Analysis: Why will the Chiefs win the Super Bowl? Their vast experience

Published 11:47 am Sunday, February 11, 2024

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have been here before.

They’ve won here before.

In fact, they’ve beaten the San Francisco 49ers here before.

Of all the reasons why the Chiefs will raise their third Lombardi Trophy in four trips to the Super Bowl over the past five years — and there are many, beginning with the brilliance of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the wizardry of coach Andy Reid, the league’s No. 2-ranked defense and a sizeable chip they carry on their collective shoulders — experience might just top the list.

When they kick off against the 49ers on Sunday for a rematch of their championship win four years ago in Miami, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will start his 22nd postseason game. Mahomes will start his 18th and defensive tackle Chris Jones his 16h, the trio of franchise cornerstones holding down the top three spots in Chiefs history.

It’s not just playoff experience, though. The Chiefs have Super Bowl experience. And there is a difference. The lights are brighter, the pressure greater and the distractions more plentiful, just as the rewards are that much more satisfying.

Eight of the Chiefs’ offensive starters were on the team that beat Philadelphia for the championship last year in Arizona. Eight of their defensive starters, too. Harrison Butker is back to kick and Tommy Townsend is back to punt.

In fact, if you look at the active 53-man roster following conference championship weekend, the Chiefs had 66 combined Super Bowl appearances; the 49ers had 16. And the Kansas City contingent had 48 rings among them while the 49ers had just four.

Heck, the Chiefs are so experienced that safety Mike Edwards, left tackle Donovan Smith, wide receiver Justin Watson and backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert played against them for Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl in the 2020 season.

Wide receiver Richie James did likewise for — you guessed it — the 49ers when they lost to Kansas City in the 2019 season.

By starting his fourth Super Bowl, Mahomes will tie for the third most in NFL history for a quarterback behind Tom Brady and John Elway. The others with four include Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, Peyton Manning and Jim Kelly.

All of them are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame except Brady, by the way, and he will no doubt be there soon.

“I think the biggest way I’ve changed,” Mahomes said this week, reflecting on his first Super Bowl appearance four years ago, “is kind of knowing what to expect. I’ve grown obviously as a quarterback and as a leader and as a person, but being able to have a game plan for what the Super Bowl week entails — and prepare myself to not play the Super Bowl before the Super Bowl game — is something that I’m hoping that I can use to my advantage.”

By comparison, many of the most important members of the 49ers have no Super Bowl experience at all.

Brock Purdy was just a sophomore at Iowa State, slinging passes around the Big 12 with no idea that he would someday become “Mr. Irrelevant” in the NFL draft. Running back Christian McCaffrey was still on a losing team in Carolina that had just fired its head coach. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk had just wrapped up his college career at Arizona State.

The Chiefs also have far more experience on the sideline.

Andy Reid is coaching in his fifth Super Bowl, moving into a tie with Tom Landry for third in NFL history and trailing only Bill Belichick and Don Shula. His third win would tie him with Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs behind only Belichick and Chuck Noll.

His offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy, has experience as a head coach having led the Chicago Bears to the playoffs. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo not only has head coaching experience but also championship experience with multiple franchises, winning a ring as Tom Coughlin’s coordinator with the New York Giants following the 2007 season.

Put them side by side, the 49ers might well have the superior roster — aside from quarterback, of course. There is a reason why they have been favored in every game they have played this season, and why the Chiefs were underdogs when they visited the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round of the playoffs and the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC championship game.

But experience doesn’t show up in the box score. And the Chiefs have a whole lot of it.