Before we discuss the big game on Sunday, let's hear it for the NFL on completing every single game on its schedule: 256 in the regular season and 10 playoff ones before the super finale. As someone who thought the season might not even start a few months ago, it's an incredible accomplishment. The NFL's reward: A dream matchup between Patrick Mahomes and defending champion Kansas City and Tom Brady and Tampa Bay. It should be a competitive game, at least early on. Here's five reasons (and there are plenty more) why Kansas City will repeat as champions.
The line: Kansas City by 3; O/U: 56
1. NO LEAD IS SAFE VS. MAHOMES
When Kansas City fell behind, 9-0, to Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game, the thought bubbles over the Bills’ sideline might have read, "We can do this!" Over on the defending champs’ side? "We got them right where we want them." A half hour or so later, it was 21-9 Kansas City and the eventual 38-24 win was essentially over right there. Sounds familiar, right? Last season, Kansas City won all three playoff games after double-digit deficits: 24-0 vs. Houston, 17-7 vs. Tennessee and 20-10 vs. San Francisco in the Super Bowl. No lead is too big against Patrick Mahomes and this strike-fast offense. Interestingly, when these teams played in Tampa in Week 12, Kansas City was the one that jumped out to a 17-10 lead, then 27-10 before holding on for a 27-24 win that was nowhere near that close. Mahomes was an eye-popping 37-for-49 for 462 yards and three TD passes in the win.
2. COACHING, COACHING, COACHING
Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles have done a superb job for Tampa Bay, but Kansas City’s three-headed monster in head coach Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo are on a different level. Sure, the average fan probably thinks they can coach Kansas City to the Super Bowl because anyone can win with Mahomes, but the coaching aspect for star-studded teams often is underrated. Reid is 19-3 (in the regular season) with two weeks to prepare. Even with Kansas City having injury issues on the offensive line, expect Reid and Bieniemy to devise a nearly unstoppable game plan. What’s the answer for those shovel passes, reverses and gadget plays KC runs in the red zone? As for the defense, Tom Brady will be the first to tell you how tough it is to go against a Spagnuolo-led group (see: Super Bowl XLII against the Giants). If Chris Jones (team-leading 7.5 sacks in the regular season) and that defensive line can get to Brady, the Bucs will be in for a long night. Tyrann Mathieu had one of two picks against Brady in the regular-season meeting and always seems to make a big play in a big spot.
3. WHAT HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE?
Considering home field meant nothing in the unprecedented 2020 season, it’s kind of fitting that the first team to host a Super Bowl in its own building will have no home-field edge. There will be about 22,000 fans at the big game, 40,000 or so fewer than full capacity. Listen, Mahomes and the out-of-this-world KC offense can play on the moon and they’d probably land on 30 points. But Tampa Bay not having that extra edge hurts, especially when you need every little advantage you can find against a team that is 30-4 in games Mahomes has started over the last two seasons. Even with the visitors arriving late, it shouldn’t matter. They’re on a mission to "run it back."
4. MORE THAN JUST MAHOMES
Sure, last year’s Super Bowl MVP is the biggest reason Kansas City is on the verge of winning a second title in 12 months after not winning one in 50 years (heck, I’ve mentioned his name five times already), but his excellence sometimes overshadows just how all-around talented this team is. From record-setting tight end Travis Kelce to Tyreek Hill (13 catches for 269 yards and 3 TDs against the Bucs earlier this season) to the versatile Mecole Hardman, Mahomes can extend any play and find an open target. Kansas City’s defense flies under the radar, too: It held Cleveland and Buffalo – two offenses that could put up 30 points easily – to 17 and 24 points, respectively, in the playoffs.
5. IT’S OK TO MAKE THE SAFE PICK
When KC turned a 10-0 deficit at Miami in Week 14 into a 28-10 lead in a quarter’s worth of work, I remember tweeting something along the lines of, "That is why I won’t be picking against Kansas City in the postseason again." Then, as is often the case when you’re an overthinking NFL picks columnist, I went all-in on the Bills and said they would win the Super Bowl. I really thought Buffalo could KO KC, but (as is often the case again), I sure was wrong. So, while it would be great to be one of the few prognosticators to call an outright Bucs win, I just can’t do it. There’s nothing wrong with the safe pick, especially when (jinx alert) you feel super confident about it like this one. Seriously, of the 269 NFL picks I’ve made this season, this feels like one of the easier ones (double jinx alert). I don’t see how Tampa Bay’s defense keeps Mahomes and that offense down for four quarters. While this could be close for three quarters, I see potential for Brady suffering his first double-digit defeat in this, his 10th Super Bowl appearance. Even if Bowles follow the 49ers’ blueprint from last year and frustrates him early, Mahomes always finds a way to extend the play, extend the lead. The experience of last year only helps, and hey, even if the champs do fall behind early, they’ll have the Bucs right where they want them.
Final say: Kansas City 34, Tampa Bay 20
The NFL season ends the same way it began, with a 34-20 win in prime time by the champs.
STAFF PICKS FOR SUPER BOWL LV
Kansas City 34,Tampa Bay 20
MVP: Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City 31, Tampa Bay 24
MVP: Patrick Mahomes
Tampa Bay 31, Kansas City 27
MVP: Shaq Barrett
Kansas City 31, Tampa Bay 27
MVP: Patrick Mahomes