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Playoff Fantasy Football: Super Bowl LVIII

By Doug Orth | 2/8/24 |

We have reached the final leg of our postseason journey. This column will be devoted to DFS projections and a strategic breakdown of Super Bowl LVIII.


With DraftKings' Showdown all that remains in DFS this week, I want to use the rest of my time to provide my readers with the kind of analysis one should expect in advance of the biggest game of the year. Much as I did last year, I included each player's captain and flex prices. (Each position is sorted by my DraftKings' projected point total.

Key for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends:
P Yds - Passing Yards
P TD - Passing Touchdowns
INT - Interceptions
Ru Yds - Rushing Yards
Ru TD - Rushing Touchdowns
Rec Yds - Receiving Yards
Rec TD - Receiving Touchdowns
Rec - Receptions

Brock Purdy

Player Tm Cap $ DK $ P Yds P TDs INT RuAtt RuYds Ru TDs DK
Brock Purdy SF $15,000 $10,000 242 2 1 4 22 0 18.9
Patrick Mahomes KC $15,900 $10,600 224 1 0 5 27 0 15.7

Chiefs - Most fantasy managers are well aware that Mahomes had a down season by his lofty standards. This is not breaking news. How much of a down year was it for him? Look below at the six seasons he has been a full-time starter. (Red highlights indicate career-low or career-worst marks.)

 Mahomes' Seasonal Statistical Breakdown Since Becoming a Full-Time Starter
Year GS Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TDs TD% INT INT% Y/A Y/C Y/G Rate Sk Sk%
2018 16 383 580 66.0 5097 50 8.6 12 2.1 8.8 13.3 318.6 113.8 26 4.3
2019 14 319 484 65.9 4031 26 5.4 5 1.0 8.3 12.6 287.9 105.3 17 3.4
2020 15 390 588 66.3 4740 38 6.5 6 1.0 8.1 12.2 316.0 108.2 22 3.6
2021 17 436 658 66.3 4839 37 5.6 13 2.0 7.4 11.1 284.6 98.5 28 4.1
2022 17 435 648 67.1 5250 41 6.3 12 1.9 8.1 12.1 308.8 105.2 26 3.9
2023 16 401 597 67.2 4183 27 4.5 14 2.3 7.0 10.4 261.4 92.6 27 4.3

Almost without fail, most of Mahomes' worst marks came in 2019 (Eric Bieniemy's first year as the offensive coordinator) or this year (the return of Matt Nagy). That is a very simplistic way to look at things, especially considering HC Andy Reid calls the plays. Mahomes' 2019 marks can be explained away by the fact he missed two games with a knee injury (and was likely affected by it for several games after the fact). Perhaps the most likely excuse for his production this season is a receiving corps that is either getting old (34-year-old Travis Kelce) or failed to live up to expectations (Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, etc.) after Rashee Rice. The closest comparison to this year's passing opportunities is probably the 2020 season. In that year, Mahomes threw for nearly 600 more yards and 11 more scores than he did in 2023 despite playing one less game. He was more aggressive (8.1 YPA) AND threw fewer interceptions (six) that year while completing only 0.9 percent less of his throws.

In years past, it would have been almost unthinkable for Mahomes to account for one touchdown in consecutive games. Beginning with Kansas City's Week 8 loss at Denver - the one time he failed to run or throw for a touchdown in 2023 - the two-time All-Pro accounted for one touchdown or less seven times and two touchdowns five times. (He has not scored a rushing TD since Week 16 of last season.) It gets worse. He has failed to top 245 yards passing in eight of his last 12 outings. His TD rate is pedestrian (4.5) - as is his passing yardage average (261.4). His sack rate is the highest it has been since his first season as a starter. All this is a long way to say that despite some positive signs during the playoffs, Mahomes is not the primary reason Kansas City is in the Super Bowl this year.

This game figures to be won or lost in a handful of areas, perhaps most notably San Francisco's success in rushing four and playing seven in coverage. If DEs Nick Bosa and Chase Young can LT Donovan Smith and RT Jawaan Taylor uncomfortable, then DT Javon Hargrave could feast on what should be his primary matchup against LG Nick Allegretti. The opposite is also true. Hargrave's ability to overwhelm Allegretti should bode well for Bosa and Young. Getting pressure with four linemen is critical for the 49ers because it allows stud LBs Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw to focus their attention elsewhere - likely on Travis Kelce (and to a lesser extent, Isiah Pacheco). This all comes with the caveat that the 49ers must be disciplined with their rush because Mahomes has destroyed countless game plans over the years with his ability to buy time when he senses that an overzealous pass-rusher is not where he is supposed to be.

It is also worth noting that San Francisco is like most teams and has played zone more than 70 percent of the time this season. Mahomes has interestingly completed 70.4 percent of his passes but has thrown 10 interceptions versus only seven TDs when opponents rush four and use zone coverage this season. San Francisco has largely been able to contain passing attacks all season. Only one quarterback threw for three scores against the 49ers and only two others managed to pass for at least 250 yards and two scores without throwing an interception. It seems extremely unlikely Mahomes will join that group given what Kansas City's offense has put on tape this season.

49ers - There is a narrative floating around that suggests Purdy is not a good quarterback and much more of a product of HC Kyle Shanahan's offense and his supporting cast. OK? He has played more than 50 percent of the snaps in 26 games so far. He is 22-4 in those games. Three of the four losses came this season during the three-game stretch in which Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams missed due to injury. They have scored 27 or more points in 20-of-26 games with Purdy playing 50 percent or more of the snaps. Do not mistake the lack of flash in his game for a lack of skill or ability. He is a great fit for this offense and a very good quarterback. Both can be true regardless of where he was drafted or the lack of flair in his game.

With that said, Purdy has only faced two pass defenses this season that are on par (or slightly better) than the Chiefs: the Browns in Week 6 and the Ravens in Week 16. We can probably throw out the former due to the conditions (rain, wind) and how much time Samuel missed in that game. Purdy probably deserves the benefit of the doubt for the latter game as well considering three of his four interceptions in that game were tipped or the product of being hit on the throw. For the most part, Purdy has been exceptional - certainly compared to his peers - when he is under pressure, ranking third in yards per attempt (7.9) and completion rate (57.9) in that situation. His passer rating of 85.1 under pressure ranks fifth among all full-time quarterbacks, while his 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio in that situation is exceptional.

Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo will bring the blitz almost regardless of the opponent, as Kansas City's 32.9 percent blitz rate was seventh in the league during the regular season. His defense also plays man-to-man at one of the highest rates in the league (over 30 percent). Purdy has been exceptional against both man and zone for the most part, but the one part that is different this week is Spagnuolo's knack for changing the picture the quarterback sees after the snap. The second-year quarterback has not seen every look in the book yet and is probably the most aggressive quarterback Shanahan has had in a while. While Purdy will push the ball down the field, he is more likely to force a throw than Mahomes. Fortunately, Purdy has Shanahan on his side, which should minimize the Spagnuolo effect to some degree.

 Running Backs
Player Tm Cap $ DK $ Ru Att Ru Yds Ru TDs Tgt Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs DK
Christian McCaffrey SF $18,000 $12,000 23 106 1 7 6 51 0 30.7
Isiah Pacheco KC $12,000 $8,000 21 88 1 5 3 15 0 19.3
Edwards-Helaire KC $1,800 $1,200 3 12 0 3 2 10 0 4.2
Kyle Juszczyk SF $1,200 $800 0 0 0 1 1 4 0 1.4
Elijah Mitchell SF $4,200 $2,800 1 6 0 0 0 0 0 0.6

Chiefs - Pacheco is only averaging four yards per carry this postseason, but that matters relatively little for this edition of Kansas City's offense. While it is great for the offense if he can break a big run or two, the Chiefs have become accustomed to handing him a heavy workload instead of leaning on the short passing game that typically serves as an extension of the running game in HC Andy Reid's offense. Perhaps if Jerick McKinnon (core) was healthy, that may not be the case this weekend. McKinnon appears to be a longshot to play against the 49ers, however. Because the idea of Marquez Valdes-Scantling stretching the field is better in theory than reality and Travis Kelce is not as young as he used to be, there is very little big-play ability in this offense after Rashee Rice. In other words, the short passing game is about all Kansas City has after Pacheco.

San Francisco's interior defensive line - spearheaded by DTs Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead - has not been strong against the run this year. It has been worse in the postseason. Backup (and former first-round pick) DT Javon Kinlaw, whose Pro Football Focus run-defense grade of 60.3 during the playoffs ranks 30th among interior defensive linemen, has been the team's best run-stuffer inside. Against a fully healthy Kansas City offensive line, that would be a major issue. (It still might be, but health is not on the Chiefs' side up front with LG Joe Thuney unlikely to play with a pectoral injury.) Neither starting LT Donovan Smith nor RT Jawaan Taylor is a particularly good run-blocker, which means at least 60 percent of the line could be at a disadvantage versus the 49ers. In short, Pacheco could be in for a long day at the office despite a heavy workload.

Kansas City fans should not be alarmed by this, however, as Pacheco has been much more of a volume monster than an efficiency monster since becoming the featured back around Week 9. Reid has leaned on his top running back's willingness and ability to run between the tackles over that time. Pacheco's role in this offense is effectively limiting how often the Chiefs are forced to rely on "Mahomes Magic." However, the amount of success Green Bay and Detroit enjoyed on the ground against San Francisco bodes well for him. The Niners have been surprisingly generous in giving up yards after contact (2.74) this season, while Pacheco has been very good after contact (2.77, although just 1.9 during the playoffs). Pacheco's ability to replicate the same level of efficiency David Montgomery enjoyed in the NFC title game will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.

49ers - Somewhat surprisingly, Christian McCaffrey has run up the middle more in two postseason games (16 times) than to the left (eight) or right (12). While it should quiet any talk of CMC being a "finesse" back, it runs a bit counter to what he did during the regular season. From Weeks 1-17, McCaffrey ran most often to the left (108 times) and scored more touchdowns (eight) than up the middle (83, 2) or to the right (78, 3). His "middle runs" were also surprisingly his most productive, as he averaged 6.1 YPC on those as opposed to 5.4 to the left and 4.3 to the right. During the postseason, he has run up the middle for 89 yards (5.6 YPC) and three scores. Conversely, he has run to the right for 73 yards (6.1) and one TD and to the left for 21 yards (2.6) and zero touchdowns.

Why does any of this matter? For one, it shows that HC Kyle Shanahan (and McCaffrey) can adjust, to a point. The 49ers are also a bit stubborn when it comes to running the ball. They have run into stacked boxes at the second-highest rate in the league (47 percent) and light boxes at the lowest rate in the league. Maybe Shanahan knows what he is doing: no team has enjoyed more success running into stacked boxes this season than San Francisco. It also makes sense why CMC would want to run left more often during the season. That's the side anchored by LT Trent Williams. Defenses know this as well.

The beauty of McCaffrey is that he can play a power game when the 49ers need it and a finesse game when his team needs that. Shanahan's offense is famous for zone runs and this one is no different, as roughly 75 percent of the team's rush attempts use that concept. The Chiefs rank 29th in the league versus zone runs. Despite the Chiefs' respectable middle-of-the-pack finish in terms of total rushing yards surrendered during the season, their 4.5 YPC allowed was tied for the seventh-highest mark in the league. Kansas City can be run on, but the wild card here has proven to be his best in big games: DC Steve Spagnuolo. He has also been very good at something former Patriots HC Bill Belichick often received credit for, which is minimizing the impact of the other team's best weapon. Readers only need to remember what Spagnuolo's defenses did to Baltimore less than two weeks ago or Philadelphia in last year's Super Bowl. The Chiefs can hold up well against very good rushing attacks when stopping the run is their priority and/or they are properly motivated.

The concern for Spagnuolo could be if he wants to commit extra resources to limit CMC's impact on this contest and turn it into a game Brock Purdy has to win. On the surface, it seems like a good idea because Kansas City has a great secondary that has played at a very high level for months. However, I have already touched upon the 49ers' willingness and ability to run against seven or eight in the box. It may not matter if Spagnuolo makes stopping the running game his priority if that continues. Even if Spagnuolo is successful and the running game ends up being unproductive, McCaffrey will then become highly involved as a receiver. He should have a huge edge in coverage over LBs Willie Gay, Drue Tranquil, Nick Bolton and Leo Chenal. How productive CMC is against stacked fronts as a receiver figures to be the most important factor in determining whether the 49ers prevail.

 Wide Receivers
Player Tm Cap$ DK$ Ru Att Ru Yds Ru TDs Tgt Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs DK
Deebo Samuel SF $13,800 $9,200 3 14 0 8 6 64 1 19.8
Rashee Rice KC $11,400 $7,600 8 6 77 0 13.7
Brandon Aiyuk SF $13,200 $8,800 5 3 34 0 6.4
Jauan Jennings SF $6,000 $4,000 3 2 17 0 3.7
Justin Watson KC $3,600 $2,400 2 1 12 0 2.2
M. Valdes-Scantling KC $4,500 $3,000 3 1 10 0 2.0
Mecole Hardman KC $2,400 $1,600 1 2 0 1 1 8 0 2.0
Richie James KC $600 $400 1 1 7 0 1.7

Chiefs - There is Rice and not much else to speak of here. Simply looking at their season totals from the last two seasons would suggest Rice effectively replicated what JuJu Smith-Schuster did for Kansas City in 2022. The problem with such analysis is that it ignores that Rice did not see close to 70 percent of his team's offensive snaps until Week 12. In the nine games beginning with that week against the Raiders, Rice has secured 63 catches on 81 targets for 741 yards and four touchdowns. That is a highly impressive seven-catch, 83-yards-per-game average - one that would be good for 119 receptions and 1,400 yards over a 17-game season.

The good news for the rookie in this contest is he plays about half of his snaps in the slot, which should keep him away from Charvarius Ward for a good chunk of the day. While Ward was one of the more penalized defenders in the league during the season, his 85.3 PFF coverage grade and 64.3 NFL passer rating allowed both easily ranked as top-10 marks for a cornerback. Fortunately for Rice, Ward has logged a mere 11 snaps in the slot all season and no more than one in any game since Week 2.

Valdes-Scantling has not recorded more than three catches or seen more than five targets all season. While he has made some important receptions in the playoffs, he is a boom-bust receiver who busts far more often than he booms. The speed element he provides this offense is too often wasted on his inability to corral the few deep shots Kansas City attempts. He also figures to be the Kansas City wideout who lines up most often across from Ward. Justin Watson has been a better receiver for most of the season, but his snaps and usage (three catches on five targets) have declined over the course of the postseason. There is an off-chance Kadarius Toney could play a role in this game - and make an impact as he did in last year's Super Bowl - but I would need to be desperate to attach much money to that bet.

The interesting thing here is that the 49ers probably have the ability to significantly slow down the Kansas City passing game because they have the talent in the back seven and the Chiefs lack enough viable threats. (Reid is far too creative of a play-caller to have his passing game shut down.) The question here is if San Francisco DC Steve Wilks is willing to be a bit unconventional and think outside the box a little. LBs Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are both very good in coverage and COULD significantly limit Travis Kelce's impact on this game if their primary focus is stopping him and not sitting back in shell coverage. Wilks could also employ a safety to play over the top of Rice in coverage on virtually every likely passing down, which would allow his primary matchup (likely Deommodore Lenoir) to be aggressive and undercut Rice on shorter routes. Reid can counter by putting Rice and Kelce in bunch formations to give his top two weapons free releases and cause hesitation from the safeties, but it is hard for any offense to be successful for a full game relying so heavily on one concept. While it sounds good in theory, Wilks' history suggests he is much less likely to change his defense from game to game than Spagnuolo.

49ers - Kansas City is one of the few teams that may be not overly concerned about the unique challenges San Francisco's offense presents. Neither Samuel (32.5 percent) nor Aiyuk (24.0) spend most of their time in the slot, so the odds are favorable that Aiyuk will face stud CB L'Jarius Sneed on the majority of pass plays. Since he shadows as much as any corner in the league right now, Sneed should be expected to travel with Aiyuk whenever he is lined up outside. For the few snaps he moves inside, Aiyuk will likely square off against Trent McDuffie. While he has the ability to defeat any corner in the league, there is also little question he may have the most difficult day of any San Francisco pass-catcher.

Samuel is likely to see more of Trent McDuffie than anyone else, primarily because he moves inside one of every three plays on average. The 49ers can correct that "problem" by utilizing 11 personnel (one back, one tight end and three receivers) more often, which would force McDuffie to check Jennings and free up Samuel to line up opposite Joshua Williams (assuming a Sneed shadow on Aiyuk). Williams has performed nicely in his second NFL season, but it would be asking for trouble to have the 6-3, 193-pound corner trying to bring down the 6-0, 215-pound Samuel in the open field very often. Kansas City's secondary is good enough and talented enough that it does not allow opponents to enjoy matchup advantages very often. However, the potential Samuel-Williams faceoff could be the best one San Francisco has this weekend - especially if Samuel's touches come in YAC-friendly situations such as quick screens or crossers (which the 49ers will likely use since the Chiefs play man coverage more often than many teams) as they usually do.

Jennings has played less than 30 offensive snaps only once since Week 8. When he sees the field this Sunday, he will likely line up opposite McDuffie. Although Jennings is underrated in my opinion, this is not a matchup I would target with much enthusiasm.

 Tight Ends
Player Tm Cap $ DK $ Tgt Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs DK
George Kittle SF $9,600 $6,400 8 5 72 1 18.2
Travis Kelce KC $15,300 $6,400 8 6 68 0 12.8
Noah Gray KC $2,700 $1,800 2 2 17 1 9.7

Chiefs - Kelce's playoff run has many fantasy managers harkening back to this summer when they decided to burn a first-round pick on him. It also begs the question if he was healthy for most of the regular season. Nevertheless, there may not be much of a middle ground for him in this contest. The 49ers could do the unexpected (use a combination of Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw to effectively shadow Kelce after being as physical as possible with him off the line of scrimmage). More likely, San Francisco will do what virtually every team does against Kansas City (let Kelce get a free release and allow him to find holes in their zone defense while hoping the linebackers limit the damage.) As good as Kelce still is, he is at the point of his career where he needs to rely on craftiness to get open against the likes of Warner or Greenlaw. If DC Steve Wilks is willing to be a bit bold, there is a very good chance San Francisco can limit Kelce's impact on this game. The reason he should do this is that Kansas City does not have enough talent - outside of Rashee Rice - to make the 49ers pay consistently for committing one or two of its best defensive resources to Kelce.

49ers - Whereas San Francisco's receivers have less-than-ideal matchups, George Kittle should be in a great spot to leave his fingerprints all over this game. His ability as a run-blocker has been well-documented and should be on full display anytime Christian McCaffrey breaks a long run. However, our focus is on fantasy, so we care more about what he can do with the ball in his hands. The Chiefs do not lack for strong play at safety (Justin Reid and Mike Edwards) and have been good at limiting tight end production most of the season, but the linebackers can be beaten in the passing game. While it would be reasonable to expect the 49ers to lean heavily on McCaffrey this Sunday, the Chiefs' heavy usage of man coverage (and Shanahan's heavy use of motion) should get Kittle free on some crossing routes against Willie Gay, Nick Bolton, Drue Tranquil or Leo Chenal. None of those linebackers is equipped to keep up with Kittle. In the event Kittle sheds a tackle and gets a chance to build up steam, look out. He could easily be the most productive pass-catcher in this game. In the event Kansas City begins to pull away, Kittle is probably the most likely of San Francisco's primary pass-catchers (Aiyuk and Samuel being the others) to take over.

Player Tm Cap $ DK $ FG XP DK
Harrison Butker KC $7,500 $5,000 3 2 12.0
Jake Moody SF $7,500 $5,200 0 3 3.0

Key for defense/special teams units:
PA - Points allowed
TD - Defensive/return touchdowns
TO - Total turnovers
PA Bonus - Points allowed bonus for DraftKings

 Defense / Special Teams
Team Cap $ DK $ PA Sacks TD TO PA Bonus DK
Chiefs $5,100 $3,400 21 2 1 0 0 4.0
49ers $6,600 $4,400 23 2 1 0 0 4.0

Interesting Tidbits

*The 49ers are 14-0 when they have scored 24 or more points this season and 0-5 when they have scored 20 or fewer.

*The Chiefs are 10-0 when they score 21 or more points this season and 4-6 when they score 20 or fewer.


With Patrick Mahomes on one side and San Francisco's star-studded offense on the other, it seems reasonable to believe this Super Bowl will be a high-scoring affair at first blush. It could be, but there are reasons to suspect that will not be the case. Kansas City's strength on defense is defending the pass. The Chiefs lack the explosive playmakers to make us believe they can score easily or quickly. Kansas City probably would prefer limiting the number of times that its offensive line has to hold up against Nick Bosa, Chase Young and Javon Hargrave. As a result, the Chiefs probably want to play a low-scoring game.

The 49ers' best offensive weapon is their running back. Kyle Shanahan has proven all season he will focus more on what he thinks his team does best (usually run) and less on attacking his opponent's weakness. Running the ball (successfully) against Kansas City keeps Mahomes on the sidelines and limits the amount of impact Steve Spagnuolo can have on the game (specifically as it relates to the potential of confusing Brock Purdy). For those reasons (and more), I believe the 49ers will also be comfortable playing a low-scoring game as well.

Logic suggests the 49ers should win. (They have more skill position talent, they are stronger - or as strong - on both lines, they have better defensive talent and can win in more ways offensively, etc.) Yet, logic suggested Kansas City should have lost to Buffalo in the Divisional Round and Baltimore in the Conference Championship. The more Christian McCaffrey handles the ball this weekend, the better I like San Francisco's chances. However, the 49ers defense this postseason scares me. Additionally, Steve Spagnuolo may be the best big-game coordinator in the league right now. As much as logic tells me to roll with San Francisco, I think Spagnuolo is ultimately the reason Kansas City will win this game.

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA TODAY's Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He is also a high-stakes player who often appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, such as Sirius XM's "Fantasy Drive." Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.