NFL Super Bowl 55 (LV) Pick

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NFL Super Bowl 55 (LV) Pick

All times Eastern

Conference results: Rick: 1-1; Coin: 2-0
Cumulative: Rick: 121-137-7; Coin: 131-127-7

Sunday, February 7, 6:30 pm ET, CBS

Kansas City Chiefs (-3, 56 1/2) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

So, who do you like, the kid or the geezer?

There's good arguments to be made for both teams in Super Bowl 55. The Kansas City Chiefs, led by QB Patrick Mahomes, are flashy, daring, highly entertaining. And, they've only lost two gams this season. Only one, if you exclude their week 17 loss to the La Chargers, which was little more than a scrimmage as Mahomes and most of the starters didn't participate much, if at all.

With certain Hall of Fame Tom Brady barking out plays from either directly under center or in shotgun formation, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have what many consider to be the greatest quarterback ever to set foot on an NFL field. Brady's been on the winning side of six Super Bowl champions - all with the New England Patriots - and he's gunning for number seven with his newly-adopted team.

Brady brings a wealth of experience, poise, understanding of defenses, and field generalship seldom seen in any sport. He's the ultimate quarterback, the prototype for video games, the guy you want in crunch time, a game, a winner. He's all of it.

Beyond Brady, Tampa's offense is pretty well stacked. At running back the choices are either to ram Leonard Fournette at the defense, or go with all-purpose back, Ronald Jones. Both will see plenty of playing time, as Tampa's preferred mode will be ball and clock control, with less emphasis on Brady having to throw, though that's an equally qualified option for the Tampa offense.

The Buccaneers line up with Chris Godwin and Tyler Johnson at wideout spots. Both are adept at running routes, and are more possession type receivers than deep threats, though either are capable of getting the ball in one-on-one situations, which Brady can and will exploit to his team's advantage. Regular starter Mike Evans is nursing a sore knee, and should be ready to go after two weeks off. The wild card is Antonio Brown, once the best receiver in the league. He's been out with a knee injury, but reports say he's getting close to being ready, and if he's 90%, that would be a big plus for the Bucs.

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The Bucs have been lining up lately with two tight ends: Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate. Brate's been on the receiving end of most of the passes, while Gronk has done yeoman work blocking for his main man. When it comes time for the big play, though, Gronkowski is still the go-to guy, as was proven late in the win over Green Bay in the NFC championship. If the Buccaneers do go with a slot receiver, it's usually Scotty Miller, who is extremely quick and capable. With Brady at the helm, the Tampa Bay passing attack is tough to defend.

Tampa Bay finished the regular season third in points scored per game, checking in at 30.8. Kansas City was a very respectable sixth, at 29.6. There's little separating these two dynamic offenses.

What can one say about the scheme and style of the Kansas City offense except wow, or maybe, holy whatever. The main idea is to spread the ball around and let the swift receivers and backs do their acrobatics downfield. Mahomes is tuned into his guys, getting everybody into the act. In the backfield, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is recovered from a high ankle sprain, but was not very effective agains the Bills in the AFC championship. His running mate, Darrel Williams, was more than adequate, either taking hand-offs or pitches and running with abandon.

The real action starts when Mahomes goes downfield to Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Bryon Pringle or the incomparable Tyreek Hill. When Hill gets the ball, the field looks more like a video game as the quick-footed Hill weaves, bounces, spins, and twirls his way through the defense. No player in the game is more dangerous than Hill and if Tampa Bay wants to win this game, they have to either keep the ball from getting to him (impossible) or limit his yards after catch (YAC, more possible). That means swarming to the ball and making sure tackles.

Even if Hill is somewhat contained, Mahomes and his other receivers can be deadly, especially Kelce, who is like a younger Gronk, with moves, great hands, and the ability to run people over. If Tyreek Hill spent the entire game on the sideline, Kelce would dominate the passing attack, he's that good. Hardman and Pringle are solid receivers in their own right. They'll get open and get targeted often enough to do damage, pick up first downs and help move the ball.

Mahomes, a master at throwing off-balance or on the run, can pick up yards with his legs as well, separating him from Brady in that regard, except on third, or fourth and short situations. Both QBs can handle the sneak. Brady's done it for years and probably is better suited for those situations than Mahomes, but only slightly.

As far as offense goes, these two teams, despite differing styles, are pretty much even.

On defense, there's something to be said for Tampa Bay's front seven. If they're all healthy, there isn't a more dominating unit in the league, but Jason Pierre-Paul, and linebackers Vita Vea, and Lavonte David are all listed as questionable. They should be well enough to play, as their injuries are of the minor variety, more nagging than debilitating.

The Tampa Bay secondary is where problems exist. Safties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead are both questionable. Neither played against Green Bay and neither have been practicing. Backups Mike Edwards and Andrew Adams played extraordinarily well against Green Bay. Shutting down Aaron Rodgers and crew is no mean feat, but the Bucs' secondary was up to the task. At the corners are Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting, who's been a ball-hawking machine, with three picks in the playoffs. He's going to get any one-on-one coverages of Hill, a daunting assignment, though expect Tampa to play zone for the most part.

Up front, however, the pass rush and frequent blitz packages from the likes of Ndamukong Such, Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrettt will keep Mahomes on his toes. And the Chiefs might as well forget about running the football. Tampa Bay allowed only 80 rushing yards per game, the stingiest in the league during the regular season and that toughness up front has carried through to the playoffs. Pressure from the front seven has produced six turnovers in the last two games, four against the Saints and two against the Packers, plus, they sacked Rodgers five times for a total of 32 yards in their 31-26 win. This is a huge force and it's doubtful Kansas City's offensive line will hold up against them. Mahomes will have to be getting the ball out in a hurry.

The Tampa Bay defense is also very good in the red zone, a place Kansas City may run into problems. Unable to run for scores, they'll likely devise some trickery close to the goal line. Head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are extremely creative and will pull out all the stops here.

When Tampa has the ball, the Chiefs will have to be able to read formations and try to figure out whether Brady is going to throw or run the ball because if they're not tuned in, it's going to be a long day for them. Up front, defensive tackles Chris Jones and Derrick Nnadi have to concentrate on plugging the middle, leaving the outside in the capable hands of defensive end Frank Clark and linebackers Darius Harris and Damien Wilson. Anthony Hitchen in the middle is going to receive extra attention from the burly, aggressive Tampa Bay guards and there's a good possibility that the Buccaneers will move the ball at will, making every Kansas City possession vital.

In the secondary, strong safety, Tyrann Mathieu, is the key. He's a hard-hitter and very heady player. Around him, corners Chevarius Ward and Antonio Hamilton match up well with the Tampa Bay wideouts, but free safety Daniel Sorensen and nickel defended Bashaud Breeland will be tested by the Bucs' tight ends and Miller in the slot. Kansas City's defense is very good, but they're going to have to be at their very best against a well-tuned Tampa Bay offense with multiple ways of making defenses pay.

Special teams may favor the Chiefs whether they have Hill back returning kicks and punts or Hardman. Both are lightning in bottles and could cause serious problems for the Buccaneers. Harrison Butker has been consistent on field goals (25-27), though he missed six extra points in the regular season and one in the playoffs.

Tampa will have Jaydon Mickens back on both kickoffs and punt returns and possibly Scotty Miller or Justin Watson. None are ankle-breakers, though Miller may be trouble if he gets loose. Place kicker Ryan Succop has been a godsend to the Bucs, hitting 28 of 31 field goals, though, like Butker, he's had his share of missed extra points, five in the regular season and one during the playoffs.

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Mind games played by the coaching staff will be interesting to watch as situations develop. How well defensive coordinator Todd Bowles handles the intricacies of the Reid-Bieniemy offense will be a challenge. Bowles has a very experienced group that doesn't make many mistakes, but the Chiefs will bring some new things to the party. Byron Leftwich handles the offense for head coach Bruce Ariens, which isn't a tough job given Tom Brady running the show on field. Steve Spagnuolo is a a credible genius as defensive coordinator for the Chiefs. He's done well with a fairly talented group.

In the final analysis, this could be one of the more entertaining Super Bowls ever. Pitting the veteran Brady against the hotshot kid, Mahomes, is right out of a Hollywood script. The Buccaneers playing in their home stadium is a first for the NFL. It's never happened before and should give the Bucs an little bit of an edge, though with a limited number of fans allowed, that advantage is likely to be negligible.

A key factor will be Kansas City's ability to rush Brady. They are likely to have to blitz on occasion, and they're good at it, but Brady is a master of reading and overcoming such defenses, so that's a iffy proposition. Also on the Chiefs' defensive plate is how to handle Tampa's two-headed running game and the threat of inside throws to tight ends or Scotty Miller. The Buccaneers aren't going to win with the long ball, so defending the middle is going to be a game-long battle.

For the Buccaneers, proving they are up to the task against the fleet and tricky KC offense will be essential. Should Kansas City find ways of consistently defeating their zone, it's going to be tough for Brady and the offense to keep pace on the scoreboard. But the Buccaneers' ability to stuff the run and pressure Mahomes should be to their benefit.

Bottom line: Tom Brady doesn't like to lose, especially Super Bowls. This will be his 10th. He's already won six times, was MVP in four of them, and when he was on the losing side, he lost by three (XLII, Giants 17, Patriots 14), four (XLVI, Giants 21, Patriots 17), and eight (Eagles 41, Patriots 33) points. Additionally, the Buccaneer defense may dominate the line of scrimmage.

Above all else, Tom Brady's proven ability and experience should lead to a Tampa Bay victory.

Coin Flip: Kansas City

Prediction: Buccaneers 31 Chiefs 27


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