Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Kansas City Chiefs Picks & Predictions
Bet: Chiefs -3.5 @ +100 - Click HERE To Bet
Key Stat: Per ESPN, Tampa Bay’s 41 points off turnovers are tied for the third-most by any team in a single postseason in the past 20 years
Breaking down a Super Bowl is always challenging, as the extra week of preparation can throw a wrench in things. Teams have their weekly processes, and doubling that time — especially this season, with limited pregame media responsibilities — provides a significant increase in the amount of energy that can be devoted to finding weaknesses on film that can be exploited by a gameplan before install begins ahead of gameday.
Setting those potential curveballs aside, I love this game from a betting angle. The knock against the Chiefs has been their point differential — they won several close games through the regular season, which is typically a good measure of an overrated team. I don’t buy it here, and while it’s cliche, the Chiefs do seem to be playing their best football at the right time. They had little trouble getting out to a big lead over the Browns until Patrick Mahomes’ concussion made that game a little closer than it had any right to be. Then they dominated a very good Bills team despite an early fumble by Mecole Hardman on a punt return that Buffalo recovered on the 3-yard line. That was one of those unpredictable elements of a football game that can go far in helping propel an upset bid, but Buffalo’s short-field touchdown in the first quarter was hardly a footnote after the Chiefs put up 21 points in the second and never looked back.
Speaking of short-field touchdowns, the Bucs have thrived on them in the postseason. In the first round, Tampa allowed a 7-9 Washington team quarterbacked by Taylor Heinicke to cover in a game that was as close as two points into the fourth quarter. In the second round, they scored three touchdowns in a 30-20 win over New Orleans, and all three were off turnovers on drives that started in plus territory. The average length of their three touchdown drives in that win was just 21 yards, and two of those scores and three of the Saints’ four touchdowns came after New Orleans led by a touchdown with the ball late in the third quarter. It could be said the Saints lost that game more than Tampa won it, given the 4:0 turnover differential, short-field points off turnovers, and 10-point final margin.
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Then in the NFC Championship, the Packers picked off Tom Brady three times, but an additional dropped interception just before half proved costly. A couple of plays later, Brady hit Scotty Miller for a 39-yard score with one second left before half, pushing a 14-10 lead to 21-10 on the type of score every Packers fan will tell you a team just can’t allow in that situation in any game, let alone a Conference Championship. Then, in the first minute of the second half, Aaron Jones lost a fumble that was recovered by the Bucs at the 8-yard line, and Tampa converted yet another short-field touchdown off a turnover to push their lead to 28-10.
That would be enough for the Bucs, though they scored just three more points in an eventual 31-26 win. In each of those three games, Tampa struggled offensively in ways that are being overlooked, while the focus is on the points they have scored. Brady has strung together three of his four lowest single-game completion percentages of the season, failing to complete more than 56% of his passes in any game this postseason. The Bucs have done many other things right, but ultimately their run to the Super Bowl has been buoyed by their competition.
And if we take a step back, a decent argument can be made that the NFC this year was among the worst conferences in NFL playoff history. Washington and Chicago were also-rans, while potentially competitive teams like New Orleans and Seattle more or less imploded. The Seahawks’ weaknesses were so glaring that the Rams advanced with a quarterback who could barely throw, and who they have already since traded, a tacit admission they didn’t see themselves as real competitors. With Drew Brees expected to retire and Aaron Rodgers potentially on the way out from Green Bay, Brady and Russell Wilson might be the only two quarterbacks of the seven NFC playoff teams who are under center for their teams to start 2021. That’s pretty wild.
I’m not trying to suggest the Bucs reached the Super Bowl entirely on luck and weak opposition, but there’s a reason the answer to the question “Who can beat the Chiefs?” at the start of this postseason focused mainly on AFC teams like the Bills and Ravens. Still, the Packers were a good team, and Tampa played its best game of the postseason when it needed it. Much like Kansas City, Green Bay had a questionable defense and relied on offensive efficiency to win. Green Bay faltered in some ways due to turnovers — the Jones fumble and Rodgers’ earlier interception which set up the Miller touchdown were key moments — but Tampa’s edge-rushing duo of Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett also made their mark, sacking Rodgers five times including twice on third downs which led to two of Green Bay’s three punts in the game. The Packers had lost key offensive tackle David Bakhtiari to an ACL tear back in Week 16, and it showed in this game.
The Chiefs will be without their own key offensive tackle, after Eric Fisher was lost to an Achilles injury in the AFC Championship win. For the Bucs to compete, it will be imperative for Pierre-Paul and Barrett to make Mahomes uncomfortable in the pocket. But even that might not be enough — Mahomes thrives under pressure, and the Chiefs’ offense is so well designed from motion to the screen game to short passes that they are better-equipped than perhaps any team to counteract a strong pass rush. It’s not like Kansas City enters this game unaware they will need to neutralize the Bucs’ pass rush.
In the Green Bay win, Tampa stopped the Packers from scoring on just five drives — the two turnovers and the two third-down sacks, plus a questionable third-down incompletion to Allen Lazard in the fourth quarter that in my opinion was a missed defensive holding penalty. Tampa still had their defensive leaks when not getting to Rodgers, including getting beat for a 50-yard touchdown by Marquez Valdes-Scantling one week after they turned Tre’Quan Smith completely free in the secondary for a 56-yard touchdown on a trick play against the Saints. The Bucs did rank fifth in the NFL in the regular season in explosive play rate allowed in the passing game, but they have shown they are not immune to huge mistakes.
The Chiefs are of course also very well equipped to take advantage of that. They showed as much in the Week 12 meeting between Kansas City and Tampa Bay, when Tyreek Hill scored first-quarter touchdowns from 75 and 44 yards out en route to a monster 269-yard, three-touchdown performance on 13 receptions.
The Chiefs would “only” win that game 27-24, but again there was some variance on Tampa’s side. Early in the second quarter, with the Chiefs already up 17-0 and deep in Tampa territory, Mahomes lost a fumble from the 8-yard line to end a drive that could have extended Kansas City’s early lead. It was one of just two lost fumbles Mahomes had all year (postseason included), and he’s thrown just six interceptions in 17 games.
Despite the early missed opportunity, Kansas City still led 27-10 through three quarters, before the Bucs scored touchdowns on both of their fourth-quarter drives to pull the game’s final scoreline to 27-24. In between those scores, the Chiefs had driven into Tampa territory when two holding penalties led to a fourth-and-27 punt from midfield. After the game was cut to three points, Kansas City put together a game-ending drive of over four minutes that again went into Tampa territory before they kneeled it out. Put simply, that earlier matchup was not as close as the final score implies.
My point with these detailed descriptions of past results is this: the Chiefs are the far better team. I think that advantage extends not just from the players but to the coaching room. Bucs’ defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is a big asset and will surely cook up as good of a gameplan as one could expect against Kansas City, but Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo might also be considered a strength given his history against Brady in the Super Bowl while with the Giants. And on the offensive side, I’m taking Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy over Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Arians is a sharp coach and might have more of an impact on this gameplan than usual — Brady might as well — but Leftwich has had his play-calling troubles, particularly leaning on early-down rush attempts in predictable situations. I expect the Bucs to come out with a smart offensive gameplan in the early going — commonly thought of as “scripted” plays — but there comes a point where the play-calling has to be dynamic to the situations the game presents. If there’s a bit of an art to knowing when to pull the right levers, Reid’s lengthy coaching history is full of masterpieces, while the Bucs can at times draw stick figures.
If this were any old regular season game, I’d be fading the Bucs’ recent good fortune in the turnover department, and rushing to get money down on Kansas City up to perhaps six points. As it stands, the mythos of Tom Brady and the allure of Tampa hosting this Super Bowl seems to have given us an incredible number. Maybe the inevitable quirks of the Super Bowl make their mark, and maybe Tampa continues runs hot with the type of variance that impacts football games. Then there’s the reality that the early -3 market has dried up, and moving off that key number is a bit of a bummer if you’re late to the party. But all told, I’m still more than happy to take the Chiefs at -3.5.
Super Bowl Expert Pick
Chiefs -3.5 @ +100
Super Bowl Free Picks
The Super Bowl is finally here! 32 teams started out the season with hopes of playing for the Lombardi Trophy come February 7, but just two teams are still alive. Last year’s champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, disposed of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game, booking another trip to the title game this year. In the NFC, 43-year old Tom Brady is making his first Super Bowl appearance on a team other than the New England Patriots after Tampa upset the Green Bay Packers. It’s the NFL’s dream matchup, as the GOAT makes one last stand against the player best suited to knock him off of his throne. Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady, Buccaneers vs. Chiefs… we’re in for a treat.
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