49ers’ defense will have their hands full against Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s offense in Super Bowl LIV

ap file photo: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes drops back to pass in the first half of their game against the Chicago Bears on Aug 25th in pre season play. Little did Mahomes know at the time he and the Chiefs would wind up in Super Bowl LIV 

By Joe Hawkes
SRS Contributor

SANTA CLARA–The San Francisco 49ers made winning the NFC Championship over the Green Bay Packers, 37-20, to advance to Super Bowl LIV on Sunday night look like a walk in the park. It will be San Francisco’s first trip to the Super Bowl since 2013, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31.

For the franchise to claim its sixth Vince Lombardi trophy in seven trips to the Super Bowl, the 49ers are going to have to take down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, who are returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years after defeating the Tennessee Titans, 35-24, to capture the Lamar Hunt trophy, named after the Chiefs’ late owner as the winner of the AFC.

The Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in Super Bowl IV.

The play of San Francisco’s defense will be critical when the football is kicked off at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on Feb. 2. If San Francisco’s defense plays anywhere near it did against both the Vikings and Packers respectively, than the 49ers will be in primed position to win the game.

In two playoff games, the 49ers stood head and shoulders above the rest on defense, finishing first in points (15.0), total yards (252.2), rushing yards (41.5), takeaways (5), and third down percentage (23.8).

But neither Minnesota or Green Bay can match Kansas City’s offense, which can go nuclear within a blink of an eye with the aforementioned Mahomes as the trigger man. The third-year quarterback has a stacked offense, a track team of wide receivers in Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman, and an electrifying tight end in Travis Kelce at his disposal.

In the AFC Championship Game, Kansas City found itself down 10-0 and 17-7, but Mahomes and that high-powered Chiefs offense didn’t flinch, building a 35-17 lead over the Titans thanks in large part of controlling the clock with a strong ground game. Mahomes, who finished the game throwing for 294 yards and three touchdowns, his final touchdown came on a 60-yard strike to Watkins for the Chiefs’ 28th straight point midway through the fourth quarter.

That’s the type of offensive explosion that the 49ers must avoid if they have any shot at winning this football game. That means the 49ers, who may arguably have the NFL’s best defensive line, featuring Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead must make life difficult for Mahomes every time Kansas City has the football.

The 49ers have the league’s best pass defense and ranked fifth with 48 sacks during the regular season. They have nine more this postseason, largely by taking opponents off schedule and setting up favorable pass-rush situations.

That’s huge against a quarterback that has the penchant of eluding would-be tacklers like Mahomes. Especially in a game with so much on the line like the Super Bowl.

 

49ers set to square off against the Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round

photo from mercurynews.com: Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) and quarterback Adam Cousins (8) both are jubilant following Cousins winning touchdown pass to Thielen in New Orleans last Sunday at the Superdome 

By Joe Hawkes
SRS Contributor

In the first game of Sunday’s NFC Wild Card matchup, the Minnesota Vikings stunned the New Orleans Saints, winning 26-20 in overtime to earn their first postseason road victory since Jan. 9, 2005. With the win, the Vikings will travel to Levi’s Stadium to face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round.

The Vikings have now eliminated the Saints in two of the last three postseasons. For the Saints, it makes the third-straight postseason that they were bounced out of the playoffs on the game’s final play.

Minnesota won the toss in overtime and took the ball and never looked back. The key play for the Vikings was the 43-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen to move Minnesota to the Saints’ 2-yard line. On 3rd-and-4, Cousins would find Kyle Rudolph in the left corner of the end zone for the game winning score and punching the Vikings’ (11-6) ticket to Santa Clara, Calif.

The sixth-seeded Vikings’ shocking upset over the heavily favored three-seeded Saints (13-4) was largely due to the play of Cousins, who completed 19-of-31 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown.

Thielen, who fumbled on the game’s opening drive, shook off the turnover to lead all Vikings pass catchers with seven catches for 129 yards. After missing the final two games of the season, running back Dalvin Cook returned to the lineup and rushed for 94 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns. Cook also registered 36 receiving yards on three catches.

Minnesota’s offense racked up 22 first downs while racking up 362 net yards on the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

For the top-seeded 49ers (13-3), it is the first time that Levi’s Stadium gets to host a playoff game in the six years that the stadium has been opened. San Francisco, who earned a much needed first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after taking down their bitter rival, the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17 at CenturyLink Field, won the NFC West for the first time since 2012.

That season, the 49ers would advance to Super Bowl XLVII.

San Francisco is getting healthy at the right time, as they expect linebacker Kwon Alexander (torn pectoral) and edge rusher Dee Ford back in the fold for the game. Alexander, who was cleared to practice this week, had been on Injured Reserve since Week 9.

Ford missed three weeks with lingering hamstring issues.

Safety Jaquiski Tartt, who missed the final four games of the year with a fractured rib, will be ready to go Saturday.

The 49ers are 4-0 all-time in the divisional round as a top seed. Kickoff for the 49ers’ first playoff game since 2013 is at 1:35 p.m. PT and will be on NBC with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on the call. Michelle Tafoya will be reporting from the sidelines.

Raiders return home to host divisional rival Chiefs Sunday at the Coliseum

Photo credit: silverandblackpride.com

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
SRS Contributor

After concluding a two-game road trip, the Oakland Raiders will return home this week to welcome in their divisional rival the Kansas City Chiefs at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Sunday’s Week 13 meeting between these two AFC West foes will mark the first of two meetings in four weeks, with the Raiders wrapping up the season in Kansas City in Week 17.

The two teams split last season’s series, with Oakland winning 31-30 in thrilling fashion on Thursday Night Football last October in Oakland. Kansas City won 26-15 at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 14.

Kickoff for the 116th meeting is set for 1:05 p.m. PT, with Kansas City leading the all-time series 61-52-2.

Last week, the Raiders (2-9) lost on the road to the Baltimore Ravens 34-17. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed 16-of-34 passes for 194 and one touchdown. For the second-straight week, the Raiders scored a touchdown on their opening drive, a 1-yard score by running back Doug Martin, his first in Silver and Black. Martin rushed for 51 yards on 11 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and also added three catches for 21 yards.

Tight end Jared Cook tied his career-high with his fifth touchdown grab of the year in the third quarter of the game. Cook finished with two catches for 32 yards and the score.

On defense, the Raiders recorded two interceptions in the first half in back-to-back weeks as the safety tandem of Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson each recording a takeaway. Both players have two interceptions this season for the Raiders.

Kansas City holds the AFC’s best record at 9-2 and sit atop the AFC West. The Chiefs are coming off their bye week but lost their most recent game, 54-51 to the Rams in Los Angeles on Monday Night Football.

The Chiefs have on of the league’s most prolific offenses, ranking second in points per game (36.7), third in total yards per game (434.3) and passing yards per game (318.5) and second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes is a big reason why the Chiefs put up astronomical numbers every game.

In his first full season as the Kansas City’s starter, Mahomes leads the NFL in touchdown passes (37) and is second in passer rating, a blistering 117.9.

With pass catchers like third-year wide receiver Tyreek Hill (65 catches for 1,106 yards and team-leading 11 touchdowns) and sixth-year tight end Travis Kelce (team-leading 67 catches for 914 yards and 7 touchdowns), to go along with second-year running back Kareem Hunt (181 rushes for 824 yards and 7 touchdowns), its hard for teams to stop the Chiefs when they are rolling.

Hunt is also tough to defend in the passing game, with 26 catches for 378 yards and seven touchdown catches this season.

Outside linebacker Dee Ford is one of the NFL’s most disruptive pass rushers. Ford leads the Chiefs with nine sacks and five forced fumbles. Fellow outside linebacker Justin Houston has four sacks and three forced fumbles.

Following Sunday’s game, the Raiders will face another tough test when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kansas City returns home to take on the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14.

Red hot Raiders travel to frigid KC with AFC West at stake on TNF

AP photo: Oakland Raiders Derek Carr (4) speaks at the post game press conference following their game with the Buffalo Bills last Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

OAKLAND, Calif — In what is arguably the biggest game for the franchise since their Super Bowl XXXVII loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of the 2002 season, the Raiders will be on the national stage once again when they face their bitter rival the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday Night Football.

Kickoff is set for 7:35 p.m. CT (5:35 p.m. PT) with temperatures predicted to be in the high-teens with a windchill factor that will make it feel like 10 degrees.

Thursday’s game begins a stretch for Oakland that sees them play three of their final four games on the road.

Ever since the Chiefs’ 26-10 victory over the Raiders on the rain-soaked Oakland Coliseum turf on Oct. 16, Oakland (10-2) is riding a season-high six-game winning streak (winning by an average of nine points) and sit one game ahead of Kansas City (9-3) in the ultra-competitive AFC West.

Oakland rallied from a 15-point deficit to dispatch the visiting Buffalo Bills 38-24 just four days ago and now have to travel two time zones on a short week and play in one of the loudest stadiums in pro football.

Quarterback Derek Carr engineered an Oakland offense that scored 29 unanswered points in the second half after trailing 24-9 early in the third quarter. Carr has become the first player in NFL history to throw five game-winning touchdowns in the fourth quarter or overtime in a season, according to the Associated Press.

Carr completed 19-of-35 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns while taking the majority of the snaps in the shotgun or the pistol in Sunday’s game, despite playing with a fracture pinkie on his throwing finger.

For the season, Carr has thrown for 3,375 yards with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions with a 100.3 quarterback rating.

Let’s not forget, Carr lost his first 10 games of his career before winning his first game against the Chiefs, but the Chiefs continue to be a thorn in Carr’s side.

In his last five starts against Kansas City, Carr is just 1-4 versus the Chiefs completing just 58 percent of his passes,  with six touchdowns, five interceptions and a 72.0 quarterback rating.

Legendary quarterbacks make their names from performing on the biggest stages with all of the money on the table so if Carr is going to be named the league’s MVP, he has to play better against Kansas City and why not do that on Thursday Night Football?

Latavius Murray, who didn’t play in the first meeting, rumbled for 82 of Oakland’s 139 yards against Buffalo. Oakland’s stout offensive line will need to find running lanes against a Chiefs defensive front that surrendered 128 yards to Atlanta in the Chiefs’ 29-28 win on the road in Week 13.

Kansas City is 20-4 in their last 24 regular season games, and have won six of their last seven games this season.

Alex Smith, who is 6-1 all-time against Oakland, was efficient with the football, completing 21-of-25 passes for 270 and a touchdown against the Falcons.

Tight end Travis Kelce recorded his third consecutive 100-yard receiving game Sunday when he hauled in eight catches for 140 Kelce’s 65 catches and 815 yards not only leads all AFC tight ends, but all tight ends in the league.

Kelce could prove to be a difficult cover for a Raiders secondary that will be without rookie safety Karl Joseph (foot) Thursday.

Rookie Tyreek Hill is listed as a wide receiver in most media guides, but when you pull up the film, Hill is a offensive specialist who is a matchup nightmare for most defenses.

With wide receiver Jeremy Maclin battling a groin injury, Hill has become a valuable target and weapon in Kansas City’s passing game. Hill is second to Kelce on the Chiefs with 50 catches for 481 yards, but his five touchdown catches ranks first on the team.

In their last meeting, Oakland had trouble stopping running back Spencer Ware, who carried the ball 24 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. Kansas City has put together a solid running game without starting running back Jamaal Charles this season led by Ware, who leads the Chiefs with 734 rushing yards and three scores.

Ware’s hard-nose running style is tailor made to carry the ball in the frigid conditions that is Kansas City in early December.

Both teams have pass rushers who can make life difficult for the opposing quarterback.

Kansas City outside linebacker Dee Ford and Oakland defensive end Khalil Mack are tied for third in the NFL in sacks with 10 apiece.

Mack, who won the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November, has recorded seven sacks in his last seven games. No other player has that many sacks during that span.

Chiefs All-Pro safety Eric Berry accounted for eight points (a pick-6 and a pick-2) to seal Kansas City’s win in Berry’s return to his hometown of Atlanta. Two of Berry’s three interception on the season have gone for touchdowns.

Shadowy cornerback Marcus Peters is tied for second in the league with Giants safety Landon Collins with five interceptions. Peters’ eight total takeaways leads the NFL to go along with a Chiefs defense that leads the NFL in total takeaways with 25.

Peters and the rest of the Chiefs secondary will have their hands full with the receiving  tandem of Michael Crabtree (67 catches, 785 yards, 7 TDs) and Amari Cooper (68 catches, 981 yards, 4 TDs).

A win for Oakland gives the Silver and Black a two-game lead in the AFC West with three games to go, but a loss to their arch-rival would not only give Kansas City a season sweep for the second straight year, but the inside track on the division title and No. 1 overall seed in the AFC.

But the biggest question that must be answered before kickoff for yours truly, what to eat to go with the frosty beer (Corona with lime most likely) that I’m sure I will consume?

Carne Asada tacos for the Raiders  win!