Everyone’s talking about it, so let’s address it: would the Lions have won the Super Bowl had they won the NFC Championship?
“The Detroit Lions would have played better!”
That was a thought appearing quite frequently amidst the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl matchup. Both offenses struggled early and often, leading a halftime score of just 10-3. In contrast, the Lions had put up 24 points in the first half against the 49ers defense just two weeks prior in the NFC Championship game. Yet due to untimely drops and bounces, the Lions were not the ones representing their conference in the season finale.
Now that the Chiefs officially sit atop the league as back-to-back champions, let us put to the test the question on the minds of a lot of Lions fans: how would they have fared in the Super Bowl?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Would the Detroit Lions have defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl?
My answer: I don’t think so.
While it is easy to say that the Lions would have exceeded the 49ers’ offensive output, the same cannot be said about their defense. The 49ers were solid on defense for a majority of the game, getting to Patrick Mahomes three times among many more pressures. Losing linebacker Dre Greenlaw to an Achilles injury as he was running onto the field was a devastating blow as well. A comparable injury would be losing Alex Anzalone—replacing a leader on defense is never easy.
Outside of Aidan Hutchinson, the Lions were lacking in reliable pass rush all season long, while their cornerbacks were more bad than good. If the the Lions are plugged into this game instead of the 49ers, we likely see a higher scoring game with both teams trading blows. This, however, is not necessarily enough to move the needle in Detroit’s favor. After all, entering a shootout with Mahomes is a tough ask (just look at Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills over the years).
The Lions may have emerged victorious in Week 1, but both teams are vastly different. Let us examine what has changed.
The obvious point is that the Chiefs were without Travis Kelce and Chris Jones for their Week 1 tilt against Detroit. Kelce fell just shy of the 1,000 yard mark after a string of seven-straight seasons, while Jones earned his fifth All-Pro nod in six years. For as much flak as we gave announcer Mike Tirico for his asterisk comment about the Lions’ win, it is true that these two players fundamentally change how the Chiefs perform. Factoring in rookie receiver Rashee Rice making his debut, and the Chiefs were certainly short on firepower.
Yet the same can be said about the Lions. The electric Jahmyr Gibbs was still being phased in the offense, garnering just seven carries to David Montgomery’s 21. Similarly, Sam LaPorta was very much viewed as a rookie tight end, not the All-Pro he would become over the course of the season. While Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds each topped 70 yards, the Lions were without Jameson Williams due to his gambling suspension. Even though Williams finished the season with just 24 receptions, the threat of his speed and big play ability frequently opened up the rest of the offense. Those are three big pieces of the Lions offense that were not at full speed in Week 1.
It appears as though both teams had come a long way from their Week 1 showdown, so where does the edge come from?
Two answers: Kadarius Toney and Patrick Mahomes.
Toney (who was inactive in the Super Bowl) proved extremely costly in the Chiefs’ loss to the Lions. The receiver finished the game with two drops, both of which were reasonable catches to make. The worst part came from his drop that bounced into the arms of defensive back Brian Branch for an interception and touchdown. In a 21-20 game, those points proved to be the difference. If the Chiefs had started any other receiver (Rice, perhaps), then the Chiefs very well could have won that game—addition by subtraction.
Also, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, what else needs to be said? Mahomes is already in the upper tier of all-time quarterbacks, and the question isn’t if he becomes the greatest of all time but when. He has three Super Bowls and three Super Bowl MVPs to his name following the Chiefs victory over the 49ers, and for good reason: he takes over a football game. Not only did he throw for 333 yards and two touchdowns, but his legs legitimately won the game: his 66 rushing yards came on numerous clutch runs. You can say the Lions slowed down Mahomes in Week 1, but in the Super Bowl? That is a different beast altogether.
Had the fates been different, would we have seen the Lions defeating the Chiefs to secure the Super Bowl title? Feel free to speculate down in the comments.