Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

January 31, 2020

🏈 Happy Friday! With Kobe's passing and today's Super Bowl Special, send times were all over the place this week. Thanks for bearing with me. Love you.

  • Number of the day: According to yesterday's poll, 63% of you are rooting for the Chiefs, which is pretty crazy because that's the exact percentage chance FiveThirtyEight gives them to win.

Today's word count: 2,263 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: πŸ“Ί The "Big Game"

Illustration of a retro style TV showing a black and white image of a football on a curtained stage

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

The Super Bowl isn't just a football game. It's the halftime show; it's the ads; it's the seven-layer dip; it's the fact that, for four hours on Sunday night, nobody is expected to be doing anything else.

Why it matters: The Super Bowl is one of the last remnants of an era when we all watched the same things at the same time. It is the "live sport" of all live sports, which is currently the only form of content tethering many consumers to traditional TV.

  • The game: With the Patriots absent for the first time since 2016, Super Bowl LIV feels like the dawn of a new era. Patrick Mahomes leads a pass-heavy Chiefs attack against the NFL's best defense, while Jimmy Garoppolo leads a 49ers offense that has run the ball on 71 of its last 88 plays.
  • The booth: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will call their sixth Super Bowl together for FOX, while Erin Andrews and Chris Myers will handle sideline reporting.
  • The music: Yolanda Adams will sing "America the Beautiful" before kickoff, Demi Lovato will sing the national anthem and Jennifer Lopez and Shakira will co-headline the halftime show.
  • The ads: Good news, football fans! (And bad news, commercial fans!) In a bid to reduce the number of interruptions in this year's game, Fox is cutting one commercial break from every quarter.

The backdrop ... With youth football participation falling, several states debating whether a tackle version of the sport should even be allowed, and NFL stars retiring in their 20s due to health concerns, there is a growing sense that America's moment of "peak football" may be in the past.

  • And yet, the NFL dominated TV once again last year, accounting for 47 of the top 50 most-watched shows and the entire top 10, and the highest-paid employee in 28 states is a college football coach.

The bottom line: The conflict between football's cultural grip on America and the clear risks involved in playing it represents one of the great dramas of our time. The story will continue on Sunday β€” with 100 million people watching.

Go deeper: 54 things to know about Super Bowl 54 (CBS Sports)

2. πŸ’΅ Betting guide

Prop bets

Prop bets at Bally's Atlantic City Hotel and Casino. Photo: Wayne Parry/AP

With sports betting now legal in 14 states, the American Gaming Association estimates $6.8 billion will be bet legally and illegally on Sunday's game.

Latest lines (as of 4pm ET):

  • Spread: KC -1.5
  • Over/Under: 54
  • Moneyline: KC -125 ($125 bet wins $100); SF +105 ($100 bet wins $105).

Prop bets: You can gamble on pretty much everything involved in the game (what color will the Gatorade bath be?) and on the broadcast (how long will the national anthem will take?).

Go deeper: Super Bowl betting cheat sheet (Action Network)

3. ⭐️ The stars of the show

So much red...

Patrick Mahomes
Photo: David Eulitt/Getty Images

Patrick Mahomes plays the QB position unlike anyone else. Between the sidearm slings, the no-look passes and the weaving scrambles, he's made so many ridiculous throws that there is an entire glossary of them.

  • The intrigue: Mahomes is the poster child for the multi-sport athlete, and his rapid rise supports several studies that have shown athletes who play multiple sports in their youth require less time to become elite in the game they ultimately choose.
  • What they're saying: "From just the way he looks at the field, it's similar to what a basketball player would see. … Sometimes it looks like he's going to backhand a ball and he's throwing across the diamond," said his high school football coach, Adam Cook.
Jimmy Garoppolo
Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Jimmy Garoppolo has not been asked to do much this postseason (17-27, 208 yds, TD, INT), but don't be fooled into thinking he's merely a "game manager."

  • By the numbers: When called upon to win games through the air, Garoppolo came through time and time again this year, tying for the league lead in fourth-quarter comebacks and notching an NFL-best QBR of 84.0 in the fourth quarter of games within one score.
  • What to watch: Garoppolo's receivers rave about the catchability of his passes, a QB trait that often goes underappreciated. "Man, it's great," WR Deebo Samuel told The Athletic (subscription). "You really get the ball the same way every time."
Tyrann Mathieu
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Tyrann Mathieu has done it all for the Chiefs this season and is one of the few truly position-less defenders in the NFL (look at this activity map! He's everywhere!).

Nick Bosa
Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Nick Bosa, who grew up in nearby Fort Lauderdale and will likely be named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year tomorrow, is already the face of the 49ers' defense.

  • By the numbers: Bosa was credited with 8o0 quarterback pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) in 2019, the sixth-most among all edge rushers and the most ever recorded by a rookie in the history of the stat.
  • Fun fact: Bosa's great-grandfather was Tony Accardo, aka Joe Batters, a notorious Chicago mobster who worked closely with Al Capone.

More key players:

  • Tight end battle: Travis Kelce is the sleek "Mercedes" in Kansas City's wide-open offense, while George Kittle is the off-road "truck" in San Francisco's more run-heavy scheme.
  • Hill vs. Sherman: Richard Sherman will have his hands full trying to contain Tyreek Hill. How the 49ers use Hill (zone vs. man) will be indicative of their overall game plan.
  • The fullback wrinkle: Kyle Juszczyk will force the Chiefs to use certain defensive personnel that they might not want to put out there.

Go deeper: Under-the-radar Chiefs and 49ers who could be heroes (SB Nation)

4. 🏈 On one side of the ball...

Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Andy Reid has built an offensive juggernaut in Kansas City thanks to an otherworldly QB and the NFL's fastest group of receivers. He also happens to be the sport's most valuable play-caller.

  • By the numbers: The Chiefs scored on nearly half of their possessions this season, trailing only the Ravens. They also faced the third-fewest third downs of any team β€” and led the NFL in third-down conversion rate anyway.
  • Yes, it may be true that the Chiefs have to set an alarm on their phone to remind themselves to run the football. But we've reached the point now where it's like ... why wouldn't you put the ball in Mahomes' hands every snap?

What they're saying: Chiefs WR coach Greg Lewis spoke about Reid's study habits and attention to detail, saying he has "a beautiful mind."

"He studies college games, high school games, CFL games, European games. He'll go look at stuff from 1910. ... He is able to compartmentalize everything then bring it out at the right moment [and] put it in terms everyone understands, and that's special."

On defense ... the 49ers' defensive line faces a unique challenge: generate constant pressure on Mahomes while playing disciplined enough to contain him and keep him from extending plays outside the pocket.

The bottom line: This is the marquee matchup of Super Bowl LIV: Mahomes and his speedy receivers vs. Bosa, Buckner and San Francisco's fearsome front.

Go deeper: Evaluating the Chiefs offense vs. the 49ers defense (The Athletic)

5. 🏈 On the other side...

Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Kyle Shanahan uses the same zone-running scheme that his father, Mike, used to lead the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowls in the late 1990s.

  • Zone blocking, explained: Offensive linemen block a space instead of a person. This requires mobility (hence why San Francisco has the NFL's lightest O-line) and running backs who can get through holes quickly, rather than dance in the backfield Γ  la Le'Veon Bell.
  • "For a lot of players, that approach requires unlearning years of what they've been taught," writes The Ringer's Danny Heifetz. "If less-heralded running backs pick up the system, they can earn the job β€” even if they've previously been cut six times." (See: Raheem Mostert.)

What they're saying: Future Hall of Fame LT Joe Thomas said Shanahan's scheme was his favorite offense he ever played in.

"It was like a computer program where everything was dichotomous; it was either a zero or a one and you knew exactly what you had to do on every single play and why."

On defense ... The Chiefs have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Their best bet at disrupting San Francisco's attack is 311 pound DT Chris Jones, who will try to wreak havoc on the interior against an O-line built for speed not brawn.

The bottom line: The marquee matchup β€” Mahomes vs. the 49ers β€” may not end up being the decisive one, as the action on the other side of the ball reflects a bigger point of differentiation between the two teams.

Go deeper: The 49ers are reinventing old-school NFL offense (WSJ)

6. βš”οΈ Dueling coaches

Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan

Photo: David Eulitt/Getty Images

Andy Reid, 61, hasn't been to the Super Bowl in 15 years and is the NFL's best coach to never win one, making him the sentimental favorite among neutral fans.

  • What he's saying: Did I mention he's quirky and hilarious? Yesterday, he compared having nine grandchildren to eating Chinese food: "They keep you young and at the same time make you feel old. It's kind of like sweet and sour pork."

Kyle Shanahan, 40, was a 49ers fan as a middle schooler due to his dad being the team's offensive coordinator when they won Super Bowl XXIX in 1995.

  • What he's saying: "I was 100% the Niners and the playoffs at that time. I can remember it like it was yesterday. ... If you had told me this when I was in middle school, I would have said that's a dream come true. The way it worked out and the way everything lined up, it is pretty special to sit and think about."

More coaches:

7. πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ Dueling campaign ads

Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump

Photos: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images; Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

Amid the car and beer commercials, Michael Bloomberg and President Trump will air dueling campaign ads, which were revealed yesterday.

The Bloomberg ad features an emotional mother still grieving the loss of her son, who was killed by gun violence. She cites Bloomberg's history of seeking tougher gun laws as the reason she now has "a dog in the fight" for the presidency.

"I know Mike isn't afraid of the gun lobby β€” they're scared of him. And they should be."

The Trump ad is more celebratory, with images of the president's rallies and a narrator boasting about low employment and an America that is "stronger, safer and more prosperous than ever before."

"America demanded change, and change is what we got."

In related news ... Brands like Stella Artois and Burger King have decided to sit this year out.

8. πŸŽ™ Inside radio row: A carnival of promotion

Twitter screenshot
Screenshot: @bryancurtis (Twitter)

During the week leading up to the Super Bowl, athletes and celebrities can be seen cruising "radio row," where they sit down with local and national sports radio shows to talk football and, more importantly, promote some stuff!!!

How it works: An athlete or celebrity offers to appear on a show. In exchange, the show agrees to plug whatever product the athlete or celebrity is promoting.

  • "In Washington, D.C., a quid pro quo is an impeachable offense. On radio row, it's the standard form of human interaction," writes The Ringer's Bryan Curtis.

Between the lines: There's an underlying order to it all, with guests getting bigger as the week progresses. A "Monday guy" is a retired player plugging a CBD company, while a "Thursday guy" is Dan Marino representing Marriott Bonvoy.

  • "Even the journalists are branded," writes Curtis. "Last year, a pitch email noted that the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport was 'prepared to discuss thoughts on Sunday's big game ... as well as talk about his obsession with Don Francisco's family-crafted coffee.'"
  • "Rapoport, by the way, was a Wednesday guy."

Go deeper.

9. πŸ† Super Bowl trivia

49ers and Chiefs helmets

Photo: Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Easy: This will be the 49ers' seventh Super Bowl appearance. Which of the following teams has appeared in more?

  • Denver Broncos
  • Green Bay Packers
  • New York Giants
  • Chicago Bears

Medium: Super Bowl LIV will be played at Hard Rock Stadium, which has gone by many different names since opening in 1987. Which of the following names was not used?

  • Land Shark Stadium
  • Pro Player Stadium
  • Alltel Stadium
  • Sun Life Stadium

Hard: 24-year-old Patrick Mahomes has the chance to become the youngest player to ever win the Super Bowl and an NFL MVP award.

  • Question: Who is currently the youngest to achieve that feat?
  • Hint: He won his only Super Bowl in the late 1990s.

Answers at the bottom.

10. 🐺 Meet the mascot: KC Wolf takes Miami

KC Wolf
Photo: Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

53-year-old Dan Meers has served as the Chiefs' mascot, KC Wolf, for the past 30 years, making him the NFL's longest-tenured mascot by at least a decade.

"I never was a great athlete, but God turned around and gave me a 30-year NFL career. How many guys get to say that?"
β€” Meers, per WashPost

The backstory: Meers began his mascot career in college at the University of Missouri, where he excelled as "Truman the Tiger," placing in the final four of the Universal Cheerleaders Association's annual tournament three years in a row and defeating Akron's "Zippy the Kangaroo" for the title in 1989.

  • After graduating, Meers spent the summer working as "Fredbird," the St. Louis Cardinals' mascot, before getting the call from the Chiefs.

The other mascot: Meers knows 49ers mascot, "Sourdough Sam," and calls him by far the best dancer of any mascot in the NFL. "If we had a dance-off, Sourdough Sam will win that every single time."

Go deeper: Man behind KC Wolf is a "Mascot on a mission" (YouTube)

Bonus: πŸ• Weird Super Bowl foods

Google map screenshot
Courtesy: Google

So many dips! And what's up with all the cake?

See full map.

Enjoy the game,

Kendall "Perfectly content with buffalo wings" Baker

Trivia answers: Denver Broncos; Alltel Stadium; Brett Favre (27 years old)