We have finally arrived at the greatest spectacle and sports day of the calendar, Super Bowl Sunday. After the NFL got through all 256 regular season games without a single cancellation, the postseason has reached its climax with the previous postseason games occurring with little issues.
Super Bowl 55 will take place in Tampa, Florida as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Kansas City Chiefs in their own stadium in front of 25,000 fans and 30,000 cutouts. This is a rematch of their Week 12 meeting as the Chiefs jumped out to a 17-0 lead at Tampa Bay, then held on for a 27-24 win. As many across the world prepare for the big game, here is a breakdown of each team’s journey to get to this point and their respective positions.
Kansas City Chiefs
The defending Super Bowl champions find themselves one win away from becoming the first team since the 2003-04 New England Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Last season, the Chiefs overcame three double-digit deficits in the postseason to win their second Super Bowl in franchise history, including a 20-10 comeback over the San Francisco 49ers that saw the Chiefs score on their last three possessions to win 31-20. Patrick Mahomes cemented himself as the new face of the NFL with a regular season and Super Bowl MVP in only two seasons as a starting quarterback. Head coach Andy Reid overcame his previous postseason failures with his first Super Bowl championship, and with nearly every key player returning for the 2020-21 season, the Chiefs were a heavy favorite to repeat as champions.
While the Chiefs did not look like their usual dominant selves on a consistent basis, they still proved to be the best team when it mattered most, going 14-2 with one of those two losses coming in Week 17 when the Chiefs rested their starters for the playoffs. They won their final seven games of the regular season by single digits, showing some vulnerabilities that teams could exploit come playoff time, including the lack of rhythm the offense suffered through long stretches. In the playoffs, Mahomes was knocked out of their divisional playoff game against the Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs, with some clutch plays from defensive tackle Chris Jones and backup QB Chad Henne, survived the surging Browns 22-17. After Mahomes was cleared to play for the AFC Championship game, the Chiefs rolled the Buffalo Bills 38-24 with intermediary passing and team speed.
Mahomes was still fantastic this season, throwing for 4,740 yards and 38 touchdown passes with only six interceptions. His jaw-dropping arm talent was still on full display but the biggest element he improved in was his pocket presence. He has been battling a turf-toe injury, forcing him to stay in the pocket for most of this postseason. He has vastly improved with dink-and-dunk passing, limiting the opposition’s pass rush and forcing teams to keep up with the Chiefs’ receiving corp. With this new development, the receivers have had more opportunities to showcase their elite speed and talent. Tyreek Hill is as dangerous as ever, exemplified in the Chiefs’ previous meeting with the Buccaneers as Hill had over 200 yards receiving in the first quarter, finishing with 269 yards receiving. Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson add more depth and options as wide receiver Sammy Watkins continues to battle his calf injury. He is questionable for the game. Mahomes’ security blanket is tight end Travis Kelce, who finished second in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,416 yards.
The Chiefs drafted LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with their first-round pick and despite him battling injuries over the second half of the season, he helped elevate the Chiefs’ running game as they improved from the 23rd rush offense in 2019 to the 16th this season. Despite 2019 postseason sensation Damien Williams opting out for the season, Darryl Williams has supplemented Edwards-Helaire nicely with his quick burst off the line of scrimmage. The offensive line does have issues with left tackle Eric Fisher tearing his Achilles tendon in the game against the Bills two weeks ago, causing him to miss at least the Super Bowl, and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was placed on the injured reserve list after his injury in Week 6 against the Bills. Also, guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out before the season, forcing Nick Allegretti and Andrew Wylie to take his place. The Chiefs’ offensive line still allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the regular season and only one sack in the AFC Championship game.
Defensively, the Chiefs were in the middle of the pack in nearly every major defensive statistical category. However, their three leaders in edge rusher Frank Clark, Jones and safety Tyrann Mathieu are all dependable when it matters the most. Jones disrupted the Browns’ offense during their final drive, allowing the Chiefs to get the ball back and run out the clock, Clark had two sacks in the AFC title game and Mathieu makes his mark all over the secondary. If the Chiefs are going to have defensive success, these three will need to step up against the Buccaneers’ potent offense. However, watch out for safeties L’Jarius Sneed and Daniel Sorensen and linebacker Anthony Hitchens to step up as well with their strong play recognition. The Chiefs’ special teams unit is strong with reliable kicker in Harrison Butker with Hardman and Byron Pringle giving the Chiefs’ speed in the return game. With the Chiefs’ stellar speed and coaching, they are in prime position to win their second-straight Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Standing in the Chiefs’ path of a repeat is a franchise playing in only their second Super Bowl of all time in the Buccaneers. The Bucs defeated the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl 37 to win the franchise’s only championship. However, the franchise had fallen on hard times before this season, missing the playoffs every season from 2007-19. They had the first-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, selecting Florida State QB Jameis Winston. While he had talent and threw for a lot of yards, he was a turnover magnet as he threw 30 interceptions in 2019 as Tampa Bay finished 7-9. With talented players such as wide receiver Mike Evans and linebacker Lavonte David missing the playoffs season after season, the Bucs needed a leader to put them over the hump.
Enter the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady.
Brady left New England after winning six Super Bowls and a 2019 season which saw the Patriots lose in the wild card round to the Tennessee Titans. With the Patriots’ inability to support Brady with playmakers, Brady decided to join the Bucs at the ripe age of 43-years old. Without a preseason, the Bucs got off to a rocky start, going 7-5 with two thrashings at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. However, after the Bucs’ Week 13 bye, the Bucs finished the season on a four-game winning streak with their last loss coming against the Chiefs back in Week 12. In the playoffs, the Bucs won at Washington, then got their revenge on the Saints as a strong defensive performance guided the Bucs to a 30-20 win at New Orleans. In the NFC Championship game at Green Bay, the Bucs jumped out to a 28-10 lead, then despite Brady throwing for three second-half picks, the Bucs held on to win 31-26. The Bucs became the first team since the 2010 Packers to reach the Super Bowl after winning three consecutive road playoff games.
Brady played spectacularly this season despite his age with 4,633 passing yards (third in the NFL) and 40 touchdown passes. Unlike his final season with the Patriots, Brady had many weapons at his disposal, including Evans. Evans caught 70 receptions for 1,006 yards and 13 touchdowns. Evans has waited for a great QB to throw to him and despite battling injuries, Evans capitalized with a successful season. Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller complement each other well as Godwin acts as an explosive receiver with good hands and Miller is the speedy slot receiver Brady has loved throwing to his entire career. Also, while he hasn’t played like he did in his prime with the Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski has given Brady a familiar and dependable option. The running game, while struggling in the regular season, has come alive in the playoffs with Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones providing a spark on the ground. The offensive line is one of the league’s best, anchored by stalwarts such as Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith and rookie Tristan Werfs.
Defensively, the Bucs are loaded everywhere. They bolster one of the best defensive lines in the NFL with defensive tackle Vita Vea returning to clog the middle running lanes, along with Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston. Their linebacking corp is one of the best in the NFL with David and 2019 first-round pick Devin White wrecking havoc on opposing offenses with their blazing speed and relentless pursuit. On the edge, Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett have been terrorizing opposing offenses all season long, including a combined five sacks on league MVP Aaron Rodgers in the NFC title game. Secondary has been an issue with the Bucs in recent history but this season, youth has helped make it a dependable unit. Sean Murphy-Bunting has three interceptions this postseason, Antoine Winfield Jr. is a game-changer at safety and Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead and Jamel Dean make up a youthful unit with a tough task on Super Bowl Sunday. Kicking has also been an issue over the years for Tampa Bay but this season, it is a strength as kicker Ryan Succop made 28 of his 31 field goal attempts in the regular season and in the postseason, he has gone eight-for-eight.
While there has been a threat of thunderstorms and rain, the skies appear to be clear for Super Bowl 55 at Tampa. The Bucs have a slight advantage as they are the first team in Super Bowl history to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium, however they are not allowed to fire their cannons after a score. There are three aspects of the game that will determine the outcome of this battle. First, with the Chiefs missing both of their starting tackles, it is up to Barrett and Pierre-Paul to rattle Mahomes and disrupt the Chiefs’ offense like they did at Green Bay two weeks ago. If they can get pressure on Mahomes, the Bucs can support their offense with key defensive stops. Second, David and White must limit Kelce from torching the Bucs’ defense or else the Chiefs’ offense will get into a rhythm, making them hard to stop. They have the speed and talent to do it, which is a trait few other linebackers in the NFL have. Lastly, Brady must avoid mistakes. He cannot threw interceptions against the Chiefs and get away with it like he did in the NFC title game. Brady must play mistake-free football to keep up with the Chiefs.
This game is a battle of the GOAT in Brady vs the future GOAT in Mahomes. If Brady can win a seventh Super Bowl and defeat Mahomes in the playoffs again, Brady may cement himself as the permanent GOAT in football the way Michael Jordan has in basketball and Wayne Gretzky in hockey. However, if Mahomes wins, he may put himself on a path that may see him as the best ever when he retires. A win by Mahomes will begin a new NFL dynasty and I believe he will gain his second consecutive Super Bowl MVP. While Tampa Bay and Brady will keep up with the Chiefs the entire game with Todd Bowles’ defense frustrating Eric Bieniemy’s offense, the Chiefs as they always do will find a way to come out on top with a late Mahomes touchdown pass to Kelce to give the Chiefs a 28-24 victory.
Score: Chiefs 28 Buccaneers 24