The Kansas City Chiefs have been here before.
In fact, they were here last year.
Well, not here in Las Vegas, but here in the Super Bowl. They won it last season in Phoenix, besting the Philadelphia Eagles by a score of 38-35. Kansas City now has a chance to win back-to-back championships, becoming the first team since the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots to do so.
All that stands in their way is a familiar opponent: the San Francisco 49ers.
The Chiefs beat the Niners in Super Bowl LIV. But that was four years ago. These teams are completely different save for a couple of key individuals.
They hold the key to winning this Sunday.
Kansas City has appeared in four of the past five Super Bowls, and so have those key three. This has become an almost annual tradition and it shows. On Opening Night of Super Bowl LVIII, the Chiefs looked comfortable, handling the chaos with a calm that only experience can provide.
By contrast, the 49ers had a bit of nervous energy. It’s been four years since they were here and they came up short that time.
Reid and Mahomes together in the postseason is a hard duo to bet against. Despite this not being the type of regular season fans have come to expect from the Chiefs — they went 11-6 — Kansas City found another gear in the postseason like they always do. It took a while to figure out how to make it work with an average receiver corps that had the most drops in the NFL of any team. It took a bit for a second-year running back in Isiah Pacheco to come on consistently. It took some time for Reid to evolve his system yet again to fit what his roster could do.
But it happened, and the Chiefs are right back in the big game.
The key now is for Reid, Mahomes and Kelce to be themselves.
They’ve had two weeks to prepare for this game. They’ll be going against a star-studded 49ers defense which is capable of getting pressure on anyone. They can also take the ball away, tying for the most interceptions in the league with 22. They took the ball away a total of 28 times, fifth-most in the NFL.
But that wasn’t against the best quarterback in the league who can go off-script with the best tight end in the league right now.
Mahomes and Kelce’s connection is indefensible because it doesn’t follow a play card. Passes between the two don’t show up on a call sheet. A lot of the time, it’s just Mahomes evading pressure long enough to let Kelce find an open space on the field. Mahomes is acutely aware of Kelce’s positioning at all times. As a defensive back tasked with guarding the 6-foot-5 Kelce, you can’t predict which route he’s running based on his release — oftentimes, Kelce isn’t even running a route found on the route tree. It makes it hard, as a result, to know what leverage to take on him.
Former NFL linebacker Luke Kuechly described it perfectly on “Up & Adams.”
Kelce has three receiving touchdowns so far this postseason. He had just five in the regular season. It’s further evidence Mahomes, Kelce and even Reid tap into something different in the playoffs.
To win against the Niners (again), that’s all they’ll have to do.
Let Mahomes and Kelce be Mahomes and Kelce.
And let Andy Reid cook.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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