Super Bowl LV in many ways is a dream matchup, pitting the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs against the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have been reinvigorated by Tom Brady and a host of other signings.
Kansas City is the betting favourite, but this matchup ought to be closer than some would originally imagine.
Below, we take a look at which team has the advantage at every position.
Tom Brady has almost always been the superior quarterback in every Super Bowl he’s been in, with the exception of his first appearance in 2001, when he stunned Kurt Warner and the 14-point favourite St. Louis Rams. Brady, who is making his unprecedented 10th appearance, just submitted his best season of the past half-decade and has clearly benefited from a change of scenery, armed with more weapons than he’s had since the 2007 season. After throwing for 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season, Brady is in vintage form, although it’s hard to ignore his three interceptions in the NFC title game. If his counterpart were anyone else, it’d be advantage, Brady.
It’s Patrick Mahomes’ world and we’re just living in it. Mahomes, who engineered a marvellous fourth-quarter comeback against the San Francisco 49ers in last year’s Super Bowl, followed up with a season where he threw for 38 touchdowns against six interceptions. Already the most accomplished young quarterback in NFL history, Mahomes is merely fighting for superlative titles, and a victory over Brady’s Buccaneers would only accelerate his trajectory to eventually usurp the 43-year-old as the greatest player of all time. These are the two most clutch quarterbacks in NFL history, but Mahomes is the far superior option in 2020, even with Brady rounding into form through the second half of the year.
Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones were both written off by large factions of the football community prior to the 2020 season, but found new life this year. Fournette was waived by the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars after being selected fourth overall in 2017 — even though he rushed for over 1,150 yards in 2019 — but found comfort in his new role with the Buccaneers. Jones, meanwhile, was labeled a bust by some, but he broke out for 978 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 2020. Fournette, who looked revived against the Packers, will likely split carries with Jones against the Chiefs, while Jones will likely be used on obvious passing downs.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire was essentially selected by Mahomes, as the quarterback told the Chiefs draft room to take the shifty back out of LSU last spring. Edwards-Helaire has struggled to run through the tackles, but has proven to be explosive if he gets past the second level, while Darrel Williams has gamely filled the role as the team’s nominal starter, rushing for 52 yards and a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC title game. Le’Veon Bell, despite the high-ticket profile, hasn’t been much of a factor this season.
Rob Gronkowski is arguably the greatest tight end of all time and yet, like Brady, he’s not the best player at his position in this matchup. Gronkowski returned from a one-year hiatus and joined his former Patriots quarterback in Tampa Bay, recording 77 receptions for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. Cameron Brate has been Brady’s preferred option at tight end throughout the postseason, however, and Tampa Bay could throw a number of looks at Kansas City in the passing game on Sunday.
Travis Kelce submitted one of the best seasons ever by a tight end, recording 105 catches for a league-leading 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns. Kelce might be the NFL’s most unstoppable weapon at the moment and aside from Mahomes, he’s Kansas City’s most valuable player in 2020. It is admittedly weird that Kelce has usurped Gronkowski as the NFL’s best tight end, despite both players being the same age, but their career paths have taken off at different times. It’s firmly Kelce’s league now, however.
Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Scotty Miller and Antonio Brown are the best quartet of receivers that Brady’s had since 2007, and if one wanted to argue it’s his best receiving corps ever, that would be fine, too. Godwin can run through or around smaller defensive backs, is a major threat for yards after the catch while running aggressively downhill, and has to always be accounted for. Evans presents different challenges. He’s the best receiver in the league at drawing pass interference calls, absolutely dominates smaller corners in 1-on-1 scenarios, and like Godwin is an elite route-runner. Brown isn’t the same player that he used to be and is battling through an injury, but he’s shown flashes of the form that once made him the NFL’s best receiver. Scotty Miller has also emerged as a legitimate downfield option and he certainly doesn’t lack confidence, believing he could beat Tyreek Hill in a race. We don’t think he could, but that’s far from the point: this is a loaded group.
Hill absolutely destroyed the Buccaneers in their head-to-head matchup this season, going for 269 yards and three touchdowns on 13 catches, scorching cornerback Carlton Davis. He is the NFL’s fastest player and the Chiefs will do everything they can to ensure he can get out into space, where he’s the league’s best player after the catch. Mecole Hardman does everything Hill does at a lesser level — he’s likely the second-fastest player in the NFL, and both Hill and Hardman are used in the running game on designed jet sweeps and option plays. Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins could all see touches, but the primary focus has to be on Hill and Hardman.
Slight advantage: Buccaneers
Tampa Bay’s offensive line simply may be its best unit, and there are no noticeable holes for Kansas City to exploit. Ali Marpet has long been one of the NFL’s premier guards, Ryan Jensen has often looked deserving of being one of the NFL’s highest-paid centres, while third-year pro Aaron Stinnie has been serviceable. Tristan Wirfs, Tampa Bay’s 2020 first-round pick, provided excellent return on value while left tackle Donovan Smith has done a good job protecting Brady throughout the year. This isn’t a flashy group but it is more than solid.
Kansas City’s offensive line is its weakest unit, as standout guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the season, while tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher both suffered season-ending injuries. Although this group has had to string together some replacements, it’s not an altogether awful group. Veteran guard Stefen Wisniewski has been a key component of two Super Bowl-winning teams, left guard Nick Allegretti quietly put together a strong season, but the worries stem from the tackles. Mike Remmers will start at left tackle and Von Miller annihilated him in Super Bowl 50. It’s not the soundest analysis to draw a sample from just one game, and Remmers could meet the challenge presented in front of him, but it will be an uphill battle.
Jason Pierre-Paul is back to playing some of the best football of his career, recording 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles during the regular season, and was a menace in the NFC title game. Pierre-Paul was a massive part of the Giants’ Super Bowl triumph against Brady and the Patriots in 2011 and he knows all too well the importance of generating a strong pass rush against a generational quarterback. Mahomes is one of the best players ever at improvising in the pocket, but Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett (eight sacks during the regular season) are simply balling and will be coming after him relentlessly. Ndamukong Suh has also been deployed at defensive end in the base 3-4 defence. An experienced, talented pass rush against a makeshift offensive line could swing the balance of the game.
Chris Jones is the second-most destructive interior lineman in football after Aaron Donald and can wreak havoc on games. Jones, Frank Clark and underrated edge rusher Tanoh Kpassagnon form a formidable front that is capable of sending pressure after Brady and ensuring he doesn’t escape out of the pocket. Clark in particular made Josh Allen’s life miserable in the AFC title game and could be in for a repeat performance against a far less mobile quarterback.
Slight advantage: Buccaneers
Devin White and Lavonte David both earned second-team All-Pro nods and they have the best range of any unit in the league. You can deploy either player in coverage, send them after the quarterback, or have them make a cerebral read in the running game. They are going to take away short passing routes for Kansas City and will be able to detect any obvious tells from a complicated offence. This is the best linebacker unit in the NFL.
Anthony Hitchens has been supremely underrated for Kansas City and he, along with teammate Damien Wilson, deserve more credit for anchoring the middle of the field for the defending champions. Hitchens in particular has a strong nose for the ball and while this group won’t force too many turnovers, it does a good job in run support. But they are no match for their counterparts.
Tampa Bay’s secondary is young, talented, inexperienced and injured. Antoine Winfield Jr. has been a revelation for the Buccaneers in his rookie year and is just as bruising a hitter as his father was, while Jordan Whitehead is playing the best football of his young career. Both Winfield (ankle) and Whitehead (shoulder/knee) are listed as questionable, however, and though both players project to play Sunday, there’s no certainty and they’ll be in a diminished capacity if they do play. Davis has been strong throughout the playoffs, but we’ve already highlighted his struggles against Hill. Tampa Bay will need Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards to have the games of their lives if they are thrust into further action.
Tyrann Mathieu earned first-team All-Pro honours for the second consecutive year and is the leader of Kansas City’s defence. Mathieu is one of the NFL’s smartest players and can be used as a cornerback, slot cornerback or free safety with equal fluency. Against the Buccaneers’ loaded offence, Mathieu will be counted upon to diagnose plays at the line of scrimmage, aid in run support and provide help over the top against Evans or Godwin. He won’t be alone. Kansas City also has an emerging rookie star in L’Jarius Sneed, who has recorded two sacks during the postseason. Sneed has the third-best opponent passer rating among qualified cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus, and it’s almost unfair the Chiefs were able to find another star in the fourth round. Daniel Sorensen is one of the game’s most fearsome hitters and has been excellent in coverage and run support this year.
You’ve gotten this far, so we won’t bore you with anything unnecessary. The differences between both punters and kickers is negligible, but Jaydon Mickens is an excellent return man for Tampa Bay, while Hardman’s game-breaking speed is always a threat that has to be accounted for. If the Chiefs need some magic, they can always deploy Hill in the return game, too.
Slight advantage: Chiefs
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