Super Bowl LV Preview: Passing of the Torch?


Credits to Mike Meredith (CBS Sports)

Pierce Munsey

We’ve made it!

With only one game left in the NFL season, it is truly remarkable that the NFL was able to operate through a pandemic without a bubble. Although there were COVID-19 cases scattered throughout teams, almost all the games were played with relatively full rosters, with the one notable exception being the Denver Broncos vs. New Orleans Saints game—the Broncos had to play a WR at QB because all of their QBs were placed on the COVID-19 reserve list.

Now, NFL fans get to watch a dream matchup on February 7, 2021. The defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, will be looking to defend their throne against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The most intriguing part of this matchup is obvious: Brady vs. Mahomes. Brady, the greatest quarterback of all-time (this is no longer an opinion, it’s a fact) takes on Mahomes,  the new face of the NFL. Fox Sports announcer and former NFL quarterback Tony Romo put it best when he likened this matchup to a hypothetical NBA Finals showdown between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. “This game is bigger than people realize,” Romo said. “20, 30, 40, 50 years from now, this is the game people are going to go back to. Tom Brady is the greatest who’s ever walked, and we’re in the Super Bowl with the one guy on earth that most people would agree could possibly one day 15 years from now come into that stratosphere.” In my opinion, if Mahomes ever wants to surpass Brady’s legacy, he has to win this game. Mahomes is about to enter his prime, while Brady is at the tail end of his decorated career. As good as Brady has been this year, he was never in MVP conversations like he was when he was in New England. So, even if Mahomes wins this game, people will still argue that prime Brady would have beaten Mahomes; thus, Brady has little to lose this game, while Mahomes must win this game to give him a chance to surpass TB12. 

With all this talk about the QBs, we have to remember that there are 104 other players who will suit up for Super Bowl LV, and in a one-game sample, you never know who can be a difference-maker. For example, I don’t think many people saw Malcolm Smith winning the Super Bowl 48 MVP award when players like Peyton Manning, Von Miller, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor were on the field. However, even though it can be hard to predict individual player performance, we can look at the key matchups that will determine the outcome of the game.

1. Tyreek Hill vs. Jamal Dean

The last time these two teams faced off, Tyreek Hill exploded for 269 yards and 3 TDs (ESPN). If the Bucs can’t contain Hill, their chances at winning this game will be slim. However, throughout most of that Week 12 game, Hill was lining up against Carlton Davis, who is a physical CB but he lacks speed. This time I have to believe that Todd Bowles, the Bucs defensive coordinator, will be matching Hill up against Jamel Dean, who matched Hill’s 4.3 40-yard dash time at the combine (PFF). Dean needs to keep up with Hill’s speed because even if Hill is contained, that does not mean Dean is winning his matchup. If Dean cannot stop Hill, the Bucs will be forced to play with a safety over the top, which in turn could open the field for the Chiefs’ other dynamic players like Travis Kelce. However, I think Hill will be kept under 150 yards this game, and the Bucs will be able to play more single-high safety coverages as a result.

2. Brady vs. Spagnulo’s Disguises

When these two teams met back in Week 12, it was clear that Brady was not in sync with the rest of his offense. Brady had practically the same system for his entire career, and even a veteran like Brady has to adjust to a new offense—this was even more challenging considering the shortened training camps and preseason. So, when Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo threw multiple disguises and complex coverages at Brady, the QB was forced to throw errant balls and looked uncomfortable. However, since that game, Brady has only had one game where he put up a passer rating below 92, which was the NFC Championship (ESPN). Still, most of Brady’s poor plays in that NFC Championship occurred because he was rushed and faced a lot of pressure. I’m not sure that will be the case in the Super Bowl. It’s not a secret that the Chiefs love to blitz. The league average for six-man blitzes per play this season was 8%, but Kansas City sent six or more defenders at the quarterback on 17% of their snaps during the regular season (NFL). However, their pressure rate was only 23rd in the NFL (Pro Football Reference). Furthermore, their blitzes have not given them a distinct advantage, as their pressure rate only rose 1.9 percentage points when bringing extra rushers (NFL). Kansas City’s most dangerous pass rusher, Chris Jones, only totaled 7.5 sacks this season, which shows that there isn’t a threat of a Chiefs’ defensive lineman taking over the game (ESPN). Finally, they have to face Tom Brady again. I already mentioned how Brady has gotten the Tampa offense on a roll since their loss to the Chiefs, but it’s also imperative to note that Brady will have two weeks to review film for this game. Hence, I believe that Brady will be able to better diagnose Spagnulo’s creative schemes, which means that the Tampa Bay offense can get clicking from the get-go. 

3. Mike Remmers vs. Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett

Eric Fisher, the star offensive tackle for the Chiefs, suffered a season-ending injury two weeks ago at Arrowhead in the Chiefs’ victory over the Bills. His replacement for the Super Bowl: Mike Remmers. The last time Remmers appeared in the Super Bowl was back in Super Bowl 50, and he was the offensive lineman tasked with guarding Von Miller. In case you forgot, Miller put on a show against Remmers and forced two fumbles—one of which was recovered for a touchdown. This time Remmers will have to face either JPP or Shaq Barrett—a duo that combined for 17.5 sacks in the regular season and put Rodgers on the ground five times two weeks ago (NFL). Remmers will also be placed at left tackle, so he will be guarding Mahomes’ blindside. And as great as Mahomes is, he can’t work his magic if he is being pummeled to the ground. The rest of the Kansas City offensive line isn’t pretty either, as RG Steven Wisniewski and RT Andrew Wylie each have only played one game at their respective positions (PFF). So, Remmers will not be able to get help from the rest of the offensive line if he can’t handle his man; thus, the only potential solution would be to put a TE or RB in the backfield. However, this takes away from Kansas City’s explosive arsenal, so it really is a lose-lose situation for the Chiefs if Remmers cannot contain whichever pass rusher comes his way.

Overall, I think this game will be extremely tight. Even though I mentioned some key flaws for Kansas City, they still have the most dynamic offenses in the league which is headed by the best quarterback in the league. They can score at will. In addition, they have playmakers in the secondary like Tyrann Mathieu who can make game-changing plays. 

Still, it is hard to ignore the Chiefs’ porous offensive line and their subpar defensive line. Football is won in the trenches, and I think the Bucs have a clear advantage there. In addition, the Chiefs have had a tendency to stay in close games, which is not a risk you want to take against Tom Brady. In fact, if the Chiefs win on Sunday, they will become only the second team since 2000 to win the Super Bowl and have a losing record against betting spreads, with the 2012 Baltimore Ravens being the only team that has currently accomplished that feat (Action Network). So, the game will most likely be very close, and I’m predicting it will end one of two ways:

a. The Chiefs score a late touchdown to take the lead, but Brady leads a last-minute drive to put the Bucs into field goal range and win the game.

b. Mahomes leads a last-minute drive, but with no timeouts, he takes a sack and the clock runs out.

Final Prediction: Buccaneers win 32-30, Brady wins Super Bowl MVP