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4 big questions for Super Bowl 55

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill celebrates as he beats Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. for a 75-yard touchdown in November. (Mark LoMoglio/AP)
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The Tom Brady-Patrick Mahomes quarterback matchup in Super Bowl LV might be one of the best in the 55-year history of the game.

You have arguably the greatest quarterback of all time going against Mahomes, who has shown enough promise in the first few years of his career to be considered next in line. This will be the 10th Super Bowl for Brady (and his first as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and the second in a row for Mahomes.

With Andy Reid as his coach and while playing for an organization that is run as well as any in the league in the Kansas City Chiefs, who knows how many Super Bowls Mahomes will play in? His mega-contract extension was structured so General Manager Brett Veach can keep as much talent as possible around Mahomes — not unlike the Patriots’ setup of years past in which Brady took less money than the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league.

But while it will be great to watch the Brady-Mahomes showdown, there are lots of other compelling things to keep an eye on. Let’s take a look at four big questions:

Can the Bucs slow the Chiefs’ track-star speed?

Throughout the playoffs and particularly in the AFC championship game, the Chiefs showed how speed can kill in the NFL. Wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman outran the Buffalo Bills’ secondary, with Hill catching nine passes for 172 yards (a 19.1-yard average) and Hardman ripping off a 50-yard run. And while tight end Travis Kelce isn’t quite as fast, his speed is a mismatch against linebackers and safeties who try to cover him, and his 13 catches for 118 yards helped sink the Bills.

Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, one of the best in the NFL, likes to play man-to-man coverage so he can blitz often. Given the Chiefs’ speed and Mahomes’s throwing ability, he might have to do some things differently. Carlton Davis, his best cornerback, isn’t fast enough to keep up with Hill, and Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting have allowed completion rates of 60.9 and 70.3.

Switching from man-to-man to zone might help, but that’s when Kelce, who is gifted at finding holes in pass coverage, thrives. The Bucs finished the season as the NFL’s sixth-ranked defense, and the returns of massive defensive tackle Vita Vea and speedy linebacker Devin White have reinforced the front seven, but they remain vulnerable in the passing game. The Chiefs know this well: Hill caught 13 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns in their win over Tampa Bay in the regular season.

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Can the Chiefs overcome the loss of Eric Fisher at left tackle?

In their NFC championship game victory, the Buccaneers took full advantage of the Green Bay Packers’ loss of starting left tackle David Bakhtiari, who had suffered a season-ending ACL injury a few weeks before. The Bucs sacked Aaron Rodgers five times and had eight quarterback hits, and that played a pivotal role in their victory.

After Fisher blew out his Achilles’ tendon in the AFC championship game, Reid will have to find ways to protect Mahomes. The Chiefs are now missing both of their starting tackles; Mitchell Schwartz has been out since early in the season. The plan is for Mike Remmers, who took over for Schwartz at right tackle, to play left tackle, with Andrew Wylie moving from guard to right tackle. The Chiefs might be tempted to use some two-tight-end formations to give Mahomes more time to throw.

Will Brady find success throwing deep?

It took Brady more than half the season to adjust to Coach Bruce Arians’s “No risk it, no biscuit” deep-passing offense, but by the end of the year he had really caught on. He finished the season third in pass attempts of 20 or more yards, and in the win over the Packers he connected on three long passes — including a pivotal touchdown to Scotty Miller that gave Tampa Bay a big advantage just before halftime.

The Chiefs’ secondary has improved greatly since Brady carved them up in the AFC championship game two years ago, and the play of their cornerbacks in man coverage against the Bills was impressive. But this game still figures to come down to how successful Brady and Mahomes are at throwing deep. For the season, Brady completed 36 percent of his deep balls, including nine touchdowns.

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Will the running backs play a big role?

The running games weren’t particularly effective in the conference championship matchups; Bills quarterback Josh Allen led all rushers with 88 yards. Tampa Bay had only 22 rushing attempts, and the Chiefs had even fewer — 19.

Both teams might be tempted to run more in the Super Bowl. The Bucs have a strong 1-2 combination in the powerful Leonard Fournette and the versatile Ronald Jones II, and running the ball effectively could create the dual benefit of helping Tampa Bay win the time-of-possession battle (and limit Mahomes’s time on the field) while setting up plays in the deep passing game.

The Chiefs could use an effective running game to take some pressure off their injury-ravaged offensive line in pass protection. Working in their favor is that rookie first-round draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire figures to be close to full health. He had only six carries for seven yards and a touchdown in the win over Buffalo — his first game since a late December injury — but he is a talented runner and receiver who could make a big difference in this one.

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