The Chiefs will attempt to become the NFL’s first repeat champion in 16 years when they travel to Florida to face the Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55. Tampa Bay will be the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium, but Kansas City (-3.5, 56.5) remains the betting favorite, like it has been for a calendar year since winning Super Bowl 54.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs won in Tampa in Week 12, 27-24. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers made that game look closer than it was with 14 fourth-quarter points after going down 27-10. Can Mahomes outduel Brady again, and for the first time in the playoffs, to get his second consecutive ring and match Brady’s repeat in Super Bowl 39?
Kansas City and Tampa Bay have proved they have great supporting casts around their quarterbacks; that’s the reason these teams have gotten through a challenging NFL season and playoffs to reach this point. Here’s a breakdown of what should be an epic Super Bowl 55, beyond the marquee QB matchup:
Chiefs vs. Buccaneers picks, predictions
- Chiefs’ running game vs. Buccaneers’ run defense
The Chiefs were middle of the pack with their rushing attack during the regular season (16th in the NFL, 112.4 yards per game, 4.5 yards per attempt). The Buccaneers were dominant in run defense (No. 1 in the NFL, 80.6 yards per game allowed, 3.6 yards per attempt allowed) and now have nose tackle Vita Vea back healthy to help Ndamukong Suh up front.
The Chiefs rushed 20 times for 87 yards in the first meeting, with Mahomes getting 28 of those. They were solid against the Browns in the playoffs (24 for 123) and less so against the Bills (25 for 114), but they relied less on high volume and more on chunk/gadget runs. Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire returned for the AFC championship game while Le’Veon Bell was shelved. Darrel Williams, a tough runner who knows the system, is a reliable pass protector and good pass-catcher. He will work with Edwards-Helaire to provide balance, but neither will be as big of a factor as Damien Williams was in Super Bowl 54.
The Chiefs won’t waste time “establishing the run” and forcing something that isn’t there, but they need to keep the Bucs’ pass rush honest for when Mahomes drops back, which he did 51 times in Week 12. He had 39 dropbacks against the Bills.
Kansas City is comfortable winning through the air and being nearly one-dimensional with Mahomes. Advantage: Buccaneers.
- Buccaneers’ running game vs. Chiefs’ run defense
The Buccaneers (No. 28, 94.9 rushing yards per game, 4.1 yards per carry) have the potential to run the ball well because of their good interior line and the juice that the hard-running 1-2 punch of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones provides. They often don’t stick with it, however, and get locked into the downfield passing game with Brady, leading to the limited results.
Forced to follow a negative game script against the Chiefs in Week 12, they ran only 13 times. The number of attempts increased to 24 in the NFC championship game, but after a big playoff rushing performance against the Saints, every yard against the Packers was a grind, and their 76 total yards were inflated by Fournette’s 20-yard scoring burst.
The Chiefs are weak against the run (No. 21, 122.1 yards per game allowed, 4.5 yards per carry allowed), but it’s unlikely the Bucs will force a ball-control scheme; instead, expect them to trust Brady and their own strengths in the passing game to keep up with Mahomes. The Chiefs contained the Browns and shut down the Bills, save for Josh Allen scrambling, which Brady won’t be doing. The Bucs will try to get Fournette or Jones going as an additional big-play element, but they won’t bread their butter there. Advantage: Chiefs.
- Chiefs’ passing game vs. Buccaneers’ pass defense
The Chiefs were the most prolific passing team in the NFL (No. 1, 303.4 yards per game, 7.9 yards per attempt), which is no surprise given how much coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy love putting games in Mahomes’ hands. The Buccaneers have a good young secondary led by cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting. They have made a lot plays against the pass in the playoffs after an up-and-down regular season (No. 21, 246.6 yards per game allowed, 7.0 yards per attempt allowed).
The concern for the Chiefs will be the Buccaneers’ star edge pass-rushers, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, who combined for five sacks of Aaron Rodgers in the NFC championship game. Left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles) is unlikely to play after being hurt late against the Bills, a callback to the Packers not having left tackle David Bakhtiari to slow the Bucs’ pressure. There’s also little chance the Chiefs will activate right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (back) off injured reserve.
The Chiefs scheme to keep Mahomes clean, and he helps out big-time by getting the ball out quickly or throwing on the move with bought time. Barrett and JPP each had a sack in the regular-season meeting with Schwartz out, so KC not having Fisher, too, will be a welcome boost for Tampa Bay.
But those injuries will be balanced out by the Buccaneers’ injury concerns at safety and how, like the Bills in the AFC championship game, they had no answers for wide receiver Tyreek Hill (13 catches, 269 yards, three TDs) or tight end Travis Kelce (eight catches, 82 yards) in Week 12. Davis, Murphy-Bunting and slot cornerback Jamel Dean all can be burned badly one-on-one. Devin White and Lavonte David are good cover linebackers with range, but Mahomes will find the right matchups in the middle of the field as the Chiefs’ speed and quickness cause the Buccaneers problems. Spreading the field will ensure Mahomes finds an open man quickly and won’t be caught holding the ball for Barrett or JPP to rattle him.
When defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was able to get pressure without blitzing against Green Bay, it was a nightmare for Rodgers. Bowles can’t afford to send extra rushers after Mahomes and risk Hill streaking free everywhere again. At the same time, the Buccaneers don’t want to sit back in zone and let Mahomes pick them apart for long drives. Like the Bills and Leslie Frazier, the Bucs will be stuck picking their poison, unable to produce the same pressure-coverage harmony they had against the Packers. Advantage: Chiefs.
- Buccaneers’ passing game vs. Chiefs’ pass defense
The Buccaneers were right behind the Chiefs with Brady at the helm for coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich (No. 2, 289.1 yards per game, 7.6 yards per attempt). This is a strength-on-strength matchup, so the Chiefs (No. 14, 236.2 yards per game allowed, 7.1 yards per attempt allowed) will be OK with the Bucs throwing more and running less.
Brady threw two interceptions in the first meeting but also threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 8.4 yards per attempt. That was not enough to match Mahomes’ 462 yards, three TDs and 9.4 yards per attempt, however. The Chiefs set the tone with an inside-outside pass-rush by tackle Chris Jones and end Frank Clark from the front four. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has picked his spots well to blitz from the back seven. Nickel back La’Jarius Sneed has been a consistent force in the playoffs.
Brady has seen everything and it’s hard to fool him, although Spagnuolo did have his number in the Giants’ massive upset of the Patriots in Super Bowl 41. Brady had plenty of time to throw against the Packers, taking only one early sack, and the Chiefs dumped him only one once in Week 12.
The Chiefs, like most teams, don’t have the cornerbacks to handle Buccaneers wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin from outside to slot. Tight end Rob Gronkowski also got in on the big-play fun in Week 12 as he led the team in receiving. Brady spread the ball around to seven targets as Jones and Fournette were also factors.
Like the Buccaneers, the Chiefs are shaky when its comes to covering tight ends. The middle of the field with Godwin, Gronkowski and Cameron Brate will remain open for business while the Chiefs try to contain the deep shots to Evans and others. Brady has done well in mixing the short and intermediate throws he loves with Arians’ “no risk-it, no biscuit” aggressiveness. Like Mahomes, the arm strength to muster the ball downfield when those shots are available isn’t an issue.
Brady has gotten into trouble when missing safety or conerback help on what look like one-on-ones downfield. Tyrann Mathieu and Bashaud Breeland got him in the first game, much like the Packers’ combination of Adrian Amos and Jaire Alexander did. Brady needs to be more careful because he won’t get away with multiple picks again. Advantage: Buccaneers.
The Bucs’ injuries mounted during the playoffs. Wide receiver Antonio Brown and rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr., two key playmakers, didn’t go against the Packers and their status for the Super Bowl is unknown. Should Brown miss another game, that would open the door for wide receivers Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson, another rookie, to make critical plays. Gronkowski has been quiet as a receiver in the playoffs as he been used more to block, but the Buccaneers can unleash him at any time. Tampa Bay’s ancillary receivers and cover men must contribute.
The Chiefs have similar wild cards in wide receivers Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson with Sammy Watkins (calf) possibly missing another game. Mahomes, with two weeks to rest, will be better-positioned to affect the game by running in key situations. Kansas City has proved it has depth in its defensive line rotation and secondary. Advantage: Chiefs.
- Special teams
The Buccaneers got some good returns from Jaydon Mickens against the Packers. Former Chiefs “Mr. Irrelevant” Ryan Succop has been reliable kicking field goals inside 50 yards. Bradley Pinion is a solid punter. The Chiefs are dangerous with Hardman and Pringle. Harrison Butker gives them a booming leg on field goals. Tommy Townsend doesn’t punt enough to be a factor. Advantage: Chiefs.
Arians has won a Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator for the Steelers, but this is his first time in the game as a head coach. Reid has been on fire with his scheming, decision-making and motivation since getting his first ring in Super Bowl 54, learning from his previous playoff mistakes. He is a much better coach than the one who lost to Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl 39. Reid, Bieniemy, Spagnuolo and the rest of the Chiefs’ staff know from recent experience what it takes to win on this stage. Arians, Leftwich and Bowles can’t match that. Advantage: Chiefs.
Mahomes, 25, wants to nail down that second ring right away to continue on a possible trajectory to matching Brady’s six Super Bowl wins by the time he’s done. Brady, 43, wants to add his seventh ring in 10 Super Bowl trips to further distance himself as the GOAT and win without the Patriots. The Buccaneers will be helped by going through the week as normally as possible in Tampa, preparing for a home game with everything at stake. Brady might be the ultimate Super Bowl expert, but this is still new to most of his team while almost all the Chiefs just experienced it last year. Advantage: Chiefs.
Super Bowl 55 prediction
The Chiefs and Buccaneers should each put up more points than they did in Week 12; Mahomes and Brady are locked into high level of execution. Brady has been terrific in getting the Bucs to this point in his first season with them, but the Chiefs are different beasts from what they conquered in the NFC. Brady doesn’t get as much as help as Mahomes does overall. Going against Brady in a tight game deep in the fourth quarter isn’t smart, unless Mahomes is on the other side.
Chiefs 31, Buccaneers 27