The NFL implemented a two-week break ahead of the Super Bowl from the game’s inception as a way to generate publicity for the championship event.

Fifty-seven years later, the prolonged amount of lead time still works to the league’s benefit. It might not seem like the country’s biggest sporting event needs to drum up extra attention anymore, but annually allowing the matchup time to breathe after 21 straight weeks of games helps put the biggest storylines in focus.

The long-awaited debut of Las Vegas as a Super Bowl host city is a big talking point this year, but the second championship matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers in the last five seasons presents several of its own wrinkles too.

Here are six of the biggest narratives leading into Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas.


Much to the chagrin of the crotchety segment of the NFL fan base, one of the biggest stars of Super Bowl 58 won’t be on the field. She’ll be in a luxury suite watching the action.

Pop star Taylor Swift will reportedly be in attendance at Allegiant Stadium to support her boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, despite having a performance as part of her Eras Tour in Tokyo the night before. The relationship between Swift and Kelce has stolen NFL headlines all year, and now will be prominently featured in the biggest game of the year.

Many curmudgeons throughout the season suggested that the romance and all the media coverage around it had negatively affected the 34-year-old Kelce, who looked a step slower this regular season and had his least prolific production in a decade.

Those accusations have unsurprisingly quieted in the postseason, where Kelce has looked in vintage form with 23 receptions (first in the league), 262 receiving yards (second in the league) and three receiving touchdowns (first in the league). Kelce became the all-time receptions leader in NFL postseason history in an AFC Championship Game victory over the Ravens with 156 catches since his playoff debut in 2015.

He passed Jerry Rice in the record books, though Kelce remains second to the former 49ers great in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

Whether the Chiefs win or lose, expect Swift to come down to field level postgame to meet Kelce—with cameras as hungry to catch that moment as the ceremonial celebration of the winning team.

Weapon differential

The reason the Super Bowl featuring the Chiefs comes as a moderate surprise, despite the team having reached the big game in three of the previous four years, is because of their lack of big-play threats beyond Kelce.

At 11-6 in the regular season, Kansas City had its worst record since two-time regular-season and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes took over as its quarterback in 2018. Almost all of the blame fell on a skill-player group that rates as mediocre at best for NFL standards and did little to help Mahomes throughout the season.

Receivers Marques Valdes-Scantling and Kadarius Toney specifically have taken a large share of criticism for game-changing drops, penalties and mistakes that cost the Chiefs wins. Both situations seem to have sorted themselves out in the playoffs though.

Valdes-Scantling has bounced back with a couple huge receptions, including one on 3rd-and-long at the end of the game to seal the victory over the Ravens. Toney meanwhile has been inactive and went on an expletive-filled social media rant accusing the Chiefs of lying about his injury status.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Toney would remain with the team for the Super Bowl, but it would be a surprise if he was included on the active roster. Rookie receiver Rashee Rice, who was taken in the second round out of SMU, has become Kelce’s primary sidekick in the Chiefs’ passing game while second-year running back Isiah Pacheco has emerged as an effective between-the-tackles runner.

Kelce, Rice and Pacheco give Mahomes some firepower, but at a level that pales in comparison to what 49ers counterpart Brock Purdy has at his disposal. San Francisco likely has the best playmaking group in the NFL with the likes of running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle.

Polarizing Purdy

It’s remarkable and unprecedented that a second-year quarterback one season removed from being “Mr. Irrelevant” as the last pick in the NFL Draft has reached the Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean the former Iowa State passer’s rise is being widely celebrated.

On the contrary, the 24-year-old Purdy’s success has been debated ad nauseum. Detractors say it’s mostly a product of the embarrassment of talent riches around him and the advantage of playing in coach Kyle Shanahan’s quarterback-friendly system.

But Purdy’s statistics, both traditional and advanced, blew away those belonging to all other quarterbacks in the NFL this season. Purdy, for example, threw for 9.6 yards per pass attempt—a jarring 1.3 yards greater than any other full-time starting quarterback in the league.

He was the odds-on favorite to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award before a disastrous Christmas night game where he threw four interceptions in a loss to the Ravens.

Many film analysts felt vindicated by that performance, as well as shaky starts in each of the 49ers’ two playoff games, as they had long described Purdy as reckless and unrefined. Purdy ultimately rallied San Francisco back from deficits against both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions to get to the Super Bowl but will likely need to play better throughout the whole game to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

And hoisting the Lombardi Trophy would be the ultimate trump card to his naysayers.

Mahomes the GOAT?

No such concerns exist regarding the 28-year-old Mahomes, who’s unanimously regarded as the best current football player in the world. The only question now is whether the Chiefs’ quarterback has already done enough to be considered the greatest football player of all-time.

Recently-retired quarterback Tom Brady is most commonly bestowed that distinction after racking up seven Super Bowl victories in his 22-year career as a starting quarterback. Brady’s last title notably came against Mahomes when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers smashed the Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl 55 three years ago.

Brady won three championships in his first four years of starting while Mahomes is going for his third in six seasons. But the latter has been asked to do a lot more than the former early in his career, as Brady’s initial winning teams were more defensively driven.

The Chiefs had been vulnerable on defense under Mahomes until this year, when the young unit broke out as one of the best in the NFL.

Mahomes’ early-career numbers dwarf Brady’s, so it’s probably fair to say the Chiefs passer is on track to the coveted “GOAT” status. But it will take several more years if he wants to match the longevity of Brady, who played at a high level until he walked away at 45 years old.

It’s hard to envision a better beginning for Mahomes than starting a fourth Super Bowl in six years as he will do in Las Vegas.

Defensive infrastructure vs. Defensive superstars

The 49ers have two of the best defensive players in the world in 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa at edge rusher and three-time All-Pro, do-everything linebacker Fred Warner. The notables don’t stop there, as edge rusher Chase Young, defensive tackle Arik Armstead, cornerback Charvarius Ward and safety Tashaun Gipson are all highly-decorated, big-name players.

The Chiefs may have only a single player with a name as recognizable and distinguished as that sextet—defensive tackle Chris Jones. And yet, the Chiefs’ unheralded stop unit has been better than the 49ers’ star-studded group this year.

Kansas City sat fifth in the league in giving up only 4.8 yards per play during the regular season. San Francisco was ninth at 5.1 yards per play and has ballooned to allowing 5.5 yards per play in the playoffs.

Shanahan has recently looked frustrated on the sidelines with new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who hasn’t gotten as much out of the unit as the departed/current Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans managed in the previous two seasons.

Chiefs veteran defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo meanwhile has become something of a cult hero. Many of his players wore “In Spags We Trust” t-shirts after the AFC Championship Game and sung his praises.

Spagnuolo has already won three Super Bowls as a defensive coordinator—two with the New York Giants and one last year with the Chiefs—and is firming up his case as an all-time great assistant coach this year.

Shanahan’s redemption

The reputation of the 49ers’ coach has a duality: He’s known as an offensive wiz but a game-management klutz.

Never have his shortcomings been as evident as in his two previous Super Bowl appearances. The 44-year-old Shanahan opted to drain the clock and not pursue more points before halftime of Super Bowl 54, helping to make the Chiefs’ eventual comeback on the 49ers a little easier in their 31-20 victory.

Shanahan was also a part of the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history as the offensive coordinator of the 2017 Atlanta Falcons, which led the Patriots 28-3 with 17 minutes left to play before losing 34-28 in overtime. He failed to adjust his strategy despite the big lead and repeatedly called passes that fell incomplete and led to short drives that enabled the Patriots to erase the deficit quickly.

In-game decisions are always extra scrutinized in the Super Bowl, but Shanahan’s specifically will be spotlighted this time around. He’s already bungled the clock again in this year’s playoffs, settling for a long field goal attempt before halftime by struggling kicker Jake Moody against the Packers that wound up blocked.

But it’s worth noting that the 65-year-old Reid used to take much of the same criticism and was long regarded as the best NFL coach who couldn’t win the big one. He’s now broken through for a pair of titles, and is gunning for his third.

Shanahan could similarly exorcise his own demons in Las Vegas.

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