The Kansas City Chiefs, on the other hand, tied for the league lead with seven Pro Bowl selections, including quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
But make no mistake: These teams are much closer in talent and ability than the awards might indicate. I’m anticipating a very close Super Bowl LV. Here are my predictions for how things will play out Sunday:
Hill will catch seven passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
That would be roughly half of how much he burned the Buccaneers for during Kansas City’s Week 12 victory. Hill was targeted 15 times, catching 13 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns.
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will have to come up with a different approach this time. He had matched up his best cornerback, Carlton Davis, against Hill, but Davis was beaten 11 times for 223 yards and all three of Hill’s touchdowns. He’ll use more cover-three than cover-one this time in an effort to limit big pass plays, but because of Hill’s speed and constantly improving route-running, it’s almost impossible to keep him under 100 yards in a big game.
The scoring will exceed the over/under total.
The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg makes a compelling argument for why you should bet the under, and it’s worth noting that the regular season meeting ended in a 27-24 Chiefs win — which would come in under the total of roughly 56 to 57½ available at most sportsbooks.
But I’m predicting the scoring will be higher the second time around, largely because I believe Brady will be better. The Bucs had to throw out their offensive game plan early in that one after the Chiefs jumped to a 17-0 first-quarter lead, and Kansas City appeared to take its foot off the gas a bit from that point.
Mahomes threw for 462 yards in that game, while Brady had 345. The potential for offensive fireworks is big in this one.
Leonard Fournette will be the leading rusher.
Neither team is expected to run the ball all that much; both are pretty much 60-40 in their pass-to-run ratios. But as long as the Bucs don’t fall behind early, they will look to establish something of a ground game, and Fournette’s physical running style made him the team’s preferred choice down the stretch over a beat-up Ronald Jones II.
I predict Fournette will finish with 55 yards on 14 carries, which will be more than what any of the Chiefs’ backs produces — in part because of offensive line issues that will manifest in another facet of the game.
Mahomes will be sacked four times.
The Chiefs will have a tough time protecting Mahomes because they will be missing their top two tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, because of injury. They will move Mike Remmers, who had been starting at right tackle in place of Schwartz, to left tackle to replace Fisher. Andrew Wylie will take over at right tackle, with Stefen Wisniewski replacing him at guard.
That’s a lot of shuffling ahead of a matchup with a Tampa Bay pass rush that destroyed the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line in the NFC championship game, taking advantage of the absence of injured left tackle David Bakhtiari. Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times and hit eight times, with Bucs edge rushers Shaquil Barrett and Pierre-Paul constantly wreaking havoc.
Mahomes is great at avoiding pressure, but pass protection will be an issue for Kansas City in a way that it wasn’t during the first meeting, when Mahomes was sacked just twice for a total loss of six yards.
Mahomes will throw for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
It’s too much to ask for him to match his Week 12 totals, but I still expect a big game. The Bucs’ pass rush will cause some problems, but Mahomes should be able to exploit Tampa Bay’s pass coverage, even if it does a better job of controlling Hill.
Kelce, who has become the best tight end in the NFL, will catch seven passes for 82 yards. The Bucs’ defense will focus on him to the point that 100 yards feels like a stretch, but he’ll still get his catches. Mahomes will make sure of that.
Brady will throw for 289 yards and three touchdowns.
Throughout the playoffs and during the last month of the regular season, Brady got very comfortable in Coach Bruce Arians’s downfield passing offense, and I expect he’ll make several deep throws Sunday, even against a group of Chiefs cornerbacks that finished the season playing great. He had three completions in the NFC title game that traveled more than 20 yards downfield, and he could have even more in the Super Bowl.
If Antonio Brown, who is recovering from a knee injury, is able to play, look for Tampa Bay to run more three-receiver sets to pair him with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate combined for 10 catches for 140 yards in the first meeting, but that was before Brown had really acclimated to the offense. Look for Brown to get something like five catches for 45 yards, while Gronkowski and Brate combine for six catches for 65 yards.
Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark and defensive tackle Chris Jones will combine for 2.5 sacks.
Clark had just six sacks in the regular season, but he has four in the past five games, including two in the AFC championship game. He could draw some double teams Sunday. Jones led the team with 7.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits during the regular season, and his ability to generate pressure from the interior could play a pivotal role in disrupting Brady.
The Chiefs will win, 34-31.
I expect that the game will be high-scoring and exciting, with Brady performing better than he did during the first meeting. Ultimately, though, I think Mahomes and the Chiefs will come away with a close victory and claim their second straight Super Bowl championship.