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The quarterback is king in today's NFL, but Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers have been flipping the script all season.
While superstar Patrick Mahomes put the Kansas City Chiefs en route to the Super Bowl, 49ers pivot Jimmy Garoppolo is just an ancillary piece of Shanahan's run-based offense. Amazingly, San Francisco reached Super Bowl LIV with just 208 passing yards on 17 completions from Garoppolo across two games.
The 49ers are the only team since the turn of the century to win back-to-back postseason contests with less than 30 combined passing attempts. In that same span, they're the only team to reach the Super Bowl despite attempting less than 40 passes in the playoffs (they've thrown 27 times), and they're the only team to reach the big game with less than 275 yards passing in the postseason.
There's no doubt about it - San Francisco has placed an unprecedentedly low dependence on the quarterback position.
But is this offensive strategy a comment on Garoppolo's ability (or lack thereof)? While some might think so, he hasn't performed poorly. Instead, the 49ers just haven't needed to throw because they've dominated everywhere else on the field.
Through two playoff games, San Francisco has averaged a remarkable 5.7 yards per rush (excluding quarterback kneels) while limiting opponents to only 4.9 yards per play. Additionally, the 49ers haven't trailed for a single second of the postseason.
Given that dominance, the biggest question isn't whether bettors can trust Garoppolo against Kansas City. More importantly, will the rest of the 49ers play up to their usual standards on Super Bowl Sunday? If they do, bettors shouldn't have to trust Jimmy G to pull out the win.
Let's look back at similar situations. Across the past 25 Super Bowls, here are the quarterbacks who completed fewer than 15 passes or threw for less than 216 yards.
|Peyton Manning (Denver)||2016||13||141||Won 24-10|
|Russell Wilson (Seattle)||2015||18||206||Won 43-8|
|Rex Grossman (Chicago)||2007||20||165||Lost 29-17|
|Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh)||2006||9||123||Won 21-10|
|Brad Johnson (Tampa Bay)||2003||18||215||Won 48-21|
|Tom Brady (New England)||2002||16||145||Won 20-17|
|Trent Dilfer (Baltimore)||2001||12||153||Won 34-7|
|Kerry Collins (NY Giants)||2001||15||112||Lost 34-7|
|John Elway (Denver)||1998||12||123||Won 31-24|
|Brett Favre (Green Bay)||1997||14||246||Won 35-21|
|Troy Aikman (Dallas)||1996||15||209||Won 27-17|
Quarterbacks who fit the bill went 9-2 in the Super Bowl. The logic here is admittedly a bit circular - teams that emerge victorious generally throw less - but it also speaks to a larger point: Contrary to popular opinion, you don't need to pass with great success to win football games.
The 49ers are built to succeed by running the football and playing suffocating defense. They've done both exceptionally well this season and haven't needed to deviate from the script. Passing as little as they do isn't a sign of weakness, but rather one of strength: "Why air it out when we can just run you over?"
And, if the 49ers do find themselves trailing in Miami, there's plenty of evidence to suggest they're capable of throwing. George Kittle and Deebo Samuel are both excellent targets for Garoppolo, and Shanahan has an innate ability to scheme them open and get the ball into their hands. Plus, no team is better at throwing defenses off the scent with pre-snap movement.
Perhaps surprisingly, San Francisco went 3-1 this season when Garoppolo attempted 35 or more passes - losing only to the Seattle Seahawks in overtime because of a missed field goal - and 6-2 when he threw at least 29 times. There's no cause for concern there.
Of course, the 49ers' ideal game script won't include Garoppolo throwing more than 20 times. If he ends up passing that often, it will mean the dominant defense is allowing a lot of points or the running game isn't playing up to par.
Again, this Super Bowl won't boil down to whether you trust Garoppolo, but rather if you trust the rest of his team and the coaching staff to execute their game plan the way they've done it all season.
Alex Moretto is a sports betting writer for theScore. A journalism graduate from Guelph-Humber University, he has worked in sports media for over a decade. He will bet on anything from the Super Bowl to amateur soccer, is too impatient for futures, and will never trust a kicker. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.