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ESPN lists ten most likely Super Bowl matchups and has 49ers listed twice

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New England Patriots v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

What. A. Time. We are in October and talking about the San Francisco 49ers appearing in the Super Bowl. Premature? Of course. Will that stop us from talking about it? Absolutely not. ESPN’s FPI produced the ten most likely Super Bowl matchups, and the Niners were listed in two of those. Here is their explanation for the exercise.

So which teams have the best chance to make the Super Bowl? That’s where the Football Power Index (FPI) comes in. To produce the 10 most likely Super Bowl LIV matchups, FPI uses its strength ratings for each team to simulate the season 20,000 times, so the likelihood is determined by not only how good teams are now but how easy their paths are the rest of the way. Here are the 10 most likely matchups that occurred in those 20,000 simulations:

The first matchup is tied for second in the most likely matchup after a month of football — the 49ers against the Patriots, in the battle of the best quarterback sneakers in the game.

Patriots vs. 49ers

FPI chance to happen: 7%

Number to know: Wait, the 49ers? Yes, FPI is head over heels for San Francisco through three games. One reason for Kyle Shanahan’s success: His offense is running play-action on 38% of its dropbacks -- and it’s working. The 49ers have averaged 10.6 yards per dropback on play-action and 7.0 yards on all other plays.

What makes this is an interesting matchup: Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Brady. The man once believed to be Brady’s successor now taking on the GOAT. Plus, if the 49ers win, the sweet irony of the Patriots shipping him to the NFC only to see Garoppolo hurt New England anyway. And maybe Super Bowl week also could solve the mystery of why the Patriots landed only a second-round pick for him.

Could you imagine the Garoppolo vs. Brady articles leading up to that game? Sports Illustrated recently had an article where Shanahan said that he watches the Patriots game every Monday. I can come up with a dozen storylines right now. I’d prefer this matchup because the Patriots offense can be stopped, unlike the other team ESPN has the 49ers playing.

5. Chiefs vs. 49ers

FPI chance to happen: 7%

Number to know: Mahomes throws into tight windows (1 yard of separation or less) just 9% of the time, third lowest in the league, per Next Gen Stats. But it’s actually much more impressive than that, because the two quarterbacks ahead of him on that list are Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees, who throw the ball much shorter than Mahomes and thus have an easier time finding receivers with separation. That stat is a result of a combination of skills from Mahomes, his receivers and Andy Reid, but the point is the quarterback doesn’t throw many dangerous passes, and that makes him tough to stop.

What makes this an interesting matchup: The 49ers’ pass rush hasn’t completely put it together yet, but Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and Nick Bosa have the potential to be devastating. Would San Francisco be able to wreak enough havoc on Mahomes to slow him down?

The Patriots have the best defense in the NFL. The Chiefs have the best offense in the NFL. The Niners defense is stronger, so far than their offense, but I trust Kyle Shanahan to manufacture points if he has two weeks to prepare. The 49ers have been lights out on defense, but we’ve seen already that a missed tackle can lead to a 76-yard touchdown. There are so many variables on defense that make it difficult to get stops consistently.

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