THE remarkable Tom Brady, in his 10th Super Bowl, is showing no signs of slowing. Over 4,000 and 40 TD’s in the regular season, this seems to be the first year in many that no-one’s talking about his retirement as we near the end of the first of his two-year deal in Tampa Bay.
He’s marshalling an offense rich with talent, far more at his disposal than his final years in New England, and its one that has got stronger as the season has rolled on. This is logical with Brady acclimatising to new surroundings and team-mates including Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowksi who had been out of the game for a prolonged period of time and were unlikely to hit the ground running.
Gronk isn’t the player he was but is still a major threat in the red zone and this is a weak link for the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bucs opponents in Super Bowl 55, who typically struggle defensively in this phase of the game, although they held up stoutly in the AFC Championship win over Buffalo. That said, either Gronkoswki, or Brady’s other tight end Cameron Brate, make sense as an anytime scorer TD, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Brady look to his old pal on the biggest of stages at a clutch moment.
The Bucs will need to establish the run for a variety of reasons – to set up the play action for Brady, to control to the clock as much as possible, and to ride the resurgent wave of “Playoff Lenny” Leonard Fournette, who’s been instrumental in their post season run after an indifferent regular season. I expect Arians will use him out of the backfield a fair bit too as he has done in the playoffs – 14 catches in 3 games (with the odd drop!) – so over 3.5 carries for Fournette looks interesting, and if you think Tampa Bay will contend, both total rushing yards for Fournette and Ronald Jones may be worth a look.
Outside of the ground game, if Tampa Bay are going to keep it close, their defense will need to continue to play at the level they have during the post season, and the speed in their ranks matches up well against the Chiefs. They can deliver a 4-man rush, which means they can get to Mahomes – theoretically anyway – without committing too many players, too much of the time, which can be lethal against a Chiefs offense with threats all across the field. Tyreek Hill can burn teams deep, Travis Kelce is a number one receiver in the body of a Tight End and can destroy defenses underneath and with Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins, the inherent pace through the roster despite the different types of receiver, sees Reid interchanging pieces on the same types of play, creating mismatches at a breakneck speed.
The Bucs linebacking corp – including Devin White and Shaq Barrett – is fast and can contend here, Jason Pierre Paul and Ndamukong Suh are dangerous veterans, and collectively they’re playing with a feverish intensity.
But the decisive factor for me is Andy Reid. The Chiefs Head Coach is 27-5 when he’s had two weeks to prepare for a game and I expect him, and Eric Bieniemy his offensive co-ordinator to dial up some trickery that the Bucs won’t have seen before and will struggle to handle.
If the Chiefs D – through Chris Jones primarily – can pressure Brady in the middle of the line enough to disrupt his rhythm, then Mahomes and co can blaze into a lead that will force the Bucs to deviate from the run and put even more pressure on a passing attack.
The line has moved between 3 and 3.5 – I’m comfortable with Kansas City giving up either. If, like me, you’re buying the KC narrative, Mahomes is the logical bet for MVP, and I may pair this as a double with the KC money line, but there is more value with Tyreek Hill, who could conceivably have a monster game.
If you like Tampa Bay and want to look beyond Brady, Mike Evans or Antonio Brown are decent longshots – remember Brown’s fitness is questionable – but if Brady lands his 7th ring, unless he’s managed this despite some kind of meltdown, I can’t imagine it going anywhere else.
Chiefs -3 | 22/25
Gronk anytime scorer | 7/4
Fournette over 3.5 receptions | 3/5
Fournette and Jones – over rushing yards | 19/20 and 17/20