The 49ers, who are coming off a 34-31 victory over the Detroit Lions, are looking to avenge their Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs from four years ago after falling short in the NFC Championship game twice during that span.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs, coming off a 17-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, are looking to become the first team in 20 years to win back-to-back Super Bowls with a victory on Sunday.
On the injury front, the 49ers are coming in with primarily a clean slate, as only defensive tackle Kalia Davis has been ruled out with an ankle injury.
As for the Chiefs, starting guard Joe Thuney was placed on Injured Reserve due to his pectoral injury, while running back Jerick McKinnon was activated, although it’s unclear whether he will play, as he’s missed the six games with a groin injury. Additionally, wideout Kadarius Toney is not expected to play, according to several reports.
Here’s what you need to know about the 49ers’ opponent on Sunday.
The Kansas City Chiefs had their worst regular-season record in the Patrick Mahomes era, going 11-6, which earned them the No. 3 seed in the AFC, resulting in the first two road playoff games of his career in the AFC divisional and championship rounds.
Of course, Mahomes and the Chiefs were able to grind out victories over the Buffalo Bills (27-24) and the Baltimore Ravens (17-10) after initially beating the Miami Dolphins (26-7) en route to the Super Bowl.
It’s been a different type of Chiefs team this season, as they averaged their lowest scoring total per contest since Andy Reid became their head coach at 22.1 points per game, while also averaging their lowest yards per game (351.3) since 2016.
On the other hand, their defense has been spectacular, limiting opponents to 17.3 points a game and 289.8 yards per game, both of which are good for second in the NFL.
As a result, Kansas City has played in 13 one-possession games this season, including two in the playoffs, going 8-5 in those contests.
Offensively, the Chiefs have still remained pass-dominant, despite sporting a depleted receiving core headlined by rookie second-rounder Rashee Rice and 34-year-old tight end Travis Kelce, throwing the ball 61.4 percent of the time, which is the sixth-highest rate in the NFL.
Still, they possess a solid rushing attack behind lead back Isiah Pacheco, who had 935 yards on 205 carries this season, punching in seven touchdowns on the ground in addition to his two receiving scores.
Defensively, the Chiefs might be at their peak, as they possess playmakers on all three levels of their defense, which sets up for an intriguing matchup against the explosive 49ers offense.
Keys to the Game
Starting fast: I’ve said it all week long: the 49ers need to start fast to ensure their best chances of winning this game.
The Chiefs have done a great job all season long at minimizing opportunities for their opponents, allowing 20 points or under in 13 of their 14 wins this season, with the Buffalo Bills game serving as the lone outlier.
The strong defensive effort has allowed their offense to remain in games, and Patrick Mahomes has served as the league’s best game manager this season, effectively working the clock to pull off a victory for his team.
However, the Chiefs do struggle when trailing at halftime, as they’ve gone just 2-4 this season when their opponents come out on top after 30 minutes.
This Chiefs team just doesn’t feel equipped to come back as much as prior Kansas City groups, as their offense is predicated on more of a balanced attack over the second half of the season with the emergence of Pacheco as the lead back.
Without strong offensive tackles and a lack of elite receiving weapons, it’ll be tough for Mahomes and Co. to mount a comeback, which is why starting off fast will be absolutely crucial for the 49ers.
The good news? They’ve scored over 30 points in 10 of their games this season, while playing in just six one-score games.
The bad news? They’ve started slow in both playoff games before mounting a comeback, and two of those six one-score games were against the Packers and the Lions.
Turnovers: As always, turnovers are a major element that could shift the outlook of a game, especially in the playoffs with the intensity upped a notch.
However, they could be an even more intriguing factor in this one with the way that the Chiefs have played this season.
Kansas City has been turnover-prone this season, averaging 1.6 a game during the regular season, which ranked 23rd in the NFL.
The Chiefs have turned it over at least once in 17 of their 20 games this season, including eight in a row heading into the Ravens game.
Additionally, they’ve turned it over multiple times in eight of those 17 games, as Mahomes threw 14 interceptions this year, while the team coughed up 20 total fumbles, of which 10 were lost.
Meanwhile, the 49ers were a top-10 team, averaging just 1.1 a game, which ranked sixth in the league.
On the flip side, San Francisco has been elite at taking away the football, forcing 1.6 takeaways per game, which was a top-five rank this season.
The 49ers have forced a turnover in 16 of their 19 games, including in both playoff wins, while forcing multiple takeaways in 11 of their games.
Overall, they’re 10-1 this season when winning the turnover battle, boding well for their prospects should they be opportunistic on Sunday.
The Chiefs haven’t generated as many turnovers, ranking in the bottom five in takeaways this season, as their output drastically decreased over the second half of the season.
After forcing a turnover in each of the team’s first 10 games, the Chiefs forced only three over their next seven games before a meaningless Week 18 matchup.
However, they did force one against the Dolphins before generating three takeaways in their 17-10 win over the Ravens.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes emphasized the need to protect the football earlier this week, pointing out San Francisco’s ability to be opportunistic and win the turnover battle.
“[We need to] take care of the football,” Mahomes said about the 49ers defense. “They’re very opportunistic.”
The Chiefs are 2-3 this season when losing the turnover battle, and it’ll likely be an integral factor in Sunday’s game.
Run Game: While both teams possess good quarterbacks, the run game will be a crucial key to Sunday’s game as well.
The 49ers possessed the league’s third-best rushing attack this season, averaging 140.5 yards per game on the ground, while running back Christian McCaffrey, who won the Offensive Player of the Year award, led the NFL with 1,459 rushing yards.
San Francisco has rushed for over 100 yards in every game but one this season, and will likely rely on McCaffrey and the team’s rushing scheme to generate some explosive plays on Sunday.
Kansas City, on the other hand, has the 19th-best rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 104 yards per game, but lead back Isiah Pacheco has shown the capability of carrying a heavy load on the ground, taking 24 carries in two of the team’s three playoff games.
Pacheco has been effective, rushing for 4.6 yards per carry and scoring a touchdown in each of Kansas City’s last seven games.
The 49ers are especially good with their zone runs, which account for 64 percent of McCaffrey’s workload, while the Chiefs rank 18th against those runs, according to Tej Seth.
christian mccaffrey EPA/rush by run type: •zone: 0.15 (1st) •gap: -0.16 (26th) •duo: -0.13 (29th)
christian mccaffrey run type frequency: •zone: 64.3% •gap: 19.1% •duo: 15.0%
chiefs EPA/rush allowed by run type: •zone: -0.09 (18th) •gap: 0.10 (32nd) •duo: -0.16 (7th)…