A Super Bowl LIV rematch this is not.
Sure, the Chiefs (4-2) are playing at the 49ers (3-3) on Sunday, but the current teams are very different from the versions that played each other in February 2020 in Miami.
The Chiefs — who beat the 49ers, 31-20, to win Super Bowl LIV — have just five starters remaining on the 2022 roster from that championship team.
The 49ers have 11 starters remaining from that Super Bowl squad (five offense, six defense).
Here’s the number that counts most: Since the two met in the NFL’s ultimate game, the Chiefs are 30-9 and have been to another Super Bowl, and the 49ers are 19-20.
Both are still led by the same head coaches — Andy Reid in Kansas City and Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.
Both are also quarterbacked by the same players — Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City and Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco. The difference here is that Mahomes remains one of the top two quarterbacks in the league, while the 49ers tried to replace Garoppolo this season with second-year first-round pick Trey Lance.
But when Lance was injured and lost for the season in the 49ers’ opener, San Francisco was forced to turn back to Garoppolo, who has had a weird stay on the West Coast. Even when the 49ers were advancing to the Super Bowl, their fans believed it was in spite of Garoppolo, who has never been truly embraced by the team’s faithful.
Conversely, the dynamic Mahomes is everything to the Chiefs, who would be mediocre without him.
“You don’t ever see people play like that really,’’ Shanahan said of Mahomes. “There’s not many people in the history of football as good as him. [He] reminds me of [Hall of Famer John] Elway a ton watching him — just how he’s a top thrower on the planet and the way he can move.
“He’s not always doing it just with a flat-out 40 just running away from people, but the way he feels space and can create time and as he does it, his vision down the field with that arm talent is tough to deal with.”
Mahomes’ favorite target is tight end Travis Kelce, who has an innate knack for getting open regardless of coverage.
“I think Kelce is probably one of the best separators in this league with the best hands in this league,’’ Shanahan said. “So, whether he separates or not, he can catch that ball on guys, but usually he does separate, and then he has got a quarterback that’s good at throwing, so that’s always a problem.’’
The 49ers, on Thursday, made a big statement by acquiring running back Christian McCaffrey from the Panthers for three 2023 draft picks (second-, third- and fourth-rounders) and a 2024 fifth-round pick.
It is unclear if McCaffrey, a 2017 first-round pick by Carolina, will play against the Chiefs on Sunday. Though he could provide a big lift, even in a limited role, to a team that’s coming off a listless loss to the Falcons last week.
McCaffrey has rushed for 393 yards and two touchdowns this season and is the top receiving running back in the league with 33 receptions on 43 targets for 277 yards and one touchdown.
Shanahan is undoubtedly salivating at the chance to use the multi-talented McCaffrey, who’s a former 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver. If he is used against the Chiefs, figure to mostly screen passes, outside zone runs and wheel routes from McCaffrey.
He joins a 49ers offense already laden with the talented likes of tight end George Kittle, receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
It all can do nothing but enhance the performance of Garoppolo, who was intercepted twice last week.
When Shanahan was asked what moment stands out most about Super Bowl LIV, said: “That we lost.’’
“I love thinking of our team that year,’’ he said. “I felt like that year we had the best team in football, but we ended up being the second-best because we didn’t get it done in the end.”
Shanahan said he “hadn’t watched’’ tape of that game “for a while’’ until this week.
“Yeah, I don’t like watching it,’’ he said. “But this week it wasn’t about that. I had to watch it for schematic reasons and what our history is together.”
It’s a history that has seen a lot of change in a short period of time.