I think the Chiefs will win—assuming they’re healthy. Overall, they’re just the better team in my view. If the Bucs play their best, they are on a similar level, but I don’t think they will do that. Specifically, I’m pretty confident Brady will turn the ball over, at least once. I would be surprised if he doesn’t.
My position will become clear by looking at the scenarios that the Bucs can win the game:
- Great defense and special teams, plus good running/ball control–The Bucs really slowing down the Chiefs offense, maybe getting a turnover or two, and pounding the Chiefs on the ground and not giving up any turnovers, and having one or two big ST plays while preventing big ST plays from the Chiefs.
- Winning in a shootout–both teams going up and down the field, scoring a lot of points, both defenses not very effective.
- Dominating the Chiefs on both sides of the ball–The defense really containing the Chiefs, while exploding on offense—i.e., scoring a lot while not really grinding the clock.
Of the three options, I think most would agree the last one is the least likely. It’s possible, but I would be surprised if that happens. (I would guess the Chiefs would turn the ball over, with the Bucs defense and ST pointing points on the board.) It could happen, but I doubt it.
The second option seems pretty unlikely as well, but it’s more likely than the third option. Two reasons for this: First, the Bucs offense seems like a good match-up for the Chiefs. My sense is that the Bucs are built on the vertical passing game, and their run game is based on that. That is, for the Bucs run game to be effective, the Bucs vertical passing game has to pose a big threat to the Chiefs. The Chiefs have a good pass rush and blitzing, and I’m guessing they’re not going to play two high or make coverage adjustments to take away the vertical passing game. I think they’ll largely allow one-on-one match-ups on deep routes—banking on their pass rush. Additionally, Brady’s ball security/quality of throws can be shaky at times. More pressure and hits will only exacerbate this. The Bucs pass pro especially the interior will be critical in this game. (They have to contain Chris Jones.) I expect Brady will hit on some deep balls, but ultimately I think Brady will turn the ball over, and that’s the second reason.
If the Bucs offense is explosive, I’m guessing the Chiefs offense will get the ball quickly and more possessions. This would put defenses better than the Bucs in a tough position, but the Bucs defensive style doesn’t seem like a good one for the Chiefs offense. (I’ll go over that in the next section.) So if they have to face the Chiefs offense sooner and more often that’s not good. (Also, the Chiefs offense has the ability to run a lot of plays and keep opposing defenses on the field. If the Bucs offense doesn’t do the same, the Bucs offense could get worn out.)
One last thing about the second option: The Chiefs are not just a “fast-break” offense. They can also play “half-court” football. That is, they can control the clock fairly well. If the Bucs don’t have long drives, the Chiefs could keep the Bucs defense on the field for long stretches and wear them out.
The first option, in my view, gives the Bucs the best chance to win. If the Bucs can pound the ball and keep the ball away from the Chiefs offenses for long stretches and reduce their possessions, their defense can be in a good position to contain them, and maybe even get turnovers and score. Additionally, by running a lot and effectively, that can limit opportunities for Brady to throw a lot. If Brady throws over 30 times, I think the Bucs chances of winning go down quite a bit. If he can throw less than 30—because the run game is doing so well—that gives them the best chance to win in my view. I saw a headline that said this is one of the best QB match-ups in Super Bowl history. I don’t agree. Brady is like Manning against Newton or Elway against Favre. (He’s playing a little better than those two were at that point, but they were all at the point where the QBs need protecting—they had to win with defense, ST, and the run game.)
While the Bucs have the potential to play this way, I tend to think they won’t. By “won’t,” I include the inability to do so. I’m a little skeptical that the Bucs will be able to run well and run a lot. My sense is that the Chiefs will allow one-on-one match-ups on deep throws, and just bank on the pass rush and/or Brady to make a mistake. Also, I didn’t mention this, but I’m a little skeptical that the Bucs will be able to contain Hill and really limit explosive plays. I say this because an aggressive style, particularly in their front seven—not a more bend-but-don’t-break, relying on coverage. They may be able to generate pressure with their front four, but will the back seven be good enough to prevent explosive plays? Maybe, but that’s not the way they normally play.
Personally, I would be inclined to take out a D-linemen, add a LB, and take out a LB and add another DB. In other words, a defense that can take away the best, but vulnerable to the run. If the Chiefs run 30+ times for 200 yards and win, so be it—as long the Chiefs don’t have any explosive pass plays. The hope is that the Chiefs won’t run as much as they should and that will result in one or more turnovers. This is what the Patriots seemed to do and almost succeeded. But the thing is, would Bowles do this, and even he did, could their defense execute this well? In the first meeting, their defense gave up explosive plays—to Hill, I believe. The one thing: I would not want Hill to beat me. Kelce, too, if possible. If those two guys have quiet games, and other players make big plays, I could live with that—way more than those two guys going off.