Super Bowl LV is the showdown that nobody saw coming at the beginning of the season but one that everyone wants to see now. It’s Tom Brady vs Patrick Mahomes. GOAT vs potential GOAT. The Old Guard vs the New. Thankfully, the Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is more than that. In fact, we’d venture to say that more hinges on supporting cast performances than on theirs.
There’s an old saying in boxing that to some extent extends to sports, in general. Styles make fights. In the case of this Sunday’s game, the Tampa Bay defense holds the key to victory for the Bucs. It all starts with their secondary forcing the Chiefs to run the ball more. Of course, that’s been every one of the Chiefs’ opponents’ game plans and we know how that’s worked out. Just ask the Bills. With KC running, Tampa Bay’s run defense can do its thing. Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, the Bucs aren’t the exact defensive team that would seem like natural foil for KC’s high flying offense. Their Week 12 meeting proved that.
The Bucs will need massive games from thrir secondary for a chance to win. Neutralizing the Chiefs’ pass game, especially mid-range, would force them to put it on the ground more and that’s where Tampa Bay’s defense shines. They’re the best team in the league when it comes to rushing yards allowed. Teams ran for just 1289 yards against the Bucs’ defensive line. The Indianapolis Colts were a distant second, allowing 1448 yards. Clearly, the more the Chiefs pound the ball, the better Tampa Bay’s chances become. For that to happen, the Buccaneers secondary needs to cover Chiefs’ wide receivers and tight ends like paint on a wall. Unfortunately, nobody’s really been able to accomplish that. The Chiefs have the least run-play rate in the league in the first half (27.4%) meaning they want to throw it and, damnit, they do just that.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay has the fourth worst pass defense in terms of completion percentage at 69%. The only teams worse than the Bucs in this stat were the Texans (69.7%), Jaguars (69.4%), and Jets (69.1%). In terms of passing yards allowed, that places them pretty much middle of the pack, nestled between the Colts and the Browns. That simply is not good enough to shut down the best offense in the game.
OFF STATS: Chiefs 415.8 YDS/G; 29.6 PTS/G| Buccaneers 384.1 YDS/G; 30.8 PTS/G
DEF STATS: Chiefs 358.4 YDS/G; 22.6 PTS/G | Buccaneers 327.1 YDS/G; 22.2 PTS/G
KEY PLAYERS: Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce | Tom Brady, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams
Betting (Moneyline): Chiefs (-164) | Buccaneers (+142)
PICK: Chiefs beat the Bucs.
The Bucs secondary would have to outperform by so much you’d need to see career numbers from Helaire and Williams.
On the flipside of the Bucs defense, you’ve got two of the best players in the game in TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill. They’ve been scary unstoppable. This season, Kelce has put up unbelievable numbers: 105 catches, 1,416 yards, 11 TDs. He’s performed in the playoffs as well with 21 catches, 227 yards, and 3 TDs. He’s probably the best TE in the game at the moment. Then there’s Hill, aka The Blur. Last week, he made the Bills’ corners look like they were running in sand and that was before he actually turned on the jets. His season stats: 87 receptions, 1,276 yards, 15 TDs. His playoff stats: 17 receptions, 282 yards. It’s hard to see how Tampa Bay’s secondary contain the due to be honest.
The last element of the Chiefs’ offense, and perhaps the only weak link, is their banged up offensive line. They’re essentially playing with only four starters. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Kelechi Osemele, Eric Fisher, Mitchell Scwartz, and Daniel Kilfore are all out. How the patchwork OL performs is anyone’s guess. If they leave Mahomes exposed, things could get very interesting.
That’s not to say Tampa Bay doesn’t have weapons of their own. ProFootball Focus has Mike Evans as registering the best Playmaker rate in the game, topping 153 players with at least 50 touches. The combination of Brady and Evans has been money this season within the 10-yard line. Brady has hit Evans 15 times this season. The result: 10 receptions,10 TDs, and only 1 drop. That’s efficient.
That said, Brady will need WR Chris Godwin to be a lot better than he’s been of late. He’s dropped seven passes during the Bucs’ playoff run (that’s three games for those of you too lazy to count on one hand). Compare that to Godwin’s regular season for the past three years when he’s dropped just six passes during all the years combined. He’s due a good game, you gotta admit.
With Antonio “Mr. Big Chest” Brown doubtful for the game, Brady and the Bucs will need the entire offensive squad to play above the level they’ve been at during the playoffs. That goes for TB12, as well.
Which brings us to the matchup.
By now, there’s really not much to say about the Brady vs Mahomes matchup that hasn’t been beaten into sportspage pulp by now. We’ll just give you the cheat-sheet version.
To win, Brady’s got to play better than he has during the playoffs when he’s lit up opponents in spurts, just enough to give his defense the opportunity to hold on to the win. Look no further than the last game against the Packers. In particular, TB12 has got to somehow steer away from the picks. It’s amazing he hasn’t been burned more by them. That said, he had his way against the Chiefs secondary during their Week 12 meeting. After a slow start, he lit up the Chiefs for 24 points in seven drives. He has good protection to thank for that. Tampa Bay has an offensive line that has allowed him to prove that he’s far from a washed up, noodle-armed, former-Patriot, has-been.
For the Chiefs, Mahomes just gotta be Mahomes, at this point. He can run. He can pass. Inside and outside. Sidearm or underarm. He makes everything look easy. Except when his head hit the ground a little too hard. Other than that, he’s the beast. God forbid, his offensive line manages to get over their nicks and bruises. It will be a long night for The Brady Bucs.
The defending Super Bowl champs are the heavy favorites. According to current Super Bowl 55 odds, the Kansas City Chiefs (-164) are expected to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+142) and end the night as repeating champs. Let’s see if Tom Brady has one more magical night left.