Any Super Bowl is enhanced when a top-level quarterback duel is pending. Consider what goes down Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa as enhanced.
Tom Brady, at age 43, appearing in his 10th Super Bowl, his first with the Buccaneers, is countered by Patrick Mahomes, the reigning best quarterback in the NFL, going for his second-straight Super Bowl triumph for the Chiefs. As brightly as these stars figure to shine, they do not line up across from each other, but likely will have to match points with one another.
The true test comes when one side knocks heads with the other. Thus, with no further ado, we bring you the Super Bowl LV matchups:
Chiefs pass offense vs. Buccaneers pass defense
There is no more feared label than “Chiefs pass offense.’’ Mahomes is at the top of his game and appears to have allayed fear that his toe injury will hamper him much, if at all. He is hard to get to — he was sacked just 24 times this season, twice by the Bucs in Week 12. He can throw it short, intermediate or long, and his first inclination is to go deep. Why not, considering what he has at his disposal?
Speed demon Tyreek Hill devastated the Bucs (mostly CB Carlton Davis) in the regular season meeting and is a big play waiting to happen. TE Travis Kelce is basically unstoppable. Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, take your pick, are all dangerous.
The Bucs have a young and talented secondary but will have to dominate up front with OLBs Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett going after a patchwork, injury-depleted offensive tackle group. That is the huge question: Without injured starters Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher, can fill-in tackles Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie hold up? Without pressure on Mahomes, it will be lights-out in the defensive backfield for Davis, Jamel Dean, Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield Jr. The Bucs are ball-hawks, with five interceptions in three playoff games.
Chiefs run offense vs. Buccaneers run defense
The Chiefs were No. 16 in the NFL in rushing, mainly because they throw it so often, rather than an inability to produce yards on the ground. A fast start to his rookie season devolved for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was banged up with ankle and hip injuries, but finally seems healthy. He can run it and catch it and continues in the Kansas City theme of killer speed. Darrel Williams (130 yards, one TD in two postseason games) is a capable backup. Former Steelers star and Jets flop Le’Veon Bell has been a no-impact addition, but has talent.
The Buccaneers should be bolstered by the return of massive DT Vita Vea, who returned in the NFC title game from a Week 5 fractured ankle. He is a load for a unit that allowed only 85.7 rushing yards per game. Vea, Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston up front, Pierre-Paul on the edge and inside LBs Lavonte David and Devin White are a formidable group to run on. Again, can the backup Chiefs’ offensive tackles keep the edges clear in the run game?
Buccaneers pass offense vs. Chiefs pass defense
No wonder Brady did not look in his rear-view mirror when leaving the Patriots and their shabby offensive personnel for the talent he is surrounded with in Tampa. Mike Evans is an elite, physical receiver, and Chris Godwin, despite a few uncharacteristic drops this postseason, is a threat. The speed of Scotty Miller in the slot is a significant addition, and, oh by the way, Antonio Brown if he can shake off a knee issue is capable of a big play, especially if he is matched up on a No. 3 cornerback. Rookie Tyler Johnson is another target for Brady.
At tight end, Rob Gronkowski is a shell of his former self, but he can block and make a key catch when needed — Gronkowski’s best game (6-106) this season came against the Chiefs in Week 12. TE Cameron Brate is the more consistent option. Chiefs CBs Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland played better than expected in 2020, and L’Jarius Sneed was the highest-graded rookie corner by Pro Football Focus. Daniel Sorensen at one safety spot is a frequent blitzer.
It all begins and ends here for the Chiefs with Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger had a career-high six interceptions in the regular season, encouraged by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to use his instincts all over the field. The Bucs’ offensive line — anchored by LG Ali Marpet, rugged C Ryan Jensen and stud rookie RT Tristan Wirfs — allowed pressure on Brady on just 24 percent of his dropbacks, fourth lowest in the league. DT Chris Jones can be unblockable inside and Frank Clark (two sacks vs. the Bills in the AFC title game) can be a force on the edge.
Buccaneers run offense vs. Chiefs run defense
After a solid regular season, Ronald Jones (978 rushing yards, seven TDs) has been overshadowed in the playoffs by Leonard Fournette (211 yards, three TDs in three playoff games). Jones got knocked around and lost a fumble in the NFC title game, but he cannot be discounted. Fournette, not known for his hands, has 14 receptions for 102 yards in the postseason, but also a few drops. He is hard to bring down and seems to be running to prove something.
Make no mistake, Brady at this stage of his career wants to run it and use the play-action game to ignite the air attack. Chiefs DE Tanoh Kpassagnon is primarily a run-stopper. The Chiefs’ inside linebackers do not attract a great deal of attention but they are active, as Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are solid against the run. The Chiefs have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past six games.
After six years with the Titans, Ryan Succop came to Tampa Bay and solved the Bucs’ kicker issues, hitting 28 of his 31 field goal attempts. He is 8-for-8 in the postseason, with one missed extra point. Bradley Pinion put six of his nine punts during the playoffs inside the 20-yard line. Jaydon Mickens had a 43-yard kickoff return against the Packers two weeks ago.
For the Chiefs, Harrison Butker is reliable (25-of-27 on field goals this season) and one of the more consistent kickers in the league. He is 4-of-5 in the playoffs, with a missed extra point. Tommy Townsend punted just 52 times this season and put 20 of them down inside the 20-yard line. Hardman has great speed, but he lost a fumble on a kick return two weeks ago against the Bills.
Remember when Andy Reid was known as a good coach who could not win the big one with the Eagles? He is a superior play-caller and orchestrator of an offense, and as the man in charge, he keeps his team loose with his Hawaiian shirts, hunger for postgame cheeseburgers and easy-going demeanor. He has an ally in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who already has helped beat Brady once in a Super Bowl (with the Giants after the 2007 season).
Bruce Arians, 68, came out of retirement to take the Bucs’ job, and he is known for his “no risk it, no biscuit’’ approach. He is a gambler and put together the most diverse staff in the league. His defensive coordinator, former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, is not afraid to send pressure.
This is the first time a team will play a Super Bowl on its home field. Wouldn’t you know it, much of the home-field advantage will be mitigated by having just 22,000 fans in the stands, though it figures to be more of a Bucs crowd. The Chiefs have the added pressure of trying to win a repeat title, something that has not been done in the NFL in 16 years. The Bucs have the all-time Super Bowl winner in Brady (six rings) but he has been beaten three times in the Super Bowl.