FOUR STORY LINES
Best of All-Time or Best of Now?
Will 43-year-old Tom Brady extend his record for oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl? Or will 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes repeat as champion and become the youngest quarterback to win multiple Super Bowl rings? Brady is going for a seventh championship win. No NFL franchise has more than six. The two have met four times, each winning twice. Brady's Patriots won twice in 2018, including the AFC Championship Game. Mahomes beat Brady's Patriots last year and the Bucs this year.
Old Dogs, New Wins
Remember when Andy Reid was just a lovable postseason loser with a 12-14 record and no ring? Well, now he's flirting with overseeing the NFL's next dynasty as the Chiefs try to become the first team to repeat since the Patriots in 2003-04. Meanwhile, Bruce Arians has reached the big game for the first time at age 68, six years older than Reid. The combined age of the two head coaches – 131 years, 86 days – is the oldest in Super Bowl history.
Home-Field Advantage, or Not?
The Buccaneers are the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. The closest thing to a home-field advantage before this season came in Super Bowl XIX when the 49ers played the Dolphins at Stanford Stadium, 40 miles south of San Francisco. The Vikings would have been the first three years ago had they not lost the NFC title game at Philadelphia. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, however, only 25,000 fans will be allowed in Raymond James Stadium.
Speaking of COVID-19 ...
Somehow, the NFL is going to pull off what was unthinkable six months ago: A full slate of regular-season and postseason games played outside of a protective bubble during a global pandemic. After an all-virtual offseason and no preseason games, the NFL has played 256 regular-season games and 12 more playoff games without one cancellation. The Chiefs' barber tested positive last week, but close contact was contained to only two backups, neither of whom have tested positive.
THREE X FACTORS
KC's Offensive Tackles
Mahomes is excellent under pressure, but his line is beat to pieces. Left tackle Eric Fisher tore an Achilles' tendon in the AFC Championship Game and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been out since Week 6. Former Viking Mike Remmers will start at left tackle while guard Andrew Wylie starts at right tackle. The Bucs lead the league in pressures, averaging 15.8 a game. They had 16 in the upset win over the Packers in the NFC title game. Edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combined on five sacks in that game.
Protecting Brady's Pocket
Unlike the magical Mahomes, Brady needs a clean pocket to be at his best. A clean front of the pocket is a must for him to step into the deep throws in Bruce Arians' "no risk it, no biscuit" vertical attack. The Chiefs sacked Brady only one time in their Week 12 win. When Brady has a clean pocket or is in his quick-passing rhythm, he's still among the best. Under pressure, though, his TD-INT differential (4-6) ranked 23rd this season while his passer rating (51.2) was 26th.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
The Bucs have seven takeaways in three playoff games. They've also scored touchdowns off those takeaways six times. All three touchdowns in the divisional playoff win over the Saints came off turnovers. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr., the former Gopher and son of the former Vikings cornerback, forced a fumble in that game that jump-started a run of 17 unanswered points for the Bucs. The Chiefs have only three takeaways in two playoff games but have turned it over only twice.
TWO UNSUNG HEROES
Bucs WR Tyler Johnson: Brady has proved he's not afraid to turn to the rookie fifth-round draft pick when the big names are covered. Johnson, the former Gopher and Minneapolis North High standout, has been targeted only 20 times, including three in the playoffs. But 13 of his 14 catches have gone for either a first down (11) or a touchdown (2). He's had two outstanding grabs to convert third downs in the playoffs.
Chiefs CB L'Jarius Sneed: The rookie fourth-round draft pick had two of his three interceptions in Weeks 1 and 2. A broken collarbone cost him seven games, but he's come roaring back. Now playing more inside at the nickel, he has proven to be quite the pass rusher for a 6-foot, 192-pounder. He has one sack in each of the Chiefs' last four games. He'll be a guy Brady has to keep an eye on.
ONE BOLD PREDICTION
Bucs defense preserves Brady's seventh title.
As great as he is, Mahomes won't be able to avoid the Bucs' great pass rush well enough to start the NFL's next dynasty. Not behind an offensive line this tattered. It will be a close game. The Bucs will grab an early lead. Mahomes will rally. Bucs kicker Ryan Succop will make a clutch kick late to force KC to score a touchdown. Mahomes will be driving for the win, but the ball-hawking Bucs will force a takeaway to secure Brady's seventh Super Bowl ring. Final: Bucs 31, Chiefs 26.