This Super Bowl is, above all, a meeting of two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Patrick Mahomes was the Super Bowl MVP after the Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers last year, and he could help Kansas City become the first team in 16 years with back-to-back Super Bowl victories. Tom Brady is appearing in his 10th Super Bowl, and he has a chance to win his seventh championship ring.

Brady will become one of four quarterbacks to start a Super Bowl for multiple teams, having already suited up nine times with the New England Patriots before joining the Buccaneers in the offseason. The other quarterbacks who have guided two teams to the NFL’s biggest game are Peyton Manning, Craig Morton and Kurt Warner. Only Manning has Super Bowl victories with multiple teams. Tampa Bay last won the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2002 season, but with Brady in the fold, the Buccaneers bolted back into the title game, which will be held in their home stadium.

“To win a Super Bowl championship is one of the great feelings in the world,” Brady told Peter King of NBC Sports. “But they don’t give these away. Obviously, everything’s different this year, with us being at home. I’m sure it’ll feel like just another game, although we all know it’s just not another game.”

The opening line at most sportsbooks had the Chiefs as 3½-point favorites, but that has since crawled toward the Buccaneers, leaving the Chiefs favored by three. Teams favored by three points or more in the Super Bowl are a combined 31-15 straight up but just 23-23-2 against the spread. That worsens to 4-10 against the spread since 2002, when the NFL expanded to 32 teams. Brady is 5-3-0 against the spread in the playoffs when he is a three-point underdog or more. His team has covered those eight games by an average of almost six points. That starts us down the path to a Tampa Bay pick.

Defense is another reason to take Tampa Bay and the points. The Buccaneers held opponents to 1.9 points per drive during the regular season, the sixth-best mark, while forcing opponents to go three-and-out more than a third of the time, also sixth best. And only a handful of teams were better at sacking the quarterback. According to Football Outsiders, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’s schemes resulted in a sack rate of 8 percent after adjusting for strength of schedule, giving Tampa Bay the sixth-best adjusted sack rate.

Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston lead the Bucs with 55 and 54 total pressures, with Suh chipping in 21 stops against the run. Linebacker Devin White added 26 quarterback pressures. In the playoffs, Tampa Bay has seven sacks and five interceptions in three games.

That creates a tough task for Kansas City’s battered offensive line, which is littered with backups and castoffs. Left tackle Eric Fisher, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, will miss the Super Bowl after suffering a torn Achilles’ tendon in the AFC championship game, prompting backup Mike Remmers, normally on the right side of the line, to fill his role. Andrew Wylie takes snaps at right guard and right tackle. Stefen Wisniewski was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers in November and now starts at right guard for the Chiefs. Nick Allegretti has been the fill-in starter at left guard since Mitchell Schwartz left an October game with a back injury and has yet to return.

All will need perhaps their best performances of the season to keep Mahomes clean in the pocket. The 2018 MVP, like most quarterbacks, dips in performance when facing a pass rush. His completion rate, yards per attempt and passer rating decline when facing pressure. In the Chiefs’ lone loss this season with Mahomes as the starting quarterback, he was pressured by the Las Vegas Raiders on 24 of 51 drop-backs (47.1 percent). That was the highest pressure rate he has faced all season, including the playoffs.

Patrick Mahomes in 2020
Completion rate
Yards per attempt
Passer rating
In a clean pocket
74 percent
8.6
121.1
Facing pass pressure (no blitz)
48 percent
6.9
78.5

There were only two other games in which Mahomes was pressured on at least 40 percent of his drop-backs: Week 2 at the Los Angeles Chargers and Week 15 at the New Orleans Saints. Both were three-point victories for the Chiefs.

It’s worth noting that while Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce dominated the Bucs’ defense in the first half of their November meeting, they were held to a combined 64 receiving yards in the second half. Hill had an absurd 203 receiving yards in the first quarter of that game.

“Bowles is a great defensive coordinator,” Hill said. “He’s been doing it for a long time, so I’m sure he’s seen guys like me throughout his career. ... Plus, their front seven is tremendous. Once they get clicking on defense, they’re a great defense.”

The Bucs will be the first team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl at their home stadium. There will be limited attendance at Raymond James Stadium, including plenty of neutral spectators. Still, Tampa Bay won five of its eight home games in this season of limited attendance. The Bucs were also 5-3 against the spread at home, winning for bettors during that three-point loss to the Chiefs in November. (Kansas City was a 3½-point favorite.)

“I think the big advantage is we stay in our own beds and sleep here and just do our normal routines,” Coach Bruce Arians said. “… Just to be able to stay in your routines, sleep in your bed and all that stuff, I think it’s a huge advantage.”

And it’s one more reason to take the underdog Bucs.