MIAMI — The Kansas City Chiefs have perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL in Patrick Mahomes, the fastest wide receiver in Tyreek Hill, one of the premier tight ends in Travis Kelce and one of the elite coaches in Andy Reid.
They have plenty of other playmakers, too. Damien Williams has had starring turns at running back, Sammy Watkins had a monster AFC title game, and a defense anchored by Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu has been downright stingy.
Those are all compelling reasons why the Chiefs could win their first Super Bowl in 50 years Sunday, but it’s not the biggest one. No, most fans back in Kansas City are pinning their hopes on something far less tangible: Fate.
The Chiefs overcame a plethora of injuries just to reach this point, including a potentially serious knee injury to Mahomes midway through the season. They won their regular-season finale as the Patriots were losing to the Dolphins, a stunning set of results that gave them a first-round playoff bye. They rallied from a 24-point hole against Houston, avoided top-seeded Baltimore, then overcame an early 10-point deficit to beat Tennessee for the conference championship.
“We’ve had some great moments,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I’ve enjoyed some of these other teams that I’ve been with, too. I’d be slighting the guys there. I’ve had fun with them. We’re all honored to be doing this, as you guys are. It’s a small fraternity, whether it’s the media or the players and coaches. I try to enjoy every day. I’ve had fun this year.”
It’s not just the confluence of events that have folks believing in destiny, though.
They point to Reid, one of the best coaches of his era, who finally gets a chance to add a Super Bowl title to his resume. It was 15 years ago that his Eagles lost to the Patriots in the only other trip “Big Red” made to the big stage.
They point to the Hunt family that owns the Chiefs. It was their founder, Lamar, who coined the term “Super Bowl,” and his wife Norma has been to every one. Their son, chairman Clark Hunt, has been instrumental in league affairs.
They point to the players themselves, most of whom were part of a team that came within an offside penalty of reaching the Super Bowl last season.
Much like the Kansas City Royals came within a whisper of winning the World Series in 2014, only to get the job done the following year, folks back in the snowy Midwest have a feeling that the Chiefs are simply due.
“In the NFL, you are going to go through adversity,” Mahomes said. “Last year, obviously the loss hurt, but having to watch the Super Bowl and not being in it was something I could barely even do. For me, I knew I wanted to be in this moment. I think that’s what we preached as a team, we want to be here. We want to be in the Super Bowl.”
Of course, there are more palpable reasons the Chiefs believe they will triumph Sunday.
While the 49ers have one of the NFL’s best defenses, they have yet to face an offense with the sheer volume of playmakers that Mahomes has at his disposal. Hill, Kelce and rookie returner Mecole Hardman were all voted to the Pro Bowl, Watkins has been a breakout performer in the postseason and Williams is dangerous in the backfield and out of it.
Take away one. Or two. Or even three. But good luck taking away all of them.
“You’ve got to play good defense. You’ve got to contain the receivers. You’ve got to do your job,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You’ve got to limit the big plays, but it’s easier said than done, for sure.”
It’s not just the skill positions that give the Chiefs an offensive edge. Their line, anchored by All-Pro right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, allowed the third-fewest sacks in the NFL this season and just nine total over their final eight regular-season games. That means they are well equipped to deal with the ferocious San Francisco pass rush.
Speaking of defense, the 49ers aren’t the only ones who can stop a team.
The Chiefs overhauled that side of the ball under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and a pass defense that was second-to-last in the NFL last season was the eighth-best this season. The Chiefs were fifth in the league in interceptions, Clark and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones form a formidable pass rush, and Mathieu has proven to be a game-changer at safety.
The big question mark this season has been the Kansas City run defense, and the 49ers bring to Miami the league’s second-ranked rush offense.
“We’ve got one more game to go out there and play with some swagger. That’s what I was telling our guys,” Mathieu said. “I’m kind of the older guy in the room making sure they don’t get too loud. We’ve got one more game and we’ve got to finish the job. If we don’t show up in the next game, it’ll be the same narrative. My job here is to finish the job.”