The Super Bowl is just a couple days away now.
One undervalued factor here is the weather. It’s been a factor all playoffs, but this will be the first big rain game. There’s currently a 60% chance of rain and lightning forecasted, and it’s hard to know who may benefit more from that.
It’s also important to note that Pat Mahomes has tremendous success with less time to throw. It may seem crazy, but there’s a scatter plot out there per Josh Hermsmeyer at FiveThirtyEight which shows Mahomes’ best games (by QBR) have been in the games where he has the least amount of time to throw. It’s just food for thought when anyone, myself included, mentions the injuries on the offensive line.
We will take a look at two winning scenarios for each team. Most previews are about the key to success and that’s fine, but it’s a little stale. We will go through specific issues and work it through to the end. Without further delay, let’s get to it.
The Chiefs: Two winning scenarios
The Chiefs have a few issues on their offensive line. That raises some red flags against the Bucs, who have been able to generate pressure all playoffs with just their front four.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire was out at the end of the season and early in the playoffs with a high ankle sprain. However, he played a little in the AFC Championship game and should be healthy enough to take the lead back role again on Sunday.
Edwards-Helaire is particularly quick and has a low center of gravity. That really helps in sloppy weather. Defensively, the Chiefs should be at or near full-strength.
The Chiefs, knowing they have to circumvent a banged-up O-line, will utilize a variety of pop passes and creative screens to Hill, Hardman, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. This seems to be the best game plan, given the weather conditions and offensive line. Because of the Chiefs’ recent history with offensive game plans, I have faith the Chiefs will be calculating the circumstances when drawing up this game plan.
Offensively, if the Chiefs can use this strategy, it’s going to keep the Tampa blitz at bay, as well as getting the ball into key players’ hands and letting their YAC ability pair with the elements. If you think it’s hard for guys to stop Tyreek Hill in good weather, imagine trying to make a reactionary cut on wet turf.
In this scenario, the Chiefs will put together safe and productive drives, and be able to reel off a few big plays, based on a deep shot or two, and a couple of big YAC plays.
Defensively, the Chiefs has schemed well throughout the playoffs. Based on the Chiefs expected offensive success and game script, the Chiefs will be able to maintain a lead in the first half, and extend it in the third quarter.
As the Chiefs make a few stops and the offense extends the lead, the Bucs will have to pass the ball much more. With a more predictable offense, the Bucs will struggle to contain the Chiefs’ blitzes, and it will lead to a pick and a turnover on downs in the end.
Chiefs 34 Buccaneers 20
This is the less likely scenario (in my mind) but still a viable outcome. In this scenario, the Chiefs run more of the same stuff we’ve seen this season. They run plenty of deep routes and use Tyreek on a few screens but mostly deep, holding the safeties in check.
This approach is by design to open up the middle of the field (especially knowing the Bucs will put heavy emphasis on not letting Hill repeat his previous performance against them). This will allow for Travis Kelce to feast. Even with Devin White trying to cover Kelce, Kelce is just a hair too big and fast to be stopped.
Defensively, I think the Chiefs will try to force Brady to take shots downfield. He’s been very hit or miss on deep balls this season and the weather should aid in keeping him inconsistent for this game. If the Chiefs can replicate the Browns game script of “bend but don’t break”, the scoring in this game will be tempered and the punt count will rise.
In this scenario, it’s a lower-scoring game with five to seven punts and inconsistency on both sides. I expect it to be a squeaker.
Chiefs 27 Bucs 24
The Buccaneers: Two winning scenarios
The Bucs escaped Washington in the Wildcard with a lackluster performance, defensively. Since then, they’ve been more consistent and effective. The Saints game was decided by a big turnover margin, and the Packers game was much the same (in the sense it gave them a big lead). The Bucs have just a few questions on the health side of things. Antonio Brown and Ronald Jones should be good to go for the game. Overall, Brady is in synch with his receivers and the defense has seemingly come together.
The truth here that Chiefs fans don’t want to hear is that a balanced opposing offense is what they struggle most with. Carolina, Las Vegas, and Cleveland all had balanced attacks against the Chiefs and all experienced success. The Raiders put up 31 and 40 in their two games, while the Panthers scored 31. A balanced offense will give the Chiefs fits, and that’s going to be a key in both these scenarios.
The Bucs will use a balanced attack to put themselves in short down and distances. The Chiefs have defensive holes. Most of the success against the Chiefs this season has come from strong rushing performances by their opposition, but the truth is two-fold.
When you get short third downs, the defense has to be ready for either the run or the pass. Since the Chiefs are dead last at stopping teams against the run in short downs, it further exposes their short passing defense. Where the Chiefs defense causes issues is on deep balls.
With the wet field and possibly wet ball, Brady and the Bucs will focus on shorter routes and running the ball. Expect a few deep routes and maybe a few deeper shots to Mike Evans in single coverage (it will probably happen a few times). I think the Bucs will find a good balance in this scenario, control the clock, and limit the possessions in the game overall.
Defensively, the hope is the Bucs can generate pressure with a four-man front. We will see blitzes, don’t get me wrong, but the key to their success is being able to produce difficult coverages for Mahomes. In this scenario, the Bucs defense will produce a few punts, possibly force a turnover, and the Bucs can ride out a close, low-scoring victory.
Bucs 26 Chiefs 23
The Bucs will use favorable coverages, taking a lot of single coverage shots on offense, and a creative array of blitzes to throw off Mahomes in a shootout. The thought here is that the defenses don’t have a big impact on the game. In wet weather, drives can be stalled, but success on the ground in chunks can lead to big plays through the air.
I think this scenario projects both offenses to move the ball easily, relying on great YAC ability for the Chiefs offense and single coverage success for the Bucs offense.
The key for a Bucs victory in this scenario is creating havoc and forcing turnovers, even if it means giving up big plays by taking risks. The Chiefs offense will start out hot, and this will force the Bucs to adjust their game plan defensively, shifting the focus on more creative blitzes and confusing coverages.
One slick ball could make the difference here, and Mahomes will be more susceptible to making an errant throw, given the velocity he puts on the ball.
I think this scenario will play out like the Raiders game (the loss) earlier in the year. The Raiders started taking chances on defense in the second half, a few balls went off the hands of a Chiefs receiver or two, and drives stalled or were halted. If the Bucs can take advantage of chunk runs and single coverage downfield, their defense adding some chaos will give them a narrow shootout victory.
Bucs 34 Chiefs 31