Game Planning Super Bowl LIV

It’s finally time to crown the winner of the 2020 NFL season (for our non-NFL fans yes we are in 2021 but this is the end of the 2020 season, we don’t get in either but it’s okay). If anything that happened in 2020 was any indication, we should have been able to predict that our Super Bowl matchup would be some level of insane, and boy oh boy does it deliver. We have a quarterback matchup where one is five years younger… than his opponent’s mom. Tom Brady is 43 while Randi Mahomes is 48.

Initial Thoughts

Random stats aside (for now) there really isn’t much that, from the outset, can be considered normal. First of all, Tampa Bay is at home which has never happened in the history of the Super Bowl. Next, Kansas City is only flying out to the host city the day before the game as opposed to the traditional week ahead. 

Speaking of this being a home game for Tampa Bay, after looking at the Chiefs’ road record, it really would have been in the Bucs’ best interest for this game to be in Kansas City as Arrowhead is seemingly the only place that Patrick Mahomes can be stopped. Over the course of his young career Mahomes is 21-4 on the road, with the Chiefs putting up an average of 38.5 points per game across the four losses. Narrowing in on this season, Kansas City is 8-0 on the road, while Tampa is 5-3 at home. 

Super Bowl LV will feature a repeat matchup from regular season play for the 14th time. Across the previous 13 matchups the team who prevailed during the season is 6-7. As a refresher, Kansas City beat Tampa Bay 27-24 in Week 12. Another bit of history that will undoubtedly find its way into the narrative up until kickoff is that no AFC team has beaten an NFC team twice in one season. 

The piece de resistance of this matchup is undoubtedly the quarterback duel. We’ll get into the specifics of both guys and their games later on, but for now just note that this will be the fifth time these two QBs meet, with the series currently tied at 2-2. Across the four games Mahomes leads the scoring at 121-120.

So keep on reading to find out why I think each team’s game plan should be before the big dance in Tampa Bay on February 7.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Outscore, Outlast, and Stop the Pass

The equation for beating Kansas City is simple: stop the pass or outscore them. Both of which are easier said than done. The Bucs were the league’s 20th ranked passing defence, as evidenced by the time they allowed Tyreek Hill to rack up over 200 yards in the first quarter of their Week 12 matchup. 

Add to this the fact that the Buccaneers secondary has taken some serious hits that have left it seriously questionable for Sunday’s game. Both Antoine Winfield Jr and Jordan Whitehead are nursing injuries that could seriously impact the team’s ability to deal with the deep ball that Mahomes’ has proven time and time again he can punish you with. 

So if the secondary isn’t the answer to putting a damper on the deep pass, then the next option comes at the line. Luckily for the Buccaneers, the Chiefs are dealing with a patchwork offensive line without their two starting tackles. So don’t be surprised to see Todd Bowles try and attack the fresh faces early and often to unsettle Mahomes. 

An additional factor to using the defensive line to disturb the Chiefs pass game is Mahomes’ toe injury. While insignificant at first glance, anyone who has played the position knows that you sort of need your balance to be intact to execute throws under pressure, and toes are not an insignificant part of balance (or so I’m told according to science). 

Say the Buccaneers do successfully breach the Chiefs O-line and get Mahomes under pressure down after down, does that mean game over? 

Of course not…

Patrick Mahomes may be one of the best quarterbacks under pressure in the league, to the point where there is little difference between his numbers with and without pressure. Since 2018 Mahomes, while under pressure, has a PFF grade of 77.9 and 58 big time throws which is good for first in both categories, and 30 touchdowns which ranks him at second. 

So if pressuring Mahomes won’t work, and you can’t just not pressure him, how on earth do you stop this guy? 

The fact of the matter is there isn’t really an answer to stopping Mahomes and company on offence, especially not on two weeks of preparation. Maybe if Bowles and his staff had six months to prepare it would be a different story. But with two weeks, it’s looking like Tampa’s key to victory will be outscoring the Chiefs. 

Naturally to do so, they’ll need Brady to be rolling and hitting his weapons on a consistent basis (and limiting those turnovers) but the run game will be imperative. Leonard Fournette had 74 yards on 17 touches in the NFC Championship against the Packers, which while those aren’t staggering numbers it’s the threat of the run that means more. 

Kansas City has the league’s 21st ranked run defence and Tampa has thrived off the play action this season. That’s where the key lies to the Buccaneers being able to outscore the Chiefs. If they can keep them honest with the threat of Fournette and Ronald Jones II, which they’ve been able to do most of the season, then we’ll have a close one on our hands. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Pile on the Pressure and Secure the Secondary

If you’ve got some extra time on your hands (which we all do) then go back and watch all of Brady’s past Super Bowls…yes all nine of them and you’ll notice a trend in the ones he won and the ones he lost. It’s actually quite simple, the teams that have been able to put pressure on Brady for four quarters are the teams that have been able to beat him. The theme of the three games he’s lost is that he got beat up for 60 minutes (or someone pulled off a miracle catch but you get the point). 

If there’s anyone in the NFL that knows the ins and outs of beating Brady, especially in the Super Bowl, it’s Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the same man who was running the Giants defence when they ruined the Patriots perfect season in 2007. Spagnuolo has a 3-2 record against Brady, with both losses coming by a combined total of 4 points. 

KC’s ability to get pressure on Brady in the pocket will also be key in disrupting his torrid pace of throwing the deep ball this season. The NFL’s oldest player led the league this season with 36 passes of 20+ yards, but he also led the league with nine interceptions on the deep pass. 

Thankfully for Kansas City, even if they can’t get the necessary pressure up front, their secondary is one of the best in the league and can certainly make up for some mistakes at the line. They’ve accumulated eight interceptions on attempts of 20+ yards and held opposing QBs to a 63.6 QBR when going deep. For reference the league average was 94.9. 

The Buccaneers are by no means short on high-end receiving talent with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin leading the way. Brady will undoubtedly be looking to them for the big plays, but on paper there’s enough talent on the backend of the Chiefs’ defence to keep up with, and shutdown, the Bucs’ big men. And as we’ve explored already that Tampa is just going to need to outscore the Chiefs, Kansas City’s ability to eliminate the threat will be pivotal in them making sure that that doesn’t happen. 

Who Wins?

I’ve flip-flopped back and forth on who I think will win this game since the matchup was set. And in all honesty, the only reason I hadn’t locked in on Kansas City since the beginning of it all is because of the legend of Tom Brady. 

If history shows us anything it’s that you don’t bet against Brady, especially in the playoffs. But history has also shown us that a changing of the guard is inevitable no matter where you look in life, football being no exception. Part of what makes the NFL so great is watching the evolution of talent across generations, the anticipation with each draft class to see if we’ll see the “next one.”

Speaking of the next one, I think we’ve reached the point of officially crowning the Next One. And with that, I’ll reveal that I’m taking Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to repeat as Super Bowl champions to officially kick off the next NFL dynasty, led by the next NFL GOAT. 

The fact of the matter is that this Chiefs offence is just too good to be stopped and to be outdone. Sure, Tampa can double team Hill to avoid a repeat of the Week 12 roasting but that then leaves Kelce and underrated threats like Mecole Hardman one on one. Add to that the quiet yet present threat of the Kansas City run game with players like Darrel Williams and Clyde Edwards-Hillaire who could go off at any given minute and you’ve got a recipe for disaster for anyone trying to shut it down. 

Final Score Prediction

Kansas City Chiefs 41- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31

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