It's been a challenging season for us all, but amazingly the NFL has pulled off a complete schedule, with only a few glitches (sorry about that, Denver, San Francisco and Pittsburgh) along the way. And in the end we have got the Super Bowl with the best possible storyline, at least as far as quarterbacks are concerned (and face it, QBs are what it is concerned with!) as the almost-universally acknowledged GOAT takes on the GOAT in Waiting: Tom Brady against Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs are three point favourites, which if anything seems to undervalue them a little.
On paper they are probably the better team, though they haven't quite rolled through the season (despite going 14-2) the way you'd expect them to. Their offense is more multiple than Tampa's and of course Mahomes is the wild card who can find a way to beat you even on plays where you think you have everything controlled.
The Bucs offense will look different if Antonio Brown is cleared to play; Thursday he was a full participant in practice, but the worry is he again tweaks a muscle and is stopped. Without Brown, Brady still has fine receiving options, with Brown he has three wideouts you have trouble stopping with man coverage.
Because whatever you think about the quarterbacks, defense is the key to this game.
I don't think the Chiefs' tackle situation is necessarily as bad as it looks against JPP and Shaq Barrett, simple because I assume Andy Reid is smart enough to allow for it, get some extra blocking help in, and of course Mahomes is a bit quicker than Aaron Rodgers. Look for backs to get some passes to try to offset that rush too. This is where the strongest part of Todd Bowles' defense comes into play: the linebackers Lavonte David and Devin Smith, they are both sideline to sideline fast and will have to be. Assuming rookie Antoine Winfield and hard-hitting Jordan Whitehead play (and the latter avoids penalties) the Bucs will be able to cover both deep and clog the middle, which is what you have to do against KC.
Penalties, of course, are crucial and can't be predicted, but the zebras have been reluctant to call many in the last two rounds of the playoffs: allowing a lot of holding in the line helps the Chiefs, allowing it in the defensive backfield helps the Bucs, especially Sean Murphy-Holding, a little more.
The Chiefs can afford to play a little loose with Cam Brate and Gronk in order to help cover the receivers: Tyrann Matthieu is the real key to their D in terms of helping out; although nominally a safety he's really like an extra linebacker. L'Jarius Sneed has been excellent as a rookie and may be the secondary key: he played safety his last year in college, and if the Chiefs use a heavy nickel or dime package, with Juan Thornhill joining Daniel Sorensen and Matthieu it's like having four safeties in there. The real key is how Steve Spagnuolo decides to rush Brady: he beat the undefeated Pats in 2007 by closing down the space immediately in front of Brady, stopping his stepping forward in the pocket: his best rushers are inside, Tampa's only backup starting on the line is at guard, maybe that will be the tactic again.
I do think the game will be close, although not necessarily all the way through, because both these teams have shown the ability to play from behind and come back, even against big leads. It ought to be a good one. I'll be doing it live on BBC television with El Chappo, Osi and JBell, and you can catch up with my thoughts alongside Kieran O'Connor and John Balfe on the Betfair NFL Only Bettor podcast, which we did on Wednesday.
Enjoy the match-up, good luck, and as I said, this has been an amazing season. I feel blessed to have got through it, and I really look forward to bringing you tops next year when maybe things will be more normal!
The Bucs are 11/8 on the moneyline, but like I said, I think this one will be close and you might appreciate the points in the end. My best bet on the podcast was the under, but on Wednesday it was 56.5 and it has dropped a point since then, which indicates to me that a lot of other people must've liked it too...a word of warning: Kieran, the other guy (just joking John) and I all went with Tampa, which is probably bad juju (and I don't mean Smith-Schuster).
I say this because the Bucs haven't gone to him in the red area much, and it's just possible they can formation him into single coverage. Of course defenders are allowed to abuse Gronk at will, because they are thought not to gain an advantage, so you might want to also cover with Brate (12/5) or Evans (11/10). I like Derek Pringle at 10/3 for the Chiefs, and the double of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to each score is only 5/2. Do you think Brady does a quarterback sneak for a yard sometime during the game? Then take him Over 0.5 yards rushing at 6/4. That seems good value to me.
It's down by a point but I still think this game will be lower scoring than people think, although I hesitate only because it seems the Chiefs have decided not to punt in post-season. The Bucs to score first with a field goal (4/1) seems like a nice outside bet to me.
Special Best Bet: Andy Reid to be first coach shown during the national anthem (5/6) seems like almost a sure thing: UNLESS, Bruce Arians vultures an appearance by standing next to Tom Brady.
Special Outside Bet: Gatorade Colour. I usually go with the original yellow/green/lime colour (4/1), but because both teams wear red, red at 13/5 might be worth a flutter too.
And, finally, go under on the anthem!