Super Bowl LV preview
After months of navigating through a season filled with uncertainty, the NFL will crown it's next champion Sunday night in Tampa. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will become the first team to play the Super Bowl on its home field, while the Kansas City Chiefs can become the first team to repeat as champion since the New England Patriots in 2003-04 and 2004-05.
These two teams met earlier this season in Week 12-- a game that Kansas City won 27-24. In that game, Tyreek Hill stole the show with 269 yards and three touchdowns on 13 catches as KC got out to an early 17-0 lead and led 27-10 in the third quarter. Patrick Mahomes threw for 462 yards with three touchdowns, while Tom Brady had 345 passing yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Tampa made a late comeback attempt but never got the ball back for a potential game-winning or tying drive.
After an eventful offseason that drew substantial attention from the national media, Tampa got off to a slow start this season. The Bucs lost their season opener to the Saints and looked out of sync on offense. They rebounded to win three in a row before losing to a lowly Bears team. After a 38-3 loss to the Saints in their second meeting, Tampa seemed to finally find its footing. The next week saw a 46 point explosion against the Panthers, followed by close games against both the Rams and the Chiefs. Although the Carolina game was the only one of those three that Tampa won, it looked like a new team after that stretch. The Bucs finished the regular season with four straight wins and scored more than 40 points in two of those games. The Bucs held off Washington in the wildcard round, avenged the earlier losses to the Saints in the divisional round, and held off a late rally in the NFC Championship against Green Bay.
Kansas City was a pretty well known commodity going into the season because most members of a historic offense were returning, and defensive improvements were expected to aid its title defense. The Chiefs rolled to a 4-0 start, then suffered a surprising loss to Las Vegas. They responded by ripping off 10 wins in a row before losing the season finale; a game in which they rested their starters. After an opening round bye week, they were challenged late by Cleveland in the divisional round but dominated Buffalo in the conference title game.
This is one of the greatest quarterback matchups in recent memory and may be the last time we see Tom Brady against Patrick Mahomes. Taking a new team to the Super Bowl in year one--his 10th Super Bowl appearance overall--has solidified Brady's status as the Greatest of All-Time. Although he is not the player he once was and doesn't have the same arm strength, Brady's 2020 performance has proven that he was not a system quarterback in New England. As for Mahomes, he has quickly become the next superstar QB and face of the NFL. His arm talent is exceptional, and his abilities have made him the perfect QB to put the Chiefs' offense over the top. Winning back-to-back titles this early in his career would go a long way in building Mahomes's legacy.
Another great matchup in this game is the offensive lines against the defensive fronts. The Chiefs have had a great offensive line over the past few seasons, however many of this year's starters will be missing in the Super Bowl, including franchise left tackle Eric Fisher, who suffered an Achilles injury in the AFC Championship game. While Tampa's secondary isn't great, the d-line makes up for it. The Bucs finished the season with the fourth-most sacks in the league, behind Pittsburgh, the LA Rams, and Philadelphia. At this point, Mahomes is a much more mobile quarterback and can probably withstand some of that pass rush. Brady, on the other hand, is not great at escaping the pocket, so a big game from Kansas City's pass rush could change the outlook on this game.
Both defenses will have their hands full with these offenses. Not only do both teams feature star quarterbacks, but they are both littered with stars. The Bucs have a great receiving unit with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Gronk, Antonio Brown (listed as questionable), and others. Meanwhile, we all know that just about any Kansas City player can make plays--especially Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. An important element in this matchup will be getting faster players on slower players, and whoever does that better may win this game.
The running game will also be a factor. Tampa's defensive front has been one of the league's best this season and can make teams struggle to run the ball. Kansas City will have to find creative ways to run the ball if it wants to keep Tampa's defense off balance. In contrast, Kansas City is pretty good against the run as well but is prone to giving up some chunk plays on the ground. Because of that, running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones will be huge x-factors for this game for Tampa. If those two can find success on the ground, it could help the Buccaneers keep that lethal KC offense off the field.
Both teams also feature experienced and respected coaches. Kansas City's Andy Reid has been an NFL head coach for 22 years and has made two previous Super Bowl appearances--winning one title. He has always been a great offensive mind and has surrounded the Chiefs with a great coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka, and special teams coordinator Dave Toub have all been discussed as future head coaches in the league during points of their careers. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was once a head coach himself and has coordinated two defenses that beat Brady in past Super Bowls.
Tampa is coached by Bruce Arians, another well-respected offensive mind who previously led the Colts as an interim head coach. He has also been the head coach in Arizona. He has previous Super Bowl experience as a coordinator, winning two titles with the Steelers in 2005-06 and 2008-09. This will be his first Super Bowl appearance as a head coach,. The rest of the staff includes defensive mastermind Todd Bowles--a former head coach himself, former QB Byron Leftwich, Super Bowl champions Larry Foote and Antwaan Randle El, and long-time assistants Clyde Christensen and Tom Moore among others.
Without a doubt, this particular pairing has all the makings of an instant-classic Super Bowl. In an offensively-driven league, two of the best made it to the finale. While we may not know what we will get from a couple of good yet inconsistent defenses, we know these offenses can score in bunches. It sure feels like we will see a great offensive game in which taking care of the football and maximizing possessions will be immensely imperative.
I'm not big on predicting scores, but since it is the Super Bowl, I think I have to do it: