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Super Bowl LVIII matchups, analysis and prediction

The Super Bowl trophy is flanked by San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs helmets.
(Matt York / Associated Press)
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Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer breaks down the Super Bowl LVIII matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Sunday and will be televised by CBS (Channel 2 in the Los Angeles area):

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49ers pass offense vs. Chiefs pass defense

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel starts to run a route.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel is difficult to tackle after he makes a catch.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

The 49ers are all about precision and play calling, which presents a different challenge than the Chiefs saw from AFC championship game opponent Baltimore, whose quarterback, Lamar Jackson could break a big play at any time. Kansas City cannot be overly aggressive with cool-under-pressure quarterback Brock Purdy because the 49ers have so many places they can go with the ball — George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield. So the Chiefs have to make sure that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s formations and camouflage don’t mess up their coverages. Look for more conservative zone coverages than the Baltimore game. EDGE: 49ers

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49ers run offense vs. Chiefs run defense

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) runs against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2022.
San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) is not easy to tackle, as the Kansas City Chiefs defense can confirm.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

San Francisco can grind out those yards on the ground with McCaffrey, who is so versatile and dangerous. The Chiefs did a really good job of shutting down the run against Baltimore, but the Ravens were complicit in that too. The big problem defenses have with the 49ers is San Francisco has so many ways to go with the ball, so committing to stop the run means all sorts of receiving options pop open. The 49ers were third in rushing yards per game this season, whereas the Chiefs were 17th when it came to stopping the run — and 26th in giving up yards after contact. EDGE: 49ers

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Chiefs pass offense vs. 49ers pass defense

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11) runs in open field against the Baltimore Ravens.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11) could be the difference maker in Super Bowl LVIII.
(Terrance Williams / Associated Press)

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Everybody knows the ball is going to Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce often, and rookie receiver Rashee Rice has stepped up in a big way. Now, who is the third option? That has been a mixed bag for quarterback Patrick Mahomes. That might be receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and the Chiefs could test the 49ers by taking some deep shots with him. If the 49ers can mitigate the damage of Kelce and Rice, they will force Kansas City to rely on someone else. The wild card is Mahomes. He turns broken plays into big gains and can take off running at any point. The Chiefs have been more conservative with him this season, in part because their defense has improved. EDGE: Chiefs

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Chiefs run offense vs. 49ers run defense

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes hands off the ball to running back Isiah Pacheco.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) hands the football to running back Isiah Pacheco, who the 49ers hope they can stop from running between tackles.
(Peter Aiken / Associated Press)

Kansas City doesn’t have an overpowering run game but the Chiefs can use the ground game effectively at times. They did that in the divisional round in Buffalo, where Isiah Pacheco gained 97 yards against the Bills. The 49ers are so-so against the run and have been punished in the playoffs: Green Bay and Detroit averaged a combined 5.6 yards per carry. The Chiefs would love those numbers. CBS analyst Charles Davis said the 49ers need to focus on clogging the middle. “To me, it’s got to be muddy up front,” he said. “That defensive front has got to give their linebackers a chance. If they’re meeting Pacheco four yards downfield, it’s a lost cause and the chains are going to keep moving.” EDGE: Chiefs

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Special teams

San Francisco 49ers placekicker Jake Moody awkwardly kicks a field goal against the Detroit Lions.
The 49ers’ Jake Moody has had some kicking issues during his rookie season and missed two field-goal attempts in the playoffs.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Both teams have to applaud the fact this game is being played indoors and weather won’t be a factor. The Chiefs have a seasoned veteran in kicker Harrison Butker, who has been in this situation before. That gives him a significant leg up on the 49ers’ rookie kicker, Jake Moody. There are aspects to like about both punters, San Francisco’s Mitch Wishnowsky and Kansas City’s Tommy Townsend, but neither team plans to do much punting. EDGE: Chiefs

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Coaching

Chiefs coach Andy Reid (right) and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan talk on the field after a game in 2021.
The Chiefs’ Andy Reid (right) and the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan have coached against each other before.
(Michael Zagaris / Getty Images)

This matchup features Kansas City’s Andy Reid and San Francisco’s Shanahan, two exceptional play callers. Reid broke through with his first Super Bowl victory four years ago, then won again last season. He’s Canton-bound. Shanahan has a chance to redefine his legacy after epic fourth-quarter Super Bowl collapses to New England and the Chiefs. EDGE: Chiefs

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Three 49ers you should know

San Francisco 49ers linebackers Fred Warner (54) and Dre Greenlaw (57) celebrate a defensive play.
San Francisco 49ers linebackers Fred Warner (54) and Dre Greenlaw (57) celebrate a defensive play against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.
(Scot Tucker / Associated Press)

DRE GREENLAW, inside linebacker: Greenlaw and Fred Warner form one of the NFL’s best linebacker tandems. Although Warner has been a three-time All-Pro, Greenlaw has not received those accolades. Still, they have great chemistry working the middle of the field and that will be key in slowing Kelce.

JAKE BRENDEL, center: Brendel is a solid, under-the-radar player whose challenge will be keeping the offensive line on the same page to counter the blitzes of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Brendel also will need to help to neutralize Chris Jones so the Chiefs lineman doesn’t wreck San Francisco’s plans the way he did in the Super Bowl four years ago.

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DEOMMODORE LENOIR, cornerback: Charvarius Ward is the more decorated of 49ers corners, but Lenoir is a young player who continues to improve. He isn’t big but Lenoir can make those big hits and game-changing plays. He starts on the outside but moves inside to the slot in clear passing situations.

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Three 49ers who must come through

San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa adjusts his chin strap.
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa is fast enough to catch elusive Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

BROCK PURDY, quarterback: This one is obvious. Purdy needs to take care of the football and be a distributor, making the right decisions and taking advantage of all his playmakers. He’s done that for most of the season, although he had four interceptions against Baltimore and has been somewhat hit-and-miss during the playoffs.

NICK BOSA, defensive end: The 49ers already are planting the seed that the Chiefs hold on the offensive line and, in truth, that has been a problem at the tackle position for Kansas City. Bosa is a dangerous pass rusher, and the Chiefs will need to account for him at all times. He’s fast enough to catch Mahomes.

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JAKE MOODY, placekicker: Moody was a controversial pick in the third round — early to take a kicker. He has had a decent rookie season, although he has missed two kicks in the playoffs. He also missed a 41-yarder that cost San Francisco the game at Cleveland. Key for the 49ers is to make sure he’s kicking extra points, not field goals.

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Three Chiefs you should know

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed (38) falls into coverage during the AFC championship game.
L’Jarius Sneed is the Kansas City Chiefs’ best cornerback.
(Terrance Williams / Associated Press)

MARQUEZ VALDES-SCANTLING, wide receiver: The Chiefs have searched for that deep threat and appear to have found one in Valdes-Scantling, who has had receptions of 32 yards in each of the last two playoff games. He averaged 15 yards per catch this season.

JAWAAN TAYLOR, right tackle: Taylor and left tackle Donovan Smith are hoping not to hear their numbers called in the Super Bowl, because that would mean something went wrong. Both have had holding issues, particularly Taylor, and that could be an issue against a ferocious San Francisco pass rush.

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L’JARIUS SNEED, cornerback: If Sneed doesn’t put up eye-catching numbers Sunday, it’s probably because the 49ers are throwing away from his side of the field. He’s a smothering corner and that is critical against a team with so many receiving weapons. He made a key strip at the goal line in the win over Baltimore.

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Three Chiefs who must come through

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (95) celebrates a defensive play.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (95) has been a menace to quarterbacks this season.
(Matt Durisko / Associated Press)

PATRICK MAHOMES, quarterback: A no-brainer. Mahomes, playing in his fourth Super Bowl in five years, already has two rings at age 28 and could one day eclipse Tom Brady as the greatest quarterback in NFL history. His ability to scramble and throw off all sorts of platforms and with so many arm angles make every snap a potential huge play. Just as dangerous with his legs.

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TRAVIS KELCE, tight end: Even if he weren’t dating Taylor Swift, Kelce would be squarely in the spotlight. Baltimore couldn’t stop him, and that’s not unusual considering the trail of wreckage the sure-handed Kelce has left in his wake. There figures to be a lot of action in the middle of the field.

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CHRIS JONES, defensive tackle: Jones is a terror in the middle, just as he was against the 49ers four years ago when he tipped three passes at the line of scrimmage. Despite missing training camp and the season opener because of a contract dispute, he earned All-Pro honors and finished with 10½ sacks, second-most in the league for an interior defensive lineman.

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Sam Farmer’s prediction

The 49ers have so many effective weapons, and a distributor in Purdy who is calm and poised beyond his years. Their roster is better, top to bottom, than Kansas City’s. However, after underestimating them in the run-up to the Super Bowl, just cannot bet against Mahomes and Reid finding a way to win their third Lombardi Trophy in five years. CHIEFS 31, 49ERS 27

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