Super Bowl 2024: Three intriguing games within the game that could determine the champion

The Super Bowl is just days away, and there’s been a whole lot of analysis and predictions on who is going to come down with the Lombardi Trophy, whether it be the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes for the third time in his young career or the 49ers, with Brock Purdy and Kyle Shanahan getting their first rings.

While those will be the overarching themes on most people’s minds, there are intriguing games within the game that will turn the tide in either direction. Here are three matchups to keep an eye on Sunday.

Chase Young vs. the Chiefs' running game

The trade for Chase Young doesn’t look like it’s going to be a massive success for the 49ers up to this point, but they’ve been able to survive and advance to the Super Bowl despite not getting stalwart play from Young at the defensive end spot. Young has been brutal against the run during the playoffs, getting thrown around and allowing big run plays routinely in his area of the field.

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He faces one more tough test with the Chiefs’ running game, led by running back Isiah Pacheco. This is not the most dominant run game in the league, but Pacheco has been situationally good for the Chiefs and is certainly good enough to exploit the level of play that Young has been delivering. Games between teams with as much talent as the Chiefs and 49ers have are won in the margins, and this is one of those games within the game that can swing things in the favor of the 49ers.

Travis Kelce vs Ji’Ayir Brown

Travis Kelce has turned back the clock this postseason, returning to his completely dominant form as one of the greatest playoff performers in this era of football. Patrick Mahomes will lean on his playmaking and skill throughout the game on Sunday, making sure the Chiefs don’t have to involve the mistake-prone wide receivers too much.

49ers linebacker Fred Warner should be up to the challenge of defending Kelce, but rookie safety Ji’Ayir Brown will play a big role in the 49ers' passing defense as well. He’ll need to play well and stay sticky in coverage to give the 49ers’ pass rushers a prayer to get home against Mahomes. If they keep Kelce in check, they should have a good chance to win the game.

Brown will play a huge role in that task, and it’s the biggest test the rookie safety will have this season as he closes out what has been a successful Year 1 in the NFL.

Brandon Aiyuk vs L’Jarius Sneed

Brandon Aiyuk's matchup vs. L'Jarius Sneed could be big in Super Bowl LVIII. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Brandon Aiyuk's matchup vs. L'Jarius Sneed could be big in Super Bowl LVIII. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) (Stephen Maturen via Getty Images)

Big-on-big matchup here. The 49ers have a host of explosive playmakers in the middle of the field, but the best matchup in terms of skill might be on the outside of their offense. Brandon Aiyuk might be the most explosive wide receiver in the league and L’Jarius Sneed is one of the NFL's legitimate shutdown cornerbacks.

Aiyuk is incredibly difficult to get hands on with his blend of strength off the line of scrimmage and speed down the field. Sneed excels at physical coverage and has the speed to take off and run with most wide receivers in the NFL. There’s going to be tight coverage thrown Aiyuk’s way and it’ll be interesting to see how Brock Purdy decides to attack a premier cornerback like Sneed. For fans who like to see the best players in the NFL directly go against each other, this will be a matchup worth zeroing in on.