Getting to the Super Bowl happens with a decent amount of regularity for one of these teams. For the other it has been at least two generations since they’ve made it to the championship game.
As we begin the two weeks of anticipation and hype before kickoff at Hard Rock Stadium, here are seven storylines we’ll be watching.
Chiefs offense vs. 49ers defense
Super Bowl LIV will be a classic matchup of strength vs. strength: the San Francisco defense and the Kansas City offense.
The Niners have been powered by their F.A.B.B. Four of defensive linemen — Dee Ford, Erik Armstead, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner — and were top-8 in numerous defensive statistics during the regular season, including points and first downs allowed, third-down conversions and sacks.
Conversely, the Chiefs, behind Patrick Mahomes and a cadre of offensive skill players, were near the top of the league in numerous offensive statistics, including points scored, first downs, and third-down conversions.
That’s not to say that the Niners’ offense and Chiefs’ defense are bad, because they’re not at all. But this season, when you think of these two teams, you think about Kansas City’s offense and San Francisco’s defense.
Jimmy Garoppolo trade pays big dividends
It took a little longer than 49ers fans hoped to see the team’s 2017 midseason trade for Jimmy Garoppolo (and subsequent lucrative extension) pay off, in large part because of a torn ACL in the third game of 2018 (against the Chiefs, no less).
Starting all 16 games this season, Garoppolo had a league-leading four fourth-quarter comebacks as San Francisco went 13-3.
The last time Kansas City was in the league championship was at the end of the 1969 season, when as an 11-3 team they won Super Bowl IV over the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7. Hank Stram, still the winningest coach in franchise history, had led the Chiefs to the AFL championship in 1962, and then to a loss in Super Bowl I four years later.
The Chiefs have been to the playoffs 18 times since that ’69 season, and they finally got to lift the AFC championship trophy that features the name of their founder, Lamar Hunt.
Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes
LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 15: Patrick Mahomes #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the game against the Oklahoma Sooners on November 15, 2014 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Oklahoma won the game 42-30. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 24: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes II #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders gestures to his players during the first half of their loss against the Oklahoma Sooners on October 24, 2015 at the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images)
MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 07: Patrick Mahomes #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders in action during the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers on November 7, 2015 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, KS - OCTOBER 08: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes II #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders warms up prior to a game against the Kansas State Wildcats on October 8, 2016 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Football quarterback and NFL draft prospect Patrick Mahomes visits SiriusXM Studios on April 25, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 03: Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes answers questions from the media during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 3, 2017 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 11: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) before an NFL week 1 preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs on August 11th, 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. The 49ers won 27-17. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) scrambles for a first down at the end of the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 10: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) before an AFC West showdown between the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs on December 10, 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) takes the field for his first NFL regular season start, against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, at Sports Authority Field in Denver. The Chiefs won, 27-24. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 06: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) before the AFC Wild Card game between the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs on January 6, 2018 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 25: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) looks on during game action in a preseason NFL game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Bears on August 25, 2018 at Soldier Field in Chicago IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 25: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws the football during game action in a preseason NFL game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Bears on August 25, 2018 at Soldier Field in Chicago IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 16: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on September 16, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 23: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks up at the scoreboard during the third quarter of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Arrowhead Stadium on September 23rd, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 23: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) handles the football in action during an NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs on September 23, 2018, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 1: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs scores a second-quarter rushing touchdown, the first of his NFL career, against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on October 1, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 1: Patrick Mahomes (15) of the Kansas City Chiefs looks to sidelines during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos. The Denver Broncos hosted the Kansas City Chiefs at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver, Colorado on Monday, October 1, 2018. (Photo by Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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49ers get chance to tie Steelers, Patriots
San Francisco was in the Super Bowl seven years ago, when they lost to the Baltimore Ravens in a game that will always be remembered for a second-half power outage that stopped the game for 10 minutes.
The Niners have been to the Super Bowl on five other occasions, and won all of them.
The game on Feb. 2 gives San Francisco a chance to tie the record for most wins by one franchise: the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots each have six.
Andy Reid can burnish resume
Andy Reid is one of the best head coaches of his generation: in 14 seasons with the Eagles and now seven with the Chiefs, he’s only had three losing seasons, and led his teams to the playoffs 15 times. He arguably has the strongest coaching tree in the NFL, as 10 of his assistants have gone on to become head coaches, including five current head coaches (Ron Rivera, Matt Nagy, John Harbaugh, Doug Pederson and Sean McDermott).
This is just the second time he has brought a team to the Super Bowl, with the first coming in 2004, when the Eagles lost to New England. A win in Miami can go a long way to burnish Reid’s resume.
Kyle Shanahan, Mike Shanahan make history
The Shanahan family can now claim a new NFL first: with Kyle and San Francisco in the title game, he and his father Mike are the first father-son duo to lead teams to the Super Bowl.
Mike’s Denver Broncos went in back-to-back years, 1997 and ’98, winning both.
This also gives Kyle a chance to write a better ending to his coaching story: he was the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons team that lost a 28-3 lead to New England in Super Bowl LI, and his play-calling in the second half has been extensively questioned since.
George Kittle and Travis Kelce
Rob Gronkowski retired after the 2018 season, but his decision to step away from the game didn’t leave a vacuum at the tight end position.
The Chiefs and Niners feature the two best players in the game at the position: Travis Kelce, who was voted second-team All-Pro, and George Kittle, who was first-team.
Kelce had 97 catches for 1,229 yards and five touchdowns this season, his fourth straight year with over 1,000 yards; Kittle had 85 catches for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns, and has just under 3,000 yards in his first three NFL seasons.