Super Bowl LV is finally set after a thrilling slate of conference title games. This is an historic Super Bowl, as Tom Brady looks to win his seventh NFL championship while Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs look to be the first team since the New England Patriots of the mid-2000s to win back-to-back Super Bowls. These two teams met in Week 12, with the Chiefs prevailing by a score of 27-24 thanks to a huge game from star receiver Tyreek Hill (13 receptions, 269 yards, 3 TDs) and a tenacious secondary that forced not one, but two critical Brady interceptions; however, it’s a different time. It’s the Super Bowl, where anything is possible. Will the Buccaneers become the first team to win a home Super Bowl or will the Chiefs prove they are still the kings of the NFL? Here are the keys to the game for both of these teams:
Keys to the game for the Kansas City Chiefs
1. Force Tom Brady into more poor throw decisions
If you only watched the first half of the NFC Championship Game, you most likely would’ve thought the Bucs won handily. It definitely appeared that it was going to be a blowout when a Packers’ fumble right after the half helped the Buccaneers to extend their lead to 28-10 with the Packers not having any momentum whatsoever; however, the Packers steadily climbed back into the game and were able to force three crucial interceptions from Brady on three consecutive possessions. Although the Packers were unable capitalize off those turnovers, the interceptions still helped to ensure the Buccaneers could not build on their lead. Kansas City did a good job in its championship game of forcing Josh Allen into crucial turnovers, so this has to be a point of emphasis once again. With such an experienced quarterback playing in this game in the form of Brady, who has already played in the Super Bowl nine times, it is going to be absolutely necessary to get pressure on him and force some interceptions, especially if the Chiefs are not able to build a big lead. It will be crucial for Kansas City to get pressure on Brady in order to force him into making some poor reads that result in turnovers.
2. Take Rob Gronkowski out of the equation
With all the huge names on offense for the Buccaneers, it is quite easy to forget that Rob Gronkowski is a member of this offense, especially since his numbers have not been spectacular this season. There was one game in which Gronkowski did a ton of damage, and it was against the Chiefs in Week 12. In this game, Gronkowski had 6 receptions for 106 yards. The reason why this is so important is that Brady continually went to Gronkowski when the Bucs were struggling early on, and it helped them to get back in the game. If Gronkowski does not have some catches on critical downs for Tampa, it is certainly possible that the game goes another way and the Chiefs are able to win in an easier fashion. The Chiefs were not great against tight ends in the regular season — they gave up 954 yards and 9 touchdowns on 84 receptions in the regular season — and this has continued to some extent in the playoffs. David Njoku and Austin Hooper combined for 75 yards on 7 receptions in the Divisional Round while Dawson Knox (6 receptions for 42 yards and a score) was key for Buffalo getting out to an early lead in the AFC Championship. It is important that Gronkowski is not allowed to help the Bucs move the sticks or else it could help to open up the passing game for the Buccaneers.
3. Attack Carlton Davis again
Carlton Davis did not have all that bad of a season in 2020, but his worst game easily came in Week 12 against the Chiefs, when he was personally responsible for giving up 236 yards and 3 touchdowns on 12 receptions against Tyreek Hill. It is highly unlikely the Buccaneers leave Davis on an island again with Hill, but the Chiefs must expose that matchup if it presents itself. Even when Davis is able to play well, it does seem like he is prone to his fair share of lapses at certain junctures in critical games. Unless Davis is able to prove he is a shutdown corner for at least this game, the Chiefs must go after him even when Hill is not being guarded by Davis. This is one of the matchups to monitor in the Super Bowl, as it could lead to big plays. The Chiefs’ receivers are so explosive that any of them are capable of having big games, especially if Davis is unable to recover from the thoughts of his poor performance in the Week 12 matchup.
Keys to the game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1. Attack the Chiefs in the slot
Here are some key stats to examine for this point:
Julian Edelman in Super Bowl LIII: 10 receptions, 141 yards
Danny Amendola in Super Bowl LII: 8 receptions, 152 yards
Julian Edelman & Danny Amendola in Super Bowl LI: 13 receptions, 165 yards, 1 TD
Julian Edelman & Danny Amendola in Super Bowl XLIX: 14 receptions, 157 yards, 2 TDs
These statlines are from the past four Super Bowls that Tom Brady has played in, and there is a very common pattern. Brady loves throwing to his slot receivers in critical games and critical situations in general. The Chiefs’ pass defense has been spotty throughout the season, to say the least, and it was very telling that Cole Beasley had the biggest game of all the Bills’ receivers with 7 receptions for 88 yards. With the Chiefs having to focus so much of their attention on Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, it is certainly possible that Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller could be in line for big games. The Chiefs didn’t do the best job against Stefon Diggs in the AFC Championship, as he still had 77 receiving yards, but that unit did enough to make him less of a factor, particularly when the Bills got into the red zone. This is why the Bucs’ receiving depth is so important against Kansas City, because Brady will just go to one of his slot guys if Evans and Godwin are taken away. It would not be surprising at all if the Buccaneers are able to establish an offensive rhythm thanks to their slot guys.
2. Continue to get the ball to Leonard Fournette
One of the issues the Bills had against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship was their inability to run the football. They have not been a running team all season, and that was quite evident in that game as Josh Allen was the leading rusher for Buffalo with 88 yards. Devin Singletary and T.J. Yeldon, on the other hand, combined for 32 yards on 9 carries. The Chiefs struggled against the Browns’ rushing attack in the Divisional Round, as Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb combined for 101 yards and a score. The Bucs have gotten much more diverse on offense, particularly in this postseason, due to their ability to run the ball with Leonard Fournette. The former LSU Tiger may not have the prettiest stats, but he has still been solid, as he has over 50 rushing yards in all three of the Bucs’ playoff games this postseason. The Bucs are clearly at their best when they are able to balance their potent passing attack with a reliable running game, and Fournette getting carries should continue in this one, especially since the Bucs will need to keep Patrick Mahomes and company off the field.
3. Expose the loss of Eric Fisher
The AFC Championship win may have come at a cost for Kansas City, as left tackle Eric Fisher tore his Achilles, ending his solid season. Veteran Mike Remmers could be replacing Fisher, and despite his solid season, he is still a downgrade over the former first overall pick. Part of the reason why Aaron Rodgers had so much trouble against the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game was due to the fact that the Bucs were able to get pressure on the potential MVP and lots of it. The Bucs ended up sacking Rodgers five times and hit him eight times. A lot of that was due to the loss of Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari. This is going to be something worth monitoring given how Kansas City’s offensive line has struggled at certain points this season due to injuries and players who opted out prior to the season. If Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and others are able to get into the backfield before Mahomes is able to get the ball out to his plethora of receivers, it could be a long day for the Chiefs, especially with how well Tampa’s offense has been playing lately.
Sources: Pro-Football-Reference, USA Today