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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

49ers have a health advantage over the Chiefs in the Super Bowl

Even with the bye week, there is no way that San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs are at their healthiest going into Super Bowl LVIII. They have been popping pads against the rest of the NFL for 19-20 weeks. Extensive treatment and rehab will be necessary to get those bodies back to optimum health. Neither team will be at full strength on Sunday, but it’s the Chiefs who have lost two starters in the past month.

They were without first-team All-Pro guard Joe Thuney during their AFC Championship win against the Baltimore Ravens. He suffered a pectoral injury in the fourth quarter the previous week against the Buffalo Bills. When Andy Reid talked to the media on Wednesday, he said that backup Nick Allegretti is probably going to get another start on Sunday, adding that Thuney does not have enough of his strength back yet.

The Chiefs will be short-handed on the defensive line as well. On Wednesday, defensive end Charles Ominehu was placed on injured reserve after tearing an ACL against the Ravens. Ominehu missed six games to begin the season while serving a suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy due to a misdemeanor domestic violence arrest.

From Week 7 through the rest of the season, he was one of the Chiefs most effective defensive lineman. In only 11 games he finished third on the team in sacks with seven, and was fifth in pressures with 12.

The only 49ers starter on IR is Talanoa Hufanga. While that is a huge blow to their defensive backfield, Hufanga has been out since tearing an ACL during their Week 11 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 49ers are far more familiar playing without their All-Pro than the Chiefs. Since he went down, the 49ers have lost only two games and one of those was Week 18 when they sat several starters.

No matter how sophisticated offenses get — by the way, scoring is on a steady decline in the NFL — quality play in the trenches will always be essential in football. The Chiefs chose to allocate significant resources to both their offensive and defensive lines. Their wide receiver corps took a hit, but with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, they decided that keeping him upright and knocking opposing QBs on their keisters is the best way to keep the team at a championship level.

With no Thuney or Ominehu, the Chiefs are down some manpower in the trenches. Fortunately for them, the offensive and defensive lines are not the 49ers’ strongest position groups. Trent Williams is great, but the rest of the O-line is lacking, and that expensive D-line has been quite a disappointment.

When two teams as evenly matched as the 49ers and Chiefs meetup, winning has to be done at the margins. A Deebo Samuel broken tackle here, a Mahomes pinpoint 30-yard pass there, a single moment can decide a winner, and in Sunday’s case, a champion.

Injuries can be just as impactful as a play that will be seen in Super Bowl highlights for decades to come. Starters are listed at the top of the depth chart for a reason. In a hard salary cap league like the NFL, the gap between the 1s and the 2s can be wide. Both the 49ers and Chiefs are dealing with the attrition that comes with a long football season, but KC will be feeling that pain a bit more come Sunday.

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