Super Bowl LV – Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, February 7th, 6:30 pm EST.
It’s the first Super Bowl in history with a true home team, as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers host Mahomes and the Chiefs. That’s weird enough as it is. It’s Brady’s first season away from Bill Belichick, that’s weirder. It’s Brady’s tenth trip to the big game. That’s just flat-out bizarre. Ten Super Bowls. Are you wondering how many teams have been to that many Super Bowls in league history? One. Only one. Brady’s former team, the Patriots.
We’ve been focused on Mahomes and on the Chief’s quest to become the first repeat champs since Brady’s Pats a few years back as if it’s something of a foregone conclusion. But are we asking the wrong questions here?
Is Mahomes vs. Brady the real story?
Well, it is and it isn’t.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Brady is the old guard. An all-time great, the GOAT, just hoping for one more chance at glory before retirement. Mahomes is the greatest QB in the league right now, a glimpse at the future of the NFL. That’s the narrative we’ve all heard from left, right, and center all season long. So, what do the numbers tell us?
Honestly, there’s not a lot to separate these two quarterbacks at the moment.
These are both elite quarterbacks having great seasons on teams loaded with offensive weapons. I’m sorry, but neither is the best in the league right now. That’s Aaron Rodgers. It’s not up for debate. He’s got only one offensive weapon that would make the roster on either of these two teams and he threw 48 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. It’s a rock-solid lock for the Packers’ QB to win the MVP. But Brady and Mahomes? They’re way more similar than you think. Not in terms of potential, or “at their primes”. Right now, in this season.
Brady dinks and dunks his way to success, right, while Mahomes has a cannon for an arm. Not so fast. Mahomes and Brady are separated by barely 100 passing yards on the season and one point in completion percentage. Mahomes has fewer interceptions, but he also threw fewer touchdowns than the guy who won a Super Bowl when he was in kindergarten. We know that the Chiefs are the best in the league at big plays, right? Wrong. Brady has thrown more 40+ yard completions than Mahomes. The similarities are wild, with Brady coming out on top in a few surprising categories. They’ve even enjoyed similar protection from their offensive lines, ranking 23rd and 24th in the league in sacks allowed over the season. That being said, one big problem for the Chiefs in this game will be the loss of BOTH Eric Fisher, who tore his Achilles tendon in the AFC Championship game, and Mitchell Schwartz, leaving them with backups at both tackle positions. The Chiefs will need to find a way to keep the pass rush of the Buccaneers at bay, and somehow get more pressure on Brady. A clean quarterback is a dangerous quarterback. A clean Brady with this receiving corps is probably unbeatable.
Speaking of weapons? Mahomes has the fuller arsenal, right? Tyreek Hill will stretch the Tampa Bay secondary, sure, he had a huge game against the Bucs in week twelve but there are more question marks here than you’d think. Sammy Watkins and Le’Veon Bell are questionable for Sunday’s festivities, while Clyde Edwards-Helaire should be good to go. Mecole Hardman has been far less effective in 2020 than his rookie campaign, averaging seven yards less per reception and only finding the end zone four times all year. Brady has a full quiver at wide receiver to balance the scales, with Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Antonio Brown if he’s ready to go. There’s just not as much of a difference here as many people think.
Travis Kelce might be the biggest mismatch in the Chiefs favor, and he is more dangerous than Gronk over a full season at this point in his career. But is he really that much more dangerous than Gronk in the final game of the season? Gronkowski came back for one reason, and one reason only: To play in this specific game for Tom Brady. He’ll put his body on the line in this one. I’m not expecting to see 100 yards receiving for Gronk, which is more likely for Kelce, but I am expecting number 87 to be a nightmare in the red zone for the Chiefs, who allowed a league-high 75% touchdown rate in that area this season. Yes. You read that right. The Chiefs are the worst red-zone defense in the league. Uh-oh.
Since I’ve let the cat out of the bag, we need to talk about defense a little bit. Because K.C. doesn’t exactly have the same unit they did last year against the Niners. In addition to being only the tenth-best team in the league by points allowed, the Chiefs are a mediocre rush defense, allowing 4.5 yards per carry and just over 122 yards per game on the ground. They aren’t a lock-down secondary, either, allowing 11.4 yards per reception, eleventh worst in the league. They also allowed fifty-four passing plays of 20+ yards this year, the ninth-most permitted by any secondary in the league. Contrast that with the Buccaneers, who were the league’s best rushing defense by a wide margin, allowing only 3.6 yards per carry and only 80 yards per contest. Tampa Bay was better against the pass as well, ranking as the third-best team league-wide in yards per reception. Tampa Bay also holds a slight edge in the turnover category, having caused fifteen forced fumbles this year. I also like the speed of Tampa Bay’s linebacking corps to minimize Kelce’s ability to do damage over the middle. Devin White and Lavonte David have combined for 168 solo tackles and ten passes defended this season, and in the matchup between these two teams in week twelve, Kelce could manage only 82 yards and no touchdowns.
Patrick Mahomes can overcome a lot of adversity. But I don’t think he can overcome a motivated Tom Brady playing on the team with the better defense. I think the Buccaneers pass-rushing duo of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul will victimize a depleted Chiefs offensive line while Vita Vea and those linebackers make the run game of Kansas City a non-issue. The resulting relentless pressure on Mahomes forces him into a second consecutive mediocre performance in the Super Bowl. Last year, Kansas City had enough in the tank late to beat Brady’s former backup as the Chiefs defense took over in the fourth quarter and Jimmy G flailed down the stretch. But this Chiefs defense just isn’t the same and Tom Brady isn’t Jimmy G. The Chiefs have played with fire the past two years in the playoffs and they finally get burned as a late comeback attempt falls short.
Buccaneers – 35
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Image Source: Associated Press Images