We have made it! All 256 regular season and – since this year – twelve playoff games are in the books and there is just one matchup left to decide who will be crowned NFL champions. There are so many storylines leading up to the big game – the GOAT Tom Brady versus the kid Patrick Mahomes, two of the all-time great tight-ends on either side of the ball wearing number 87, the Buccaneers becoming the first ever team to host a Super Bowl in their home stadium, Andy Reid after all this time of coming up short, potentially winning back-to-back titles, while Bruce Arians is looking to finally get his first ring as a head coach and potentially becoming the oldest one to earn one in history, and many others.
As I do every year, I wanted to give a detailed look ahead to the big game, where I break down who these teams are, kind of how they got here and how they match up against each other. To do so I put together analysis of each offense and defense, plus where each could have the advantage, then I take a look back at when these two teams first met back in week 12, explain what they have and/or should have learned from it, give you an X-factor on either side of the ball for both and finally hand out my score prediction, while explaining what I believe will happen.
Let’s dive into it!
Buccaneers offense vs. Chiefs defense:
The Tampa Bay offense has been transitioning throughout the season. Early on it was Bruce Arians’ system with a lot of 12 and even 13 personnel, trying to establish a gap-scheme power run game and taking play-action shots off it from under center. And then a second offense was kind of implemented, which was more suited to what Tom Brady was used to in New England, where they spread the field and attack defenses with the quick game. However, it really was two separate playbooks almost, that they worked in. I think we have seen a little more of a symbiotic relationship, which I believe Byron Leftwich has had a big role in putting together. They motion their backs in and out or use their receivers as pre-snap coverage indicators at a much higher rate, letting Brady be surgical in the quick passing game, but still attacking vertically and using Gronk and the tight-ends as that extra in-line blocker to get enough time, because Brady still more than enough juice in his arm to push the ball down the field. Since week ten, Cameron Brate has also played about 41 percent of the snaps and I believe he gives them more versatility in what they can be from two tight-end personnel, since he can basically be a big slot for them. Their receiving corp as a whole offers a lot of versatility, whether it’s Mike Evans moving more into the slot this season, Antonio Brown being able to line up at any of the receiver spots or specialists like Scotty Miller to attack down the field.
It’s a well-established narrative that if you can get to Tom Brady early, he becomes a much less effective passer and if you look at the five games, that they have come up short in 2020 (Saints twice, Bears, Rams and Chiefs), they have lost the battle up front offensively. Since their week 13 bye, following their last loss to Kansas City (including the playoffs), they have gone undefeated whilst averaging 34.3 points per game, with at least 30 in all three postseason battles. Looking at those games in particular, the defense was dominant at New Orleans and set up scoring opportunities directly, but against Washington and Green Bay, they completed a combined 11 passes of 20+ yards. So it is still very much about the big plays through the air (finished top three in 20+ and 40+ yard passes), but the efficiency of this offense has really gone up to a different level. At Detroit they were so dominant that Brady sat out the entire second half, then they scored on all but one of their possessions against Atlanta and now over this three-game road playoff run, they have had only three combined three-and-outs and turnovers in each of them. A big key to that has been the Bucs offensive line keeping Brady clean, as he has gotten sacked only 11 times over their active seven-game win streak and just once in all but two of those contests. To go with having better solutions to beat the blitz in their system.
Unlike a lot of modern NFL offenses, that have incorporated more RPO elements and try to create numbers advantages in the run game with spread sets, Bruce Arians still brings that old-school flair with multiple tight-end sets and the power run game. There’s not a lot of wide zone blocking, but rather they create vertical movement at the point of attack with a heavy dose of duo, get those big offensive linemen on the move on toss plays and then I love watching those receivers get involved as blockers in the box – especially Chris Godwin, who they seriously have leading up in the hole or trapping three-techniques. When they run play-action off those looks, they use a lot of seven- and eight-man protections and try to hit defenses over the top, whether it’s deep crossers and posts or straight go routes down the sideline. As much success as they have with that recipe, when you look at the analytics, their tendency to run the ball on early downs shows there’s plenty of improvement in terms of efficiency, which is something I want to see them do in this game, to not get behind the chains and allow the Chiefs defense to be as creative on third down. When they go into shotgun and spread the field more, they look for ways to attack the middle of the field with their inside receivers primarily and when they see one-on-one on the outside with Mike Evans or Antonio Brown, they will take their shots. Double-moves are a large ingredient to what they do, especially out-and-up routes.
For the Chiefs defense, they looked like they had carried over that momentum from last year’s Super Bowl run into 2020, not giving up more than 20 points in any of their first four games. In week five, the Raiders out of nowhere exploded for 40 points and handed them their only loss outside of week 17, when they rested several starters, before having three more great showings at Buffalo, Denver and then hosting the Jets. But since then, they have allowed at least 24 points in six of their final eight games. Part of that negative turnaround was the injuries they have had in the secondary and the lack of takeaways (one per game). The biggest piece however has been their inability to keep teams out of the end-zone when they got close. Looking at the whole regular season, no other team has allowed their opponents to create a higher rate of their red-zone trips into touchdowns (74.1%). That’s why so many of their games stayed close deep into the fourth quarter, which I’ll get to more in a little bit. When you look into play-calling, you can see that they played a lot more zone-coverage and rushed only four or five, because they simply didn’t have the guys their could trust to cover in man. Outside of one game, where they felt like they had a great feel for the opposing route-patterns, which I’ll get to soon.
Yet, once again, that unit has stepped up in the postseason and the two things that stand out to me are defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s brilliant game-planning and their ability to stop one-dimensional offenses. When I look at what they did against the Browns, if you take away one 23-yard burst from Nick Chubb, Cleveland’s elite running back duo was held to 78 yards on 18 carries, as Spagnuolo gave their opponents a lot of looks that they didn’t want to run into and then had a safety drop out of the box late. Then in the AFC title game, to take away Buffalo’s dynamic passing offense (which ranked top three in all major categories), they played a lot of cover-two and two-man, where their DBs pressed the hell out of the Bills receivers and then they played a lot of different versions of those two-high shells, like invert cover-two or bringing Tyrann Mathieu down as the MIKE in Tampa-two basically, which forced Josh Allen to hold onto the ball. What I can promise you is that they aren’t afraid of bringing heavy pressure and then having their coverage defenders well-schooled in the concepts they should focus on taking away primarily while the Honeybadger is often allowed to move pretty freely as the robber. Frank Clark hasn’t quite lived up to his contract, but he has had big moments in the playoffs these last two years, Chris Jones is one of the most disruptive interior D-linemen in the game, who they can move all over the line, and they have several big bodies they can rotate through to stay fresh and eat double-teams.
Chiefs offense vs. Bucs defense:
As much as we all love the Kansas City offense and we see them as this unit that blows us away with flashy play-designs and throws over the top, they have really been alternating their approach over the course of the season as well. When you go all the way back to their season-opener against the Texans, you see that they used more of a West Coast and RPO-oriented attack to punish a defense that played a lot of soft zones and invited them to throw the ball short. However, two weeks later at Baltimore, they were destroying the Ravens’ single-high safety and man-coverage principles by letting their speedy receivers streak down the field and call double-moves at 15+ yards of depth. Then three weeks after that, when they found themselves in a rainy setting at Buffalo against a soft interior run defense, they pounded the ball 46 times for almost 250 yards on the ground. So they have shown the ability to adapt to their opponents. However, with several injuries on the offensive line – most notably a turnstile at left guard and those two tackles, which will now both be out for the Super Bowl – and opposing defenses taking the approach of using a lot more split-safety looks and trying to take away the big play, they have turned back into being more methodical in their plan and putting together long drives. In the AFC Championship game in particular, with Patrick Mahomes coming off a turf toe injury, their gameplan and drive charts look almost like what they used to with Alex Smith, in terms of the West Coast designs and those glance or slant routes on the backside of RPO concepts.
When you look at this KC offense, they have had large stretches of getting static in games and as great as they are at moving the ball between the 20s, they are only 14th league-wide in red-zone touchdown percentage (61%). Some people may not realize this, but since their week eight blowout win over the Jets, they had not won a game by more than six points until the AFC title game. That is due to a combination of tendency to start slow, their poor red-zone efficiency and the inability to run the ball consistently with all the movement they have had on the O-line, having rushed for 135+ yards just three times all season. With that being said, Darrell Williams has been a big factor as a power runner these playoff and rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire should be back to full health. In addition to that, they find other ways to put the ball in the hands of their skill-players quickly, using the speed of their receiving crew on bubbles and speed sweeps, to go along with well-designed longer-developing screens, such as the double swing-fake and then middle screen to Travis Kelce. They also use their star tight-end quite a bit on those power shovels in short-yardage situations and I believe their most effective run play is the speed option, because of the way Mahomes can manipulate that end-man at the line.
While I have seen them run anything from 23 personnel to going empty with Kelce detached from the line (so basically a five-wide situation), there are a few things the Chiefs love to run. Their go-to formation is a three-by-one set with Kelce as the single receiver, mostly flexed out wide, but also in-line. In 2019 they ran three verticals from that trips side and then had Kelce on a shallow crosser over and over again. This year they still run it quite a bit, but they let the tight-end run more corner or curl routes, to allow inside receivers from the other side attack the middle of the field and isolate their backs against the linebackers, in addition to running power that way. And then they motion someone like Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman across, which for the most part gets opposing defense to move into two-high coverages and play off. So if KC runs either one up the seams, there’s usually a ton of space underneath. The two things that take this offense to the next level however, are trick plays and off-script production. What makes Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy great is not only their ability to exploit defensive schemes, but they are so creative and don’t shy away from throwing reverse passes, underhand shovels to their fullback or digging up tape from the 1948 Rose Bowl. And then there’s all the thing Mahomes can do off script. That guy is so slippery to extend plays while continuing to look downfield and his pass-catchers are so adept at adjusting on the fly and finding the open areas, especially that sixth sense-like connection he has with Kelce.
I have been higher on the Bucs defense for pretty much the entire year, which was really up and down for them as a unit. They have had moments of dominance, like keeping three straight opponents to under 50 rushing yards each or holding Green Bay’s number-one ranked offense to just 10 points in their regular season meeting, but they also gave up a combined 72 points in their first two meetings with the Saints and got lit up for over 450 yards through the air when hosting these same Chiefs back in week 12 (I’ll analyze that matchup in detail in our next segment). During this playoff run however, they have really stepped up in big moments to get them to this point. Whether it’s forcing four turnovers at New Orleans or sacking Aaron Rodgers five times and making a historically great red-zone offense settle for a couple of chip-shot field goals at Green Bay. When you look at their duo of edge rushers, Shaq Barrett is tied for the lead-league in QB hurries (24) and only three players in the NFL (all DBs) have forced more turnovers than Jason Pierre-Paul (six). Then they have the most dynamic linebacker tandem in all of football, which are heavily involved in their pressure packages and make it nearly impossible to get outside the tackle box in the run game, and now with Vita Vea back in the lineup, they have a wall on the inside that nobody can run on consistently. That’s how they finished the regular season as the clear number one run defense in the league. The secondary has been the problem child at times, especially when defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has put them in pure man-coverage, but by moving their safeties around more to bracket and help in certain areas of the field, they have really improved in that department.
Bowles is an aggressive play-caller by nature and they have created a lot of problems for opposing offenses by bringing one more than you can block (blitzed on 39% of plays). It has bitten them in their behind at times as well, but from what I have seen on tape, they have been more strategic in how they use it. Especially on third downs, I love how they have used their safeties as moving pieces, having them key on certain areas of the field or defending the sticks. In the NFC Championship game for example, one of the biggest plays of the afternoon was that Aaron Jones fumble at the start of the second half, when the Packers thought they had defeated the man-coverage with a shallow crosser to Jones whilst picking the underneath coverage, but Jordan Whitehead raced up from the other side of the field and jarred the ball loose just as the RB tried to turn upfield and convert on third down. That willingness to drive on routes is also apparent when they run quarters coverage and you see Whitehead and rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. break on the ball, looking to take somebody’s head off, while they are also heavily involved in their blitz packages. That combined with those guys coming off the edges, Ndamokung as a bully on the inside and a pretty unknown contributor in William Gholston has them ranking in the top five in sacks, pressure percentage, turnovers and tackles for loss.
Examining the first matchup:
Like I already mentioned, these two teams met back in week 12. The Chiefs jumped out to an early 17-0 lead in the first quarter, with Tyreek Hill racking up over 200 receiving yards over those 15 minutes already and the Bucs offense having just one combined first down over the first four possessions. Kansas City was in the red-zone once more mid-way through the second quarter, but a Shaquille Barrett strip-sack gave Brady & company the ball with some life and they were able to go on the board. That really got things to click and they fought their way back to being down only three, despite a couple of interceptions for Tampa Bay’s QB killing drives, because after scoring a touchdown on their initial try for the Chiefs, the Bucs defense really stepped up and held their opponents scoreless the rest of the way. However, Mahomes and Hill were able to run down the final four minutes and close the game, not giving Brady’s troops another chance, as they were coming off consecutive TD drives at the end, to secure a 27-24 victory.
While the Chiefs certainly took their foot off the gas pedal and tried to run the ball more, which KC outside of what Mahomes did, rushed for only 59 yards on 16 carries, I really thought this was a breaking point for Tampa Bay as a team. The offense started finding a groove and the only two drives that didn’t result in points from that final first half possession on, ended in picks. The defense on the other hand adjusted what they were doing in coverage and held that explosive KC attack to just ten points through the final three quarters. So while I think the result may be a little deceiving and the Chiefs could have easily won by double-digits, I look back at this as more of a launching pad for a team that has been the best in the NFC from that point on and now represents that conference in the big game, with a chance to learn from their early mistakes. Here are a few things that really stood out to me when they first met:
When you look back at the ridiculous first quarter Tyreek Hill had at Tampa Bay, what really stands out is how much he was left one-on-one in coverage, often times with Carlton Davis, who has had a good season in general, but is a bigger corner who ran in the low 4.5s at the combine – no way can he keep up consistently against the fastest man in football. Davis did follow Tyreek for the most part, in particular when he was the single receiver or the #3 in that trips set with Travis Kelce soloed up on the opposite side. And the Chiefs did a great job of creating those one-on-ones with motions, where they moved Kelce in line or forced Davis to trail Hill, when he came across the formation from that trips alignment. Tyreek’s two long touchdown came on a subtle double-move after they motioned Kelce in and then on a streak across the field as the #3 from trips. That opened up the middle of the field later on for Kelce on hook and dig routes. Something else Kansas City did in the first half particularly was using more 12 and even 13 personnel than I had seen from them all season long. They still couldn’t run the ball a lick out of those sets, but they were effective in the passing game when used, especially chipping both those guys off the edges for Tampa, with one of the TEs and the running back.
Tampa Bay called a lot of passing concepts with five-man protections early versus Kansas City bringing an array of blitzes (18 on 42 drop-backs). Especially on third downs, they were able to create at least one free rusher and then they had one or two defenders bailing out to take away the middle of the field. However, the Bucs made some very effective adjustments in the second half with hot-route to defeat those blitzes and putting that “bail defender” I will call it here in a bind, with a seam and spot route underneath for example. Of course the Chiefs still got two interceptions off Brady, that stopped promising drives, but when you look at what went wrong on those plays, first Ronald Jones overset to the outside trying to pick up Tyrann Mathieu off the edge, which led to an underthrown deep ball by Brady that was brought in by Bashaun Breeland along the sideline, as Scotty Miller got pushed out wide on his release, and then Mathieu got an INT of his own, as Mike Evans didn’t recognize the pressure and the ball went off the helmet of a blitzing Daniel Sorensen. In general, they were able to get the ball out quickly – especially to their tight-ends – to take advantage of limited resources in coverage and on the final two drives, when KC brought heat almost every single snap, they were punished for it.
What each team can take away:
A couple of adjustments that I already saw in the first meeting or that I would like to see for each team would be:
For the Bucs, the one thing I want to see most is using more dummy counts to show pressure pre-snap and give Brady a clear picture. Whether they try to block it up with the tight-ends and backs in protection or alert the hot read, the more information they can get from a Spagnuolo defense that prides itself on disguising pressures and coverages, they more adept they will be at defeating those. Once they do that, this could turn into a chess match, where the Chiefs show something different intentionally to make Brady kill the original play and then have to pull the ball down anyway, as the picture changes once the snap is off. And something else they should take advantage of is isolating what is a below-average group of linebackers in the passing game. Their RB core isn’t overly impressive in terms of their receiving abilities, especially when you look at the amount of drops we have seen from Leonard Fournette, but maybe they dig LeSean McCoy out more for this matchup and see if he can win on option routes and Tampa actually put AB in the backfield a couple of times in the backfield in their prior meeting, only they ran him downfield on wheel routes.
Defensively I already saw some stuff that I really through quarters two to four, in terms of using their safety tandem to bracket Hill and Kelce on a lot of snaps and on key downs in particular, forcing the ancillary pieces of that offense to beat them. I will mention one of my X-factors and his role in how that “gamble” could end up in the next segment, but those two guys accounted for 55.5 percent of Kansas City’s total passing yardage. So it’s certainly a chance worth taking and if you go with a game-plan, where your two stand-up guys on the second level are more involved in covering space underneath, as Tyreek may be utilized as more of a decoy that runs off the deep coverage, you can eliminate a lot of yardage after the catch, since teams that rush four and play coverage have been the ones giving the Chiefs some issues at times. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want the Bucs to not use their linebackers as blitzing threats. They should try to cover up the open gaps with those guys and create one-on-ones across the board, to enable their edge rushers to dominate against KC’s backup tackles. And something the Browns against them a few times, which I really liked, was rushing four or five, but not giving up assets in coverage, as they had somebody drop out to replace those blitzers and still create a free rusher.
On the Chiefs’ side, I really liked the plan of chipping those two guys off the edges, as I already discussed, with an extra tight-end on the field, and while they are a spread-oriented offense, they had a lot of success when they used 12 personnel and threw the ball out of those looks. Because you can’t cover the whole field and have to take away what Kansas City sends vertically, those TEs and backs are often times all by themselves as they release into the flats. If that happens, like it did in their prior meeting, Mahomes has to take the free yardage and open up the deeper areas of the field again, as the Bucs have to re-adjust. The other thing I can tell you for sure is that the Bucs are obviously terrified of Tyreek burning them deep again and I’m sure there won’t be many chances to just attack their corners in man-coverage for big plays. So if they give Hill a lot soft cushions, they have to repeat what did to the Bills’ Tre’Davious White in terms of getting him the ball quickly on smoke routes and forcing those guys to tackle their electric receiver. While vertical prowess has to be used as a decoy, in terms of putting him in the slot of those three-by-one sets and having him run up the seam, while you attack underneath that. If you get Mecole Hardman one-on-one with their third-best CB on a post-corner route, while the flanker runs a hitch or square-in to bind the guy on the outside, that could be free money.
When I switch to defense, they had a ton of success bringing the blitz and not allowing Brady to step into throws. I would certainly say they were happy with that game-plan and they have reason to feel confident in the guys they have on the back-end, with the way they have showed out so far in the postseason. However, I have now talked about this at length and the Bucs have watched that tape over and over again. There is no way, those guys will be as ill-prepared to counter those pressure packages as they were back in November. Hell, Brady was dicing them up in the fourth quarter and I just detailed how those two picks came about. So Steve Spagnuolo can still bring the heat in certain situations and test Tampa Bay in their ability to pick up the blitz, but he has to be more strategic in how he uses it. The second thing to consider here is how you mask those linebackers, when you decide to utilize them more in coverage. Those players can be very effective as downhill thumpers in the run game, taking on pulling guards and filling holes, but they aren’t great in space. The Raiders in their two matchups against Kansas City had a lot of success attacking that area of the field with crossing routes. Chris Godwin and Gronk would be guys for that task, so maybe if you have them to one side, the opposite linebacker is the one you blitz and you bring down Sorensen or Mathieu to replace him in that hook-area, while looking to pick up anybody working across the field.
Buccaneers – Aaron Stinnie & Jamel Dean
I’m not going to give you a name like Scotty Miller here, because at this point, he is more likely to catch at least one deep ball than not. Ronald Jones’ health will be key as well, to give the Bucs that physical one-two punch out of the backfield. However, I’m going with their starting right guard Aaron Stinnie, who just got his first two starts of the year during these playoffs. The Bucs O-line has been dominant over the course of this seven-game win streak, like I already mentioned, holding opponents to just 11 sacks combined in those games and an average of 115 rushing yards during these playoffs, despite some tough competition. Alex Cappa was one of the road-graders on the interior for Tampa and only missed three total snaps throughout the regular season, before fracturing his ankle mid-way through their Wildcard game at Washington. Stinnie has since stepped since then and played pretty well, but he was also responsible for the only sack on Brady in the NFC Championship game at Green Bay, when Kenny Clark went right through him on a bull rush. Well, the challenge will not get any easier, as I’d expect the Chiefs to line up Chris Jones in the B-gap as much as possible and try to exploit that matchup, on passing downs in particular. That’s why it will be crucial for Tampa Bay to stay ahead of the chains, unlike they did in the first matchup, and slow the rush down a little bit. Good thing Stinnie is lined up in-between arguably the top rookie right tackle of 2020 in rookie Tristan Wirfs and one of the better centers in Ryan Jensen, who will be looking to land a rib-shot on the guy over Stinnie, on the snaps that he is uncovered for.
As for the Bucs defense, that whole group of corners will have to step up in a major way, as they hope to slow down this explosive KC passing attack. Obviously, Carlton Davis’ name will come up a whole lot early on during the broadcast, as Tony Romo and Jim Nantz show what Tyreek Hill did to him early on in that week 12 meeting, and I could see Hill be matched up with Sean Murphy-Bunting in the slot a whole lot as well, but since I expect the safety to that side to keep his eyes constantly on him, when he lines up inside and makes it easier to bracket to some degree. Instead, I’m looking at Jamel Dean, who primarily is Tampa Bay’s field-side corner, unless they have Davis travelling with the opposing team’s number one receiver in certain matchups, which I wouldn’t expect, as the Bucs coaches go back to the tape of that first matchup. If Todd Bowles is smart – and from what I’ve seen from his as a coach, as much as aggressiveness may have hurt him at times, he is – he will build on what they did in the second half of that last game, when he used his two safeties to bracket Hill and Kelce almost every snap and forced the rest of that receiving corp to beat them. That puts the spotlight on guys like Sammy Watkins if they line him up more at Z, Demarcus Robinson and others, as those guys will pretty much be one-on-one with Dean. While the coverage numbers would indicate otherwise – in part because he draws the easiest assignments – to me he is the weakest link of this secondary and has been highly vulnerable to double-moves. The Chiefs might be burn him once more on Sunday.
Chiefs – Andrew Wylie & Juan Thornhill
I thought about going Sammy Watkins here for the Chiefs offense, because he hasn’t suited up for them since week 16 and he hasn’t caught at least five passes in a game since week three, but averaged almost 100 receiving yards during last year’s playoff run. And you should also get accustomed with who wears number 48 for them, because Nick Keizer may have only caught six passes through the regular season, but he has become KC’s TE2 on the depth chart, playing just over a quarter of the snaps, and he could have a key role as an extra protector or chipping those edge rushers. Instead, I’m going with KC’s new starter at right tackle, who was slotted in at RG for all but one game so far. With blindside protector Eric Fisher unfortunately tearing his Achilles late in the AFC title game, Mike Remmers – who originally replaced Mitchell Schwartz on the right end of the line – is now switching sides and Andrew Wylie is sliding one spot outside. And he will face a tough task, after only having started one game on the edge against the Saints and now getting a heavy load of Shaq Barrett, who primarily rushed off that side. Let’s see if Wylie has the quickness in his kick-slide to counter Barrett’s speed and if the latter can get him on a dip-maneuver, like he beat Eric Fisher for a strip-sack on when these two teams last met. Steven Wisniewski will step in at Wylie’s original spot, but he has been one of the most dependable veteran linemen of the last decade in my opinion.
Defensively, I’m looking at the guy who missed Kansas City’s Super Bowl run last year, after an excellent rookie campaign. Their secondary was the star of the show against Buffalo, to send them to the Super Bowl, by disrupting route patterns at the line of scrimmage and not allowing receivers to separate late. A big reason they felt comfortable doing that was their safety tandem, with Tyrann Mathieu being in more of a robber role and dropping down in Tampa-2, to go along with the rangy Juan Thornhill, who broke up four passes and nearly picked off two of them. Steve Spagnuolo has those safeties doing a ton of late rotations, bailing Daniel Sorensen out for two-high shells, Honeybadger turning into a freely roaming robber and often times Thornhill ending up as the deep middle safety. As a single-high defender, he makes it almost impossible to push the ball down the hashes and he has the ability to make plays outside numbers. That will be crucial against all the deep balls Tampa Bay attempts and if one of those corners loses Mike Evans or Antonio Brown off the line by lunging in press, he could be the guy who decides if there will be a 40+ yard gain or maybe even an interception, if Brady puts too much air under the ball and tries to give his receiver time to track it. I can’t wait to watch that chess game between the Chiefs’ second-year safety and the ultimate student of the game in Brady, who will try to manipulate him with his eyes and body language, in order to keep the defender away from where he wants to go with the ball.
On paper, the Bucs have the better and healthier roster at this moment. You look at the offensive line in particular, where they still have four of their day one starters, while the Chiefs’ only full-time starter at his original position is center Austin Reiter and they will have two guys at those tackle spots, that have barely never played there for Kansas City. In terms of pass-catchers, it’s hard to argue that you could put anybody above the Chiefs group of track stars, but you don’t need a full hand to count off the teams that you would put ahead of the Bucs. There is also a pretty clear advantage on the defensive line for the home team, when you look at them being top three in pressure percentage, while KC is outside the top ten. And while I would give the Chiefs the nod in terms of the back-end, seeing how they have stepped up so far this postseason at full health, the Bucs’ group has made plenty of plays to take them to the Super Bowl and linebacker is not even a competition, watching Devin White and Lavonte David fly around the field. And of course, they have the number one rush defense, while the Chiefs rank 21st, and they are both average at running the ball themselves.
Schematically, Tampa certainly has to make some adjustments, as I have already discussed in length, having solutions for the blitz packages Steve Spagnuolo will throw at them and not allowing the Chiefs two main weapons to beat them. Right now, I give the clear advantage to the reigning champs when it comes to the coaching staffs and as great as Brady has been for two decades now and the how clutch he has been on the game’s biggest stage, we may be witnessing the one guy, who has a chance of dethroning him one day as the GOAT. Spags has a proven track record of success against Brady and I’m sure Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy have been in the lab, cooking up new things to throw at the Bucs defense, figuring out ways to score points all four quarters, but in the end it comes down to Patrick Mahomes being able to make plays nobody else in football can. Shaq Barrett and JPP could have a field day against these two backup tackles and I think Todd Bowles will also have a couple of things up his sleeves that the Chiefs haven’t seen, but last year’s Super Bowl MVP is the ultimate equalizer. He will shake out of a sack and find Kelce for a huge third-down conversion and he will have another like twelve-step drop and fire a deep ball off his back-foot to break Tampa’s neck.
Chiefs 34 – Bucs 28
So give me the Chiefs here and I’ll take the chalk with Mahomes earning MVP honors, winning back-to-back titles and setting the foundation for a potential dynasty in Kansas City.
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