Lessons for Vikings from Super Bowl Teams + Jeff’s Pick

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The Chiefs and 49ers meet in Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday in Las Vegas. It’s a rematch of their Super Bowl matchup four years ago when Patrick Mahomes led a 21-point fourth-quarter rally for a 31-20 victory in the first of four Super Bowls in the past five seasons.

Lessons for Vikings from Super Bowl Teams + Jeff’s Pick

The Vikings’ football leaders—GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Coach Kevin O’Connell—can find a lot of things to emulate when analyzing how the Chiefs and 49ers have risen to the top of the NFL. Here are a few that caught my attention:

1. Do a much better job of protecting the football: the Vikings had the second-most giveaways in the league with 34, and it was a problem before and after Kirk Cousins’ Achilles injury. In contrast, the 49ers had only 18 giveaways (sixth fewest) and only one in their two playoff victories. Turnovers were a problem for the Chiefs until later in the season, and in the postseason, they have only two giveaways in their three wins.

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Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have won six straight postseason games over the past two seasons, including last year’s Super Bowl. A big part of their success is that Mahomes has 11 TD passes, no interceptions, and one lost fumble in those six games.

2. Protect the QB: the Vikings allowed 47 sacks, 10th most, while San Francisco gave up 34 sacks (sixth fewest) and Kansas City allowed only 28 sacks, second fewest. Keeping Brock Purdy and Mahomes protected is key for these two teams and is an area the Vikings need to improve to protect Cousins or his successor.

3. Run the ball better: the Vikings’ rushing attack was inconsistent this season, ranking 29th. It presented a huge problem, especially when the backup QBs were forced to play and the run game couldn’t create enough short-yardage third-down plays. The QBs were under greater pressure when the running game sputtered.

The 49ers ranked third in rushing, with Christian McCaffrey leading the league (1,459 yards). The Chiefs ranked 19th  in the regular season, but Isiah Pacheco is the postseason rushing leader with 254 yards.

4. Pressure the opposing QB: it’s a passing league for the most part, and the Vikings had 43 sacks to rank 19th, but the sack rate fell off as the season went on, and injuries took a toll (such as the loss of second-leading sacker D.J. Wonnum over the last three games). That exposed the young corners on defense and played a big part in the four straight losses to end the season and knock the team out of a playoff spot. We shudder to think what the pass rush will look like next season if Danielle Hunter is not re-signed.

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton (32) celebrates after returning a fumble recovery for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on Feb. 12, 2023. Nfl Super Bowl Lvii Kansas City Chiefs Vs Philadelphia Eagles. © Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Kansas City finished second with 57 sacks, and the 49ers tied for 7th with 48 sacks, a number that would’ve been higher if Nick Bosa hadn’t got off to a slow start after his training camp holdout (one sack in his first four games and he finished with 10.5 after leading the league with 18.5 in 2022).

5. Have a top 10 defense: the Vikings made a big jump from 31st in yards allowed to 16th, but the Chiefs and 49ers have top 10 D’s, with the underrated K.C. defense ranking second and the 49ers eighth after having the league’s No. 1 defense in 2022.

6. Keep your stars: the Chiefs did have to trade Tyreek Hill two years ago due to salary cap concerns, which has weakened their wide receiver corps, but their two best players are Mahomes and DT Chris Jones (a potential free agent), who they’ve paid big money to retain. And Mahomes is so good that he can win without elite wide receivers as long as he has the league’s best tight end in Travis Kelce.

The 49ers made Bosa the highest-paid non-QB at $34 million per year (until Justin Jefferson likely surpasses him this offseason). They’ve kept most of their other stars, including LB Fred Warner, WR Deebo Samuel, TE George Kittle, and tackle Trent Williams, along with signing last year’s top free-agent interior defensive lineman in Javon Hargrave.

To be a 2024 playoff team and challenge the Lions and Packers for the NFC North title, the Vikings must find a way to re-sign Cousins and Hunter in the next four to five weeks before free agency begins on March 11. They also need to extend Jefferson in the coming months to lower his $19.7 million cap number and pay him market value for the NFL’s best receiver.

Then they must try and retain other key free agents such as Wonnum, K.J. Osborn, and Jordan Hicks or replace them in free agency and/or the draft. And as I’ve often said, find more quality corners and quickly develop and improve or replace the corners still on their rookie contracts, including Mekhi Blackmon, Akayleb Evans, and Andrew Booth.

Picking the Super Bowl winner:

It should be an exciting game with two excellent head coaches matching up in Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid, and plenty of star power on both teams. The 49ers’ defense, led by Bosa and Warner, will challenge Mahomes and the Chiefs on offense. Purdy is a great story as the last pick in the 2022 draft, making it to Super Bowl starter in his second season.

I expect the 49ers to try and run the ball with McCaffrey behind All-Pro tackle Trent Williams and Purdy to use his arm (with a lot of rollouts) and legs as he did so well in the NFC title game against the Lions. We’ll see how effective he and the strong 49ers offense can be against the Chiefs D led by DT Chris Jones that has allowed only 14 points per game this postseason.

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The Chiefs and Mahomes know how to turn it on in the postseason with their six straight wins on the big playoff stage. Pacheco has been running it well, and Travis Kelce has been on a postseason tear (perhaps further inspired by his girlfriend Taylor Swift jetting in for his games). Kelce combined with Mahomes for two TD passes at Buffalo in the divisional round win to become the most prolific QB-receiver duo in league playoff history with 16 TD connections. 

Mahomes and Kelce continued their tremendous postseason connection in the AFC title game at Baltimore with an opening drive, 19-yard TD, part of a nine-catch first half for Kelce on his way to 11 receptions for 116 yards.

Reid and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo orchestrated a great game plan on both sides of the ball as Kansas City jumped out to a 17-7 lead, put the pressure on a rattled Ravens team, and held on for the seven-point win.

Surprisingly, the 49ers are a 2 ½ point favorite over a Chiefs team with a much more impressive recent playoff pedigree. The 49ers haven’t won a Super Bowl since January 1995, eight months before Mahomes was born. The Chiefs are in their fourth Super Bowl in the last five years.

I picked the Chiefs to get beat at both Buffalo and Baltimore in their last two playoff games. I won’t make that mistake again in picking against Patrick Mahomes in the postseason. He’s like the all-time greats such as Joe Montana in that big-game pressure doesn’t bother him.

He raises his level of play in big games such as Super Bowls. Mahomes is now 14-3 in postseason games for the best winning percentage (82.4%) in NFL history for a QB with over 10 playoff starts. 

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So I’m picking Mahomes to lead the Chiefs to a 31-27 victory and win his third Super Bowl in five years as the Chiefs continue to be the latest NFL dynasty after the Patriots of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era when they won six titles in 18 years. With Mahomes only 28 years old, he has a chance to lead his team further on their quest to challenge the Patriots’ level of success.  

Despite all the hype, Super Bowl LVIII is not about the Swifties as Taylor and her supporters cheer on Kelce and the Chiefs. It’s about Mahomes–the NFL’s best player—likely claiming another Lombardi Trophy this Sunday night in Las Vegas.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl