The Kansas City Chiefs will look to be the first team in two decades to win back-to-back Lombardi Trophies when they take on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII. It will be a tough task as this matchup promises to be a battle between a championship savvy team led by Patrick Mahomes and a loaded 49ers team with stars all over the field.
In a game that will come down to coaching, game adjustments and a will to win, the spotlight will be on both quarterbacks, as Mahomes looks to secure his name in the best of all time category and Brock Purdy is out to prove he’s much more than a game manager. But it will be the playmakers who will be the difference in these games. Which players will step up?
NFL Power Rankings: 49ers and Chiefs have impact players who can change the game
Here’s a look at the 7 most dangerous gamechangers on offense in this Super Bowl LVIII battle between the 49ers and Chiefs.
The Chiefs offense hasn’t been as explosive this season as past seasons, but when you have a player like Mahomes behind center, this is an offense that can’t be counted out which has been proven during this postseason run. Speaking of run, it has been running back Isiah Pacheco who has emerged as an important piece to the Chiefs offense.
"He's super important, super important," Chiefs offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor said. "He plays a pivotal role to our success on offense."
Pacheco rushed for 935 yards in 2023, but in the postseason has helped Mahomes and the Chiefs offense control the clock in games against the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens. With a rushing touchdown in each game, Pacheco will look to continue that postseason streak and challenge a 49ers defense that has been suspect against the run in the playoffs.
All eyes will be on the 49ers wide receivers, but the Chiefs have a young receiver in Rashee Rice who is emerging as one of Mahomes’ top targets. Rice set a Chiefs rookie record in receptions (79) and touchdowns (7) and came close to a 1,000 season with 938 yards. As the season went along, you could really see the chemistry between him and Mahomes, especially as some of the other Chiefs receivers struggled.
A quick, speedy receiver, Rice (if he plays) could be a breakout performer for Mahomes in Super Bowl LVIII.
"A ton of talent. I saw that from Day 1," Mahomes said Wednesday, via Fox Sports. "With rookies, especially in Coach Reid’s offense, it takes time. It takes time to learn the different ways we run routes and the way you have to read coverage at the same time. He just continued to get better and better. That’s why I think you saw his production really get an uptick as the year went on.
"He can be one of the top receivers in this league."
Listed as limited this week in practice, Rice is a name to watch on the injury report leading up to the big game. If available, he will be an x-factor in the Chiefs offense with the 49ers locked in on Mahomes’ top target Travis Kelce.
While the tight end on the other side will get most of the attention, George Kittle could be in for a big night in Super Bowl LVIII. Kittle did have an impactful game against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs with 4 receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown but was relatively quiet against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship game with just 2 receptions.
Is Kittle due for a big game on the biggest stage?
With the playmakers the 49ers have it will pretty much pick your poison for the Chiefs’ defense which could leave Kittle in one-on-one situations, that’s where his competitive nature will shine.
“The competitive nature that he brings every single day, the love for the game, a love for life — I'm really happy that he's on our team,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said of Kittle, “because he does bring up the level of play for everybody.”
After a 1,000 yard receiving season in 2023, Kittle is a gamechanger in Super Bowl LVIII who could be in for his biggest night because the Chiefs will try to take away the most 49ers most explosive playmakers, including this next player.
Just call him the silent assassin. While teammate Deebo Samuel does all the talking off the field, Brandon Aiyuk just silently gets it done on the field. With the focus on the other playmakers on the field, Aiyuk could be the player in for a big night in Super Bowl LVIII.
Aiyuk was named second-team All-Pro after an outstanding performance in the field in 2023. With a career-high 1,342 receiving yards, the fourth-year wide receiver established himself as an explosive playmaker for the 49ers (if that wasn’t already established).
In this game, Aiyuk’s savvy route running will be on display as well as his ability as a blocker from the wide receiver position. Although his playmaking has been the spotlight of his young career, that blocking ability that has stood out through the maturation of his NFL career.
"I didn't really block until I came here," Aiyuk said, via ESPN. "Once you realize that's how it needs to be done, you see that it's the only way it can be done. It's the standard we hold the entire team to."
That ability to impact a game off the ball, makes him that more dangerous on the biggest stage Sunday night in Las Vegas.
Travis Kelce proved in the AFC Championship Game that he still has it. In that game, Mr. Taylor Swift hauled in 11 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown, proving he’s still a game changing target for Mahomes when the stakes are high.
As the top target the 49ers will look to take away, Kelce could serve as a decoy in this game. He’ll still get his targets, but this could set the stage for Mahomes to go to players like Rice and any of the other offensive playmakers who step up for the Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII. Because the 49ers defense has practiced against a tight end like Kittle, they should be prepared for Kelce, which sometimes that still doesn’t matter. When plays breakdown, that is when the Mahomes-to-Kelce connective is most effective.
If one play sums that up, it is this one:
When it comes to gamechangers, 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel is the ultimate difference maker. This man can break plays and change a game in the heartbeat. In leading the NFL with 8.8 yards after the catch per reception, Samuel is a player the 49ers must get going early and keep him involved in the game.
Attitude, energy, power, motivation – all descriptors of a player who has been almost too quiet so far in the playoffs. On the biggest stage, the man known as Deebo could explode at any given moment or opportunity in Super Bowl LVIII.
With Aiyuk, Kittle and Christian McCaffrey on the field, Samuel doesn’t need a gigantic big night for the 49ers to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, but his ability to take it to the house wherever he touches the ball nearly has him at the top of this ranking despite having somewhat of a down season.
Speaking of Christian McCaffrey, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year will be the most explosive player on the field on either side of the football. Whether it’s on the ground or catching the football, his dual-threat impact makes him the top player the Chiefs must contain, which will be hard to do because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
With a four-TD performance under his belt this season, if the Chiefs can’t figure out a way to make him one-dimensional, it could be one of those nights on the biggest stage for a player who is showing how explosive he can be when completely healthy.
In all Super Bowl LVIII will be an interesting night for all 7 players on this list. Each is capable of the big play and each are capable of being a non-quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP.