By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- It's the Super Bowl. Oh my goodness. No. How did we get here?
Look, everyone loves the Super Bowl. The week-long buildup. The pageantry. The terrible halftime performances. The lights. The glitter. The visual overload. The commercials. The food. It's great! Big old party. Can't complain about that.
But, if you're a true football addict (and also someone who likes to prepare for impending sadness), then you know that once that game ends, you're in for a long, cold stretch without football filling your TV screen every Sunday. Sure, there will be some XFL, but it won't nearly match what it is that your brain and body crave. The reality is that whether the Super Bowl is the most captivating game of all time or whether it's Seahawks-Broncos from 2013 or Niners-Chargers from '94, you will watch until that final whistle. And no matter which team wins and which team loses, you'll be left feeling empty. (But also full from all the gross feed you've eaten. Life finds a way to keep things balanced.)
Maybe that's too depressing of a lede for a picks column. Who's to say, really? Regardless, before we get into what is actually a very difficult pick to make for the game, I'd like to run through some of the most common Super Bowl storylines that have popped up to varying degrees this week. I'm going to rate them on a sliding scale that basically ranges from "Boy Oh Boy, This Is So Dumb" to "Heck Yeah, That Right There Is A Good Storyline!"
Ado: over. Let's go.
STORYLINE: 49ers Coaches Don't Trust Jimmy Garoppolo To Throw
OFFICIAL RATING: I hate this one!
We tend to be prisoners of the moment, and we tend to be waaaay too influenced by whatever has happened most recently. Case in point: Everyone says the Patriots won last year's Super Bowl with their defense because of the 13-3 win over the Rams, completely disregarding the 37-point and 524-yard performance on the road in the AFC Championship game and ignoring the 41-point and 498-yard performance in the divisional round the week before that.
Similarly, because the 49ers ran the ball 42 times and threw the ball just eight times (LOL!), many football folks have determined that it's because the coaches CLEARLY DON'T TRUST JIMMY GAROPPOLO TO THROW THE BALL. And (Bill Burr fake analyst voice) YOU CAN'T WIN GAMES IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE IF YOUR COACH DOESN'T TRUST YOUR QUARTERBACK.
It's all so foolish.
Jimmy Garoppolo is not Joe Montana. And frankly, the people in this neck of the woods who have long declared him "the natural heir to Tom Brady" are nuts; there is no heir to Tom Brady, you know? Still, give the guy some credit. The eight-throw conference title game was an aberration. He averaged 30 throws per game this season. If you could run for a thousand yards per carry like the Niners did against Green Bay, then you'd have to be an absolute bozo to even think about not running and running and running. And Kyle Shanahan? Not really a bozo. (Though we'll discuss him soon enough.)
Long story short: Jimmy G. is better than the Trent Dilfer that so many people are making him out to be this week.
STORYLINE: Dee Ford Can Get Redemption For Being Offside Last Year
OFFICIAL RATING: Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm no he cannot.
The fact that this was a big story last week and also at media night this week is probably a good indicator that we're not chock full of excellent storylines this week.
The reality is that Dee Ford lined up with a hand across the line of scrimmage last year. It cost the Chiefs an interception. It almost certainly cost the Chiefs a trip to Super Bowl LII. It was absolutely hilarious.
Dee Ford isn't even on the same team anymore. Maybe he can win a Super Bowl as part of the Niners' defense, but what's done is done.
Now, all together, let's exult in harmony: WAS I?!??!?!?!?!
I want to make that my ringtone. What a moment. Moving on!
STORYLINE: Kyle Shanahan Can Get Redemption For Being Part Of The Blown 28-3 Lead
OFFICIAL RATING: Nope.
This will be Kyle Shanahan's first Super Bowl as a head coach. Maybe he'll coach in a few. Maybe he'll even win some. That would be great.
But there is no way that anybody involved in the Falcons fiasco from Feb. 5, 2017 can ever erase the stink from the blown 28-3 lead. That list includes Dan Quinn (who's somehow still steering the ship in Atlanta), and it includes Devonta Freeman, and it includes Jake Matthews, and it includes Matt Ryan, and it includes, yes, Kyle Shanahan.
Calling for a deep pass out of the gun on a third-and-1 when you're up by 16 points with 8:30 to play? You kind of deserve a strip-sack. Doubling down with another deep pass when you're in field goal range while leading by eight with under four minutes to go? Yeah, you deserve the sack, and you deserve the holding penalty on the next snap.
That game was mismanaged to a historic degree. Shanahan may end up winning Super Bowls in the long career that lies ahead of him. That will be great for him. But there will never and can never be redemption for Super Bowl LI.
STORYLINE: Wes Welker Can Get Re-- CAN WE STOP WITH THE REDEMPTION STUFF????
OFFICIAL RATING: In case it wasn't clear, this is a bad one.
Wes Welker is a legend. He's absolutely one of the toughest players to ever strap on a helmet. He is criminally underrated. Nobody was better at getting open with some magical footwork and precise route running than he was. He's the Patriots' all-time leader in receptions by a significant margin, despite playing just six seasons for the team and despite playing one of those years while battling back from a torn knee.
But also, in the middle of his 0-3 run as a player in the Super Bowl, he dropped the ball. Plain and simple.
That one stings!
Outside of that goof, he was pretty great in Super Bowl LII (11 receptions, 103 yards) but had to deal with being part of the 18-0 Patriots losing their chance at perfection. And after an outstanding year on a record-setting offense in 2013, there wasn't much he could do to help Denver in a 43-8 drubbing by the Seahawks. (He caught eight balls for 84 yards in that loss.)
All of those losses? For a guy who was fearless over the middle and as reliable as any receiver's ever been? Brutal.
So if he wins the Super Bowl as a wide receivers coach, that's cool. He deserves some hardware for all that he's put into the game. Again, total legend. But there's no way it will mean nearly as much to him as it would have if he won one (or two, or three) as a player.
STORYLINE: Tyreek Hill Is A Changed, Matured Man
OFFICIAL RATING: Don't do this.
Can we just skip this one? Yeah? OK. Cool.
STORYLINE: Katie Sowers Is A Trailblazer, As The First Female And Openly Gay Coach To Work In A Super Bowl
OFFICIAL RATING: Heck yes. That's a good storyline.
Outside of a commercial for computers, this storyline's been underplayed, in my not-so-humble opinion. This is a big deal!
For decades upon decades upon decades, the NFL has been a male-dominated industry. It remains a male-dominated industry. But the presence of Sowers on the sideline for the Super Bowl will work wonders in opening young eyes to possible career paths that young girls might not have previously considered.
And that is awesome.
STORYLINE: This Picture Legitimately Looks Like It Could Have Been Taken During A Backstreet Boys Video Shoot
OFFICIAL RATING: That's just factual
Facts are facts.
Not much else to say.
STORYLINE: Kyle Juszczyk Went To Harvard
OFFICIAL RATING: Necessary.
Just so you know. Any time a football player went to Harvard? You gotta mention it.
Ryan Fitzpatrick? He went to Harvard.
Matt Birk? You know he's smart, because he went to Harvard.
And Kyle Juszczyk? Well, believe it or not, despite the bruising elements of the fullback position, he went to Harvard. He's got a brain in that big ol' head of his. Crazy, right? Wow.
Harvard. He went there.
(Kyle Juszczyk went to Harvard.)
STORYLINE: Tom Brady Influenced Jimmy Garoppolo's Career
OFFICIAL RATING: Kind of tired.
On the one hand, it's very cool that the guy thought to he a potential replacement for Tom Brady -- the greatest winner of all time -- finds himself in the Super Bowl in what is really just his first year as a starting quarterback in the NFL. It'd be even cooler if he was going up against Brady for this one.
Man, that'd be one cool storyline.
Alas, he is not. Brady's season ended almost a month ago, and he's got his own storylines going on. For Garoppolo, it's got to be kind of annoying to get peppered with questions all day every day about Brady. Jimmy should snap by the end of the week and just scream at a reporter, "I'm a real boy!"
He probably won't be doing that. He's too cool. But the Brady-Garoppolo storyline is surprisingly not as lively as we all might have expected.
STORYLINE: Kyle Shanahan's Hat
OFFICIAL RATING: Maybe the two weeks of hype is too long of a period to fill with "stories."
I saw this headline after media night: "Kyle Shanahan wanted to change hats, wife said no."
I work on the internet. I know how the game works. The more stories, the more possibilities for readers. When in doubt, write a story. I know how it works.
Still, I can assure you: The world did not need this story. It still does not need this story.
STORYLINE: Richard Sherman Talks, And Some People React Like, 'Whoa! Crazy!'
OFFICIAL RATING: I get it.
Richard Sherman has done many things well in his career. He's played the cornerback position very, very well. Richard Sherman has also marketed Richard Sherman very well. Richard Sherman is very good at making sure that people are thinking about Richard Sherman more often than they might be thinking about Richard Sherman if Richard Sherman had not been talking about Richard Sherman.
It's just smart business for a smart fellow who knows that his playing career is limited to a short window. Becoming a bigger star extends the window for making money.
(Speaking of being smart, it is likewise required to mention that he went to Stanford if you're going to mention his name. So crazy. Sports? You thought they were just for dummies????? WELL THINK AGAIN.)
As a result, he gets the people going. And so, win or lose, people will be eager to see how Richard Sherman reacts, because Richard Sherman has programmed them to want to see Richard Sherman.
It's a pretty good strategy he's developed. It does, however, lead to a rare backfire from time to time.
That's a Hall of Fame GIF.
STORYLINE: Does Andy Reid Need A Super Bowl To Make The Hall Of Fame?
OFFICIAL RATING: Does anybody care if Andy Reid needs a Super Bowl to make the Hall of Fame?
Look, Bill Cowher got into the Hall of Fame this month. Bill Cowher.
Bill Cowher was pretty cool. He did win a Super Bowl, which, good for him. Sweet.
Cowher also went 149-90-1 as a head coach. That's ... pretty good. He steered the Steelers to the playoffs in 10 of his 15 seasons. That's also ... pretty good. His teams went 12-9 in the playoffs, which is ... not extremely great?
But he's in the Hall of Fame, and really, that's nice. Good for him. He gets to have a big celebration with his family.
Andy Reid, aside from the lack of Lombardi, is more accomplished. He's won 58 more games -- or 3.5 full season's worth -- than Cowher. He's coached six more seasons than Cowher. His offensive work is ingenious; have you watched the Chiefs' red zone passing plays? He's led his team to the playoffs in 15 of 21 seasons. His 14-14 postseason record isn't outstanding, but it's not entirely dissimilar to Cowher's 12-9 record, or Don Shula's 19-17 record, or Tom Landry's 20-16 record ... or Bill Parcells' 11-8 record.
Those guys are in the Hall of Fame. They obviously won Super Bowls, but Andy Reid's resume holds up. He'll probably get in the Hall of Fame. Maybe he won't? And if not ... OK. No party for Andy.
OK, good talk.
Those sure are some storylines.
Now let's make a pick.
THE FOOTBALL GAME!
I always get gun-shy picking the Super Bowl. Maybe it's because after making 266 picks during the year, there's an overwhelming finality to this one. Maybe it's because everyone in the world will be watching this game, so there's some added attention and pressure to maybe get it right. Maybe it's because I'm quite bad at picking NFL games. Who's to say, you know?
Whatever it is, it's been tricky. Since I started doing this, I'm 5-5 in Super Bowls, which is kind of perfect for me. However, I'm on a hot streak, with three straight successful picks, and it would have been four out of five if not for, well, if not for this:
Anyway, Vegas is clearly seeing this year's game as a close one, as the Chiefs are merely 1.5-point favorites. It's rare for a spread to be under two points; the Pats-Seahawks (see above GIF) in '14, the 49ers-Bengals in '81, and the Dolphins-Redskins Super Bowl in '72 fit that bill. So I'm not alone in my trouble.
And while you can slice this one up every which way, and while you can get wowed and tickled pink by Patrick Mahomes' ability or Tyreek Hill's speed, you also have to remember this: The Kansas City run defense stinks.
I know, I know, I know. Derrick Henry. They got in his way. They gummed up the works. They stopped the freight train. That's why they're in the Super Bowl and the Titans are not. I know.
But that game was in Kansas City, which certainly helped the defense get a push. And it also involved Ryan Tannehill and an unimposing passing offense on the other side. And it also involved that feckless passing offense having to play from behind for the entire second half. It was a perfect storm.
This time, the Chiefs certainly won't have home-field advantage, and they won't have Ryan Tannehill trying to beat them with his arm. They'll have Kyle Shanahan (a superior offensive mind to Arthur Smith, all due respect) and Jimmy Garoppolo and Greg Kittle and Kyle (Harvard) Juszczyk and of course Raheem Mostert and really just a potent offense that's functioning at a high level right now.
(I understand Tannehill had some really great numbers this year, but when it came down to it, he ultimately proved to just be Tannehill.)
Obviously, the Chiefs have themselves a potent offense of their own, but if any defense was built to stop them ... wouldn't it be the 49ers and their No. 1-ranked pass defense?
The Niners allowed the fewest passing yards by a wide margin, allowing just 169.2 yards per game. The Patriots ranked second, at 180.4 yards allowed per game. The Niners likewise ranked first in passing yards allowed per attempt (5.22), and third in sack rate. They saw Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers come in to their stadium having just played some very good games and then limited those two quarterbacks to three touchdown passes with three picks and nine sacks.
Patrick Mahomes is too good to be stopped. Reid will have some dandies drawn up, too.
But ultimately, the team with the better defense and the stronger running game should be able to withstand the haymakers from the flashy offense.
I also don't love Andy Reid's decision-making, timeout preservation, and clock management late in a high-pressure game. Sorry. (Do you think he's a Hall of Famer?!?!?!)
Good game. Fun game.
San Francisco 27
Kansas City 21
Championship Round: 1-1
Playoffs: 5-5 (What a waste of time.)
Regular season: 116-133-5 (I've lost track of two games along the way, I don't know where they went, please let me just assume they were wins, thank you.)
Updated regular season: 118-133-5
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