1. Just don't get behind early
On the road against a team that's been in the NFC Championship game the last three years is a difficult place to be. If the Chiefs get down multiple scores I will be extremely concerned. I already don't see them scoring a ton of points (high teens, low 20s?) against a solid defense. If the Chiefs get behind early and become one dimensional, put a fork in them, especially against this defense. This is especially true as the Chiefs will be without Donnie Avery and replacing him with AJ Jenkins.
2. As usual, turnovers are key
Turnovers are one of the best indicators of success. After starting the season -5 in turnovers, the Chiefs went +3 against the Patriots last week. There is some randomness to turnovers -- you can't always count on Brady to lay 'em up for you -- so I do think the Chiefs continue to trend towards the better turnover teams, rather than this minus business they've been in. I like the Chiefs defense's chances on third and long. In other words, things could get better before they get worse. That has to continue Sunday in San Francisco if the Chiefs are going to win.
3. Or maybe Vernon Davis is the key
There is a "small chance" he plays, according to reports, as he deals with an injury. If he doesn't, that is HUGE for the Chiefs. How huge? The 49ers have never won without Vernon Davis, according to Niners Nation.
4. The DAT factor could be especially big this week
The 49ers are, what, the second or third best defense the Chiefs will face all season? The Chiefs may need to rely on other units to score points too. Then it's a good week for De'Anthony Thomas to make his NFL debut. DAT is probable and expected to play. How much he will play is the question. The Chiefs should use DAT on punt returns where, as we saw in the preseason against the Bengals, he can make an impact.
Add in the fact that Darren Sproles returned one on San Francisco last week and you have the recipe for some special teams fun. I'm probably hyping DAT up too much considering the rookie has missed his first four NFL games due to a hamstring injury ... but he has obvious ability and who doesn't like return touchdowns?
5. The QB running ability important for both teams
The top rushing quarterback in the NFL right now is Colin Kaepernick with 187 yards. The second rushing quarterback in the NFL right now is Alex Smith with 103 yards. Smith, as Chiefs fans know, is very capable of moving the Chiefs with his feet. Alex averages over 6 yards per rush so he knows when to run and when to throw it away.
Kaepernick is more explosive than Smith and can be a huge problem for the Chiefs defense. When he gets out of the pocket, he extends the play which means the cornerbacks and safeties have to stay in coverage longer, which is really hard to do. So Kaepernick can get out of the pocket and he either has a hell of an arm to throw (like this amazing pass to Frank Gore) or he has the ability to slice the Chiefs defense up on the ground. The Chiefs pass rushers and defensive line will need to keep him contained.
6. Those in KC are picking the Chiefs
I found it interesting that the people who cover the Chiefs the closest are picking the Chiefs to win. The Star's Terez Paylor and ESPN's Adam Teicher are picking the Chiefs. This game also started at about 7-point odds in favor of the 49ers. That is now down to 5 points. The 49ers are still favored but it's beginning to feel like a win by KC wouldn't be shocking.
7. Chiefs options if Marcus Cooper can't play
Sounds like he's got a good shot at playing but what happens if his knee injury holds him out? Initially I was thinking that the Chiefs could play rookie Phillip Gaines, who has been solid as a gunner on special teams lately. But the Chiefs best course of action might be moving Ron Parker back to cornerback and third safety Kurt Coleman stepping in at safety (since Eric Berry is out). This has the potential to be a notable story line because it could affect two starting positions in the secondary.
8. The Alex Smith story line is overrated
The "Alex Smith returns to San Francisco" looks like a fun one but it hasn't produced any great headlines this week. Colin Kaepernick said the right thing when asked about it. So did Alex Smith. And so did Jim Harbaugh, who said there will be no pregame hug, and Andy Reid, whose advice to Smith involved cheesesteaks. It's probably more meaningful to 49ers fans.