49ers vs Chiefs Super Bowl X-Factors: Could Butker Prove the Difference?

While the Chiefs and 49ers are dead even in so many key areas, KC does have a distinct advantage in the kicking game. Harrison Butker is a perfect 7-for-7 in these playoffs and could end up being the difference in Sunday's Big Game.

Feb 11, 2024 • 13:15 ET • 4 min read
Harrison Butker Kansas City Chiefs NFL
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The Super Bowl is the NFL’s brightest spotlight and there’s no shortage of standouts sharing the stage in Las Vegas on February 11.

The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, but winning the Lombardi Trophy isn’t all on the shoulders of those star players.

Super Bowl champions often need unsung heroes to step it up in the Big Game. And considering the tight matchup and short Super Bowl odds for this year's edition, these lesser-known X-factors could very well decide the outcome — and in turn, your Super Bowl picks.

Here’s a look at some notable Super Bowl LVIII X-factors and the NFL odds they’ll influence on Sunday.

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49ers vs Chiefs Super Bowl X-Factors

KC's defense declawed?

The Kansas City Chiefs' vaunted pass rush lost some fangs with DE Charles Omenihu going down with a knee injury ahead of Super Bowl LVIII.

That’s eight total sacks erased from a Chiefs defense that ranks second in both pressure rate and sacks on the season. At 6-foot-5, Omenihu is also long and athletic, which made him a matchup nightmare for opposing offensive lines.

Making matters worse is that the next man up for KC is rookie DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah — not exactly the depth you’d like in the biggest game of the year.

The 31st pick in the 2023 NFL Draft played in only eight games, none in the postseason with just 218 total snaps. The bulk of those came in the opening six weeks with Omenihu serving a suspension. He has only half a sack in those appearances.

Getting pressure on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy is vital to the Chiefs’ game plan. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo dials up the blitz at a very high rate but will depend on his defensive line to consistently collapse the pocket and make Purdy hurry. 

The better the four-man rush, the less KC has to send other pass rushers, and the more those bodies can clog up San Francisco’s passing game or spy RB Christian McCaffrey. Purdy grades out well against the blitz at PFF.com but sees his success drop when defenses can get pressure with just four.

Along with his eight total sacks, Omenihu registered 29 pressures and five QB hits. Like most disruptive pass rushers, he makes life easier for everyone around him — especially KC’s other linemen like Chris Jones.

Anudike-Uzomah's insertion into the rotation doesn’t only dull the Kansas City pass rush but it also takes a chunk out of the run stop as well. Omenihu boasted a career-high 17 tackles for loss and made his presence felt with a strip sack on Lamar Jackson in the AFC title game, just before tearing his ACL.

The Chiefs are asking a lot of FAU. If he can be half the player Omenihu was, Kansas City is in good shape. If he can’t find a way to cause chaos, the Niners will have a much easier Sunday.

Pick: Chiefs Under 2.5 sacks (-120 at bet365)

Clamps on Kelce

San Francisco’s talented linebacker corps will be put to the test against Kansas City’s offense, no more so than Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner.

Their mission, should they choose to accept it: slow down Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. I say “slow down” because stopping this guy might be not an option.

Kelce had an up-and-down season, but he’s found his championship form in the playoffs. Taylor’s squeeze has brought in 23 of the 27 passes his way for a total of 262 yards and three touchdowns over the three postseason contests.

And those are just the stats. Kelce is a game-changer in the biggest moments. He’s a reliable third-down target and red-zone weapon, delivering soul-crushing contact on all those catches.

Greenlaw and Warner are athletic linebackers who can match Kelce’s speed, but this defense has had recent issues with talented tight ends and Kelce is the best of the best (despite Kelce humbly saying George Kittle was the top TE in the NFL).

Detroit TE Sam LaPorta had nine receptions for 97 yards in the NFC title game, Baltimore TE Isaiah Likely grabbed three passes for 56 yards in a win over the Niners in Week 16, and Arizona TE Trey McBride put up 102 yards on 10 grabs in Week 15.

Kelce is a handful no matter what the scheme but he’s notably strong against zone coverage, ranking as the top tight end against that defense at PFF.com. San Francisco anchors its pass coverage in zone, running more Cover 3 and Cover 4.

According to PFF, Warner ranks as the seventh-best coverage linebacker in the league and Greenlaw isn’t too far behind him at No. 17 in that category. Those LBs also thrive in man-to-man.

That’s something we could see more of from defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, with Patrick Mahomes’ metrics showing a significant split in success between zone-to-man defenses.

Travis Kelce prop: Under 6.5 receptions (+126 at Pinnacle)

A leg up

Given the Super Bowl LVIII spread sits below a field goal, kicking could very well play a huge role in Sunday’s game. And if you’re a San Francisco bettor, that worries you.

Niners kicker Jake Moody has been shaky in the playoffs, going 3-for-5 on field goal attempts. This is nothing new, however. 

Moody missed four kicks in the last three games, going back to Week 18 (three FGAs and a PAT), and finished the regular season with an 84% accuracy rate on field goals (21-for-25), which ranks 24th in the NFL.

The 49ers brass has rallied around the rookie kicker, saying the usual “good things” about how they have trust in Moody when asked about his recent miscues. That said, could a miss in the Big Game burn San Francisco and change the way it approaches fourth-down situations?

The 49ers could face their share of those spots, with Kansas City among the top third-down defenses in the NFL and allowing its postseason foes to convert on just 29.73% of those crucial downs.

Those kicking decisions are something the Chiefs don’t have to worry about. Kansas City kicker Harrison Butker is no stranger to the Big Game pressures and has been flawless during KC’s postseason run.

He brings a perfect 7-for-7 playoff mark to Las Vegas, which includes making tricky kicks at Buffalo and a 52-yarder at Baltimore. He’s also 7-for-7 on PATs.

Butker wrapped the regular season with a 94.3% success rate on FGAs — eighth best in the NFL — and was a sterling 5-for-5 on kicks of 50+ yards. That gives Andy Reid unwavering confidence in his kicker in those tough spots on fourth down.

I should note, Butker doinked a 42-yard attempt off the upright in the first quarter of last year's Super Bowl but wasn’t shaken and finished 5-for-5 on PATs along with a 27-yard FG make to help the Chiefs win another Lombardi Trophy.

There is always a push from some bettors to take a flyer on a kicker to win Super Bowl MVP and this year’s game may set up for that, considering the short spread. Moody is out there at +38,000 while Butker is offering +43,000 because the Chiefs are the underdog.

Pick: Chiefs Over 1.5 field goals made (-115 at bet365)

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