SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- What's going to be talked about when the 49ers head to Miami next week to prepare for Super Bowl LIV? We have the top-10 storylines entering Super Bowl week right here as the 49ers prepare to play the Kansas City Chiefs.
1. DEE FORD'S REDEMPTION
The 49ers defensive end figures to be a popular guy in Miami. He'll be peppered with questions about how much he thinks about his offsides penalty in last year's AFC Championship game that negated a game-ending interception against the Patriots, who advanced to the Super Bowl after winning in overtime.
The Chiefs remade their defense in the offseason and traded Ford to San Francisco for a 2020 second-round draft pick and traded for former Seahawk Frank Clark. Even if Ford downplays the story line, you can be sure Ford won't be lacking for motivation against his former team.
More pertinent to the Super Bowl is Ford's impact on the 49ers' pass rush. They had just five sacks in their last five regular-season games, while Ford was largely absent because of a hamstring injury. The team had nine sacks in two games with Ford back in the lineup against the Vikings and Packers. His speed off the edge will be needed to clear room for San Francisco's talented defensive tackles, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.
"Now you're getting those guys on islands, and it just creates a lot of one-on-ones for those guys," defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of Ford's impact.
According to NFL Media, the 49ers pressured opposing quarterbacks on 22.7% of dropbacks with Ford out of the lineup during the regular season. With Ford back in the playoffs, that number spiked to 32% against Minnesota and Green Bay, including 48% (17 of 35) in the divisional round.
2. SHERMAN VS. THE WORLD
Richard Sherman is a self-motivator. He's used perceived slights against him and the 49ers defense all season, and don't expect that to stop in Miami. For instance, the Chiefs are betting favorites (they're currently favored by 1.5 points) despite having a worse regular season record (12-4) while playing in a lesser division.
Sherman also found his name in headlines the night of the NFC title game when Darrelle Revis called him out on Twitter saying Sherman was scared to play man-to-man coverage after Packers star Davante Adams beat him on a deep pass in the fourth quarter.
Sherman made up for it by effectively ending the game with an interception of Aaron Rodgers on another deep throw in the waning moments. It was his fourth postseason interception of his storied career, and the second of these playoffs, tying him for the most postseason interceptions among active players with former 49ers safety Antoine Bethea and Green Bay defensive back Tramon Williams.
3. JIMMY GAROPPOLO, GOOD OR NOT?
If you've been living under a rock, you missed that Jimmy Garoppolo threw just eight passes in the NFC title game.
That's because the 49ers were out to enforce their will against the Packers defense. They averaged an absurd 6.8 yards over 42 carries and dominated the game on the ground thanks to a road-grading performance from the offensive line -- and a record-breaking showing from Raheem Mostert.
"We were running the hell out of the ball tonight. It made my life very easy back there," Garoppolo said afterwards. "I think we had, like, eight pass attempts. A fun night."
But the discussion surrounding Garoppolo has centered around how much Kyle Shanahan trusts him. The assumption is Shanahan preferred the running game because Garoppolo has a propensity to throw interceptions, like he did in the second quarter of the Vikings game.
Garoppolo proved in a handful of big games in the regular season he could carry the team with his arm. And Shanahan has preached having the passing game as a threat is important to being able to run the ball.
"Players laugh at me a lot because I always say, 'Do you guys want to run the ball?' Yeah. You better be able to throw it then," he said earlier this month. "If we want to throw it, you better be able to run it."
Garoppolo is 21-5, including the playoffs, as the 49ers starter. He's the only quarterback in the NFL to rank in the top in completion percentage (69.1), touchdown passes (27) and yards per attempt (8.4). He tied Russell Wilson and Josh Allen with four fourth-quarter comebacks, the most in the NFL. And he had a 115.7 passer rating while trailing in games.
4. ANDY REID VS. KYLE SHANAHAN, OLD GUARD VS. NEW
Andy Reid is 336-207 in the regular season as a head coach. Kyle Shanahan is 23-25.
Reid has been in the NFL since 1982. Shanahan's first NFL job came in 2003.
Reid, 61, called Shanahan, 40, a "kid" this week.
"He's done a very nice job. He's a smart kid, now. He's sharp," Reid said. "Great for this league. You have this influx of these new coaches with these great minds on both sides of the ball. So that makes this league strong."
Indeed, Shanahan and Reid are two of the best offensive coaches in the NFL. They're both rooted in different versions of the West Coast offense. Reid's version came from working under Packers coach Mike Holmgren, who learned the system with the 49ers from Bill Walsh.
Shanahan, of course, is heavily influenced by his father, Mike, who replaced Holmgren as San Francisco's offensive coordinator in 1992.
Both Reid and Shanahan are trying to win their first Super Bowl. Reid's in his 20th season. Shanahan's in his third.
5. CHIEFS LACK OF SUPER BOWL HISTORY VS. 49ERS AND #QUESTFORSIX
The two teams have vastly different histories when it comes to the Super Bowl.
Kansas City will be making its first appearance since beating the Vikings in 1969, a year before the AFL-NFL merger was finalized.
The 49ers last played in the Super Bowl following the 2012 season and are looking to match the Patriots and Steelers for the most titles in the league with six.
Put another way, fans in the Bay Area haven't gone long without seeing the 49ers as contenders since the 1980. That can't be said about those in Kansas City, who have waited lifetimes for this kind of opportunity.
6. RAHEEM MOSTERT'S RAPID RISE
Raheem Mostert became the first player in postseason history to have 220 yards and four touchdowns last week against the Packers.
His rise is a perfect sports story. He came into the league as an unheralded running back who was mainly a kickoff returner in college, and then was released by six teams during his first year and a half in the NFL before landing with the 49ers in 2016 when Chip Kelly was the head coach.
Mostert was one of the few players that stuck on the roster when Shanahan and John Lynch were hired in 2017 because of his value on special teams. But he blossomed into the best running back on the league's No. 2 rushing team as the season wore on.
Mostert finished the regular season with eight touchdowns and 515 yards over the final seven games, earning his shot to star against the Packers.
"I did have a lot of doubters and naysayers, and now I get to actually tell them look at where I'm at now," Mostert said. "I never gave up on my dream."
Expect Mostert to be a popular figure in Miami.
7. TIGHT END MEETS WORLD
Speaking of popular figures, only one 49er has a personality as gravitational as Sherman's.
That's George Kittle.
The All-Pro tight end is well-known in the Bay Area for his love of wrestling and easy-going persona. But Kittle's sense of humor hasn't quite hit the national stage yet. That will come this week during the "Opening Night" festivities and his other various media obligations.
If Kittle isn't a well-known star going into this week in Miami, he likely will be afterwards.
8. DISTRACTIONS IN MIAMI? YOU DON'T SAY.
Miami is known for its beaches, restaurants, nightlife and, ahem, scenery.
There will be all sorts of distractions pulling players away from football and testing their focus on preparation.
The media will surely use the location as a story line during the week, particularly if players are seen around town enjoying themselves rather than being holed up in their hotel rooms studying their iPads.
9. TOP-RANKED DEFENSE VS. BEST QUARTERBACK
Patrick Mahomes, the reigning MVP, and the San Francisco's defense, the best of the last decade, is such an intriguing match up, it deserves its own full-length story.
10. THE TIES TO THE 49ERS' PAST
Legendary quarterback Joe Montana played for both the 49ers and Chiefs, and tweeted this week that it's guaranteed his team will win the Super Bowl (we see what you did there, Joe).
The 49ers are also returning to the scene where they won Super Bowl XXIX, which gave Steve Young his first championship as a starter, where he was flanked by Jerry Rice, Ricky Watters, Deion Sanders, Dana Stubblefield, Bryant Young, Brent Jones and a slew of others.
Many of those players were at the NFC title game last week at Levi's Stadium, including Rice, who ran the length of the field pre-game last week to get the fans of the home team in a full lather before kickoff. That's unlikely to happen Sunday, but don't be surprised if Rice, Young, Montana and a slew of other former 49ers champions are in the building Feb. 2.
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