for each decade:

  • 2010s: Three of the top nine won a Super Bowl (peak: 2013 Seahawks were 4th)
  • 2000s: Six of the top 28 won a Super Bowl, including 1st (2000 BAL) and 3rd (2002 TB)
  • 1990s: Six of the top 28 won a Super Bowl (peak: 1996 Packers were 4th)
  • 1980s: Six of the top 20 using points allowed per game (due to strikes) won a Super Bowl (peak: 1985 Bears were 2nd)
  • 1970s: Five of the top 23 using points allowed per game (due to season length change) won a Super Bowl (peak: 1973 Dolphins were 9th)

That’s 21 offensive champions and 26 defensive champions over the five decades. While you don’t want to rely too heavily on one side of the ball, it’s always fascinating to see how scoring juggernauts have had such a rough time throughout NFL history. If you look at the top 12 (13 total teams due to a tie) scoring teams from 1940-1969, only three of them won a championship. That includes the 1961 Oilers (first 500-point team) winning the AFL Championship Game by a 10-3 score, and the 1964 Browns (tied for 12th) shutting out the ninth-ranked Colts 27-0 in the NFL Championship Game.

The 1950 Rams still hold the NFL record with 38.8 points per game, but they lost 30-28 to the Browns in a classic championship game. Hey, at least they scored 28 and not just a field goal like the 2018 Rams did in Super Bowl LIII.

Coming full circle, I said the 12 highest-scoring teams have zero championships. The 1999 Rams are the reason it’s not the 15 highest teams that are ring-less. They still rank 13th with 526 points scored in that shocking Super Bowl-winning season. But even that example of The Greatest Show on Turf struggled mightily against Tampa Bay, scoring a late touchdown to win 11-6 in the NFC Championship Game. They also caught a break on defense when Bert Emanuel’s catch was ruled incomplete, and then ended up winning the Super Bowl 23-16 over Tennessee after stopping a late completion short of the goal line.

Kurt Warner in 1999 is still the last regular season MVP to win the Super Bowl in the same season, though maybe that’s a streak for Patrick Mahomes to end next year. Yes, it’s all coming back to Mahomes one way or another this offseason. Just accept it now.

Patrick Mahomes and the Race for the Most Yards and Touchdowns

After the dramatic ending to Super Bowl LIV, we face the reality of seven months without meaningful football again. That means seven months until we see Patrick Mahomes continue his assault on the NFL record books, raising the standard at the position with each game he plays. We’ll also see if Drew Brees returns for a 20th season to add to his passing records, which I’ve documented recently.

A couple of tables I like to post on Twitter from time to time are the leaders in passing yards and passing touchdowns by X number of regular-season games (no playoffs here). This is always an interesting way to look at the progression of these records and see who is really on pace to topple Brees some day.

Let’s start with the passing yardage leaders (CLICK TO ENLARGE):

MPYBG

Mahomes already has the most passing yards through a player’s first 33 games (9,412), except he’s only played in 31 games so far. You can see he is on track to completely wipe Kurt Warner off this list, which used to include Andrew Luck and a first 17-game offering from Marc Bulger.

I’m not going to entertain the Matthew Stafford for Canton takes I’ve seen on Twitter recently in this post, but you can see he has the volume here to perhaps finish very high one day. Of course he could also get wiped out by Mahomes. But there’s a good chance we’ll see Stafford continue to erase some of Brees’ marks and probably take out that Matt Ryan chunk for Games 165-168.

If we turn our attention to touchdown passes, we see a higher caliber of quarterbacks (CLICK TO ENLARGE):

MTDPBG

Mahomes once again has been downright historic, though like Dan Marino in 1985 he did see a little decline towards the end of the season that has him neck and neck with the HOFer.

Aaron Rodgers has taken control of the leaderboard since Game 112, and he is technically currently tied with Brees at Game 187 with his 364 touchdown passes. It’s not a given that Rodgers continues to stay ahead the pace of Brees and Peyton Manning. Rodgers has had his lowest TD% of his career in each of the last two seasons. He’ll be 37 in 2020. If he maintains his average of just over 2.0 TD passes per game, he’d be at roughly 553 touchdown passes in his 275th game, or 6 TD passes above the Brees mark. That’s 94 games away, so Rodgers would have to play all but two games of his next six seasons to get there assuming we stick with 16-game seasons (hopefully) for the time being. He’d be 42 in the 2025 season at that point so it’s far from a lock.

Brees is reportedly thinking about retirement, but he finished 2019 so strong (playoff loss aside) that it would be a real shame if he didn’t return for his age-41 season. He is currently six touchdown passes ahead of Tom Brady (541 TD in 285 games), who only gets mentioned now because he’s never had the lead in any of these statistics.

Whether it’s Brees, Brady or Rodgers with the eventual lead here, it’ll be most interesting to see how dominant of a run Mahomes can have. Marino once look poised to put the record books out of reach, but he too slowed down after a torrid start.

When does Mahomes fall back to earth?

Close Encounters: Super Bowl LIV

No matter if it was the NFL’s first season or its 100th, the stingy defense with the great pass rush takes down another prolific passer. The QB who walks into the building with 23 points is stuck on 10 in the biggest game of his career.

Because football…football never changes.

Record a Ron Perlman voice-over for that.

That Fallout reference was going to be my tweet tonight more than halfway through the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. That was my gut feeling around the time when the 49ers led the Chiefs 20-10 and Kansas City faced a 3rd-and-15 at its own 35.

For the first time in 36 games, I actually doubted Patrick Mahomes.

SBLIV

Then with just one snap, everything changed and the Chiefs are Super Bowl champions and Mahomes even walked away with the MVP award. It was one of the more dramatic fourth-quarter finishes in Super Bowl history even if the game itself wasn’t an instant classic.

So here is my Super Bowl LIV recap, my first game recap in ~54 weeks in a new section I’m calling what I have long wanted to call these recaps: Close Encounters

Mahomes: From Worst Game to Best Comeback to Champ Forever

The best player in football is the reigning Super Bowl MVP. That feels great to say after what’s felt like many years where it hasn’t been the case, and I’m grateful we never have to bother with the question of “can Mahomes win the big one?”

However, this was not a walk in the park for Mahomes like the first two playoff games. In fact, until those final ~7 minutes, it looked like he was having the worst game of his career in the biggest game of his career. But if there’s anything I absolutely nailed in my 5,000-word preview for this game, it was the very last paragraph:

There are a lot of areas that favor the 49ers, and I think historically the 49ers are the type of team more likely to win this game than a team like the Chiefs. There are just more ways for the 49ers to win while practically every positive outcome for Kansas City involves Mahomes playing really well. Then again, Mahomes is 9-0 in his career when his passer rating is under 90.0 because he’s the best at doing what the coach who succeeded Reid and preceded Shanahan used to say: f***ing score points.

Final: Chiefs 31, 49ers 27 (MVP: Patrick Mahomes)

Yeah, just score some f***ing points by any means necessary, and Mahomes has done that better over 36 games than any quarterback ever has. You sack him four times and he still puts up 31, even if the final touchdown was a killshot from the ground attack. You keep his passer rating under 90.0 (it was 78.1 in this game) by getting a pair of picks and he’s still 10-0 in his career with the scoreboard looking full.

He doesn’t have a weakness, but let’s look at how things progressed tonight because Mahomes had to lead the most significant late-game comeback of his career to pull this one off.

Mahomes started the game with a couple erratic throws for a quick three-and-out before rebounding well enough. Nerves in a first Super Bowl make sense. The 15-play touchdown drive that took up half the first quarter was in line with some of the great drive engineering he’s done this postseason with short passes. Not taking advantage of Jimmy Garoppolo’s interception and settling for a field goal was disappointing, but the Chiefs led 10-3 early.

The first big mistake of the night, at least coaching wise, was with just over two minutes left in the half tied 10-10. The Chiefs should have played this better with the 49ers getting the ball to start the third quarter. They essentially ran a series of plays that negated Mahomes’ existence. They ran the ball for 2 yards to get to the two-minute warning, then tried a trick play with Mecole Hardman that was blown up in the backfield for a 6-yard loss. How many tricks like that do you need with Mahomes? On 3rd-and-14, the Chiefs just ran a screen that was not effective on the night and the team punted. That was a really bad ending to the half and that wasn’t Mahomes’ fault at all, but he also wasn’t wowing us either like usual, so the game went to the half tied at 10.

Then in the third quarter, Mahomes recovered a fumble forced by Nick Bosa to set up 3rd-and-12. Mahomes has fumbled six times in the playoffs (five games), but has been fortunate not to lose any of them. But on the very next snap, he threw a terrible pass that was intended for Tyreek Hill and intercepted for his first ever postseason giveaway. That led to a 20-10 San Francisco lead and suddenly Mahomes looked rattled by the pass rush, the deficit, and the magnitude of the situation. He wasn’t attacking deep, or improvising big plays, and the short passing game was pretty well bottled up.

I’ve mentioned in the preview how the Chiefs had so many third-down drops in this postseason to kill drives. I can’t call what Mahomes did early in the fourth quarter a drop since he was so off target again to Hill, but the pass was tipped for an interception while the Chiefs were driving at the San Francisco 23. After seeing Mahomes step up from a decent pocket and still come up short on a pass to Hill, I was really convinced this was going to be a big scar on his resume. The 49ers were quick to challenge and the replay system correctly took away the 16-yard completion that should have been an easy one for Mahomes.

And then the play of the game on 3rd-and-15 happened. What a time for Mahomes to complete his longest pass (57.1 air yards) of 2019:

Without that play you would have seen a punt and probably a San Francisco win. It’s only the second time since 1994 that a team converted on 3rd-and-14 or longer in the fourth quarter (last time: Tom Brady to Julian Edelman vs. 2014 Seahawks on 3rd-and-14). Mahomes had to take such a deep drop to fire that one deep and Hill was free enough to make the catch. Game on. Three plays later, I thought the defensive pass interference call on third down was a good one since the defender made contact without ever playing the ball. That put the ball at the 1 where Mahomes found Travis Kelce for an easy 1-yard touchdown with 6:13 left to make it 20-17.

I made this thread in November to show that Mahomes has been much better than his 3-7 record (now 4-7) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities:

So with 5:10 left he had his chance and the Chiefs put the ball in his hands on seven straight plays. The deep throw for 38 yards to Sammy Watkins made it look like the Chiefs might score too quickly again, but it came down to a 3rd-and-goal at the 5 this time. Kelce cleared some room and Mahomes just had to throw a short toss to RB Damien Williams, who did enough to cross the plane for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:44 left. I’m not 100% sure he broke the plane with the ball before stepping out, but that was the ruling on the field and there wasn’t anything conclusive enough to say he didn’t score. The Chiefs led 24-20 and put it in the defense’s hands again to much success. Williams delivered the deathblow with a 38-yard touchdown run to give us a 31-20 final.

Mahomes was really the default MVP in this one. He finished as a passer with 26/42 for 286 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT. He rushed nine times for 29 yards and a touchdown, though he actually lost 15 yards on three kneeldowns when the Chiefs ran the clock late. So he was effective as a runner once again. I can understand people wanting Williams as MVP for the late touchdowns, though he didn’t really need to score the last one. He could have gone down after the first down at any point and the Chiefs would have ran the clock out and won 24-20. I swear I’m not just bringing this up because my #1 bet was Chiefs by exactly 4:

kc4

(My real bet was $20 to win $500, but this still hurts)

So it wasn’t the cleanest game for Mahomes, but he was money in crunch time. He led the team to 24 points on their first eight drives, or 3.0 Pts/Dr against the best defense in the NFC. That’s nothing to take lightly. Most quarterbacks would have imploded against that pass rush, but Mahomes stepped up on back-to-back touchdown drives.

But make no mistake about it — 3rd-and-15 changed everything in this one and that throw was vintage Mahomes, the first NFL player to ever win an MVP and Super Bowl MVP before he was 25 years old. Hats off to him for capping an incredible first two seasons.

The Chiefs Did What!?

Some stats are hard to believe, but this one takes the cake:

The Chiefs trailed by 10+ points in all three playoff games, but still won all three games by 11+ points.

If you know my work, you know I don’t like using the final score to judge the closeness of a game. Things are going to be especially misleading for this downright historic Kansas City playoff run. The Chiefs trailed 24-0 to Houston before winning 51-31 and never even trailing in the second half. The Chiefs trailed by 10 twice to Tennessee and won 35-24. The Chiefs trailed 20-10 in the fourth quarter before beating the 49ers 31-20.

It’s the first time a team has three double-digit comeback wins in the same postseason. Think about that for a second.

  • Winning three straight games after trailing by 10+ points would be a crazy NFL feat (the 2013 Patriots did this Weeks 12-14).
  • Winning three straight games by double digits AFTER trailing by double digits would be an insane feat.
  • Doing that as your Super Bowl run is inconceivable and I am using that word correctly.

The Chiefs are just the third team to win a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 14 points in the postseason, joining Peyton Manning’s 2006 Colts (18 points down vs. Patriots in AFC-CG) and Tom Brady’s 2016 Patriots (25 points down vs. Atlanta in SB LI). The Chiefs are now the fifth team to win a Super Bowl after trailing by double-digits in the fourth quarter during the playoffs:

The Chiefs are the second team in NFL playoff history to enter the fourth quarter down by double digits and win the game by double digits. The Eagles did it to New Orleans, 36-20, in 1992.

Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy G: The San Francisco Blame Game

When it comes to Super Bowl collapses and heartbreak, Kyle Shanahan and Dan Quinn probably know it better than anyone now. Shanahan and Quinn shared the 28-3 collapse in Atlanta, but Quinn also saw the 10-point lead disappear to the Patriots with the 2014 Seahawks. Now Shanahan sees a 10-point lead disappear to the Chiefs in this one, and this graphic is particularly hard to swallow:

I really don’t want to rehash 28-3 tonight, but let’s just say Shanahan didn’t finish the game as badly this time. If anything, he didn’t do enough in the first half and that hurt. A few too many screens and horizontal passes slowed down the 49ers, who were much better at using Deebo Samuel in motion and getting quick-hitting plays from the middle of the field instead of testing the Chiefs on the edges. In fact a couple of screens turned a promising opening drive into a field goal instead of a touchdown. Jimmy Garoppolo threw a bad pick under pressure early, but overall he wasn’t playing that poorly for Shanahan. The offense looked deadly in the second quarter after gaining a first down on five straight plays, including a touchdown to tie the game at 10.

But things fell apart a bit after the two-minute warning. I mentioned Reid’s shortcomings in that part of the game, but Shanahan did even worse with clock management. He had three timeouts but failed to use one to stop the clock after KC’s screen pass failed. So instead of saving about 100 seconds and two timeouts for Garoppolo, he saved three timeouts and 59 seconds. Then he remained conservative with two runs to set up a 3rd-and-5 with 20 seconds left. Garoppolo delivered a 20-yard completion, then seemed to follow it up with a great 42-yard bomb to George Kittle. However, that was wiped out for offensive pass interference. I thought it was a pretty soft call for a little hand fighting that is let go quite often in this league. That felt pretty cheap to me and cost the 49ers three points, but the bigger question is why the hell wouldn’t you try to save as much time as possible and shoot for a double score against Mahomes?

So that was bad for Shanahan, but he and Garoppolo came out strong from the half and took that 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter with 11:57 left. Look, you have to keep scoring when you play Mahomes. There weren’t any errors this time like calling a pass on 3rd-and-1 deep in your own end with a 16-point lead, or not just running the ball after a Julio Jones catch when you’re up 8. That didn’t happen here. The 49ers did call three pass plays on second down with a lead, but I can’t fault the calls there with the Chiefs obviously expecting the run. And let’s face it, the running game wasn’t that outstanding on the night as most of the best plays were unconventional tricks with Samuel.

Garoppolo also completed the first of those second-down passes, which proved to be the only first down the 49ers offense would get in the fourth with a lead. Pressure definitely had an impact on Garoppolo with not only the pick, but also a few batted balls. NextGenStats had Garoppolo as 0/7 passing with two picks while under pressure on the night. He was 20/24 otherwise for 219 yards. Ouch.

Garoppolo was off in the fourth quarter while the Chiefs were surging to that 24-20 lead. Still, you don’t mind the situation of having the ball with 2:39 left and 85 yards away from glory. In fact, it’s probably the situation quarterbacks dream about for years. Garoppolo has been pretty good at comebacks in limited opportunities, but he definitely will regret the 3rd-and-10 pass from the KC 49 with 1:40 left. Emmanuel Sanders got behind the defense, but Garoppolo overthrew him deep. On 4th-and-10, there wasn’t much of a chance and Garoppolo was dumped for a sack. Two plays later, Williams exploded for a touchdown and it was basically game over. Garoppolo’s second pick looks worse in the box score than anything else.

This game did not swing on many plays, so I really look at what each QB did on a third-and-long in the fourth quarter as being very decisive to this Super Bowl. Mahomes was able to deliver deep on his 3rd-and-15 to save the day, but Garoppolo was off the mark on his attempt despite an open receiver. So I really don’t want to jump on a “Shanahan can’t finish off a big one” or “Garoppolo will never win them a Super Bowl!” narrative when the margin is that small. Had the defense, the strength of the team for most of the year, did its job first on 3rd-and-15, we’re probably asking if Andy Reid will ever win a ring and wondering what the hell happened to Mahomes on the big stage.

Now an extra field goal on the board for the 49ers probably would have changed that drive, but again, that was a big blunder in the first half. I can’t crush Shanahan for how he called the game late, and I don’t think Garoppolo’s performance is one to crucify, but he just didn’t redeem himself in the way that Mahomes did.

The NFC has been a lot tougher to get back to this point too, so I’m not sure the 49ers are in an advantageous spot in 2020, especially given the strength of their division. Don’t discount the Cardinals getting really good in a year or two. We already know about Seattle and the Rams still have talent. So this is a tough blown opportunity for San Francisco.

Andy Reid: Hall of Famer… and Dynasty Starter?

Finally, we’ll end on a positive note as this win should wrap up a spot in Canton for Andy Reid. I’ve made my clock management jokes like everyone else, but he’s been arguably the best coach not named Bill Belichick this century. It wasn’t a perfect night for him, but good on the two fourth-down calls and now he has the ring to go along with the seventh-most wins and his winning percentage is over 61%. If we’re putting Bill Cowher in, then we’re absolutely putting Reid in, right?

In fact, Reid just shattered a Cowher record by winning his first Super Bowl in his 21st season, by far the longest wait a coach has had to earn his first championship. Cowher needed 14 years with the Steelers, which is still a record for one franchise, but Reid spent 14 years with the Eagles before winning in his seventh season with the Chiefs.

HC1stSBW

We know Mahomes has only been the starter for two seasons, but this highlights a five-year playoff run for the Chiefs that finally resulted in that coveted ring for Reid. It’s similar to other recent five-year runs to the top from the 2011-15 Broncos and 2008-12 Ravens. The 2002-06 Colts also needed a fifth-straight playoff trip to go the distance in the Tony Dungy-Peyton Manning era.

So does the dynasty talk already start tonight? We know this happens when a franchise QB wins one Super Bowl. We saw it in back-to-back years with Drew Brees (2009) and Aaron Rodgers (2010), but neither has even made it back to the Super Bowl. The last young franchise QB to win his first ring was Russell Wilson in 2013, and while the Seahawks made it back the next year, we know how that ended and they haven’t been past the divisional round since. We’re still in the longest drought in NFL history without a repeat champion (2003-04 Patriots).

The sky seems to be the limit for Mahomes and Reid together. We have seven months to talk about 2020 and repeating so let’s save it, but I am happy to see a new champion that is a joy to watch.

Whether it’s on this blog, another website, or maybe in a PDF you’ll order from me, I hope to bring a lot more analysis (and perhaps random musings) in 2020. Like Mahomes and scoring points, I’m a writer and I just need to write as often as I can while I can.

Super Bowl LIV Preview

After a few memorable upsets this postseason, in the end I think the NFL is getting the best matchup possible for Super Bowl LIV. The 49ers were the most complete team and best defense in the NFC, lost three games in the final seconds, won arguably the game of the year (48-46 in New Orleans), and now we get to see if they complete this remarkable turnaround from 4-12 a year ago. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have overcome so much this season from Tyreek Hill’s on-and-off-the-field problems, a scary dislocated kneecap for Patrick Mahomes, a 6-4 start, a surprise first-round bye gift from Miami, and they’ve erased deficits of 24-0 and 10-0 in the playoffs to earn their first trip to the Super Bowl since the merger.

We have the best player in football against the best defense he could face in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs are favored by 1.5 points with a total of 54.5 points, so a classic thriller could be in the works here. This would actually be the fourth-smallest spread in Super Bowl history, and the other three games of 0-1 points were decided by 4-7 points. Don’t get too excited though because the 1983 Redskins were a 2-point favorite against the Raiders and lost 38-9. The under is 6-5 when the total exceeds 50, including last year’s 13-3 dud when the total was 55.5.

I doubt we’ll be calling this one a dud on Monday, but crazier things have happened.

The Last Time

You rarely get much recent history in these Super Bowl matchups. That’s why the most famous game between these teams was probably in 1994 when Joe Montana led his Chiefs to a win over Steve Young’s 49ers. San Francisco still went on to win the Super Bowl, the last time the 49ers were champions.

These teams actually met at Arrowhead in Week 3 last year. Mahomes led five straight touchdown drives to open up a 35-10 lead before winning 38-27. Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL late in that game and it remains the only time he’s lost a start by more than 8 points in his NFL career.

The game doesn’t have any real value for this Super Bowl, but it did provide us with an early highlight for Mahomes on this touchdown pass:

Slow Start Shouldn’t Lead to Blowout

I have seen some concerns that this could be a Seahawks-Broncos sized blowout with the 49ers’ physical defense attacking a “finesse” Kansas City offense, but I really don’t buy that narrative. Yes, pass-happy teams have a rather poor history in title games against tough defenses, but some teams are just different. I think we saw that in the college game this year with Joe Burrow and LSU still lighting up undefeated Clemson’s No. 1 scoring defense, and Mahomes and the Chiefs are certainly not your typical NFL offense. The strength of the San Francisco defense is also in the line’s pass rush rather than the secondary. Sure, Richard Sherman is on the field, but that’s not the Legion of Boom going up against this track-star collection of receivers for Kansas City.

I don’t think a slow start is a death sentence for either team in this game. The Chiefs fell behind 24-0 in the divisional round to Houston and still won 51-31. They were down 10-0 to the Titans in the AFC Championship Game and still won 35-24. Earlier this season, they trailed 10-0 to Oakland before scoring four touchdowns in the second quarter. They turned a 10-0 deficit in Detroit into a 34-30 win. It would not be ideal to fall behind to this San Francisco team like that, but the Chiefs can score in bunches, wouldn’t have to adjust much from a pass-heavy game plan, and they’re really never out of a game with Mahomes.

In fact, the Chiefs have now gone 44 straight games without losing by more than 7 points, the third-longest streak in NFL history. The team with the next-longest active streak is actually San Francisco for all 18 games this year. The 49ers were the league’s last unbeaten, dropping a 27-24 game in overtime to Seattle after missing a game-winning field goal. The 49ers also lost on a last-second field goal, 20-17, in Baltimore in Week 13. Their only other loss was blowing a 9-point fourth-quarter lead to Atlanta with five seconds left in a 29-22 finish.

Garoppolo led a 16-point comeback against Arizona, which was one of his four comeback wins in the fourth quarter this season. He’s actually 7-3 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities in his career, the best record among active starters (min. 10 opportunities). It’s the inverse of Mahomes’ record (3-7), but I made a thread back in November to show that he’s been great in those situations:

We haven’t seen another comeback opportunity for Mahomes since because Kansas City has trailed in the second half for a grand total of 16 seconds during this eight-game winning streak. There could be some interesting scoring runs in this game, but I think both teams are capable of a comeback should they need it.

The Game in a Nutshell

You’ve been fed some appetizer stats, but let’s not overanalyze this one. The 49ers are similar to the matchup the Chiefs just had with the Titans, except they’re better in essentially every area. Tennessee was a good warm-up for the Chiefs, but they’ll have to play even better in this game, which I think comes down to the following:

Can Kansas City overcome San Francisco’s pass rush to put up its usual scoring output, forcing the 49ers into a track meet that demands more from Jimmy Garoppolo, or can the 49ers just play strong defense and keep-away offense to limit Mahomes?

That’s the game to me. I don’t think Patrick Mahomes was put on this earth to play in a Super Bowl that ends 13-3. He’s lost one “defensive struggle” in his career (19-13 to Colts) and that was on a night where his health failed him multiple times. There are going to be several touchdown drives in this game. We know Mahomes basically walks into the building with 23 points on the board, but don’t forget that the 49ers finished second in points this year at 29.9 per game. They even finished ahead of the Chiefs, though not on a per-drive basis and Mahomes did miss about 2.75 games this season for injury. Still, the 49ers are very formidable with scoring and have done so this postseason despite Garoppolo throwing 27 passes in two games.

These offenses couldn’t be any more stylistically different in the playoffs with the run and the pass. Mahomes has even led his team in rushing in both playoff games. Kansas City’s offense remaining incredibly hot in the playoffs led to the Titans dumping the run game in the fourth quarter. I said in that AFC preview that Ryan Tannehill was going to need to play more like he did in the regular season to win that game. The same can be said about Garoppolo in this one, who will need to throw for 250 yards at the very least. I thought he looked like he was pressing in that big game against Seattle on Monday night, but he was also instantly sharp in the duel with Drew Brees in New Orleans. So we probably will get a good sense early how well he’s going to play as the 49ers will look to use play-action on early downs to get chunk plays. Garoppolo rarely throws deep, but when he does it’s usually successful and with purpose. The Chiefs do more improvising to get big plays while Kyle Shanahan has to really dial them up for his offense.

Another part of my AFC preview I wanted to stress was that it is actually very important to have a strong running performance to beat Mahomes. That allows you to wear down the clock and limit his possessions, making any mistakes by the Chiefs that more harmful. The 49ers just had the best rushing performance in a Conference Championship Game in NFL history against Packers. That’s not hyperbole; the 285 yards and 6.79 yards per carry are the highest among the 200 teams to play in that round since 1970. The 285 yards are also more than any of the 106 teams to play in a Super Bowl ever had.

I don’t think the Chiefs should stack the box to make Garoppolo beat them. They didn’t stack the box much to stop Derrick Henry and the Titans as Nate Weller showed here:

Overplaying the run could just make those play-action throws to Emmanuel Sanders and company even easier for Jimmy. I think the Chiefs should expect the 49ers to play a more honest game and get the passing game more involved. At least the Chiefs will hope it’s that kind of game, because their worst nightmare is for the 49ers to gash them with a speedy run game that is more varied than what the Titans had with Henry’s downhill running. Raheem Mostert is a great story and coming off that incredible game, but the 49ers also have had success with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida this year. Also, check out these numbers from Next Gen Stats that show the 49ers as the best rushing offense from I-formation while the Chiefs are the worst defense against it (albeit only facing it on 12% of runs).

It’s easier to just line up in the I and run it if you’re ahead rather than trailing Mahomes by double digits like so many teams have. So if the 49ers are running at will and shrinking the game on Mahomes, then it’s going to be a very tough one for Kansas City to prevail. That’s why the offense cannot afford so many slip-ups as it’s had at times this year with dropped passes, fumbles and stupid penalties.

The 49ers had the third-best sack rate (9.25%) on defense this year and that was even despite a stretch of the season where they couldn’t get pressure. They’re healthy now and Nick Bosa probably wants that Trump White House visit more than any athlete in history, so he’s a handful for the Chiefs this week. Also, I’m not sure if this is a Dee Ford revenge game or a Chiefs revenge game for his costly offside penalty in last year’s title game. Either way these teams should have their key pass-rushers healthy with Chris Jones back for the Chiefs. It could come down to which one of those guys forces a strip-sack in this one.

Patrick Mahomes: No Weaknesses?

Let’s dig in a bit more on this Kansas City offense since Mahomes is the superstar with the most weight on his shoulders this week.

Mahomes has played in 35 NFL games, but try answering this: what is his weakness?

Mahomes runs out of time more than he actively loses games. I don’t think he has a weakness, and his biggest enemy is the clock or his own teammates. The latter has certainly been the case this postseason where almost every single Kansas City drive has resulted in a touchdown, a dropped third-down pass that would have extended the drive, or they were just trying to run out the clock. It’s been incredible to watch, but obviously the caliber of defense and stakes are higher this week.

Also, we have seen plenty of offenses and quarterbacks look amazing for two playoff games, but sustaining it for a third week is quite hard. Think of the 1990 Bills slowing down against the Giants since they couldn’t get 20 minutes with the ball. A non-Super Bowl example would be the 2003 Colts imploding in Foxboro when Peyton Manning had a terrible game after he demolished the Broncos and Chiefs. Another great example would be the 2016 Falcons where Matt Ryan continued his MVP season through Seattle and Green Bay, but let’s not forget that offense only scored 21 points in the Super Bowl before blowing a 28-3 lead. Oddly enough, all three examples I used involved a hot offense going against a Bill Belichick-coached defense. I don’t think defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is the next Belichick, but the 49ers are definitely better than the Texans and Titans were. Another fact to keep in mind: only the 1994 49ers have ever had three games in a single postseason with at least 35 points scored, and that wouldn’t have happened without a pick-six to start the scoring against Dallas.

But back to Mahomes, where is the weakness? He is a smart, accurate passer who can throw deep, intermediate and short while making very good decisions. The Chiefs are also one of the best teams in the league with the screen game. Mahomes doesn’t take many sacks and he still averages 28.9 PPG when he takes at least three sacks. Mahomes rarely turns the ball over. Even when he had five giveaways against the 2018 Rams, he threw six touchdowns and the Chiefs scored 51 points. Mahomes can improvise with the best of them. He has four games this year with more than 50 rushing yards as he’s been feeling healthy. Mahomes has played in four playoff games. He has zero turnovers and has led his team to at least 31 points in all of them. This will be his first playoff game away from Arrowhead, but the game is being played in Miami, not Middle-earth, so I think he’ll be fine. His career road splits are even better than his home splits.

Whether a defense plays primarily man or (like the 49ers) zone coverage, Mahomes eats up both. Blitzing Mahomes is very risky as you can see in this breakdown from NFL Research:

One thing Mahomes hasn’t done much of this postseason is throw deep. We know he’s great at getting the ball 20+ yards down the field, but the 49ers have had a great year at defending deep passes too:

As a defense, you basically have to hope for those third-down drops or a holding penalty or a RB fumble or Andy Reid calling two-to-three straight runs. Mahomes just finds a way to put up numbers in every situation as long as he’s healthy. I put together this table on his eight losses and what happened in those games:

PatL

You can really see how the clock and not getting the ball hurt here. In four of his last five failed comebacks, Mahomes only had one possession with a one-score deficit late in the game. Seattle and Indy were the only teams to deny Mahomes a fourth-quarter lead. That Indy loss sticks out like a sore thumb as it was the only non-playoff team to beat Mahomes so far. It’s also the only time a quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) beat Mahomes without throwing for 270 yards or scoring at least 29 points. As I showed on Twitter, Mahomes’ stats in losses make him “The Best Loser” in NFL history:

It would be very surprising and disappointing to see Mahomes have a bad game on Sunday. As a counterpoint, the 49ers may be the best defense Mahomes has seen in the NFL, or at least the best front seven. A very pass-happy game plan against this front could be problematic if the protection is getting beat. The 49ers held five teams to 100 net passing yards this year, the first defense to do that since the 2000 Titans. The 49ers embarrassed Kirk Cousins and the Vikings in the divisional round and did the same to Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay for a half in the playoffs. As a counter to the counter, Drew Brees and Kyler Murray had strong games against the 49ers, so they didn’t shut every QB down. Jared Goff and Russell Wilson also saw better results in their second matchup with them later in the season.

Mahomes is better than anyone right now, but he’s going to have to be great in this game.

Two Quarterbacks, Two Historic Starts: The Jimmy G Angle

Mahomes isn’t the only quarterback in this game off to a historic start in his career. I wrote for SF Weekly about Jimmy Garoppolo and how he stacks up to Mahomes (and Otto Graham). So please read that for more on Garoppolo, who can certainly put up enough points to win this one against Mahomes.

Speed Kills

The 49ers and Chiefs led the league in YAC per reception this season. Super Bowl teams will often give the league something to think about as a trend going forward in an effort to emulate their success. We’ve seen it before with the 2011 Patriots’ offensive approach of using two tight ends, or the deep defensive line/edge rotations the 2013 Seahawks and 2017 Eagles utilized.

I think 2020’s trend will be about speed as the Chiefs and 49ers feature the two fastest offenses based on Next Gen Stats’ average top speed by ball carriers:

The Ravens and Vikings weren’t far behind either after successful seasons on offense. More speed sounds great, but you don’t want to find yourself in practice watching Darrius Heyward-Bey lined up against Fabian Washington. You need more than just a great 40 time to make this work. Tyreek Hill is super fast, but he can also cut on a dime and looks like a video game player on the field. Mecole Hardman isn’t far behind in that regard, so it was a smart move by the Chiefs to draft him. I also really like the Deebo Samuel pick for the 49ers, but beyond the individual talent I think the scheme plays a big part in these numbers too. These offenses can create a lot of spacing with play-action and boot-action and get players in the open field where they can turn on the jets.

Raheem Mostert just had perhaps the greatest rushing performance in playoff history and he was barely touched until he was several yards past the line of scrimmage most of his plays. Is he suddenly the best speed back in the NFL, or is this happening because of the system he’s running in right now? When it comes to running backs, I think we know the answer there.

Both of these offenses are among the top in using shifts/motions before the snap, which is where that speed can really come into use:

No pun intended, but this is slowly becoming a bigger trend in the NFL with the league average rate climbing from 38% in 2014 to 47% this past season. You can see from that graphic how Kyle Shanahan has been a huge proponent of this style while Andy Reid has added a lot more to it with the Mahomes-led track-star offense they have now.

One of the more interesting speed matchups in this game to me is if the Chiefs can get Hill or Hardman deep against the bigger, but older and slower Richard Sherman. We know Sherman isn’t likely to shadow anyone, but that’s where the motion can come in handy.

The speed on the field should help this be a higher-scoring game, but I think it would be naïve if NFL teams start thinking they could just find athletes like this and replicate what these teams do.

The Coaches: Redemption Arc

Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan are two of the game’s best offensive minds. They have both lost a Super Bowl before and are looking for their first championship win as a head coach. With the Eagles, Reid was criticized for his usual clock management issues and passing too much in Super Bowl 39 against the Patriots. As Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, Shanahan was part of the 28-3 collapse to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The main points of contention were not calling a run on 3rd-and-1 with a 28-12 lead and not just calling runs to kick a field goal to go up 11 after Julio Jones’ great catch.

Have they learned from past mistakes? In Reid’s case, he was actually ahead of the curve on being pass happy, but he didn’t have a quarterback to justify that until he matched up with Mahomes. Having said that, if this is a game where Mahomes has 50-60 dropbacks and the running game has like 12 carries for 40 yards, there’s probably going to be a sixth trophy in San Francisco. You can ignore the run in home playoff games against defenses the caliber of Houston and Tennessee, but going that pass-happy against the 49ers on a neutral field is unlikely to pay off. So that will be interesting to watch.

For Shanahan, he’s continued to run the ball this postseason because it’s worked beautifully and the score hasn’t dictated a need to throw. Garoppolo has thrown just 12 passes since he was picked off in the Minnesota game. Maybe some see this as hiding a weakness, but I think the 49ers could use it to their benefit as the game tape from the postseason just doesn’t show much from their passing game.

Either way, this newest champion will adhere to my five-year rule about coaches and quarterbacks winning their first Super Bowl together. Reid and Shanahan linked up with their quarterbacks in 2017, so this is their third season together. But for Reid in particular, this would be a historic Super Bowl win.

Of the 32 head coaches to win at least one Super Bowl, 28 of them won their first championship within the first five seasons with that team. Only Chuck Noll (six years in Pittsburgh), John Madden (eight years in Oakland), Tom Landry (12 years in Dallas) and Bill Cowher (14 years in Pittsburgh) needed more than five years to capture that elusive first ring. Reid is in his seventh season with the Chiefs, but it’s his 21st season as a head coach in the NFL. That would beat Cowher’s record wait by seven years.

A win would all but make the Hall of Fame a lock for Reid. He might still get there with a loss too, but one shouldn’t assume he’ll have an opportunity better than this. Mahomes is a difference maker, but Reid is 61 and things change quickly in this league. I’m sure people said similar things about Don Shula and Dan Marino in Miami 35 years ago, but they never returned to another Super Bowl after losing to the 49ers. People tried to make a dynasty out of Drew Brees and Sean Payton in New Orleans after one Super Bowl, but they have never made it back. The same people jumped ship to the Packers and Aaron Rodgers a year later, but they too have never made it back. The AFC has been easier to sustain success, but you just never know.

Kittle vs. Kelce

George Kittle and Travis Kelce are the two best tight ends in this post-Gronk NFL. I’m not going to let what happens in this game decide who is the best, but you know some people will do that. Personally, I think both players are in the best offense for their skills. If you want a pass-happy offense where the tight end runs more vertical routes, Kelce is the guy to line up as a receiver. If you want a more balanced offense with a tight end to block and play on the line more, then Kittle is the guy. I also think Kittle is more dangerous after the catch, but Kelce is no slouch there either.

Both players are a treat to watch and I wouldn’t mind seeing a game where they both go off for over 100 yards. Just keep in mind that the 49ers allowed the fewest yards (552) to tight ends in the regular season while the Chiefs allowed the fifth most (961) according to Pro Football Reference.

Turnovers

Including the playoffs, the Chiefs (+8) and 49ers (+7) are in the top 10 in turnover differential for 2019, but neither is dominating the stat. Garoppolo is more likely to turn it over and take sacks than Mahomes. Garoppolo sometimes misses linebackers and that accounts for some of his worst interceptions. The running backs have a bad habit of fumbling for the Chiefs, which were crucial in the team’s losses this year.

Defensively, both teams are near the lower end of the top 10 in takeaways per drive. So they both can take the ball away, but the 49ers have relied more on fumble recoveries while the Chiefs are more likely to get interceptions. That plays into each offense’s ball security weakness. The only two turnovers in Kansas City’s postseason run were both on special teams in the Houston game.

I had to bring this up because you know practically every championship run is keyed by a turnover in the playoffs. These teams haven’t really had to play dramatic fourth quarters the last two games, but Sunday could be the time when someone becomes a hero for one of these teams.

Third Down

We know anything can happen in one game, but season trends on third down also suggest this could be a track meet with two of the five best offenses in the league at extending drives. The Chiefs (47.6%) led the NFL in third-down conversion rate and the 49ers were fifth at 45.0%. The 49ers were the second-stingiest defense on third down, allowing a conversion one third of the time while the Chiefs were a respectable 12th (37.1%).

Garoppolo actually led the league this year with the highest rate of first downs (50%) on third-down passes. He wasn’t feasting on third-and-shorts either. Garoppolo was second on 3rd-and-8+ situations at 36.8%. Garoppolo famously converted a pair of 3rd-and-16 plays on a game-winning drive against the Rams in December. Meanwhile, Mahomes was obviously no slouch on third down. He ranked second at converting (57.8%) to only Garoppolo (63.5%) on third-and-medium passes (3-7 yards) this year. Mahomes had three of the league’s seven touchdown passes on 3rd-and-16+ in 2019.

Neither offense has been particularly good on third-and-short (1-2 yards), but the 49ers are one of the four offenses this year that will run the ball at least two-thirds of the time there. The Chiefs are 24-20 in favor of the run, but we’ll see if they are fine with a quarterback sneak in the biggest game of their career. That was the play Mahomes dislocated his kneecap on in Denver, but it’s generally a safe play and still the most effective play from scrimmage in the game.

Red Zone

Would it surprise you to learn that the Chiefs (54.0%) and 49ers (53.2%) are ranked 20th and 21st in offensive red zone touchdown percentage this year? It hasn’t been an area of strength, though it hasn’t always mattered since the teams found other ways to score. Mahomes averaged 28.5 yards per touchdown pass this year, the highest average in the league (min.10 touchdown passes). The 49ers weren’t very good in the red zone, but they were great at getting drives to reach the red zone. Their 62 red zone drives trailed only Baltimore (64). San Francisco’s average offensive touchdown was 18.3 yards, good for fifth in the NFL.

The San Francisco defense obviously has a lot of gaudy statistics, but the red zone is not one of them. They allowed a touchdown 60% of the time, tied for 22nd in the NFL. The Chiefs allowed a touchdown just over half the time, tied for ninth.

Special Teams

I’d certainly prefer if this game was totally uneventful on special teams. The 49ers haven’t had a great season there, but they were 12th in DVOA and had their highest EPA (source: Pro Football Reference) on special teams against the Packers last time out. Meanwhile, the Chiefs were 2nd in DVOA this year, but just had two of their worst games of the season on special teams by EPA in the playoffs. They obviously still won both games after some redemption plays against Houston, but they can be hit or miss with their explosive returners.

I don’t know if I’d risk my life on Harrison Butker (Chiefs) or Robbie Gould (49ers) making a game-winning field goal, but if I had to, I’d feel better than I would if Mike Vanderjagt or Nate Kaeding was swinging the leg.

No punts please.

Prediction Time

After nearly 5,000 words I think it’s time to make my prediction. You rarely want to see a Super Bowl blowout, but this matchup especially is one I hope is very competitive and goes down to the wire. Neither team has really had a poor performance all year, so they’re always in the game. You can look at the 49ers and say they could easily be 17-1 if they made a field goal in overtime against Seattle and stopped Julio an inch shorter of the goal line. Conversely, they could have been 11-5 and the fifth seed in the regular season if they didn’t convert a fourth down in New Orleans and didn’t stop the Seahawks an inch short at the goal line in Week 17. The margin can be that thin in this game we obsess over every detail of.

There are a lot of areas that favor the 49ers, and I think historically the 49ers are the type of team more likely to win this game than a team like the Chiefs. There are just more ways for the 49ers to win while practically every positive outcome for Kansas City involves Mahomes playing really well. Then again, Mahomes is 9-0 in his career when his passer rating is under 90.0 because he’s the best at doing what the coach who succeeded Reid and preceded Shanahan used to say: f***ing score points.

Final: Chiefs 31, 49ers 27 (MVP: Patrick Mahomes)