The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been here once before, and it proved to be the most momentous day in franchise history. This one could be even bigger.
The Buccaneers will fight for their second NFL Championship on Sunday when they take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. From the standpoint of NFL storylines, it is one of the most memorable Super Bowl matchups in a long time. Super Bowl XXXVII, which the Buccaneers won in January of 2003, featured the first-ever matchup of the NFL's top-ranked defense (Tampa Bay) and top-ranked offense (Oakland), with defense carrying the day in a 48-21 Bucs win.
Super Bowl LV has Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes. It has the Chiefs going for the NFL's first back-to-back championships since Brady's Patriots in 2003-04. It has the Buccaneers playing a Super Bowl on their own home field, the first team ever to do so across five-and-a-half decades. It has one team that has been nearly unbeatable for two seasons and another that has been close to unstoppable for the past two months. And it has the distinction of being the 269th and final game of a season that the NFL somehow managed to keep on track while navigating a pandemic minefield.
And did we mention Brady versus Mahomes? Head Coach Bruce Arians stressed last week, as Super Bowl attention was just starting to ramp up, that each team will have 21 other starters on the field along with their quarterbacks, and while that is accurate and a good point, it doesn't lessen the historic nature of this QB pairing.
For the Buccaneers, this has been about Brady since March 20, when he surprised the NFL by leaving the Patriots after 20 years and seeking a new challenge with a new team. The Buccaneers made the move because they felt like they had a playoff-caliber roster and thought a quarterback Brady's unmatched pedigree could get them over the top. They also signed Brady because they could; a team could hardly turn away from such a rare opportunity. The Bucs try to make decisions each offseason that will get them closer to a championship, but this one was in a category all its own.
"Naturally, I think you envision it every year in the offseason," said General Manager Jason Licht. "You want to make some moves that hopefully get your team into the Super Bowl. I think when you sign a guy like Tom, it makes it a little more realistic. Just talking to him the days after we signed him, you could just hear and feel the confidence that he had. It made it a little bit more real."
Brady went on to throw 47 touchdown passes in 19 games, including at least two in each of the Bucs' last 10 contests, and now has a chance to join Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to win Super Bowls with two different teams. Along the way he faced off and prevailed against two former Super Bowl MVPs in the Saints' Drew Brees and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, all of which bought him a final battle with last year's Super Bowl MVP. Brady, himself an owner of four Super Bowl MVP awards, is the first quarterback ever to face three former Super Bowl MVP's in the same postseason.
Mahomes also has a league MVP trophy from his 50-touchdown 2018 campaign, which ended one game short of the Super Bowl when the Chiefs lost to Brady's Patriots. Now Mahomes is trying to become the first starting quarterback to win two championships by the age of 25, which would just barely one-up Brady, who won the second of his six Super Bowl rings at the age of 26.
Not only are both quarterbacks coming off marvelous seasons but they are also streaking into the Super Bowl. The Bucs have won their last seven with Brady at the helm and averaging 313.3 passing yards per game, tossing 19 touchdown passes and four interceptions and compiling a 110.8 passer rating. The Chiefs actually lost their final regular-season game, but only after resting Mahomes and many starters; Mahomes comes into the game on a personal 12-game winning streak.
This is the first time since Brady's Patriots squared off against the Kurt Warner's Rams 19 years ago that both quarterbacks enter the Super Bowl with winning streaks of seven or more games, and just the fourth time ever. Brady has had a passer rating of 100 or better in five of those seven consecutive wins, and Mahomes has done the same thing in eight of his 12 straight wins. It's worth noting that quarterbacks to finish a Super Bowl with a 100-plus passer rating are 30-6 in the big game all-time.
The aforementioned 2018 AFC Championship Game is Mahomes' only playoff loss so far, and if he avenges it in Super Bowl LV he will climb one step closer to approaching Brady's incredible list of postseason accomplishments. Brady, who will be facing a Super Bowl opponent that had the NFL's best regular-season record for an incredible fifth time – he won three of the other four – is trying to make history for both himself at age 43 and for the Buccaneers, who want to capture their second Lombardi Trophy.
The Chiefs were there when this whole Super Bowl thing began, as they lost to Green Bay in the first AFL-NFL title game following the 1966 season. In fact, it was late Kansas City owner Lamar Hunt who coined the now famous name for the championship tilt, which was first used in Super Bowl III. The next year, Kansas City won Super Bowl IV for its first title; it then had to wait 50 years before Mahomes took the team back to the promised land.
So will it be history for Mahomes and the Chiefs or Brady and the Buccaneers on February 7? Whoever wins, it will be an incredible triumph at the end of the most unique season in league history, one that required an unusual level of commitment.
"I think what we're going through as a country and what we're going through with the virus and everything, you just have to be committed," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "For me, it's easy [because] we have a cause. When you get committed to a cause – and our cause is to put rings on our fingers – you do everything you can to reach that goal."
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
- Kansas City Chiefs (16-2) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5)
- Sunday, February 7, 6:30 p.m. ET
- Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618…approximately 22,000 fans will be in attendance)
- Tampa, Florida
- Television: CBS
- TV Broadcast Team: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (analyst), Tracy Wolfson (reporter), Evan Washburn (reporter), Jay Feely (reporter)
- Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
- Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
When the Chiefs beat the Buccaneers, 27-24, at Raymond James Stadium in Week 12 it snapped a five-game winning head-to-head winning streak for Tampa Bay and gave Kansas City its first win in the series since 1993. Joe Montana was the Chiefs quarterback in that last win; Patrick Mahomes was two years and 12 days from being born.
The Chiefs win in November came close to evening the series, with the Buccaneers about clinging to a 7-6 lead, which it will put on the line in Super Bowl LV on Sunday. That game also narrowed the Bucs' series lead in home games to 4-3. Kansas City raced out to a quick 17-0 lead in that most recent meeting, with Tyreek Hill scoring two long touchdowns early and finishing with a career-best line of 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns. The Buccaneers mounted a comeback in the second half and scored on their last two drives with Tom Brady touchdown passes to Mike Evans, pulling to within three with four minutes left, but Mahomes engineered three first downs to run out the rest of the clock..
Even though the Bucs and Chiefs have only met a baker's dozen times in 45 years, their shared history has some rather interesting moments. For instance, Tampa Bay's 3-0 victory in the 1979 regular-season finale, which clinched the team's first division title, remains the lowest-scoring contest in franchise history. Contrastingly, the year prior to that the Buccaneers scored big in a 30-13 win at Arrowhead Stadium that was the franchise's first-ever win against an AFC team.
The Buccaneers' current winning streak includes three straight contests from 2004-12 in which Tampa Bay's offense was in high gear, leading to final scores of 34-31, 30-27 and 38-10. The middle game in that run went to overtime in Kansas City as the Buccaneers stormed back from a 21-point deficit to win, marking what is still the biggest comeback win in team annals. Most recently before 2020, the 2016 Buccaneers upset a 7-2 Chiefs team in Kansas City, 19-17, thanks in large part to a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone by safety Chris Conte.
The Bucs-Chiefs series also featured the notable debut of Montana in Kansas City after he had left the 49ers, who were going with former Buccaneer Steve Young under center. Opposing Montana at quarterback for the Buccaneers was former Chief Steve DeBerg, who had led Kansas City to the AFC Championship Game in 1991, though by the end of Kansas City's 27-3 win he had been relieved by Craig Erickson. That is the last game in the series that the Chiefs have won.
- Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians spent four seasons (1989-92) as the running backs coach on Marty Schottenheimer's staff in Kansas City.
- Kevin Ross, Tampa Bay's cornerbacks coach, had a distinguished 14-year playing career in the NFL, most of it with the Chiefs. Ross first arrived as a seventh-round draft pick in 1984 and spent a decade with the team, earning a spot in the franchise's Hall of Fame and its Ring of Honor at Arrowhead Stadium. Ross also returned to Kansas City for his final playing season in 1997.
- Buccaneers Running Backs Coach Todd McNair also came into the league as a Chiefs' draft pick, selected in the eighth round in 1989. McNair played six seasons (1989-93, 1996) in Kansas City.
- Buccaneers defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches originally entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 2015. He played in 34 games with 16 starts over three seasons in Kansas City.
- Tampa Bay running back LeSean McCoy won a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs last season. In his one season in Kansas City, McCoy contributed 646 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns.
- Bucs kicker Ryan Succop was a seventh-round draft pick by Kansas City in 2009; as the 256th and final selection in that draft he got the title of "Mr. Irrelevant." Succop played his first five seasons with the Chiefs, making 119 of 147 field goal attempts.
- Chiefs offensive tackle Mike Remmers spent the entire 2012 season and half of 2013 on Tampa Bay's practice squad.
- Defensive end Demone Harris, who is currently on Kansas City's practice squad, first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with Tampa Bay in 2018. Harris split time between the Bucs' practice squad and active roster as a rookie and for the first half of the 2019 campaign, appearing in a total of three regular-season games.
- Kansas City Quarterbacks Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Mike Kafka spent 2014 with the Buccaneers, splitting time between the practice squad and the active roster but not appearing in a regular-season game.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
- Head Coach Bruce Arians
- Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
- Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
- Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
- Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
- Head Coach Andy Reid
- Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy
- Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
- Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub
KEY 2020 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- QB Tom Brady (UFA)
- WR Antonio Brown (FA)
- RB Leonard Fournette (FA)
- TE Rob Gronkowski (T-NE)
- T Joe Haeg (UFA)
- WR Tyler Johnson (5th-round draft pick)
- RB LeSean McCoy (FA)
- DT Steve McLendon (T-NYJ)
- K Ryan Succop (FA)
- RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn (3rd-round draft pick)
- S Antoine Winfield Jr. (2nd-round draft pick)
- T Tristan Wirfs (1st-round draft pick)
- RB Le'Veon Bell (FA)
- DE Taco Charlton (FA – currently on injured reserve)
- DE Mike Danna (fifth-round draft pick)
- RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (1st-round draft pick)
- LB Willie Gay (2nd-round draft pick)
- TE Antonio Hamilton (UFA)
- C Daniel Kilgore (FA)
- G Kelechi Osemele
- T Mike Remmers (UFA)
ADDITIONAL 2020 CHANGES OF NOTE
- Though it is noted in the "Roster Additions" section above, it's worth further elaborating on the extremely dramatic change the Buccaneers made at the game's most important position. After five seasons, the team moved on from Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, and filled the starting quarterback spot with the man many consider the G.O.A.T., former Patriot Tom Brady. Brady brings 20 years of experience and six Super Bowl championship rings to Tampa in one of the most notable free agent signings in NFL history. Brady's move to the Buccaneers also prompted former Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and he was promptly traded to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick. Another former teammate of Brady's, albeit for just one game, arrived in late October when the Buccaneers signed WR Antonio Brown.
- Tampa Bay debuted new uniforms in Week One in New Orleans. The uniforms are largely inspired by the ones the team wore during its Super Bowl era and overall from 1997 through 2013. Some elements of the uniforms introduced in 2014 remain, such as the sharper, more detailed skull-and-crossed-swords logo and the larger flag on the helmet (though not as large as before). The uniforms debuting in 2020 also include an all-pewter version that is completely unique in team and NFL history and was worn for the first time in Denver in Week Three.
- The Buccaneers have two new additions to their coaching staff in 2020: Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Keith Tandy and Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Cory Bichey. Tandy worked at the high school and college levels in 2019, the latter at his alma mater of West Virginia, but he begins his NFL coaching career with the same team that drafted him in 2012. Tandy spent six seasons in Tampa as a safety and special teams standout before finishing his playing career in Atlanta in 2018. Bichey comes to the Buccaneers from Mississippi State University, where he previously worked under current Buccaneers Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Anthony Piroli.
- The Buccaneers used their franchise tag during the 2020 offseason for the first time in eight years. That tag was employed to retain outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who went from a rotational reserve in Denver to the NFL's 2019 sack leader after signing with the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent. Barrett's 19.5 sacks in his first year with the Buccaneers broke Warren Sapp's single-season franchise record and made him one of the team's top priorities in the offseason. Barrett and the Bucs were unable to reach agreement on a long-term deal during the 2020 offseason, in part due to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Barrett played on the tag's one-year contract this season.
- The Buccaneers lost one of their key defensive players for the rest of the regular season in Week Five when third-year defensive lineman Vita Vea suffered a broken leg and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Vea recorded 2.0 sacks through the first five games and was a key member of the team's league-leading run defense. However, Vea returned from injured reserve in mid-January and was able to play 33 snaps in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay.
- As one might expect from a defending Super Bowl champion, the Chiefs did not make extensive changes in the offseason. There were a couple of minor moves on the coaching staff, with Quarterbacks Coach Mike Kafka adding the title of Passing Game Coordinator and Andy Hill joining the team as an assistant special teams coach. The change for Kafka is seen as a promotion as the Chiefs are thought to be grooming him as the next offensive coordinator if Eric Bieniemy leaves for a head coaching job elsewhere.
- Three players who were part-time starters on the Chiefs' defense in 2019 left via free agency: cornerback Kendall Fuller, defensive end Emmanual Ogbah and linebacker Reggie Ragland.
- The Chiefs have a new punter for the first time in 15 years. That job had been handled very well by Dustin Colquitt since 2005, but the Chiefs released the veteran punter in April, two days before signing undrafted rookie Tommy Townsend. Townsend, a former Florida Gator, held onto the job and is averaging 47.1 yards per punt.
- Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who was the Chiefs starting right guard for most of the past five seasons, chose to opt out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was one of three Chiefs players to make that decision, along with running back Damien Williams and rookie tackle Lucas Niang.
Brady & Mahomes, Deep Thoughts – The most prominent storyline in Super Bowl LV is the pairing of the greatest quarterback in league history, and in postseason history, with the young passer who appears most poised to take a run at Brady's career accomplishments. We already touched on that above, but there is one specific aspect of this Super Bowl QB comparison that could prove critical to the game's outcome: Which of these two passers will be able to go deep successfully? Heading into their Week 12 matchup, Brady and the Buccaneers had been slumping badly, at one point missing on 23 straight passes that traveled 20-plus yards in the air. Against the Chiefs, though, Brady had 152 yards on such passes and Mahomes had 140, according to Next Gen Stats, which was the only game in the NFL in 2020 in which both quarterbacks got to 140 yards in that category. Things have gone differently for both teams since. Since Week 12 and including the playoffs, Brady has posted NFL highs on deep passes in attempts (45), completions (21), yards (707) and touchdowns (nine). Mahomes has only completed four passes on 25 deep attempts (20-plus air yards) in the same span, albeit in one fewer game played. Brady's rating on deep passes since Week 13 is a sparkling 114.1, while Mahomes has put up a mark of 62.5 in the same category. Brady said it was just a matter of repetitions with him, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Scotty Miller and Antonio Brown. "We just keep working on it, continuity with the guys," said Brady. "Chris had been hurt, Mike had been hurt, Scotty had been out, AB was just getting into it. I think we were starting to jell a little bit going into that bye week and then just working on it during the bye week, and just continue to throw more of them."
Defensive Shifts – The Buccaneers finished eighth in the league in scoring defense during the regular season, giving up 22.2 points per game. In the playoffs, they have surrendered exactly 23 points per game despite already facing two of the top six scoring attacks in the NFL. Tampa Bay's defense has held steady – and in a couple categories, such as interception rate and yards allowed per pass play, has improved markedly – despite some rather significant coming and goings in the starting lineup. First, second-team all-pro inside linebacker Devin White missed the Wild Card game while on the COVID list. White has been on first since his return but the Buccaneers finished the NFC Championship Game without both of their starting safeties, Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Jordan Whitehead. Those two, plus another second-team all-pro inside linebacker, Lavonte David, would have been serious question marks to play if the Super Bowl had been last Sunday. It remains to be seen what their status will be for the actual game. On the other hand, the Bucs got a stunning gift for their postseason run when rising-star defensive lineman Vita Vea, who suffered a significant ankle fracture in Week Five and was largely presumed lost for the season, was activated from injured reserve on January 22. Even more surprisingly, he played 33 snaps against the Packers just two days later and seems no worse for the wear. The Buccaneers' defense is undeniable better with Vea on the field, allowing 2.7 yards per carry and posting a pressure rate of 32.7% and a sack rate of 10.5%. When Vea is not on the field, the Bucs allow 3.9 yards per carry, with a pressure rate of 26.0% and a sack rate of 5.9%. Vea should be full-go in the Super Bowl, which is good news, but that could be balanced by some bad news if any of the injured defenders remain unavailable.
Dynasty or All-In Win? – We know what Super Bowl LV means to the legacies of the quarterbacks, either adding another incredible achievement to Brady's unmatched postseason ledger or giving Mahomes a signature win over the man he will spend years chasing for G.O.A.T status. The outcome of this game will also have significant ripples for the two franchises vying for the title. The defending-champion Chiefs are trying to become the first club to win back-to-back Super Bowls since Brady's Patriots 16 years ago. If they do, talks of a budding dynasty will have added credence and the Chiefs will be in position to chase a record third straight title. Kansas City would become the 10th team to win at least three Super Bowls overall and would likely be a favorite to make it four in 2021. If the Buccaneers win their second Super Bowl in as many tries, it would allow them to join the Baltimore Ravens with multiple wins without any losses. More significantly, it would validate their ultra-aggressive all-in team-building approach in 2020, which obviously peaked with the signing of Brady on March 20. General Manager Jason Licht believes the Buccaneers have set themselves up for long-term success and never lost sight of that goal, but he doesn't deny that they went all out to win in Brady's first year in town. The Bucs did everything they could to keep a rising defense intact, bringing back potential free agents Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett and Ndamukong Suh, and made additional bold moves along the way when deemed necessary. Those included a summer trade for Rob Gronkowski and the September signing of Leonard Fournette, both of whom are now key parts of the offense. The Bucs may not have pushed every single chip they had into the middle of the table, but they were never afraid to double down and now it's close to paying off.
Biggest Stage, Same Story – For many Buccaneers, Sunday's game will be the biggest game they have yet to play in their lives, as much a spectacle as a sporting event and one that will be watched by hundreds of millions of people. The lead-up to the game has been and will continue to be like nothing they've ever experienced before. But once the ball is placed on the tee for the opening kickoff on Sunday evening, it will be what it always is: a football game. What holds true for a game in September or December also holds true for one in February, and one of the most critical factors in determining a game's outcome is turnovers. Of the 54 Super Bowls played so far, 43 have included one team winning the turnover-ratio battle. Those 43 teams have a 37-6 record (.860 winning percentage) in the Super Bowl, a list that includes the 2002 Buccaneers, who set still-standing records with five interceptions and three pick-sixes. Unsurprisingly, both of the teams in Super Bowl LV were good in this regard in the regular season, the Buccaneers ranking sixth with a plus-8 turnover ratio and the Chiefs just behind in eighth with a plus-six ratio. The Buccaneers' defense has also forced seven turnovers in three postseason games, but what is more important is how regularly they have turned those takeaways into points. The Bucs scored touchdowns after six of those seven turnovers, with the only exception being a Mike Edwards interception that led to a game-ending kneel-down in New Orleans. From the beginning of the Wild Card game in Washington through the first half of the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay, the Bucs had a plus-six postseason turnover ratio, with only one lost fumble. Brady was intercepted three times in the second half in Green Bay but the Bucs' defense only allowed one of those to be turned into points. As a result, the Buccaneers currently have a dominant scoring edge of 41-6 off turnovers in the playoffs and if that trend can continue they will have a good chance to be champions.
Comparing Weaponry – If you were Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes, about to play out this historical QB rivalry, which team's cast of supporting weapons would you prefer to have? Assume no loyalty issues and no problems integrating the passer with his pass-catchers. From top to bottom, the Buccaneers and Chiefs have the two deepest stables of skill positions in the league. Would you rather have the fastest player in the league (Tyreek Hill, with apologies to Scotty Miller) and the most productive tight end in a single season ever (Travis Kelce)? Or would you rather be able to trot out a three-receiver set that includes Pro Bowlers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, all reasonable number-one receiver on their own? Who goes deeper, the Bucs with Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson, or the Chiefs with Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins? What about the backfield? The Buccaneers have the NFL's postseason leader in yards from scrimmage in Leonard Fournette and a running back who nearly hit 1,000 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry this year in Ronald Jones. The Chiefs have a promising first-round rookie in Clyde Edwards-Helaire who had 1,110 yards from scrimmage in the regular season, plus proven veteran Le'Veon Bell, and their leading rusher in the playoffs is Darrel Williams. Both groups of pass-catchers and ballcarriers make it very difficult for opposing defenses to pick their poison. Who do you double-team? How many can your afford to put in the box? Can you survive in man-to-man coverage? Can you blitz without giving up the big play? There are so many skill-position stars set to do battle in Super Bowl LV that it's nearly impossible to predict which ones will have the biggest night.
1. Chiefs TE Travis Kelce vs. Buccaneers CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
Kelce has been a postseason star throughout his career but he's having his best playoff run yet to this point, with 21 catches for 227 yards and three touchdowns already in just two games. He presents a different kind of challenge than any other tight end in the NFL, splitting out wide far more often and running routes as sharp and quick as a wide receiver. The Chiefs particularly like to isolate Kelce on one side as the 'Y' receiver, which they have done on 29% of his snaps, making him the only tight end in the league over 16%. That forces defenses to choose how they want to cover him, and with whom. In the Week 12 Bucs-Chiefs game, in which he caught eight passes for 82 yards (essentially an average game for him), Murphy-Bunting had the coverage on 16 of his routes, including 13 of the 16 when Kelce split wide. That would seem to indicate the likelihood of some more one-on-one action between Kelce and Murphy-Bunting in the Super Bowl. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, Murphy-Bunting is playing his best football of the season at just the right time. In the playoffs, he has allowed a passer rating of just 58.5 on passes thrown when he was the closest defender. He's also broken up four passes on just 21 targets, including one interception in each game so far. Complicating matters for Murphy-Bunting or any player trying to limit the damage from Kelce is that the athletic tight end becomes Mahomes' favorite target when a play gets extended. He was by far the most-targeted Chief when the pass took more than four seconds to get off, catching 11 of 22 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Chiefs CB Charvarius Ward
The Chiefs' Ward loves to press receivers at the line of scrimmage; Evans loves to see press coverage. Ward was in press coverage on outside receivers on 65% of his snaps this season, which was by far the highest rate in the NFL. Only two other players were even over 50%, including his Kansas City teammate, Bashaud Breeland. Meanwhile, Evans has eight touchdowns against press coverage this season, including the playoffs, which is tied for the most in the NFL in 2020. Overall, Ward has struggled somewhat in 2020 after his breakout 2019 campaign; his opponent passer rating allowed of 60.3 last year has ballooned to 102.8 this season. The 6-1, 196-pound Ward does have better size and length than some cornerbacks to match up against the 6-5 Evans, who has been particularly deadly in the red zone this year. Since 2016, Evans has been targeted on passes thrown into the end zone 86 times, 11 more than any other player in that span; he's already had three such targets in the postseason, two of which were good for touchdowns. Ward plays exclusively on the left side of the Chiefs' defense, which means he'll draw Evans when he goes out to the right. Evans has lined up more frequently on the left side this season but has still seen 419 snaps on the right side, including the playoffs. With the Kansas City defense favoring the blitz more than all but three other teams and Ward liking to press, Evans could have an opportunity for some big plays on the outside.
3. Chiefs T Mike Remmers vs. Buccaneers OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul is one of just a handful of Bucs with previous Super Bowl experience, as he was a first-team All-Pro on the 2011 New York Giants team that beat Brady's Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. He had 17.0 sacks that season, including the postseason; nine years later he has 11.0 sacks for the Buccaneers in 2020, including the playoffs. Most recently, he contributed two of the five sacks that were instrumental in limiting Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense in the NFC Championship Game. In that contest, Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett moved from one end of the line to the other at various times but Pierre-Paul more often rushed off the right side, against the left tackle and that side of the Packers' line. Green Bay was playing without Pro Bowl tackle David Bakhtiari in that game and the Chiefs will be in a similar position, as Pro Bowler Eric Fisher is out with an Achilles tendon tear. As a result, Kansas City is expected to move Mike Remmers from right tackle, where he was already filling for an injured Mitchell Schwartz, to the left side in the Super Bowl, as they did in the AFC Championship Game when Fisher went down. Remmers has a lot of experience and is a versatile blocker, but Kansas City's protection is clearly better with Fisher in the game. When Fisher has been on the field this season, Mahomes has had an average time-to-throw (TTT) of 2.85 seconds. The Chiefs played 37 snaps without Fisher and Mahomes TTT on those plays was 2.40 seconds.
4. Buccaneers G Ali Marpet vs. Chiefs DT Chris Jones
Jones is the key to the Chiefs' front seven and perhaps their best player overall on defense. He's certainly their best chance to pressure opposing passers, with a team leading 7.5 sack in 2020, which is actually his lowest total in the last three years. Jones had 31.0 sacks over the previous three seasons combined, including an incredible 15.5 in 2018. Moreover, Jones is the only Kansas City defender with a pressure rate over 10% on his pass rushes this season. He and the Rams' Aaron Donald are the only two interior linemen in the NFL to lead their team in pressures in each of the last two seasons. Jones is clearly the Chiefs' best bet to disrupt the red-hot Brady, as he has had a harder time overcoming pressure up the middle than from the edge this year. When pressured by edge rushers in 2020, Brady has averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt and has been sacked 8.6% of the time. When facing interior pressure, he has averaged 5.4 yards per attempt and has been sacked 16.7% of the time. Jones primarily lines up over one of the two guard before the snap, which means slowing him down will be a big responsibility for Marpet, the Bucs' unheralded and underappreciated star on the interior offensive line. Marpet and company have allowed just five sacks of Brady in three postseason games, including just one in each of the last two games, and none have been specifically credited to Marpet. Marpet has also proved to be a force in the Bucs' postseason rushing attack, which has averaged 115.0 yards per game, primarily on runs between the tackles.
- DNP: Did not participate in practice
- LP: Limited participation in practice
- FP: Full participation in practice
- NL: Not listed
- WR Antonio Brown (knee) – WEDS: LP
- ILB Lavonte David (hamstring) – WEDS: LP
- WR Mike Evans (knee) – WEDS: FP
- WR Chris Godwin (elbow) – WEDS: FP
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – WEDS: DNP
- S Jordan Whitehead (shoulder) – WEDS: LP
- S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (ankle) – WEDS: LP
- RB Le'Veon Bell (knee) – WEDS: LP
- RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle/hip) – WEDS: LP
- CB Rashad Fenton (foot) – WEDS: LP
- T Eric Fisher (Achilles) – WEDS: DNP
- LB Willie Gay (knee/ankle) – WEDS: DNP
- QB Patrick Mahomes (toe) – WEDS: FP
- OL Mike Remmers (groin) – WEDS: FP
- CB L'Jarius Sneed (concussion) – WEDS: FP
- WR Sammy Watkins (calf) – WEDS: LP
- OL Andrew Wylie (ankle) – WEDS: FP
- Evening forecast: Scattered showers, high of 64, low of 63, 39% chance of precipitation, 89% humidity, winds out of the E at 6 mph.
- Head referee: Carl Cheffers (21 seasons, 13 as referee)
- Favorite: Chiefs (-3.0)
- Over/Under: 56.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Buccaneers (regular season)-
- Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 136
- Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 13
- Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 4,633
- Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 102.2
- Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 978
- Receptions: WR Mike Evans, 70
- Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 1,006
- Interceptions: CB Carlton Davis, 4
- Sacks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, 9.5
- Tackles: ILB Devin White, 140
Chiefs (regular season)-
- Points Scored: K Harrison Butker, 123
- Touchdowns: WR Tyreek Hill, 17
- Passing Yards: QB Patrick Mahomes, 4,740
- Passer Rating: QB Patrick Mahomes, 108.2
- Rushing Yards: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, 803
- Receptions: TE Travis Kelce, 105
- Receiving Yards: TE Travis Kelce, 1,416
- Interceptions: S Tyrann Mathieu, 6
- Sacks: DT Chris Jones, 7.5
- Tackles: S Daniel Sorenson, 91
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Buccaneers (regular season)-
- Scoring Offense: 3rd (30.8 ppg)
- Total Offense: 7th (384.1 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 2nd (289.1 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: t-28th (94.9 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: t-10th (22.8)
- Third-Down Pct.: 11th (43.5%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 2nd (3.51%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: 7th (68.9%)
- Scoring Defense: 8th (22.2 ppg)
- Total Defense: 6th (327.1 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 21st (246.6 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 1st (80.6 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: 5th (19.9)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 14th (40.0%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 7th (7.78%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 20th (62.8%)
- Turnover Margin: 6th (+8)
Chiefs (regular season)-
- Scoring Offense: 6th (29.6 ppg)
- Total Offense: 1st (415.8 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 1st (303.4 ypg)
- Rushing Offense: 16th (112.4 ypg)
- First Downs Per Game: t-1st (24.8)
- Third-Down Pct.: 3rd (49.0%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 4th (3.81%)
- Red Zone TD Pct.: 14th (61.0%)
- Scoring Defense: 11th (22.6 ppg)
- Total Defense: 16th (358.3 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 14th (236.2 ypg)
- Rushing Defense: 21st (122.1 ypg)
- First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-19th (22.1)
- Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 17th (41.0%)
- Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 20th (5.75%)
- Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 32nd (72.6%)
- Turnover Margin: 8th (+6)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- If the Buccaneers beat the Chiefs, Tom Brady will join Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to start Super Bowl victories for two different franchises. Brady could also become the first player in any of the four major North American sports to win championships with two different teams past the age of 40.
- Brady has seven touchdown passes through the Buccaneers' first three postseason games. The record for most TD passes in a single postseason is 11, shared by Joe Flacco in 2012, Kurt Warner in 2008 and Joe Montana in 1989. Brady could join that group with four touchdown passes in the Super Bowl or take the record himself with five.
- Brady's 860 passing yards so far in the 2020 playoffs put him within range of the NFL record in that category in a single postseason. Former Giant Eli Manning set the record with 1,219 yards in 2011, so Brady needs 360 yards in the Super Bowl for the record.
- Mike Evans has two touchdown catches so far in the 2020 postseason. That ties him for the team's postseason career record, so one more in the Super Bowl would give him the record alone.
- Sean Murphy-Bunting has three interceptions in the 2020 postseason, which has him tied with Donnie Abraham, Dexter Jackson and Dwight Smith for the team's career playoff record. One more would put him in the lead. In addition, if Murphy-Bunting does get a pick in the Super Bowl, he will tie the all-time NFL record for most consecutive postseason games with an interception. That mark of four straight games was set by Aeneas Williams from 1999-2002 and later tied by Rodney Harrison from 2005-08. No player has ever had an interception in four straight games in the same postseason.
- OLB Shaq Barrett's three sacks in the NFC Championship Game tied a single-game Buccaneer postseason record. They also put him just one behind Simeon Rice (4.0) for the most career postseason sacks in team annals.
- RB Leonard Fournette has three touchdowns in the 2020 playoffs so far. The Bucs' record for a single postseason is four touchdowns, by Mike Alstott in 2002.
- Head Coach Bruce Arians on the closeness and camaraderie of the 2020 Buccaneers: "It's been amazing, I think, with the pandemic and the sacrifices that they've all made for each other. They go to work, and they go home. We don't get to sit and eat together. We don't get to just sit and have conversations. It's amazing to me how close this team is. I think it's because of the commitment they made to one another to beat the virus before we could beat another team."
- Tight end Cameron Brate on the Bucs' offense succeeding lately by more thoroughly mixing up their personnel packages: "I would like to think the 12 formation [is most effective], selfishly, but it's hard to argue when we put the playmakers we have at receiver – Mike [Evans], Chris [Godwin, AB (Antonio Brown), Scotty [Miller], Tyler [Johnson], just any combination of those three guys – it's hard to keep them off the field. It's hard not to call a shot every play when you've got such great receivers. But I think really what's helped us out as an offense has been being multiple in our personnels. Sometimes you've got to take the boring four-yard run or the six-yard pass to me on the sideline or something like that, kind of take those intermediate gains because that means getting in favorable position on second and third down where we can take those shots and have better matchups as far as coverage and stuff like that. Not having the defense pin their ears back when we're in 11 personnel or when we go four receivers and a running back, dialing up blitzes and stuff like that. I think what has helped our offense has been being not necessarily more conversative but just mixing up our personnels more so we can use everyone and the defense has a lot to think about."
- Quarterback Tom Brady on how he has developed his mental toughness: "I got to the pros and wanted to be a consistent, dependable player and every year just tried to improve my game a little bit. Going to have to keep improving it. As long as I'm playing, I want to improve and get better. I think next year is going to be a lot better than this year. I feel like I'll be in a much better place mentally. I'm going to train a lot better; physically next year I'll be in a better place. I know as soon as this game ends, we're on to next season. We'll get ready for this [game], then start thinking about next year.
- Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles on Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu, who was drafted by Arizona in 2013 when Bowles was the defensive coordinator: "He's made me a better coach because he came in a great player. I just tried not to mess him up. From a leadership standpoint, even as a rookie he was one of the first ones out on the field stretching every day. He took it very seriously. It means a lot to him. One of the smartest players I've ever seen play this game – and I've been doing it a long time. Leadership skills are natural for him, it's not anything made up for him. He's' going to fight to the end. He's very intelligent as a ballplayer. He sees things on the field no one else can see and you couple that with his leadership skills and you've got a great player. That's what he is."
- Inside linebacker Lavonte David on waiting nine years to make the playoffs, and now the Super Bowl: "There's been some tough times here. I was able to weather the storm, seen all the good, seen all the bad, now I'm here, taking all this in right now. I was telling the young guys, 'Don't take this for granted.' Guys who are in their second year, guys who are in their first year, telling them, 'Don't take it for granted because this doesn't happen often.' Once you have this foundation, you have to keep on trying to stack on it because it's not easy to get to this position. Look at myself, for example. It took me nine years to get here. I don't know if it's going to take me another nine or whatever, but you definitely have to embrace this moment."