Tom Brady's back in his tenth Super Bowl, but Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs are expected to make it two titles in a row next Sunday, writes Mark Kirwan...
"This Tampa team have defied the odds in their last two outings, which does give pause for thought. However, a huge amount of credit has to go to turnovers forced by their defence..."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, Feb 7, 23:40
Live on Sky Sports NFL
Kansas City double up
The Chiefs go into their second successive Super Bowl as three-point favourites against Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite their opponents enjoying home advantage, the first team ever to do so in the Lombardi trophy decider.
That tells you something about the power of the defending champions.
They've been favourites to repeat their Super Bowl-winning feat of last season throughout 2020, largely because of the immense scoring potential of their offence, led by Patrick Mahomes.
He's put together a third consecutive season of dazzling play at quarterback.
38 passing TDs, just six interceptions and a completion rate of just over 66% would've probably earned him a second career regular-season MVP award in three years but for Aaron Rodgers' rejuvenated play in Green Bay.
They could've very easily been missing their most important player due to a big hit he took against Cleveland in the Divisional round. Mahomes left that game and was in doubt for last week's comfortable win over the Bills, but was cleared to play and threw three scores in a comprehensive win over the AFC's second-best team.
Patrick Mahomes has thrown 33 TDs to Travis Kelce since 2018 (playoffs included)? PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) January 31, 2021
Most by a duo in the NFL pic.twitter.com/klqqHnnDFd
Tyreek Hill had a huge game, 172 yards on nine catches ripping up Buffalo's defence, while Travis Kelce also topped three-figure yardage and also added two TDs. But the defence made plays when it mattered, sacking Josh Allen four times, intercepting him once and preventing him from hitting Stefon Diggs.
Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has to take some credit for limiting the Bills' explosive passing game. He has a history of doing the same to Tom Brady-led offences in the Super Bowl, as he oversaw the Giants defence that ended New England's pursuit of an undefeated season in Super Bowl XLII.
He'll get another shot at stopping the great QB next Sunday.
Tom Brady returns
In case you've been living on Mars for the last few weeks, Tom Brady is now playing in his tenth Super Bowl. That's twice as many any other QB.
This run with his new team has been done against the odds.
The Bucs were underdogs going to New Orleans, who'd beaten them twice in the regular season, but came out on top as another veteran QB, Drew Brees, failed to defy the ravages of time. The Tampa defence forced three interceptions and one fumble to turn the tide in that game, but against Green Bay last week it was Brady who threw pick after pick. The Packers, however, failed to capitalise on them.
By contrast, Brady was clinical when given a turnover opportunity before half-time by Aaron Rodgers, finding Scottie Miller with a gut-punch touchdown that proved crucial as the Bucs sealed a trip home for a tilt at the Lombardi trophy.
Admittedly, despite being fifth seeds in the NFC, this team always looked like it could be trouble for higher seed come January. They're stacked at receiving positions, with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans two of the best wideouts in the league, backed up by Antonio Brown and Miller, while Gronk and Cameron Brate are capable pass-catchers at tight end.
.@TomBrady will soon play in his 10th Super Bowl in 20 seasons as a starter? NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 29, 2021
Brady is more likely to make the Super Bowl (50 pct) than ...
- Michael Jordan to make a shot (49.7)
- Babe Ruth to get on base (47.4)
- Cristiano Ronaldo to score a goal in a World Cup game (41.2)
This offence ranked among the best in the league, scoring almost 31 points per game - that's more than the Chiefs put up this season.
Their defence though has really made the difference in their last two playoff games. They got after Aaron Rodgers last week, sacking him five times and holding the potent Pack at bay when it looked like they were rallying in the second half.
If they can get on top of the Chiefs' top receivers it'll give the underdogs a chance of another upset in the season finale.
The line hasn't moved around much on this game, dropping to the Chiefs -3 from -3.5 at opening and I'd expect it to stay around there until the game next week.
This Tampa team have defied the odds in their last two outings, which does give pause for thought. However, a huge amount of credit has to go to turnovers forced by their defence for both those wins, as well as incompetence on the part of their opponents.
In their Wildcard Round, they allowed a Washington team led by Taylor Heinicke give them a fright. While credit is due for forcing errors from opponents, this streak of breaks going in their favour has to end at some point.
Even if it doesn't here, the Chiefs have shown they're capable of overcoming mistakes. Last week, Mecole Hardman dropped a kick return to let the Bills get an early lead and the subsequent TD barely mattered, and similarly the Texans last season were spotted a 24-0 lead only to lose 51-31.
Mahomes. Brady.? NFL UK (@NFLUK) January 25, 2021
It's going to be EPIC. pic.twitter.com/ZN5ZQ5cu3P
The message is the Chiefs will score if they need to, so they're the clear option for me. Tampa, on paper, have an offence to keep pace, but the truth is Brady hasn't been all that great in recent weeks - his completion rate has been solidly stuck at 55% in all three playoff games, with just 199 yards versus the Saints, while he posted 280 in Green Bay with three interceptions to go with his three TDs.
Unlike the Packers, the Chiefs will punish those mistakes. The reason Tampa are here is their defence, and they could pull a rabbit from the hat in this game and surprise Mahomes' offence, but I have to side with the Chiefs to cover the handicap. Coach Andy Reid's reputation for using bye-weeks wisely is well established - he's 17-11 against the spread in all games off a bye - and I'd even suggest looking at alternative handicaps, with KC -9.5 priced 2/1 and -16.5 a 4/1 shot given the scoring potential of his offence.
On other markets, Travis Kelce is my pick for first TD scorer. He's the same price as Tyreek Hill, 11/2, at the moment, but the Bucs will likely focus on shutting down Hill's speed, meaning Kelce, as Mahomes' favourite target, should be a shorter price.
There's also a 35/1 #OddsOnThat punt for him to score both the first and second TDs of the game that I like at the price.
I also think the line on Rob Gronkowski's receiving yards, 29.5, is worth looking at given the game. Gronk has been reduced to a bit-part player this season, but the Super Bowl is a game where teams roll out trick plays and deviate from their season-long plans to gain an edge. He's also a big game player. Brady will look to him in crucial moments so he'll have a good shot at the over.
For similar reasons, I'd also look at Anthony Sherman, the Chiefs fullback, in the anytime TD market too. The Chiefs trickery at the goal line makes him a potential surprise target for Mahomes, and 14/1 is a very juicy price.
1pt on Kansas City -3 on the handicap @ 17/20, or -9.5 on the alternative handicap @ 2/1
1pt on Travis Kelce First TD Scorer @ 11/2
0.5pts on #OddsOnThat Travis Kelce to score first and second TDs @ 35/1
1pt on Rob Gronkowski Over 29.5 receiving yards @ 4/5
1pt on Anthony Sherman Anytime TD Scorer @ 14/1