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What's at stake for San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII


OK, football fans, we've almost reached the culmination of another NFL season. The Super Bowl is Sunday in Las Vegas, and it will be the San Francisco 49ers versus the Kansas City Chiefs. San Francisco is hoping to win its first championship in almost three decades. In a total contrast, Kansas City is chasing its third Super Bowl win in the past five years. Mike Sando covers the NFL for The Athletic, and he's in Vegas for the game. Hi, Mike.

MIKE SANDO: Hi - good to be here.

PFEIFFER: I have to ask you about the venue first because for a long time, for most of history, the NFL avoided Las Vegas because of its affiliation with gambling. But now, with the legalization of sports betting, it has totally embraced Vegas. What has the atmosphere been like this week there?

SANDO: I think it's been great. Now, they got some bad luck because it was cold, relatively cold, and rainy for the first few days of the week. And I think anytime that happens - one time, I had a - we were at a Super Bowl in Atlanta. There was an ice storm. You can't control that. But I think as the week got on, we saw some better weather, and I like it. I think it's a natural sight for championship events. You - oftentimes over the years, you saw major championship boxing matches here. I think it could be a great venue for any number of championships. There's tons of really nice restaurants and shopping, and it's a good experience. A lot of fans around - you see them in different jerseys walking through the hallways and out on the street as well now that the - like I said, the weather's a little bit better.

PFEIFFER: You know, in terms of the game, as we mentioned, the Chiefs have really been on a Super Bowl winning streak the past few years. And now, of course, as the whole world keeps hearing about Taylor Swift is cheering for the team 'cause her boyfriend plays for it, how impressive is it that Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his team have been able to reach another Super Bowl so soon after all the last ones?

SANDO: It's very difficult to do because what happens when you have a really good quarterback like Patrick Mahomes is that you draft him, and everybody's happy, and you're doing great. But then he gets a really big contract, and that's great for him, but the problem is the league has a limit to how much each team can spend in every year. So usually when you pay one guy an outsized proportion for so - Patrick Mahomes - he makes $50 million a year. You have to cut corners elsewhere. It's really hard, then, to be good on defense or have other star veteran players. And so they have built, through the draft, a top-five-ranked defense. So now you have this young defense that doesn't cost relatively a lot of money with the best quarterback. Well, that's a dream scenario that most teams can't replicate. They say the draft is a crapshoot for a reason - not just 'cause we're here in Vegas but because it's hard to know how players from college are going to translate to the NFL.

PFEIFFER: Yeah. Now, meanwhile, the 49ers have not won a Super Bowl since 1995, but they're entering this game as two-point favorites over the Chiefs. What do you think they need to do to actually win this game and beat the defending champs?

SANDO: Yeah. They're going to have to play a lot better on defense than they have the last couple weeks. I think they probably were the best team in the NFL throughout the course of the season, but we've seen some cracks the last couple weeks. I was a little surprised that they remained favored by the oddsmakers because when I talk to coaches and other people that are in the NFL who really know the game, they're all picking Kansas City. They think it's just hard to go against Patrick Mahomes. So that's a huge part of it. This defense on the 49ers - it had a hard time against Detroit, allowed 280 yards in the first half - has to play a little bit more like it did during the regular season, which would be easier to do if you weren't going against Patrick Mahomes.

PFEIFFER: You probably were assuming that I would ask you if you have a prediction for us, so do...

SANDO: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: ...You have a prediction for us?

SANDO: I do. You know, I am going with the Chiefs to win the game with Patrick Mahomes. And hey; if I'm wrong on that prediction - great credit to the 49ers. It's just hard to go against Mahomes.

PFEIFFER: That's Mike Sando, senior NFL writer for The Athletic. Thanks.

SANDO: Thank you.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.