For Super Bowl LV on Monday morning (Australian time) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, every possibility exists that viewers will witness the highest-scoring game in Super Bowl history.
Simply put, the offenses of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – partaking in the game as the “home” team in name only – and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs are loaded with one weapon after another, and each one being capable of breaking this NFL title game wide open.
Naturally, all the talk has centred around quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, last year’s Super Bowl LIV MVP after leading the Chiefs to a fourth-quarter comeback win over the San Francisco 49ers, and Tom Brady, looking for his seventh career Super Bowl title and his first since moving south to central Florida from the New England Patriots in the past offseason.
But truth be told, the game’s storylines cannot be written without other players being a part of the conversation, their potential for heroics being likely or otherwise.
A discussion of the weapons around Mahomes actually goes back to the Week 12 meeting between these teams, also at this very venue, back on November 30.
That was a game that the Chiefs won 27-24 – such a final score would suggest that coach Andy Reid’s Chiefs eked the game out, but rather several key players produced magnificent outputs.
Mahomes completed 37 of 49 passes against the Tampa Bay defence for 462 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. An outlandish 269 of those passing yards went to Tyreek Hill, arguably the NFL’s best deep-threat wide receiver to go along with the distinction of him being the league’s fastest player, with two of “Showtime” Mahomes’ deep balls downfield resulting in touchdowns for Hill to go along with over 200 of those yards each in the opening quarter alone.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will know full well that to have a chance against the Chiefs, to shut down their great attack, single coverage from either Sean Murphy-Bunting or Carlton Davis will be insufficient against Hill. Those cornerbacks will require help elsewhere in the secondary, likely from safeties Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Whitfield.
Sammy Watkins, returning from injury that caused him to miss the Chiefs’ playoff wins over the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills, and Demarcus Robinson will also be counted upon as key downfield receivers at any time if plays to Hill happen to stall. And not forgetting the possession threat that tight end Travis Kelce poses, as a testimony that every one of Mahomes’ receivers will command equal amounts of respect.
Which puts the onus on Bowles’ strategy to get the pass rush going quickly, to keep Mahomes honest and force quick releases and not allow his receivers chances to get deep downfield. Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett will be keys from their linebacker positions if Bowles chooses to mix up blitz packages in this spirit.
Meanwhile, Brady has his legacy of winning more Super Bowls than any other player in the history of the NFL – enough of an intangible to respect. And with a very talented and deep corps of receivers which includes Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, and Rob Gronkowski, as well as Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones out of the backfield, Brady will utilise every conceivable weapon to do whatever it takes to win, and the Bucs’ big-play potential is always a threat.
Defensively, the Chiefs have a better chance of keeping the 43-year-old Brady inside the pocket than the Buccaneers have of keeping Mahomes pinned between his offensive tackles. In achieving this, Chris Jones leads the Chiefs’ pass rush while the likes of Chavarius Ward, Rashad Fenton and Tyrann Mathieu will provide the coverage against Tampa Bay’s offensive set which frequently features three wide receivers rotating in and out alongside one tight end, with Gronkowski likely to see his biggest slices of snaps this season, and either Fournette or Jones featuring as the lone running back.
Both teams’ defences – in terms of total yards allowed, the Chiefs were the NFL’s 13th-best while the Buccaneers finished 20th – do not overpower an opposition, and are not expected to do so in this Super Bowl in the same way that the 1985 Chicago Bears or 2000 Baltimore Ravens did. Rather the case comes where their defences, with key players, step up to make big plays whenever required.
Which presents a greater likelihood for a high-scoring shootout.
Both teams also have x-factors that could also turn the game as well, with ex-Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown for the Buccaneers and Le’Veon Bell for the Chiefs capable of playing big roles. Brown provides another receiving threat for Brady, either as a possession receiver or as a deep option, and Bell can run the ball well or catch Mahomes’ passes out of the backfield should rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire be unable to launch the Chiefs’ running game.
Super Bowl LV will not be short of potential for high-wire entertainment – may it live up to the occasion of the biggest day in American sport.
PICKS – Odds (via PlayUp)
Over/under: 56 points.
Who wins: Kansas City Chiefs 48, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 42.
Halftime: Chiefs 28, Buccaneers 21.
First touchdown: Tyreek Hill.
MVP: PatrickMahomes (Chiefs).
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