Super Bowl LV: The Greatest QB Match

On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV in their own backyard, Raymond James Stadium, a first in NFL history with two of the most prominent quarterbacks in the game. (Sports Nation illustration)

Two years ago, the G.O.A.T. of all NFL quarterbacks played someone who could replace his legacy in the AFC Championship Game, the older one getting the win.

On Sunday, it will be for even higher stakes in the biggest game no one saw coming with an unexpected conference change as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face off against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV in Tampa, home of the former team at Raymond James Stadium.

This is the first ever Super Bowl match to have a team play in their own stadium. Teams have played in their region (1984 San Francisco in Stanford, 1979 LA Rams in Pasadena) and been a game away in recent memory (Minnesota in 2017). But it won’t be the same with only 25,000 fans due to COVID; 7,500 being vaccinated medical workers mainly from Tampa with others around the nation. This Bucs team has played all road games in the postseason, so perhaps this is their reward.

This is without a doubt the greatest quarterback match in Super Bowl history. Brady is simply adding to his legacy in his record-setting 10th Super Bowl, looking for ring №7 (way beyond anyone else), making him possibly the greatest athlete in team sports history if accomplishing such, passing Michael Jordan?

Mahomes has the greatest start ever for a quarterback in his three years of playing experience, going 38–8. He’s looking for his second Super Bowl trophy after last year’s win and will be the second player ever to have two rings and a regular season MVP by the age of 25 (Emmitt Smith) if doing so. And when you look at his play, you can’t help but think he’s on track to break Brady’s records.

This is the biggest age gap in Super Bowl history between QBs as Brady is 43 and Mahomes is 25, making it an 18-year difference (previously 17 in the Super Bowl two years ago). When Brady won his first Super Bowl with New England, Mahomes was in kindergarten. The age gap and relevance makes it feel like Darth Vader against Luke Skywalker.

To recap both conference championship games, these two teams clearly deserved to win. In the NFC Championship Game, Tampa came out playing like it with a smooth opening-drive touchdown, putting pressure on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

A key sequence came just before the half when Sean Murphy-Bunting got this interception (yes, it was pass interference) with just 25 seconds before the half, ending any chance of a Packers score. Instead of punting on 4th-and-4 at the GB 45-yard-line with 13 seconds left, the Bucs went for it and got it. Then with eight seconds at the 39 and no timeouts, head coach Bruce Arians left his offense on the field instead of kicking the field goal. Brady then saw Scotty Miller in one-on-one coverage, launching a deep ball for a shocking touchdown with just one second left as Tampa took a commanding 21–10 lead at the half.

An opening-drive fumble by Aaron Jones led to an easy eight-yard TD run by Leonard Fournette to make it 28–10, but the Packers weren’t done yet. Rodgers rallied his team again, making it 28–23 after a failed two-point conversion attempt that would have made it a field goal difference late in the third quarter. Tampa’s offense started to struggle after three consecutive interceptions thrown by Brady, however none gave Green Bay a short field. After a Bucs field goal made it 31–23 with 4:42 remaining in regulation, the Packers had a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and successful two-point conversion.

Rodgers drove his team down to the 8-yard-line before a 4th-and-goal after an incompletion that he could’ve run on. Instead of going for it with just over two minutes left, head coach Matt LaFleur opted to kick a field goal, looking at their three timeouts and the two-minute warning. After the field goal needing a stop against the GOAT (bad idea even if they were struggling on offense), Bucs receiver Chris Godwin drew a pass interference penalty on third down to end the game as Rodgers is now 1–4 in NFC Championship Games, not even being able to win at home with a really good team.

In spite of those three picks, Brady still threw for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers really didn’t have a bad game with 348 yards passing and three touchdowns along with an INT but was sacked five times.

In the AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs started out in an early deficit, which they did twice in last year’s playoffs. After a field goal, a muffed punt by Mecole Hardman led to a Buffalo touchdown from three yards out to make it 9–0 after a missed extra point. Then Mahomes and this speedy offense came right back for a touchdown and then another and then another before a Bills field goal made it 21–12 at the half. After both teams traded field goals to start the second half, Kansas City essentially put Buffalo away with two more touchdowns, winning 38–24.

Mahomes threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns. Tyreek Hill caught nine passes for 172 yards. Travis Kelce had 13 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Bills quarterback Josh Allen didn’t look the same, struggling with relentless pressure by the Chiefs’ defense who were quite physical, attaining four sacks. He completed just 28 of his 48 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

These two teams met in Week 12 in Tampa with the Chiefs having a dominating start and holding on to win 27–24. Hill absolutely torched Carlton Davis on deep balls in single coverage, catching 13 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns, 210 off those coming in the first half. Brady got off to a slow start but finished with 345 yards passing and three touchdowns with two interceptions.

The funny thing about the game was what happened when it ended as CBS color commentator Tony Romo said both teams would meet in the Super Bowl even though the Bucs were an up-and-down team and had lost three of their last four games. Sure enough ten weeks later, both will be meeting again at Raymond James Stadium, which will be on CBS with Romo and Jim Nantz calling it again. (Romo sure does have a way of predicting things as he does with plays.)

Don’t expect Hill to have the same kind of success though. Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is known for mixing things up and has a defense that is playing with confidence, getting pressure on the quarterback with turnovers leading to points. (Murphy-Bunting has an interception in all three playoff games.) Obviously this defense isn’t as good as that Tampa 2 unit in 2002 that won the last and only Super Bowl for this franchise. Their secondary is still prone to giving up big plays and they were, in fact, pretty bad before this season and don’t have the greatest matchup with their long cornerbacks against the speedy Chiefs receivers.

However, they still have the best defense against the run in the NFL on a defensive line led by former All-Pro Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea. Behind them in this 3–4 defense is quite a quartet of linebackers in veterans Jean Pierre-Paul and Lavonte David, and a few great young pass rushers in Shaquill Barrett and Devin White. JPP and Barrett, who led the NFL in sacks last year, are succeeding at getting to the quarterback this postseason while David and White made second-team All-Pro. (JPP was the lone Pro Bowl player from this defense for 2020.)

What could really help the Bucs defense is the absence of both Chiefs’ tackles. Left tackle Eric Fisher, a Pro Bowl selection and former №1 overall pick, tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship Game and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz had his season shut down recently because of a lingering back injury. Kansas City has already been without starting right guard Kelechi Osemele since Week 5 when he tore both tendons. Not to mention they’ve had two opt-outs in starting guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who selflessly decided to use his medical degree to help fight COVID-19, and Lucas Niang, their third-round rookie. So they’ll have some shuffling around, but the coaches and players seem pretty confident with who they have in front of Mahomes as he is the best in the league against pressure.

On the other possessions, the Bucs, like the Chiefs, have the advantage on offense. Despite some of the ups-and-downs, they still have one of the better offenses and passing games in the league. Their offensive line is playing great. They have one of the best receiving corps. Their running game is becoming more balanced with a former All-Pro in Fournette sharing time with Ronald Jones. And, of course, they have Brady, who is having one of his best seasons in years.

But this Chiefs defense has some playmakers in pass rushers Chris Jones and Frank Clark, and strong safety Tyrann Mathieu leading the secondary, the first and third making the Pro Bowl. They know how to get pressure as they rank second on passing plays. Like the Bucs, some of that credit goes to their defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, who has quite a great mind with a few Super Bowls himself, including one against Brady in 2007 when the New York Giants made that epic upset, getting constant pressure on him, holding a record-breaking Patriots offense to just 14 points.

As I noted in my last post, Brady actually hasn’t been good against pressure this year. Kansas City knows how to get the ball back to their already-explosive offense as they recorded 16 interceptions in the regular season, tied for fifth-most, with Mathieu having a career-high six picks. Their problem is in the red zone where they’re the worst in the league, which is where Mike Evans dominates, catching nine TDs including playoffs.

It seems this Chiefs team has shown they can win any kind of game, going 14–2 with the last regular season game being played by backups. They’re certainly showing how hard it is to repeat, getting every team’s best shot. Mahomes exiting the divisional game is proof of how luck isn’t always on your side the next year. Things can happen and a positive test could come out of nowhere before this game to any player. Hopefully, it doesn’t as the Chiefs’ barber found out he was positive midway through a haircut to backup center Daniel Kilgore. (Only Kilgore and receiver Demarcus Robinson were deemed close contacts and can still play if they continue to test negative.)

The Buccaneers are the first team to not have a bye week to make the Super Bowl in eight years (reasons why I picked the Packers). And they’re the fifth team since 2000 to go on the road the whole duration and do it. (The previous four all won.)

Meanwhile, the Chiefs are trying to be the first team to repeat as champs since 2003–04 when New England did it. In 2011, Green Bay went 15–1 in the regular season but lost in the divisional round. Seattle was a goal-line interception away from doing so in 2014. The Patriots were a possession away it in 2017.

These are two old, large head coaches with not a lot of hair facing off. Reid, 62, is in his third Super Bowl, losing in 2004 with Philadelphia and winning that elusive one last year with KC, which was their first in 50 years that had an appearance two years prior. Arians, 68, is the second-oldest coach to be in the Super Bowl. He came out of retirement in 2019 and had a few good teams in 2014–15 with Arizona that came up short, including the NFC Championship Game for the latter, so it might be his destiny even though he’s saying he’s going another year.

Both of these teams and coaches are more interested in throwing the ball than running as their attempts are in the lower half of the league although they’ve shown more balance lately. Mahomes is first in passing. Brady is second. Mahomes has an All-Pro receiver in Hill and arguably the greatest catching tight end in Kelce. Brady has former Pro Bowlers in Evans, Godwin, Antonio Brown and his former teammate, tight end, Rob Gronkowski, who shares a record with him for the duo with the most touchdown passes. (Not to mention Gronk, the future Hall of Famer likes to party just like Kelce, which Kittle from last year’s SB was like also.)

Speaking of Brown, he might come back after missing the NFC Championship Game. The Chiefs might get Sammy Watkins back who has been out since Week 16.

Outside of Brady, Gronk and JPP, who beat them in 2011 with the New York Giants, no one else from the Bucs has experience in the big game, hence why Brady told another teammate in the locker room after beating the Packers to stop crying about going to the Super Bowl, pointing out they still have work to do. Obviously for the Chiefs, almost all have the experience.

Facts to go by when predicting the game, the AFC has won six of the past eight Super Bowls. Something not being said (or least I haven’t heard of) is that Brady has won Super Bowls every two years since 2014. Could he continue it in 2020? He’s 6–3 in the big game with all losses coming against the NFC East, which he doesn’t have to worry about this year. It’s the second time both teams have red colors, the first coming last year. This is the third Tampa sports team to make the championship round in the past year (Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Rays lost the World Series. And LA had the Lakers winning the NBA Finals and the Dodgers winning the World Series. It must be nice living in those cities.).

Tampa has more talent combined on both sides of the ball. That talented D-line is going against a banged-up offensive line. They’ve been erasing doubts all season if they’re really going to win the Super Bowl. Brady is trying to prove to others that he can win without Bill Belichick and be just the second QB ever to win rings on two different teams. It might be time for Arians, Suh, Evans and Brown, who may only have Brady for another year — but Mahomes.

There used to be a saying that I picked up on to not bet against Tom Brady. Well now people are saying don’t bet against Patrick Mahomes. You saw in the Super Bowl last year when San Francisco had him beat and I even picked them to do it based on logic, but he rose up and did his thing. I’ve been picking KC all year long and don’t want to back away from my prediction like I did with Seattle in 2013.

This is a very confident Chiefs team from what they’ve sounded like in response to their practices. They’re like the recent dynasty of the Golden State Warriors when it comes to their explosive offense and confidence that they can win so easily.

These two are 2–2 when facing each other. Brady beat him in that epic 37–31 OT win in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. Mahomes never got the ball back. I bet even though he’s beaten him in the last two regular season games, he’ll be thinking about that tough one. Mahomes wins his second Super Bowl MVP. This will definitely be better than the regular season match and I won’t be surprised if it goes the other way. (In fact, I’ve been wrong on six of the last eight Super Bowls.) Chiefs win 31–27. The age gap and relevance makes it feel like Darth Vader against Luke Skywalker.

This should (has to) be a really good showdown. I’ve seen everything, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more defense than expected. Either way, sit back and enjoy the show. I’ll be wearing my Chiefs’ Mahomes jersey, pulling for my fellow Texas Tech alum. You may not see another Super Bowl like this again, especially with a pandemic.

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I love Jesus, dancing and in this blog, sports.

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Austin McNabb

Austin McNabb

I love Jesus, dancing and in this blog, sports.

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