At long last, we have reached the end of the road with the 2020 NFL season, arguably one of the strangest seasons in recent memory. Before I delve into the oddities of the 2020 season and of course my prediction, we are blessed with a dream QB matchup. Patrick Mahomes vs Tom Brady. Young vs Old. Future GOAT vs Current GOAT. Last two Super Bowl Champions. Speaking of age, Brady is old enough to be Mahomes' father. In fact, Mahomes actual father, former MLB pitcher Pat Mahomes, was born in 1970 whereas Brady was born 7 year later. Yours truly is the same age as Brady with both of us graduating high school in 1995 on opposite sides of the San Francisco Bay Area (me on the East Bay and Tommy Boy on the Peninsula). Mahomes was born in September 1995 when Brady was embarking on a college career as QB for the University of Michigan (while I was starting my Chemical Engineering major at UCSD!). I would have to do some more research but I believe the age disparity in QBs is the largest we have seen in Super Bowl history.
No doubt Brady is one of the most accomplished QBs in NFL history, especially in the Super Bowl. This will be his 10th trip to the big game, having won it 6 times and the Super Bowl MVP award 4 times, both records that may stand the test of time. Mahomes, like Brady, won his first Super Bowl at the age of 24 and is considered the future face of the NFL. In some ways, we are seeing the passing of the torch since I highly doubt Brady plays past next season or the season after but who knows except for Brady himself and those close to him. Mahomes is on a trajectory to match and even surpass Brady's records and it all starts with tomorrow. A second Super Bowl victory for Mahomes would put him in elite company. Only 7 other QBs have won two Super Bowls in a row: Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, John Elway, and of course Tom Brady. Except for Brady, the previous 6 are Hall of Famers and it's only a matter of time for Brady's enshrinement in Canton, Ohio (if Brady ever retires!). Interestingly, Brady was the backup to Griese's son Brian at Michigan.
The Chiefs clearly have the firepower to earn another Super Bowl trophy. WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce represent a very nice blend of speed and power. It also doesn't hurt that Mahomes has a laser cannon for an arm and is perhaps the most dangerous when under duress. You can chase Mahomes all you want but if you don't bring him down, he will buy enough time with his feet for either Hill, Kelce, or someone one else on the Chiefs to get open and strike for a large gain or score. Zone defense, man defense, in the pocket, out of the pocket, under pressure, and so on Mahomes rates as one of the best in the league with QB rating, completion percentage, yards per completion, TD rate, and any other advanced QB metric under the sun. While much attention has been given to New England's coaching staff during Brady's time there, the Chiefs' coaches are just as brilliant. Give Chiefs' head coach Andy Reid an extra week to prepare and he will discover and exploit any hidden weaknesses in his opponent. Even the Chiefs' defense is not that bad with several Pro Bowlers, especially with the pass rush. We all know that Tom Brady's kryponite during his career is a strong pass rush. After all, Brady lost 3 Super Bowls and several conference championships due to facing a relentless pass rush. He has never even been remotely close to the mobility of Mahomes. Brady is a "stand around QB" so all you need to do to beat him is knock him in the mouth a few times to get him rattled and you will win.
However (you knew this was coming!), this is where I stop gushing over Mahomes and the Chiefs. It's not unheard of for a team to come into the Super Bowl having won it the year before and boasting a juggernaut of an offense only to lose in its title defense attempt. There have been 4 QBs who won the Super Bowl and lost in the Super Bowl the following year: Joe Theismann with Washington, Brett Favre with Green Bay, Russell Wilson with Seattle, and Brady with New England. What happened in each of those games? Their opponents played great defense, protected the football, hogged the clock, and were highly efficient in the red zone. For those who are old like me (well I am not that old yet!) Marcus Allen ran all over the Redskins helping the Raiders win the Super Bowl during the 1983 season. At that time, the Redskins set the NFL record for most points scored and seemed poised to win a 2nd consecutive title. Fast forward 14 years, and the Packers were a very complete team destined to deny Elway a chance at finally winning a Super Bowl. Elway's determination (that helicopter spin is easily one of the craziest plays I have seen in a Super Bowl) and Terrell Davis's impressive rushing performance (even when he couldn't see earlier in the game due to a sudden migraine attack which the Broncos were very good at hiding until after the game) sealed the Packers' fate. Then 17 years after that, Seattle's top notch defense was about to win a 2nd straight title until the Patriots' defense was the one that showed up when it mattered the most: picking off Wilson at the final second of regulation when Seattle was just a few yards from scoring. Just 3 years later, Brady was caught up in a barn burner type of game with the Eagles but the Eagles gambled heavily with several of those gambles paying off en route to Philadelphia's first ever and only Super Bowl title.
What the Raiders, Broncos, Patriots, and Eagles all did well in those Super Bowls was apply constant pressure on the QB, not turn over the ball, win the time of possession battle, and capitalize on particular moments in the game in the red zone (whether on offense or defense or both). This is precisely why Tampa Bay is back in the Super Bowl after a 19 year hiatus. Tampa ranks as one of the best defenses in 2020 based on yardage, points allowed, and DVOA (an advanced metric from Football Outsiders). Not just the Bucs have the #1 rated rush defense, but they have a very strong adjusted sack rate. Just ask Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers about that. Brady is one of the best at managing the game with Tampa Bay having one of the highest positive turnover differentials. Except for the Green Bay game, the Bucs have done an admirable job of controlling the clock and having two healthy and experienced RBs in Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones certainly doesn't hurt. Lastly, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians is one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL and at the age of 68, he is going to take those wild chances at opportune times. This might be his only shot to win a Super Bowl as a head coach.
Here are 8 specific reasons, none of which we should underestimate, as to why I feel the Bucs will end up victorious on Sunday.
This is a home game for Tampa. Go figure that the first time a Super Bowl team plays in its home stadium (no, the Rams at the Rose Bowl in 1980 and the 49ers at Stanford Stadium in 1985 don't count), this happens when full capacity is not allowed due to the pandemic. Not sure why people are not making a bigger deal of that.
Tampa went on the road to beat two very good offenses in the NFC playoffs. They get another great offense but this time at home. Again, why are others not making a bigger deal of this?
KC is missing Eric Fisher, their top offensive tackle, who ruptured his achilles against Buffalo 2 weeks ago. Note: Fisher was the #1 overall pick in the draft in 2013, a recent Pro Bowler, and rated as a top 10 tackle based on most sites. The Chiefs went 4-4 when he was out for 8 games last year. In fact, there was a 3 game stretch when Mahomes completed less than 60% of his passes which is a rarity for him and Mahomes was also injured and missed time when Fisher was out. In past Super Bowls, there have been major injuries to players essential for winning the war in the trenches that most people would ignore: Dwight Freeney for the Colts in 2009, Maurkice Pouncey for the Steelers in 2010, Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots in 2011, Thomas Davis in 2015, and Alex Mack in 2016. All of them lost in the Super Bowl and Fisher's injury falls under the same category.
You need to keep Mahomes out of the red zone, something Tampa Bay does quite well with their awesome pass rush. With no Fisher protecting Mahomes blind side, the Bucs may very well be successful in applying consistent pressure on Mahomes.
You need to keep Mahomes on the sidelines, something Tampa Bay also does quite well with their recent commitment to the run game.
You need to take full advantage of your opportunities in the red zone when playing the Chiefs. You cannot leave points on the table when playing a prolific offense like the Chiefs. Just ask the 49ers last year who blew a 10 point lead to the Chiefs in the 2nd half. The good news: the Chiefs red zone defense ranks dead last. Bucs WR Mike Evans could end becoming the difference maker here.
Twelve times in NFL history have the two Super Bowl teams faced each other earlier in the regular season. 4 out of those last 6 times that happened, the team who lost the regular season game won the Super Bowl. The Bucs got burned by Tyreek Hill in the regular season but only lost by 3 points. Teams on the losing end tend to take a closer look at the game film and shore up any deficiencies.
Don't underestimate the hunger of a wild card team. Since 1997, there have been 4 wild card teams make it to the Super Bowl: Denver in 1997, Baltimore in 2000, Pittsburgh in 2005, and NY Giants in 2007. Each of them won the Super Bowl. The Bucs are playing great football at the right time. Play the hot hand!
When you sum all of this up, the Bucs seem like a great value as a 3 point underdog or +150 as a money line bet. My model has the Bucs winning by 4 - 5 points and was on fire for the last few weeks of the NFL season. There is no reason to stray from my model now.
Tampa Bay 30
Kansas City 24
Brady passes to Evans for a game winning TD in the 2nd only overtime game in Super Bowl history. Brady earns his 5th Super Bowl MVP and retires after the game.
FYI, my Super Bowl predictions were spot on in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017. I couldn't pick against the 49ers (my hometown team and team I have admired since the 80s) in 2012 and 2019 and 2016 was a toss up for me between the Patriots and Falcons (only Super Bowl to go into overtime). I was off in 2018 but I overestimated Jared Goff's pass action ability and underestimated the Patriots defense. Go with the experience and better defense. That is how you make a winning Super Bowl prediction!
Enjoy the game tomorrow and hopefully next year we can have big Super Bowl parties again!