Super Bowl LV Preview: Tom Brady vs Patrick Mahomes Headlines Title Game

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 25, 2021

Super Bowl LV Preview: Tom Brady vs Patrick Mahomes Headlines Title Game

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Tom Brady is the most decorated player in NFL history. But in order to add to his unreal resume with a Super Bowl LV victory, Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to beat the one player and team who seem most likely to one day match or exceed Brady's legacy.

    As the first true home team in Super Bowl history, the Bucs and their 43-year-old quarterback are a small underdog against 25-year-old superstar Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

    Brady's Bucs will also be trying to stop the Chiefs from becoming the first repeat NFL champion since Brady's New England Patriots accomplished that feat by defeating Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles way back in 2004. Reid, of course, now coaches Kansas City, while Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians is in search of his first Vince Lombardi Trophy in a meeting of two heralded offensive minds.

    Put simply, it's a sick matchup.

    Here's an initial breakdown.

The Details

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Date/time: Feb. 7, 6:30 p.m. ET

    TV: CBS

    Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

    Fans in attendance: 22,000

    Early line: Kansas City -3

    Early total: 56.5

    Referee: Carl Cheffers

    Chiefs injuries to watch: Left tackle Eric Fisher left Sunday's win with an Achilles injury, which is a huge concern for a team that is already without right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (back) and guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (COVID-19 opt-out). Against a strong Tampa Bay defensive front, Mahomes is likely to be without 60 percent of his starting offensive line from last year's Super Bowl run.

    Beyond that, the offense will be hoping to get wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and running back Le'Veon Bell (knee) back after both missed the AFC Championship Game, while they'll be monitoring corner L'Jarius Sneed after he left that game with a possible concussion.

    Buccaneers injuries to watch: The Bucs were already without sensational rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle), while fellow safety Jordan Whitehead left Sunday's victory with a shoulder injury. On offense, veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown missed that game with a knee injury. All three will be hoping to return for the Super Bowl.

The Numbers

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    1: The total number of games the Chiefs have lost with Mahomes under center since the middle of November 2019, a stretch in which Mahomes has started 26 games.

    1: The number of Super Bowls won by the Bucs, who earned their only Vince Lombardi Trophy back in 2002, one year after Brady won his first.

    2: The number of Super Bowls won by the Chiefs, who won their first Lombardi Trophy in half a century last February.

    3: First-team All-Pros on the Chiefs roster (wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and safety Tyrann Mathieu). There are none on the Bucs roster.

    5: This marks the fifth meeting between Brady and Mahomes. They've each won twice, but Brady's Patriots beat the Chiefs on the road in overtime in the 2018 playoffs.

    7: Brady is shooting for his seventh ring. No other quarterback has won more than four. 

    7: Consecutive games won by the Bucs, with the offense scoring at least 30 points in each of the last six. That winning streak started after a 27-24 Week 12 loss to these Chiefs.

    9: The Chiefs have trailed by that many points in four of their five playoff wins the last two years.

    10: Brady is participating in his 10th Super Bowl. No other quarterback has played in more than five.

    11: Takeaways from the Bucs defense in their last five games. That unit was all over Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.

    33: Playoff wins for Brady, which is more than twice as many as any quarterback in NFL history (Joe Montana is second with 16).

    47: The percentage of dropbacks the Chiefs pressured Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen on Sunday, according to ESPN's Ed Werder, who rightly stated that pressure is the key to beating Brady in the playoffs.

    109.8: Mahomes' career playoff passer rating, which is five points higher than the next-highest-rated quarterback in playoff history (min. 200 attempts). Brady is a touch below 90.0.

The Keys to Victory

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press


    1. Tackle Tom: Ideally with a four-man rush and with consistent inside pressure courtesy of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones. The Chiefs know that the blueprint for beating Brady in the Super Bowl is heavy on natural pressure, and they'll need to get to the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history early and often.

    2. Limit Leonard: Bucs back Leonard Fournette compiled 74 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches against Green Bay, and he went over 100 scrimmage yards in each of Tampa Bay's first two playoff games. Cleveland Browns backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt dominated Kansas City's 21st-ranked run defense down the stretch in the divisional round. Leonard and backfield-mate Ronald Jones II could make a similar impact here.

    3. Protect Pat: The Chiefs offensive line was already short-handed before losing Fisher, and Tampa Bay sacked Rodgers five times at Lambeau Field. You know the Chiefs will score points, but Mahomes was already dealing with a toe injury before leaving the team's divisional-round game due to a possible concussion. Reid will have to get creative in order to give his star quarterback opportunities to cook safely.



    1. No turnovers: Brady got away with three interceptions in Green Bay thanks to the fact the Packers scored just six points off of those turnovers. There's no way the Bucs will get away with that against the Chiefs, who haven't lost while registering more than one takeaway since Week 6 of the 2019 season.

    2. Limit splash plays: The Chiefs had a league-high 79 20-yard plays during the regular season, and explosive plays were a huge factor in their win over Buffalo. But only three teams allowed fewer 20-yard gains than the Bucs, who have to somehow control Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill et al in this case.

    3. Finish: The Bills provided a reminder on Sunday that you can't beat these Chiefs with field goals. A team hasn't attempted three field goals and defeated Kansas City since Week 5 of the 2019 season. The Bucs scored on both of their red-zone trips in Green Bay and converted nine of 14 third-down plays, while the Chiefs had the worst red-zone D in the NFL this season. Those trends might have to continue on Super Bowl Sunday.

The X-Factors (Outside of the Obvious)

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press


    1. RB Darrel Williams: The Bucs had the league's No. 1 run defense this season, and that unit was hardly tested by the Packers running game. Likely without their two starting offensive tackles, the Chiefs can't afford to be one-dimensional, and Williams continues to get action with explosive rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire easing back from injury. Either (or both) could play big roles, but Williams has looked strong while averaging 5.0 yards per carry this postseason.

    2. WR Mecole Hardman: The Bucs' focus will be on Mahomes, Hill and Kelce, but Hardman caught a touchdown pass and gained 50 yards on an end-around against the Bills. Tampa Bay should probably expect more of that considering the state of Kansas City's offensive line.

    3. Edge Frank Clark: Chris Jones will attract plenty of attention from the Buccaneers inside, which could free up the veteran Clark. He sacked Josh Allen twice Sunday. The 27-year-old had a disappointing season on paper but has always been a prime playoff performer.



    1. LB Devin White: The sophomore linebacker had 15 tackles against the Packers. He and veteran linebacker Lavonte David will be key to limiting Mahomes and his weapons underneath, in the flats and on the ground.

    2. OL Donovan Smith, Tristan Wirfs, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Aaron Stinnie: Those five will be chiefly responsible for protecting the oldest player in the league against a defensive front that can bring it. None has seen a stage like this in his NFL career, Wirfs is a rookie and Stinnie has practically no starting experience, but the unit has held up well this postseason.

    3. CB Sean Murphy-Bunting: The rising sophomore has intercepted a pass in all three of Tampa Bay's playoff games. Now, he and Carlton Davis will have to deal with Hill and Kelce. With Winfield an injury question mark, Murphy-Bunting could be the key in the Bucs secondary.

The Top Matchups

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Kelce vs. White and David

    The first-team All-Pro compiled more receiving yards than any tight end in NFL history this season and caught 13 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the AFC title game. Defending against him will be a team effort for Tampa Bay, but the team's standout off-ball linebackers will lead that charge.


    Hill vs. Davis and Murphy-Bunting

    Meanwhile, one of the league's fastest players is coming off a 172-yard performance in the AFC Championship Game. He completely annihilated Davis when these teams met in Week 12, compiling 269 yards and three touchdowns with the Bucs' top corner taking most of the beating. But look for the Bucs to utilize the red-hot Murphy-Bunting more in this case.


    Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie vs. Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul

    Fisher and Schwartz haven't been ruled out yet, but it doesn't look promising for the veteran tackles, and that's who Kansas City used in their place late in the AFC title game. Barrett and Pierre-Paul are both stars, and they combined for five sacks on Rodgers.


    Mike Evans and Chris Godwin vs. the Kansas City Secondary

    Mathieu is an exceptional player, but the Chiefs defensive backfield might still be the most vulnerable unit in this game. Evans and Godwin are two of the most talented and productive receivers in the league (they combined for 161 yards and a touchdown Sunday), and they could have a chance to do damage against Sneed, Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland. 


    Fournette and Jones vs. Kansas City's Run Defense

    Fournette is running hot, while Jones averaged a strong 5.1 yards per carry in a breakout third season and should be healthier with two weeks to rest. He gained 103 yards on only 10 touches in that November meeting with K.C., and the Chiefs run D ranked 31st in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders entering Sunday's games.


    Marpet and Jensen vs. Jones

    The superstar defensive lineman will want to try to pick on the inexperienced Stinnie, who is starting in place of the injured Alex Cappa. But the good news is Marpet and Jensen are two of the best veteran interior blockers in the sport. They'll have their hands full with Jones inside while occasionally lending hands to Wirfs and Smith as they deal with Clark and the underrated Tanoh Kpassagnon on the edge.


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