The Kansas City Chiefs will take the field against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday with an opportunity to secure a second-straight world championship on the line.
Here are five things to keep in mind heading into game day.
1. Here's a look at the final injury report for both teams.
The Chiefs will be without offensive guard Joe Thuney (pectoral) on Sunday for the second-straight game, meaning veteran Nick Allegretti will slide in at left guard. Additionally, tailback Jerick McKinnon, who hasn't played since Week 15 due to a groin injury, is listed as "Questionable" for Sunday.
2. The Chiefs' defense has been historic during this postseason run.
Kansas City allowed just 13.7 points-per-game on average through their three postseason contests to this point, marking the sixth-lowest figure for any team to play three or more playoff games since 1990. Only the 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (5.8), the 1998-99 Denver Broncos (10.7), the 1990-91 New York Giants (11.7), the 2002-03 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12.3) and the 2013-14 Seattle Seahawks (13.3) yielded fewer points-per-game in that time.
Additionally, the Chiefs' second-half defense has been particularly impressive. Kansas City – which yielded the fewest second-half points of any team during the regular season – has allowed just 10 second-half points during the playoffs, and over its last eight games, no opponent has scored double-digit points in the second half against Kansas City.
It sets up a great matchup against the 49ers' offense, which averaged the second-most points in the second half of any team this season. San Francisco has been tremendous in the second half during its playoff run, too, scoring 44 points in the second half across its two games after scoring just 14 combined points in the first half.
3. Kansas City will seek yet another fast start offensively.
The Chiefs have tallied points on their opening possession in each of their last four games in which the starters played, scoring touchdowns in three of those games. Looking at the playoffs specifically, the Chiefs scored on three of their first four possessions vs. Miami and on five-straight drives against Buffalo before recording back-to-back touchdown drives to begin the AFC Championship Game against Baltimore.
Kansas City ran 26 plays for 156 yards and 12 first downs while chewing up nearly 15 minutes of clock on its first two possessions vs. Baltimore, firmly claiming a lead that the Chiefs never relinquished.
The Chiefs have scored on their opening possession to begin eight-straight playoff games dating back to 2021, tallying six touchdowns and two field goals.
4. The 49ers' defense forced a turnover on nearly 16 percent of opponent drives this season.
San Francisco posted the No. 3 scoring defense in the NFL this season, trailing only Baltimore and Kansas City, and a primary reason behind its success was a high takeaway rate. The 49ers faced the second-fewest offensive drives of any team in the league, and on those possessions, San Francisco forced a turnover on a remarkable 15.5 percent of drives. That tally included a league-most 22 interceptions over the course of the year.
Oddly enough, despite facing the second-fewest number of offensive possessions in the league, San Francisco allowed the most drives of 10+ plays in the NFL this season. In fact, on drives in which the 49ers didn't force a turnover this year, opponents scored points 40 percent of the time.
Kansas City has excelled at taking care of the football during its playoff run, and looking at quarterback Patrick Mahomes specifically, he hasn't turned the ball over in each of his last four starts. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus' advanced metrics, Mahomes hasn't committed a single "turnover worthy play" during that time – a span of 147 dropbacks.
5. The Chiefs' ability to run the football and remain balanced offensively will be key.
A major component of the Chiefs' offensive resurgence during the postseason has been their balance between the run and the pass. Here's a quick look at that balance over the last three weeks:
Miami: 34 runs and 41 passes
Buffalo: 24 runs, 23 passes
Baltimore: 32 runs, 39 passes
The Chiefs' effectiveness running the football has made that balance possible, as tailback Isiah Pacheco has rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns during Kansas City's playoff run, including seven runs of 10+ yards. Additionally, according to Pro Football Focus, Pacheco has forced nine missed tackles during the playoffs, gaining 178 yards after first contact.
It's also worth pointing out that San Francisco has struggled against the run during the postseason. The 49ers allowed 318 combined rushing yards against the Packers and Lions, yielding an average of 5.58 yards-per-carry.
An effective running game paired with an efficient passing attack has been the recipe for Kansas City during its run to the Super Bowl, and a similar formula on Sunday could go a long way toward securing a world championship.