Super Bowl LV Special: The Changing Of The Guard

 

By Nathan Tucker

nrtucker@lc.edu

 

We are just days away from football’s annual big game, this the 55th installment of the Super Bowl. After all these years, and all the great matchups the Super Bowl has offered us in the past, this year’s contest might have the best quarterback matchup yet.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 showcases two of the sport’s most dynamic offenses. The game also represents a possible changing of the guard, as far as prophetic quarterbacks are concerned.

Tom Brady is a quarterback who almost needs no introduction. Old St. Louis Rams fans will know the start of the Tom Brady story all too well. A comeback victory in Super Bowl XXXVI over the Rams kickstarted the legend of “Touchdown Tom”.

Since that fateful day 19 years ago, Tom Brady has won another five Super Bowls. He lays claim to the title of most Super Bowl victories of any NFL player. Moreover, Brady is the defining quarterback of a generation. When historians look back on the sport in the future, the past 20 years will be the Tom Brady era. 

Only one man has what it takes to become as influential a figure, and he just so happens to play quarterback for the team facing Tom Brady’s Buccaneers. If any one quarterback is the future of the NFL, it’s undoubtedly Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes is just 25 years old, with a whole career ahead of him, and he’s a year separated from his first Super Bowl win, and Kansas City’s first win in the big game since 1970. His time atop the NFL has only just started, but KC has embraced Mahomes as their one true messiah, and with good reason.

Patrick Mahomes hasn’t just reinvigorated the Chiefs and their fanbase, he’s shaping the sport of football every time he steps on the field. His arm strength, in combination with his field vision and ability to find an open man anywhere within 80 yards of the line of scrimmage, has Mahomes rewriting the script of what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.

And it’s not entirely shocking to think that this matchup is even better than the historic QB matchups of Super Bowls past. CBS Sports had an article ranking the Super Bowl’s best quarterback matchups, and Brady vs. Mahomes tops the list at #1, ahead of Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino and John Elway vs. Brett Favre. 

Those battles, great duels in their own right, just don’t possess the historical significance that Brady vs. Mahomes can offer the sport. It’s old school vs. new school, it’s likely to be Tom Brady’s last appearance in a Super Bowl, and the second of what KC fans hope to be many for Patrick Mahomes. 

It’s two different styles of quarterbacking going at one another. Tom Brady, the master planner and play caller, and Patrick Mahomes, improviser extraordinaire, often best thinking while being chased by a linebacker. 

It’s a pocket passer in Tom Brady against a Patrick Mahomes who can throw a football 70 yards while running. It’s the old ways of the Tampa Bay pass-heavy almost “air raid” offense facing off with it’s more modern counterpart in Kansas City, an offense that relies more on the creativity of its players to find opportunities on the field. 

And both teams are full of playmakers that play into the strengths of these franchise quarterbacks, especially for teams without a “star” or even a “top-tier” running back. Both the Chiefs and Buccaneers have managed just fine this season without a workhorse back, and both teams have utilized a multi-headed rushing attack to balance their offense to reach this point. 

If you had to pick a running back to be on the lookout for in this Super Bowl encounter, it has to be KC’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs have given Edwards-Helaire limited opportunities as he’s been dealing with an injury for the past month or so, but is planning on being a full participant in Sunday’s Super Bowl. 

While not the best runner in between the tackles, Helaire possesses an incredible ability to find open space for the passing game, and is one of the best route-running RBs in the sport. He has the potential to stretch a Tampa Bay defense that loves to crowd in tight and try to give quarterbacks a tough time.

The Chiefs could have a plan to pass to Edwards-Helaire in the flat, or out wide closer to the out of bounds lines, and keep pressure away from Patrick Mahomes, who’s been dealing with a nagging foot injury throughout the playoffs and might not be as agile as usual.

For Tampa Bay, you’d almost imagine that Tom Brady’s pal and longtime tight end target Rob Gronkowski makes a reemergence in the Buccaneers offense, after largely being used as a decoy throughout the playoffs. Gronk has just 43 yards receiving in the playoffs so far.

But if history is an indicator, there’s holes in the Kansas City defense that Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady can and have exploited in the past. Just in November, Gronkowski had his best game as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer against these very Kansas City Chiefs. Gronk caught six passes for 106 yards, including one 48 yard bomb. 

Most importantly, this game will be a great test of defenses that have managed to hold other high scoring offenses at bay in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay managed to contain Aaron Rodgers and a very dynamic Packers offense at bay long enough to pull out a victory in the NFC Championship game.

The Chiefs defense made almost easy work of the Bills offense, which many thought had the power to overtake an occasionally less than stellar Chiefs secondary. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs were neutralized, and despite leading 9-0 to start the game, never made much of a challenge down the stretch.

It’s hard to truly judge how this game plays out, but I think you can look at a history of how the Chiefs have played this season and get a grasp of the way the games play out when they are expected to win, as Vegas believes they will. KC is favored to win by three points at most major sportsbooks. 

The Chiefs have a tendency to let teams back into games, but still win. They did as much in their playoff game against the Cleveland Browns, but in fairness, they were without Patrick Mahomes for the final third of that game. 

In the previous war of attrition, Kansas City was favored by five points, and was up by 17 with a quarter remaining. Tampa scored twice, but the Bucs comeback fell just short, and KC won 27-24. 

I see this game befalling a similar fate, with Kansas City building a lead, and Tampa Bay coming back late, but falling short. 

Final prediction: Chiefs 34, Bucs 28

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