When the NFL season got underway on September 13th, there was a lot of skepticism that the season would play out, or that it would feel like a normal season. After all, players didn’t have normal offseason schedules, and having zero/limited fans in attendance was something we all had to get used to.
Yet, we have made it! On Sunday, we will witness history on multiple fronts. For starters, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be the first ever team to host a Super Bowl, something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.
That is where the storylines just begin, however. Can Tom Brady win his seventh Super Bowl ring and do so in his first season away from the Patriots? Can Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs win their second-straight Super Bowl and establish themselves as a dynasty? We will have the answers to all of that on Sunday!
This matchup epitomizes the future of the NFL in a lot of ways. For starters, it features the two of the top-three teams (Chiefs 1, Bucs 3), but it’s how these teams are formulated that is particularly telling. Patrick Mahomes (1) and Tom Brady are two of my model’s top-three rated quarterbacks, and paired with receiving corps that my model ranks in the top-five, they each rate as exceptional offenses. Additionally, these are two of the moss pass-heavy offenses in the NFL, and neither would be considered to be above-average when it comes to running the ball. On the other side of the football, both defenses are boosted significantly by their play-callers, who seem to have a great deal of responsibility over the success of their unit, and also have higher PFF coverage grades than pass-rush grades. Football is won with the quarterback, receiving corps, and secondary, and these two teams have demonstrated that.
When The Chiefs Have The Ball
Chiefs Offense Rank: 1st
Bucs Defense Rank: 3rd
It’s the best offense against the third-best defense, so this is an even matchup, right?
Not quite. As I’ve been saying all season long, a good offense will always beat a good defense, and the Chiefs are much more than a “good offense”. They are the best offense in terms of yards/play, are second in EPA/play, while the gap between them and the next-best offense in my model’s rankings is the same as the gap between the second-best and twelfth-best offense. That is downright absurd.
According to Pro Football Focus, Patrick Mahomes has passed for 9.1 yards/attempt when blitzed this season, in addition to a 135.4 passer rating. Thus, it is likely that the Bucs don’t blitz much in this game. What they may do, however, is try to limit the Chiefs’ ability to throw the ball down the field, though that may be underestimating how successful Kansas City is in other areas. In fact, Mahomes only had the twelfth-most deep passing yards this season, and he doesn’t even rank in the top-half of the league in percentage of throws 20+ yards down the field.
Where the Chiefs do beat you, however, is in the intermediate areas of the field (10-20 yards), where Mahomes has earned a passing grade well over 90. Despite Mahomes having an average depth of target of 8.4, which is certainly above-average, the Chiefs have earned 50.4% of their receiving yards after the catch. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are each prolific after the catch, but don’t forget about Mecole Hardman, whose 7.1 yards after catch per reception ranks 5th among receivers with at least 30 targets.
Tackling has been an issue for the Bucs this season- they have the 11th-lowest PFF tackling grade. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting have struggled in that area this season with 29 combined missed tackles, and both could be exploited in this game. Murphy-Bunting, in particular, is the weak-link in the secondary with a 59.2 coverage grade in the slot, so expect Kansas City to take advantage of him by leveraging Hill and Kelce in the slot. Also, despite his high reputation, linebacker Devin White has a 47.6 coverage grade this season due to an abundance of negative plays, and I’m sure the Chiefs will look to ambush him early. Regardless, the Bucs’ middle-of-the-field coverage is what will likely prove to be costly in this game.
When The Bucs Have The Ball
Bucs Offense Rank: 6th
Chiefs Defense Rank: 8th
This is a far more even matchup, though it once again favors the offense.
I’m not sure people realize how terrific Tom Brady has been this season. He leads the NFL in air yards, as he has overcome a difficult scheme that is reliant on a lot of throws outside the numbers. His 93.7 PFF grade reflects that.
Usually, an offense with such a high frequency of difficult throws wouldn’t work, but with an elite receiving corps headlined by Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay gets away with that approach. However, they may want to diversify their route tree in this game.
See, Kansas City’s secondary is quite strong, but due to their issues at linebacker, their middle-of-the-field coverage leaves a lot to be desired:
In L’Jarius Snead and Charvarius Ward, the Chiefs have two physical cornerbacks that have been quite productive this season, while Tyrann Mathieu has been excellent defending the slot. Mike Evans only had 50 receiving yards when these teams first faced off in Week 12, and I expect him to once against not play a major role. Chris Godwin, on the other hand, is more of a pure separator, which could play a role against a slower secondary that isn’t expected to win one-on-one matchups.
The real X-factor, however, is Rob Gronkowski, who had 108 receiving yards in the first matchup. Kansas City’s issues all center around defending tight ends and if Gronkowski can have a vintage game working down the field, then perhaps Tampa Bay can keep up with the Chiefs in a track meet.
Notice how I have yet to mention anything about the running game? Not only is a non-factor in this game, but the more rush attempts the Bucs have, the less likely they are to win. Third downs have a lot of variance, and although the Chiefs have a poor run defense, that is mostly by design- they incentive teams to run on them and play a less-efficient style of offense. You never want to do what the team wants you to do.
I could look further at how each team can win this game, but really, it comes down to which offense scores the most amount of points. The Bucs aren’t slowing down the Chiefs, so their chances of winning all center around winning a shootout. Kansas City, on the other hand, has to just continue to play their game.
The Chiefs are a much more aggressive team on fourth downs, pass the ball at a higher frequency, and simply win between the margins more. Will Tampa Bay amp up their aggressiveness, or will they try to play a ball-control game in which they attempt (and fail?) to keep Kansas City’s offense on the sideline? That may ultimately decide this game.
This is it! What does my model project for the final game of the season. Unfortunately, it’s a rather boring projection that aligns with what the betting markets have:
- Margin of Victory: KC by 3.15
- Real Spread: KC (-3.5)
- KC Win Probability= 59.57%
- TB Win Probability= 40.43%
- Over/Under Total Projection: 54.48 (Real O/U= 56.5)
The Chiefs are the better team, are the more progressive team, and the matchups definitely favor them. Thus, there is a lot to suggest that they will repeat as Super Bowl champions.
However, my model has been high on the Bucs all season long, and it’s starting show. They are strong in all the areas you want to be strong at, and discounting Brady would be foolish.
Thus, I know it’s the Super Bowl, but I can’t advise betting the spread in this game. Even teasing Tampa Bay to (+9.5) doesn’t make sense since it doesn’t get through a key number of 10 and the Chiefs can blowout anyone. If you think the Chiefs can win, they could be a play at (-3), but still, the value isn’t great.
Maybe you could bet the under in this game? 56.5 points is a lot, and if Tampa Bay attempts to play a ball-control style of game or the Chiefs get out to an early lead, this game could definitely go under. In the end, though, prop bets are the way to go, and it’s the most fun way of betting anyways! Tom Brady’s rushing over (0.5 yards), Patrick Mahomes’ under passing yards, the under bets on the rushing attacks and Mike Evans, as well as the overs on the tight ends all make sense.
Thank you for following my model’s projection for a full season! This was my first season using a model to project games, and with that, came a lot of growth. I’m so proud of where my model stands in terms of projecting the best teams based on where it started, and I’m exited for the continued evolution it will go to! I wish all of you the best Super-Bowl watching experience imaginable!