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This has been the lowest-scoring Chiefs offense in the Patrick Mahomes era

That’s good news for the Niners. Plus, two other numbers to know.

Super Bowl LVIII - Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night Photo by Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Olivia Culpo and Taylor Swift don’t have to be in attendance on Sunday for it to be a star-studded affair.

Super Bowl LVIII will be a matchup between the best team this season, the San Francisco 49ers, and the best team of the past few seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs, in a rematch of four years ago. Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce lead a Chiefs offense that has had its share of struggles this season but is still an offense that features Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, which should never be taken lightly.

The 49ers’ offense brings plenty of names into Sunday it didn’t feature back in the Super Bowl a few years back, including but not limited to Brock Purdy, Christian McCaffrey, and Brandon Aiyuk.

And despite all that offensive firepower, the final numbers to know suggest Sunday could be a race to 21:

21.8

Points. The Chiefs offense scored 21.8 points per game this season, the lowest average of the Mahomes era.

And it’s not even remotely close. Before this season, the fewest points a Mahomes-led Kansas City offense has averaged was 28.2, which occurred twice in 2019 and 2021. The 21.8 points per game the Chiefs offense averaged this season was the fewest under Andy Reid since 2017 - Alex Smith’s last season before handing the starting job to Mahomes - when it averaged 21.2 per game.

Coming off of a 2022 season where the Chiefs offense led the NFL, averaging 29.1 points per game, dropping off nearly a touchdown and a two-point conversion in a year. So what’s happened?

Mahomes hasn’t been as Superman-ish in 2023, setting new career-lows in touchdown percentage (4.5), yards per attempt (7.0), and yards per game (261.4) while setting new highs in interception percentage (2.3), interceptions (14), and sack percentage (4.3). But Mahomes hasn’t had the same quality of weapons around him as he’s used to. Travis Kelce led Kansas City in receiving yards (984) and receptions (93). It was the first time the Chiefs have failed to produce a 1,000-yard receiver with Mahomes and the fewest receptions to lead a Chiefs team since 2017.

And none of that is Kelce’s fault. Kansas City struggled to find a solid No. 2 option through the first half of the season to take some pressure off the tight end before the emergence of Rashee Rice. Rice was quiet through the first ten games of the season, averaging 3.6 receptions for 42.0 yards on just under five targets per game. Then, against the Raiders in Week 11, Rice saw a career-high ten targets, and his workload would increase from there, averaging 7.2 receptions and 86.3 yards on 9.3 targets per game over his last six regular season games.

28.5

Percent. The Chiefs’ defense allowed a score on 28.5 percent of drives, second-best in the league.

The Kansas City Chiefs were a defensive team this season, at least by the numbers. Where in previous years, the Chiefs offense was tasked with out-scoring its defense, this season, the defense held its own, allowing fewer than 20 points in more than half of Kansas City’s games this year.

Like the offense’s scoring issues were by far its worst under Mahomes, the Chiefs scoring defense is having its best season in the same span. Before this season, the lowest scoring percentage allowed by a Kansas City defense since 2018 was in 2019, when it allowed a score on 34.1 percent of drives. The best after that was last season when Kansas City allowed a score on 35.9 percent of drives.

The Chiefs won the Super Bowl in both of those seasons.

That seven percent increase over last season is significant, and Kansas City has shown that the defense has carried over into the postseason. In the three playoff games, the Chiefs have faced the second-ranked scoring offense in the Dolphins, the sixth-ranked Bills, and the fourth-ranked Ravens. Kansas City allowed 7, 24, and 10 points, respectively.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Kansas City will be tasked with the third-best scoring offense in the 49ers.

16

Rush attempts. The Baltimore Ravens ran the ball 16 times against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

I usually avoid including specific stats from games that don’t include the 49ers, but this one felt too significant to pass up. The Ravens have been the best run offense in the league for a few years, so good that the AFC Championship Game was the first time since Week 1 of 2022 that it failed to rush for at least 100 yards. But that wasn’t because the run wasn’t working but by choice.

The last time a Ravens offense ran the ball fewer than 16 times in a game was Week 16 of the 2021 season, when it ran for only 39 yards on 16 attempts. Against Kansas City, Baltimore averaged 5.1 yards per run attempt - better than its 4.9 average over the regular season - finishing with 81 yards on the 16 attempts. But Baltimore abandoned the run in the second half - running the ball just four times with only one carry coming from somebody other than Lamar Jackson - despite trailing by 10 ten points at the most.

Baltimore’s insistence on the pass resulted in Kansas City running 16 more plays and winning the time of possession battle, with the Ravens slowly bleeding itself to death. The Chiefs finished the regular season with a 6-2 record when running more plays than its opponents and an 8-2 record when winning the time of possession in the regular season.

While Baltimore didn’t want to lean on its league-best running game to keep Mahomes and the Chiefs offense off the field, Kyle Shanahan should be quick to. Only once this season have the 49ers had less than 20 rushing attempts, and that was against Baltimore when San Francisco had to abandon the run in the fourth quarter after falling behind by 21.

San Francisco finished the regular season with a 6-1 record when running more plays than its opponent and a 7-0 record when winning the time of possession battle (while also out-scoring their opponents 221-98 in those games). The plan should be simple: lean on McCaffrey against the Chiefs’ 18th-ranked run defense, control the game tempo, and lift the Lombardi.