THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Super Bowl LV - that’s number 55 for those not in keeping with the titular Roman numerals - ends a season that has been one of the strangest in history. It’s been no less exhilarating for that, but due to the pandemic we’re still playing games under heavy constrictions. Tampa, Florida is your designated host for SB LV, and the Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium will only be a third full as the NFL announced that just 22,000 fans can attend the season finale. Part of this will be made up of 7,500 fully vaccinated health care workers, a truly kind gesture for those who have been on the front line. This is not just from the local area, as teams have been invited to send workers from their own communities too. Having fans in the stadium may not be essential but as the season has gone on, more teams and stadiums have had clearance to allow small numbers in, and the impact it has is clearly recognised.
Although this has been a season like no other in that respect, there seems an air of inevitability in the teams that will clash this Sunday. The Kansas City Chiefs, defending champions and by far the most consistent team over the last 20 weeks of play, will again be representing the AFC. On the other side of the ball the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the NFC team that rolled the dice in the off season and landed quarterback Tom Brady, the most successful Super Bowl player ever. Brady’s move south immediately made the Bucs one of the favorites to get this far. Backed up by a team that gelled around him, the odds-makers were proved right. So, can Brady make it seven titles? Or will Patrick Mahomes prove that he is truly the new face of the NFL, and take his Chiefs to the start of a new dynastic period? Here are some details that might help you decide…
Looking at the numbers won’t help much as both teams stack up remarkably similarly. The Chiefs ran up 29.6 points per game to the Buccaneers’ 30.8. Kansas City were tighter on defense though, allowing 20.5ppg to Tampa’s 23.0. Kansas was slightly more explosive on offense, racking up a huge 425.3 yards per game, compared to the Bucs’ 393.4, still an impressive total. So, we know both sides can move the ball, and score well. How they move it is also similar. Through the air the Chiefs averaged 312.8ypg, a little more than Tampa’s 298.5. And running the ball Kansas City also edged ahead 112.4 to 94.9 - maybe that could be the key? Defensively it is a mirror image with the Chiefs allowing 366.0 yards per game, and the Buccaneers 366.3. Kansas let fewer yards pass over their heads, 245.5 to 280.7ypg, but the Buccaneers were far stingier against the run letting just 85.7 to the Chiefs’ 120.5ypg, again suggesting that the run game could be crucial.
Kansas City will of course rely on Mahomes to be at his best. When he is, he is extremely hard to defend, and his ways of keeping plays alive have eclipsed all the elusive QBs that came before him. We now know, after the playoffs, that he has an able backup in Chad Henne, but with all due respect to the journeyed play caller we do not want to see him too much in this game. With an all-star cast around them it’s easy to see why moving the ball becomes easy for the Chiefs. Tyreek Hill has speed to burn at wide receiver, and Travis Kelce is the go-to guy when you need tough yards, or a big play to move the chains. Darrell Williams will likely take up the main part of running the ball and he will be ably helped by Mecole Hardman. On defense, Charvarius Ward has stepped up during the postseason, and Tyrann Mathieu is becoming the star we all hoped he would be. Daniel Sorensen, Anthony Hitchens, and L’Jarius Sneed will also play their part in a hard-hitting unit.
Tampa Bay will be making history as the first team to play in Super Bowl that they host; however, it is not strange territory for Tom Brady, who will be playing in his tenth. That alone is staggering, but he is going for a seventh title and the only person that will stop this incredible run is himself when he decides it’s time to hang up the shoulder pads and cleats. This Sunday he will be handing the ball off to Leonard Fournette, a player that he helped persuade join him at Tampa, a powerful back who is hard to take down. Ronald Jones II will be a good foil in the run game. Brady has weapons on his receiving ranks too. Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, possibly Antonio Brown (at the time of writing still listed as questionable) and of course his old Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski. Each of these will be expected to be targeted and used to their full potential, but as Brady has found in the past its often an underused player that gets the spotlight so maybe Scotty Miller could grab the headlines. On defense the Buccaneers have some stellar talent too, Devin White has been a colossus in the playoffs with 26 tackles, and Lavonte David has chipped in with 20. Sean Murphy-Bunting has been the biggest ball-hawk with 3 interceptions. Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett will be looking to add to their tally of 5 sacks between them this postseason.
If it comes down to kickers - and let’s face it, it could in a ‘a who has the ball last’ situation - then the Buccaneers have a potential game winner in Ryan Succop, whereas the Chiefs will hope that Harrison Butker’s nerves will not get the better of him.
Both head coaches have a wealth of experience. Andy Reid has been an NFL coach since 1992, and after a very good run in Philadelphia he has turned the Chiefs into the most feared team in football. Bruce Arians has had a varied career but was first on the NFL sidelines in 1989, ironically as the Chiefs’ running back coach. After finally landing a head coaching job in Arizona, he has found his feet in Tampa the last two years.
If all the above still has not helped pick out a winner then maybe you just go with instinct. Who is playing hot enough and who has the big game capability? Still hard to separate, is it not. These are two very well-matched teams, in all areas of the game. For me it will come down to who makes the least mistakes. That may sound obvious, but turnovers are often key and decide the outcome of big games.
So, here is my prediction. If the Chiefs can sustain enough pressure on Brady and stop the Bucs’ outside threat they should be able to curtail the run game too. This will let the Chiefs see more of the ball on offense than the Bucs would like and allow the Chiefs to grind them down. It will be quite high scoring, but I see Kansas City wining by at least 10 points.
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