So our lineup is set for Super Bowl 54 as the Kansas City Chiefs will take on the San Francisco 49ers in Miami to cap the NFL's 100th season.
This is a mouth-watering matchup filled with great storylines and it will give us all plenty of talking points leading into the big game. At first glance, this is your classic explosive offense (Kansas City) against dominant defense (San Francisco) showdown - a bit like when Peyton Manning led his Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks in the New York Super Bowl at the end of the 2013 season.
But here is where this game gets really interesting. The 49ers also have a very productive offense and the Chiefs have a defense that has been among the best in the league in the second half of the season and one which held the great Derrick Henry to 69 rushing yards on 19 attempts on Sunday night.
The Chiefs rightly catch our eye with quarterback Patrick Mahomes playing at a sensational level in just his second year as a starter and they are averaging 29.8 points per game during the regular season and playoffs. But the Niners are actually averaging 30.2 points per game and have proven they can run for fun in this playoff series, bullying Minnesota to the tune of 186 rushing yards before adding 285 on the ground against Green Bay.
The 49ers fly to the football on defense and they sacked Aaron Rodgers three times in the NFC Championship Game. Their defensive line is loaded with first rounders and, in the same vein as Mahomes with the Chiefs, that star-studded group catches our eye.
But the Chiefs have played some of the league's best defense in the second half of the season and their gang-tackling effort in the second half against Tennessee saw Henry - an elite third and fourth quarter runner - held to just seven rushing yards after the break on Sunday.
This feels like an evenly-balanced Super Bowl and one in which both teams feel complete. And I can guarantee that the atmosphere in Miami is going to be electric.
The noise at the end of both title games on Sunday shows just how much reaching this Super Bowl means to the respective fan bases. The 49ers are back in the big game for the first time since the 2012 season and looking for their first win since the 1994 campaign led by the great Steve Young 25 years ago.
As for the Chiefs, they will be playing in their first Super Bowl in 50 years and that was the reason for so many wild scenes of celebration. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt will now get to take his team to the big game that was actually named by his father, Lamar.
When Clark was a young boy, he played with a toy called the Super Ball. That gave Lamar an idea and he prompted the NFL to turn the AFL-NFL World Championship into the Super Bowl.
That is a pretty cool story but will be a mere quirky footnote once the pre-match hype ramps up in South Florida. This is going to be all about the action on the field and the stage is set for an absolute classic.
Patrick Mahomes...Kansas City are being led by a quarterback who is playing at an historic level in Patrick Mahomes and he is doing so at the end of just his second full season as a starter. A year after Mahomes threw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in the regular season, here are his career playoff numbers. Mahomes has completed 62.7 percent of his throws for 1,188 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback rating of 115.0 is the greatest in playoff history for any quarterback and we';re talking a pretty decent group featuring the likes of Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and John Elway here. Mahomes is so fun to watch and so tough to defend for many reasons, but here is an obvious one... he can sling it a mile! No wonder he got angry on Sunday night when Tyreek Hill didn't run deep on one play. Mahomes can tell his receivers to go deep on any play and just keep running - he will get them the football. Worryingly for San Francisco, he is also way healthier than during a regular season in which he suffered knee and ankle injuries and his scrambling will be key in Miami. Mahomes' touchdown run against the Titans was one for the ages and will feature on his Hall of Fame highlight reel down the road. And yes, I do feel this young stud is heading to Canton, Ohio.
Raheem Mostert...This story is going to get a lot of play in Miami because red-hot running back Raheem Mostert is a great example of never giving up on your NFL dream. Mostert has starred for the San Francisco 49ers this season but it has to be noted that they are his seventh club and even they didn't show him that much love in the beginning. Mostert bounced around the league with Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore and Cleveland in 2015 and he spent limited time with the New York Jets and Chicago Bears before joining the Niners in 2016. That is quite the journey to Sunday night, where he produced one of the best single-game playoff rushing performances in NFL history. Mostert benefited from some terrific blocking up front and carried 29 times for 220 yards and four touchdowns. He became the first player in league history to rush for more than 200 and score four times in the playoffs and there is more to come from this explosive talent in Miami.
Tyrann Mathieu...One man who will be tasked with slowing down Mostert and the San Francisco attack will be Kansas City's All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, who will make for another great pre-Super Bowl week story. Mathieu was deemed surplus to requirements by the Arizona Cardinals and the Chiefs became his third team this season (he spent 2018 with Houston) with comments ringing in his ears about being past his best. But Mathieu is back to his very best and is a wonderful chess piece who the Chiefs move around their defensive backfield. But they also play him up close to the line and he can negate short passes in his area but, more importantly, be a real factor against the run. Mathieu.s football smarts and instincts are elite and that.;s why he led his team with nine tackles on Sunday and will have a major role to play on Super Bowl Sunday. I.m pleased that Tyrann has bounced back because he is one of the nicest guys in the business and deserves his moment in the Miami sun.
Jimmy Garoppolo...I know the 49ers won't care because they are heading to the Super Bowl. But I worry about the confidence levels of their quarterback, who attempted just eight passes in the NFC Championship Game - that feels like a 1970s-like showing from somebody like Bob Griese, who would routinely turn and hand the football to his Dolphins running backs en route to Super Bowl glory. That showing comes off the back of the game against Minnesota in which the 49ers took the ball out of their quarterback's hands and kept it on the ground. In two playoff wins, Jimmy G has attempted just 27 passes and last night there was a period where his last pass came with 2:10 left in the second quarter and the next with 8:10 left in the game. Does that show confidence in your starting quarterback? Winning is all that matters, of course, but I think I would have given Jimmy G a few more throws in the second half, just to get back into a rhythm ahead of a game against KC in which San Francisco may need all hands on deck.
Green Bay's defense...The Packers knew the run was coming and there was not a damn thing they could do about it. They were powerless to stop the 49ers and the gulf between these two teams in the NFC title game was startling given that they had the same record heading into the weekend. Green Bay have excelled at rushing the passer this season but Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith were taken completely out of this game by San Francisco's total commitment to the run. The Packers still need a few additions to take their Super Bowl chances to another level and one area of their game must focus on becoming stronger against the run. I would also get a few more weapons for Aaron Rodgers in the passing game.
The Fast Five...
We've spent much of the second half of this season lauding the efforts of Ryan Tannehill and rightly so... but is he the long-term quarterback for the Tennessee Titans? He did his part in wins over New England and Baltimore and while he was in Mahomes' shadow on Sunday, Tannehill did enough to stick around. I think he starts in 2020 but the Titans keep their long-term options open. The franchise tag beckons.
Tyreek Hill is a divisive figure given his controversial off-field issues so why come out of the tunnel and drop to all fours and act like a dog peeing on the ground? Just come out and play football, Tyreek. Do you really want us talking about all your other issues again? Thought not.
If you like tight ends, you';re going to love this Super Bowl. The game's very best will be in action in Travis Kelce, of the Chiefs, and George Kittle, of the Niners. And both are going to be fun to cover in Florida. They are among the most colourful and charismatic players in the game today.
I was chatting with big-time 49ers fan Martin Johnson this morning and he indicated the importance of San Francisco's pass rush. Johnno said that you need two things to be a Super Bowl team... quarterback and pass rush. Both Super Bowl teams feel they have their men at those respective positions. If your team doesn't, you need to hope those get addressed in the offseason. And then things can change quickly in the NFL. Just ask the 49ers, who won four games just last year.
This Super Bowl will feature two fine offensive minds who do a tremendous job of play-calling. That is going to be one of the fascinating aspects of this game. What will Andy Reid, who became the seventh coach in NFL history to take two different teams to the Super Bowl, and Kyle Shanahan have up their sleeves? For Shanahan, this game offers a shot at personal redemption. Three years ago, he was offensive coordinator for Atlanta as they blew a 28-3 lead and lost to New England. Shanahan was slammed for his play calling at the end of that game but now has a chance to put things right on the big stage, albeit with a different team.
Finish That Sentence
After a hugely entertaining playoff series, we are down to two Super Bowl teams and many things to chat about., As a result, you have responded via Twitter and I will finish a selection of your NFL-related sentences now.
From Dan Fettel (@danFEZZA)... The MVP of the playoffs is...Patrick Mahomes... with honourable mention for Derrick Henry, who was sensational in those Tennesee wins over New England and Baltimore. But I think we have seen some plays out of Mahomes that will be on his career highlight reel when all is said and done. Plus, he has taken his team to the big game and winning counts so much in MVP voting. It feels like we are at the start of some Mahomes-led domination of the NFL and given how much fun he is to watch, I can live with that.
From Ashley Finney (@ashfin69)...Derrick Henry didn't have the same impact because...the Chiefs flew to the football on defense and tackled him with more than one body. That was vital. Kansas City knew that, more often than not, one guy was not going to get Henry to the ground. They gang-tackled with great effect and also controlled the line of scrimmage. How Kansas City's underrated run defense fares against San Francisco's dominant ground attack will be key in Miami. Going back to the AFC title game, once Mahomes got hot and KC got a bigger lead, it became a game that was not going to feature Henry.
From Matt Carle (@mcarle17)... The way the Niners can stop Patrick Mahomes is...pressure, pressure, pressure. Mahomes likes to extend plays so his track team can race downfield for big pass plays. And that can take time and requires the protection to hold up. San Francisco can get home with their front four and that is key because you want to flood the secondary with more defensive backs. The Niners also need to contain Mahomes while applying that pressure because we have seen in two playoff games what he can do with his legs.
From Liam (@Liam1992LUFC)... The team best equipped to become the next dynasty is... the Chiefs, but no one is going to rule the NFL for the next decade like the New England Patriots have done in recent times. I say the Chiefs because I trust Mahomes to do it year in and year out more than I trust the likes of Lamar Jackson in Baltimore and Jimmy G in San Francisco. And this game still comes down to the quarterback position at the end of the day. I think the Chiefs have an open Super Bowl window for the next decade. Now, they have to manage their cap carefully because Mahomes is about to become the league's first $40 million per year quarterback. But he will be worth the money and will put KC in the Super Bowl mix for many years to come.
Fact of the Week
The Chiefs have scored at least 30+ points in all four of their playoff games with Patrick Mahomes at the helm over the past two seasons. Kansas City have scored 86 points in their two playoff games this season - that is the best points-per-game average in a playoff series since the 1994 San Francisco 49ers (43.7 points per game).
Superstar players, creative head coaches chasing their first Super Bowl wins, cult fan favourites, hungry and passionate fan bases and those looking to shine on their second, third or, in Raheem Mostert's case, seventh chance. This Super Bowl truly does have it all and I cannot wait for the big game to kick off in Miami. I feel like we're going to witness something pretty special and, as a fan, I am very excited to watch Mahomes play in person. This game is so tough to call but, as of right now, I give the slight edge to that San Francisco defense. But this one could definitely go down to the wire. It should be a classic end to the NFL's 100th season.