I know this is going to sound pretentious, but it is the central point to starting this article and wrapping up this season:
Sometimes, it is harder to write about being right than it is to write about being wrong.
We cleaned up at the Super Bowl this year, winning our pick as well as four out of seven of our props. Best Bets ended the year four games over .500 (five if you count props) and WORMS hit .600 picking on the moneyline. On our hypothetically bet $500 at the Super Bowl, we returned a grand total of $1040.68. Doubling your money is always good for business and you might guess that there was some non-hypothetical juice in this game as well (hello Damien Williams 2+ TDs at +250).
But what’s not great for business is taking victory laps instead of communicating actionable information about the biggest game of the year. This, for whatever reason, feels easier to do when you have to take an honest look at your mistakes rather than explaining your victories.
In other words, recaps are easier when you're dissecting a loss rather than explaining a win.
I suppose something at the core of this is that there is “survivor’s guilt”. This game could have gone either way, and so the fact that it went mine often leads to a tougher time deciphering what I was right about and what we got lucky on. Did I get out of the burning building because I'm faster or because I was closer to the door?
When you lose, it is far too easy to see what was wrong and what was unlucky.
So, for our final recap of the year, let’s try to treat this game from both sides, from all angles, incorporating all of the factors. To do that we'll look at what what we got right and wrong as well as where we got lucky and unlucky.
Let's start with the team that won us our final bet of the season:
Why the Chiefs won
What we got right: Patrick Mahomes is game script proof
As my intro indicated, I have the least to say about the thing I got right in the game I correctly predicted.
But I do have something to say.
Anyone who read my 3500 word manifesto on running and passing was surely watching this game with an eagerness that developed into a confidence as the game went on.
Even though that article proved that the two most efficient passing offense made this game, it was still somewhat of a battle between running and passing.
And despite the fact we will go on to highlight several facets of each team’s running game, this result was a huge win for the idea that a team is best when its quarterback and passing game are the engine to the team.
I have a million stats that I could throw out here (Mahomes was better under pressure than not, he ran for 50 yards [minus kneel downs] and created multiple first downs/touchdowns with his legs, his passing created Damien Williams success, his third down numbers were great), but the most important is that Mahomes lead three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.
We hit on our Mahomes to throw two TDs in a quarter bet largely because we knew that no team can stop him for four quarters when he is healthy.
In the end, though, despite the fact that we are a data driven site, I think statistics are a little useless on this one. Mahomes was a good bet because even if he played poorly for three quarters, he could always play brilliantly for one and win the game.
So we got this one right, not because Mahomes had a great game, but because he didn’t and still ended up leading his team to 31 points, 21 in the fourth, and a Super Bowl.
This might have been the worst Mahomes could have played and he still won the game. That’s what we deserve credit for seeing.
Something we didn’t talk about that also helped, though, was the other half of the KC offense.
What we got wrong: The team with the most efficient passer lost. The team with the most efficient runner won.
To say that Jimmy G outplayed Patrick Mahomes is extremely unfair. To say that the gap between them was closer than expected is not.
As we will talk about in the next section, the narrative that Garoppolo lost this game for his team is completely inaccurate. Equally as inaccurate is the narrative that Mahomes won this game for his team.
When looking at both signal-caller’s numbers, Garoppolo had 67 less yards on 11 less attempts. He was more efficient with 7.06 yards per attempt to Mahomes’ 6.8. If you take out Mahomes 44 yard bomb to Tyreke Hill, he averaged 5.9 yards per attempt. Even if you don’t though, this was Mahomes third least efficient game of the season and the other two were blowout wins right after he returned from injury when he wasn’t asked to do much.
It is not a stretch to say this was one of Mahomes’ worst game of the season.
On top of those numbers, each QB threw two interceptions, but if you take out Garoppolo’s final interception on a blind heave, it would be easy to make the case he was better. We’ll dive more deeply into busting the Garoppolo was the reason for the loss myth in the next section, but here, let’s focus on the player who should have been the MVP of this game: Damien Williams.
Really, when it comes down to it, the most decisive player on the field was Williams. He may have had success because the Niners were so keyed in on Mahomes, but he also did a lot to mask the KC QB playing a subpar game.
To reiterate: this is not an admission that running matters, but it is an acknowledgment that Williams was a difference maker in this game.
For all of the noise about the Niners ability to run (again more on this in the next segment) it was the Chiefs who had a 100-yard rusher and the back with the best yards per carry. Williams produced 133 yards of offense on 21 touches, good for over six yards per touch and his two touchdowns. One which gave the Chiefs the lead and the other which iced the game.
And even with the two touchdowns, he could have had an even bigger day. After going down at the one, the Chiefs inexplicably gave Darwin Thompson the carry and later Williams lost a ball in the lights on an open touchdown pass.
Even without those finishes, though, he produced 133 yards of offense on 21 touches, good for over six yards per touch and his two touchdowns, one which gave the Chiefs the lead and the other which iced the game.
In a game where I bet the Chiefs because I thought their QB was better, I won the bet because their running back made more plays.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and even though Mahomes lead the comeback, I was lucky that Kansas City had an undrafted free agent running back who stepped up when it mattered most.
(Important disclaimer for my brand: This is still a win for Passing > Rushing because a team that puts all of its energy and resources into the passing game still dominated the running game. Passing creates rushing, and therefore should be the priority. Disclaimer over.)
Why the Niners lost
I know that this is going to be a tough loss for OEF superfans Alex and Trevor to swallow, and justifiably so. The Niners picked off Patrick Mahomes for the second time with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter and a 10 point lead. They held that lead until the Chiefs converted a third and goal with 2:26 on the clock.
This was their game to win, but they fell just short.
Here's how this loss fit our predictions, and where we got lucky to win.
What we got right: The Niners run game could not win them the game.
The Niners running game ended up looking amazing, and people are calling for Kyle Shanahan’s head for not running the clock out with a lead and with “a dominant running game”.
What this misses, however, and what I touted before the game, is that this running game becomes less and less viable the more pressure the Chiefs put on through the pass.
Let’s unpack that.
First, the Niners run game was not that good in this one. In totality, they ran the ball 22 times for 141 yards, about seven yards a pop. That’s good.
What isn’t good, however, is that most of that efficiency was made up by Deebo Samuel’s 3 rushes for 53 yards (clearing our 17.5 yard over prop bet on his first carry). That success, like it or not, is a function of the pass game and motion before the snap, and should not be credited to the run game.
Their running backs ran the ball 17 times for 86 yards or just over five yards per carry (that number dips below if you count Jimmy G’s two carries for two yards, but we’ll just focus on running backs here).
But the dirty little secret is that none of that came when they needed it and that none of it came in meaningful second half minutes.
The Niners had six second half drives. One came with the game tied, three came with the lead, and two came trailing. Here are the running back rushing totals as well as the total yards for those three different types of drive:
Tied drive - Total plays: 8, Total yards: 60
5 passes for 42 yards
3 rushes for 18 yards
2 RB rushes for 4 yards
Lead drives - Total plays: 14, Total yards: 77
8 passes for 59 yards
6 rushes for 18 yards
5 RB rushes for 15 yards
Behind drives - Total Plays: 9, Total Yards: 27
8 passes for 10 yards
1 rush for 17 yards
1 RB rush for 17 yards
All said and done, in the second half, the Niners running backs carried the ball eight times for 36 yards. Take out a Raheem Mostert draw for 17 yards, however, and they rushed the ball seven times for 19 yards - under three yards per carry.
The reason I think it is so important to look at these drives in this organizational lay out is because it helps correct the most common misconception about this game. The Niners did not lose because of Jimmy G’s play.
Before trailing in the fourth quarter, the four drives of the second half saw Garoppolo 13 passes for 101 yards. That’s 7.6 yards per attempt. On those same drives, the Niners running backs carried the ball the aforementioned seven times for 19 yards, or 2.7 yards per carry.
The Niners built the lead through passing, but lost the lead because their run game was inefficient when they needed it most. To put this loss on Jimmy G is to not understand how they got to the point where the game was on his shoulders.
If the Niner’s running game had been as much of an advantage as people claimed it to be, then this game would have been iced long before Jimmy even had a chance to overthrow Emmanuel Sanders or miss George Kittle for a first down.
The fact that we put less stock in running here meant that we were prepared for a world where the Niners weren’t going to be able to rely on that as their only means of offense.
We were right to put out money on the passing game we liked over the running game we liked because running is less predictive of winning.
But this may not have mattered had San Francisco not done something I never saw coming...
What we got wrong: The Niners didn’t play aggressive at all.
If I had bet the Niners or if I was a Niners fan, this is what would keep me up at night.
In fact, as a Chiefs bettor, this is what kept me up at night leading up to the game. I was terrified that Kyle Shanahan would press the issues and force the Chiefs defense into tough positions and the Chiefs offense into small margin for error, must score situations.
Even though the second part came true, the Niners coach missed a great opportunity win this game.
It’s cliche, but San Francisco played this game to not lose rather than win.
Let’s break it down.
The most egregious and obvious place to start is at the end of the first half. After holding Mahomes and the Chiefs offense in relative check for the entirety of the half, the Niners drove 80 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
On the ensuing Kansas City possession the San Fran D got a stop on third down at the KC 49 yard line with about a minute thirty left.
The Niners declined to call timeout and the Chiefs sat on the ball before punting through the end zone with under a minute left. The Niners got the ball at the 20 yard line with three timeouts and 59 second instead of two timeouts and a minute twenty.
And then...two running plays for a total of five yards. This put San Francisco at their own 25 with 3rd and five and 20 seconds left. The Niners were playing to go into the locker room tied at 10.
This is unconscionable against a Patrick Mahomes lead team.
To think that you can win a game by milking the clock against someone who can drive the length of the field in mere seconds is a losing strategy.
Now, the case has been made that Shanahan didn’t trust Jimmy G and that he didn’t want to have to punt the ball back to the aforementioned Mahomes with a chance to drive and take the lead, especially since the Niners were getting the ball to start the second half.
The reason this holds no weight, however, is because eventually you were going to have to trust Garoppolo. Whether it was on that third down after KC called timeout or whether it was later in the game, you were not going to be able to hide your quarterback.
By playing to not allow the Chiefs to score again, the Niners missed a chance to score themselves, and playing against the best offense in the league who just put up ten points in a half, not maximizing every possession is a recipe for disaster.
Need some proof?
After those two run plays, KC called timeout. The next play, on third down, Shanahan had to put the ball in Garoppolo’s hands. He completed a 20 yarder to Jeff Wilson Jr. before completing a 42 yarder to George Kittle that was called back for a soft offensive pass interference call.
With six seconds left, the Niners took a knee and went into half time. Had they been more aggressive on this drive, they could have had these successes earlier and still had time to do something against a Kansas City defense playing prevent, even with the offensive PI call.
You can’t leave points on the field against Mahomes, and this play calling signaled a disturbing trend for a team that was going to need every point they could get.
That trend became even more solidified on the first possession of the second half.
As you saw in the drive break down in the previous section, the Niners started the second half with a successful drive. That drive ended in a field goal and a 13-10 lead, which seems objectively good.
When looking at the drive summary chart, however, what you realize is that over three drives (their last two in the second quarter and their first in the third) the Niners dominated the Chiefs yet came away with only ten points.
On this drive specifically, the Niners ran nine plays for 60 yards, averaging over six yards a play. They had only one play that netted them less than two yards in the entire drive, yet when faced with a fourth and two from the Kansas City 24 yard line Kyle Shanahan elected to kick a field goal.
With an offense that was rolling, the Niners coach felt that taking a three point lead to start the half was more valuable than the opportunity to score a touchdown.
I cannot stress this enough: when playing the Chiefs it is never a good idea to play their score at any specific moment. You know you can’t stop Mahomes forever and you have to expect that they are going to end up with a score close to or over 30.
Playing to take a lead then was actually playing to fall behind in the long run, something I thought San Francisco would do, but which they ultimately failed to act upon.
When you look at it this way, they potentially left seven points on the field at the end of the second quarter and then potentially left four on the field to start the third. Add those up and you get a possible 11 points that the Niners lost out on by being too passive.
Of course it is too simplistic to point out that they lost by 11 because the game would have shifted dramatically, but it is not too simplistic to say that when you play the Chiefs with a healthy Patrick Mahomes, you have to expect to need thirty points to win.
The Niners played it too safe, and in trying not to lose, they never played to win.
Ironically, that’s a recipe for a loss for San Francisco but a win for OEF’s pockets.
It allowed us to end the season on a high note, and although I feel bad for Alex and Trevor and great for Kyle, we can all feel good knowing that this website got enough right to finish the year profitably for anyone who followed along.
You can expect an article next week wrapping up the year here and then a short hiatus before I return with a new co-host on the new OEF podcast in March!
For now, though, let’s all appreciate a great game between two great teams that put a cap on a great season.
And, of course, a great final recap.