The NFL will get its capstone on a season that presented challenges like no other with the juiciest possible matchup. Tom Brady gets to go for his seventh Super Bowl title in what will be his 10thappearance, and standing in his way is Patrick Mahomes, a man whose early-career success rivals even Brady’s, and whose jaw-dropping, borderline-unbelievable feats provide a aesthetic contrast to Brady’s surgical, know-your-limits approach.
Beyond the quarterbacks, there are other interesting angles; the game is a rematch, right down to the venue, of a Week 12 showdown that saw Kansas City survive a late Tampa Bay surge to win, 27-24. That game marks the last time the Buccaneers lost, and their tear ever since has yielded more history, as they will become the first team to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium. It’s unlikely that home-field advantage will matter much; attendance is expected to be 25,000 fans and 30,000 cutouts, a series of words I never expected to type.
A win for Tampa Bay would be the crown jewel of Bruce Arians’ late-blooming career, and would also give Brady a permanent, decisive edge over Bill Belichick, if his work getting this far hasn’t already done so. Speaking of late-blooming head coaches, Andy Reid is experiencing the greatest success of his career at a time when most of his counterparts – Arians and a few others excepted – are winding down. Two titles in three years would make the Chiefs a mini-dynasty, and further solidify what looks like it could be a long-running reign of terror over the rest of the league.
The matchup itself in many ways resembles last year’s game; the Buccaneers are the more balanced team, top to bottom, but Kansas City’s offensive explosiveness is so overwhelming that it might not matter. One key difference? Jimmy Garoppolo is not Brady, and if the Bucs have the Chiefs on the ropes late, and need a few first downs to put the game away, they’re a much better bet to get them.
Either the 43-year-old whose greatness has defined the league’s last 20 years will defy Father Time and do it again, or league’s current and future king will avenge his only playoff loss as a starter, and collect his second title in just four seasons. Let’s get to the game.
Point spread is from BetOnline.ag and is current as of 1 p.m. ET Friday.
Pick with spread is in bold.
Last week: 2-0
KANSAS CITY (16-2) VS. TAMPA BAY (14-5) (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)
TV: CBS LINE: Kansas City -3
What you need to know: The Chiefs made it look easy against Buffalo and provided an object lesson in why it is so tough to pick against them. Kansas City made Sean McDermott and the Bills pay for their conservative in-game decisions, and Mahomes outclassed Josh Allen in a big way. The Chiefs likely won’t be able to run the ball, but that shouldn’t matter; Reid isn’t the type of coach who subscribes to conventional wisdom, and he beat Tampa in the regular season by barely trying to run against the Buccaneers league-best rush defense, and instead putting everything on Mahomes’ shoulders. A valid concern is how the Chiefs’ line will fare against a potent Bucs pass rush. Kansas City won’t have either starting tackle, and Tampa Bay, though defensive coordinator Todd Bowles loves to blitz, doesn’t need to do so to generate pressure. Tyreek Hill ran roughshod over Carlton Davis in the first meeting, so the Chiefs will no doubt try to exploit that matchup if it is presented, and as usual, rely on Travis Kelce to dominate in the middle of the field. Bowles played against type in the teams’ first meeting, rarely blitzing Mahomes, and instead trying to force him to be patient. It didn’t work, mainly because Hill went off in spectacular fashion in the first quarter, but it was still the right strategic choice. The Buccaneers have the off-ball linebacker talent to slow Kelce – Lavonte David is one of the league’s most underrated players and Devin White one of its rising stars – but Kelce is almost assuredly going to get his numbers. He has at least a touchdown in six straight games and seven of eight and has at least eight receptions in nine of his last ten. As for the Bucs’ offense? They have weapons everywhere, and the question is simple: Can Brady outfox Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who derailed the Patriots’ perfect season as the Giants’ defensive coordinator in Super Bowl XLII? Spagnuolo will try to bring pressure, so Brady must make Kansas City pay. That’s where Antonio Brown could make his presence felt, assuming he’s healthy enough to go.
On the spot: Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. No need to overthink this one. As balanced as Tampa Bay is, and as great as Brady is still capable of being, if Mahomes brings his “A” game, none of it will matter. He is the best player in the league, a force of nature, and his skills can render even the most well-conceived, well-executed game plans moot. His legs could be particularly important in this game as well, so if his turf toe is near 100 percent healed, Tampa Bay will have even more to worry about.
Buccaneers QB Tom Brady: Similarly, there is no need to overthink this one, either. Multiple things have to go right for the Bucs to win this game – they’re the underdog for a reason – but more than anything else, Brady has to play one of the best games of his career. San Francisco did almost everything right for 50-plus minutes last year, but when San Francisco had the ball, clinging to a late lead, Garoppolo couldn’t close the show. If Brady finds himself in that position, my guess is that he will.
The pick: Buccaneers 38 Chiefs 34