After this last season’s magic run, almost every expected the Kansas City Chiefs to be back in the Super Bowl this year. An appearance by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a 7-9 season in 2019 though Given new life by a 43 year old quarterbackcame as a surprise.
Florida proved to be a fountain of youth for Tom Brady, and his team’s offseason upswing continued into the postseason, resulting in a clash of quarterbacks that some people refer to as GOAT (Brady) and Baby GOAT (Patrick Mahomes) in “greatest any times”.
The quarterbacks did not come to the championship game alone on Sunday. Both teams ended up in the NFL’s top 10 on the most points scored and the fewest allowed points, and while this game may have a high score, there are likely to be big defensive games along the way.
Here’s a look at how the game is supposed to play.
Kansas City Chiefs with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, CBS | Line: Chiefs -3 | Total: 56
When Tampa Bay has the ball
It’s not hard to figure out why Tom Brady wanted to play with the Buccaneers.
After struggling to get something going with a mediocre group of broad receivers in his final seasons with New England, Brady saw unlimited opportunities in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. But if he wanted to roll the dice with a new team, Brady didn’t want to quit with two Pro Bowl receivers, so he convinced his old pal Rob Gronkowski, a close end to getting out of retirement too.
When the Tampa Bay season began with disagreements and injuries, Brady stood up for the team to add the broad receiver Antonio Brown and vouched for him as someone whose productivity would do so outweigh his Problems.
There were flashes of brilliance and moments of frustration in the first three quarters of the season. But after losing to Kansas City in Week 12, the Buccaneers came out of their Week 13 and looked like a new team. For the next four weeks, Tampa Bay was 4-0, averaging 37 points per game.
That barrage kept up the postseason, with the buccaneers scoring at least 30 points on each of their three road wins. On Sunday you have the chance to be the first NFL team to play four 30-point games in a single postseason.
While Tampa Bay can effectively run behind Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette, Brady expects Sunday to move the ball down with short and medium throws to his four elite pass catchers, relying on them to increase in value once caught.
The Chiefs will counter with a pass rush led by Chris Jones and a secondary player largely controlled by Bully Mathieu, a run stopper and take away machine. Bashaud Breeland, who is the Chiefs’ top line defense in terms of pass coverage, will have their hands full stopping Evans, Godwin and Brown.
Brady will likely pass a few yards, but Kansas City has a bend don’t break defense. It might not be as intimidating as some units – including Tampa Bay – but it has earned the 10th lowest points in the NFL this season. So while a 300-yard game from Brady can be expected, a sequel to Tampa Bay’s 30-point streak, which spanned a total of seven games, is less likely.
When Kansas City got the ball
Mahomes is not fair. He uses speed and footwork to avoid bags like Aaron Rodgers does. He turns broken games into giant runs like Russell Wilson does, and he can pull an accurate pass to a receiver with one flick of the wrist, like Dan Marino used to do. While everything plays like a tightrope walk, and Mahomes often pulls defenders close before letting go of the ball, he almost never panics and shows a precision in everything he does that goes against obvious improvisation.
While it’s easy enough to explain his effectiveness by referring to his 4,740 yards or 38 touchdown passes this season, the two most important stats for Mahomes are likely his NFL best interception rate of 1 percent and his sacking rate of 3, 6 percent. You can let your eyes convince you that he’s ruthless, but you would be emphatically wrong – like so many defenses.
The Chiefs’ challenge was to make sure they were putting players around Mahomes who could take advantage of their size, and they have two of the best Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Kelce set a record for receiving yards close to the end of that season (1,416) and would likely have top 1,500 if Kansas City hadn’t rested its starters in Week 17. Hill is a touchdown threat to any game, with his speed sometimes overshadowing his evasiveness, strength, and ability to make difficult catches and break tackles.
Speed is ubiquitous in Kansas City’s offensive – Mahomes, Kelce and Hill have it too – and rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire added a threat to the running game that was expected when Damien Williams was eliminated from the season.
Given Kansas City’s tendency to do their best when challenged the most, this game appears to be trending in the Chiefs’ favor, with the biggest caveat being the poor health of the team on its offensive line. Kansas City is expected to do without its two starting tackles and multiple guards, so it will remain understaffed against a Tampa Bay Pass Rush This has an extreme inner push from the defensive duels against Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh and the elite towers of Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.
If the Kansas City offensive line turns into a sieve – a possibility because it is essentially backing up every point – Mahomes will be under great pressure and his scrambling ability will be extremely tested. In theory, this could result in a mistake or two while throwing – although it’s usually a no-brainer to rely on Mahomes to make mistakes.
How it will turn out
Mahomes finds himself in a place in his career where it is almost impossible to doubt him – something that should be known to Brady, who was once on the same peak as New England. It’s easy to see that the Buccaneers are having a good day offensively, but even if they should build a significant lead they should never feel safe as the Chiefs have dropped at least 9 points in four of their last five playoff games – including last year’s Super Bowl – and won anyway.
Mahomes has years of success ahead of him before his career can exactly take on Bradys, but it seems like a safe bet that on Sunday he will do something no quarterback has done since Brady: win Super Bowls in a row.