It all comes down to this. After 20 weeks, we’ve whittled down 32 NFL teams to just two: The Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Chiefs were always expected to be here. They won the Super Bowl last season, and they employ arguably the most talented quarterback the league has ever seen in Patrick Mahomes. They opened the year as the favorite to win the Super Bowl, and they’re just one win away from accomplishing their goal. They’ve barely been tested along the way, posting a record of 16-1 this season with Mahomes under center.
Things weren’t as easy for Tampa Bay. They were initially listed at +5000 to win the Super Bowl, but everything changed when they signed Tom Brady. They immediately became one of the favorites to represent the NFC, and they started the year by winning six of their first eight games. They hit a brief snag during the middle part of the season — they lost to the Saints, Rams, and Chiefs over a four-week stretch — which caused their odds to drop to +1700 to win the Super Bowl and +700 to win the NFC. Bettors who took those odds have now cashed in, with Tampa Bay winning three straight road playoff games to qualify for the Super Bowl. Now, they’ll become the first team in history to play a Super Bowl contest in their home stadium.
There is so much to break down in this contest from a betting perspective. Not only is there the game itself — which should be a good one — but there is also a myriad of prop bets to dissect. These props can range from what’s going to happen during the game to the coin toss to the length of the national anthem. In other words, it’s Christmas for sports bettors like myself.
I’m going to do my best to break down as much as possible for you guys and hopefully end the season on a high note. Let’s dive right in
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 56.5 total
Moneylines: Chiefs -167/Buccaneers +150
The early betting activity has been all Chiefs. They’ve received 62% of the spread bets and 72% of the spread dollar, which has caused this line to fluctuate between Chiefs -3 and Chiefs -3.5. You can still find both numbers across the industry, but Chiefs -3 is the consensus at the moment.
This line has stuck at Chiefs -3.5 because there has been some buyback on the Buccaneers at +3.5. There hasn’t been a ton of activity on the Bucs — we haven’t track any steam moves at this point — but there’s clearly enough to keep the line from staying at 3.5 across the industry.
As for the on-field matchup, there are a bunch of interesting individual battles to dive into. The biggest one involves the Chiefs offensive line vs. the Bucs defensive line.
Tampa Bay’s pass rush has been excellent all season. They rank sixth in adjusted sack rate, and that number probably undersells how good this unit is. They were missing Vita Vea for most of the season, and he’s graded out as one of the best interior pass rushers in the league this season per Pro Football Focus.
They made life a living hell for Aaron Rodgers last week with Vea back in the lineup. They had him under heavy duress and ultimately finished with five sacks. They forced Rodgers into an interception — and Rodgers has been one of the toughest quarterbacks to pick off in league history — and they held a potent Packers’ offense to just 381 yards. They’ll have to have a repeat performance this week vs. the Chiefs if Tampa Bay is going to pull off the upset.
Luckily, they should have a massive edge in that department. The Chiefs did a great job of protecting Mahomes during the regular season, but they’re likely going to have to suit up without both starting tackles in the Super Bowl. Eric Fisher is out after suffering an Achilles injury vs. the Bills, and it seems unlikely that Mitchell Schwartz will be activated off IR. There’s still a chance that he suits up for the first time since Week 7, but head coach Andy Reid said he’s “not optimistic” that Schwartz will take the field.
Mahomes doesn’t need elite offensive line play to make plays — he’s fantastic at creating just enough space with his legs to set up a throw — but getting to Mahomes is the easiest path to victory for the Bucs in this contest.
This comes with one big caveat: The Bucs need to create pressure without actually blitzing. Mahomes is one of the best in the business when facing the blitz. He racked up 18 touchdowns compared to just one interception when blitzed this season, resulting in a PFF grade of 91.1.
If they need to send extra pass rushers to get to Mahomes, Tyreek Hill could be looking at another monster game. He torched the Bucs in their first matchup this season, finishing with over 200 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone. It goes without saying that the Bucs need to do a better job of slowing Hill down in the rematch.
Hill’s speed poses a big problem for most teams, and the fact that he plays primarily in the slot is particularly problematic. That sets up a matchup vs. Sean Murphy-Bunting, who is simply not good enough to stop Hill by himself. There’s no way to take Hill out of the gameplan completely, but the Bucs can slow him down by making sure there is safety help over the top.
The only problem with that strategy is that the Chiefs have other options. Travis Kelce just put together one of the most dominant seasons in the history of the tight end position, so he can obviously beat you if you focus too heavily on Hill. The Bucs will likely take their chances with Devin White in that matchup, who has the speed to match up with anyone. That said, he’s been much better as a run defender than he has been in pass coverage this season. He owns a PFF coverage grade of just 46.9, which gives Kelce a massive advantage. White allowed eight catches on nine targets last week vs. the Packers, and their tight ends are a lot less impressive than Kelce.
The Chiefs offense vs. the Bucs defense has garnered most of the attention in this matchup — and rightfully so — but the other matchup in this game is just as intriguing.
The Bucs’ offense is probably a bit underrated at this point. They finished the year third in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA, which put them just one spot behind the Chiefs. Tom Brady has looked a bit shaky during the postseason, but he still graded out as the No. 2 quarterback during the regular season per PFF. Father Time may be undefeated, but he’s going to have his hands full with Brady.
That said, the key to the Bucs’ offense in this matchup is their ground game. Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones form one of the best one-two RB tandems in the league, and they have an exploitable matchup vs. the Chiefs. Kansas City has been dreadful against the run for most of the past two seasons, and they rank 31st in rush defense DVOA this season.
Not only will finding success on the ground lead to good things for the Tampa offense, but it will also keep the Chiefs’ offense on the sidelines. That’s an elite combination. Establishing the run is overrated in most situations, but it is essential if the Bucs want to win the Super Bowl.
If the Chiefs defense can force Tampa Bay to become one dimensional on offense, they have a good chance of shutting them down. Brady can still make some throws, but the Chiefs’ defense limited an explosive Bills’ passing attack to just 24 points last week. If the Bills couldn’t compete with the Chiefs in a shootout, I don’t think any team in the league can.
There aren’t many betting trends in play for the Super Bowl, but the Chiefs appear to have a significant edge in that department. First, Andy Reid has historically crushed with additional time to prepare. He owns a record of 16-9 against the spread with at least 13 days between games dating back to 2004, including a 4-3 record with Mahomes. That number could potentially be even better if not for Mahomes getting hurt against the Browns during the Divisional Round. The Chiefs’ offense has been explosive with extra time to prepare, averaging 35.7 points per game with Mahomes under center.
Conversely, Bruce Arians has not benefitted from additional time between games. He owns a record of just 3-5 against the spread, although the Bucs did cover following their bye week this season. That means he’s 1-0 in that situation with Brady at quarterback.
Speaking of Brady, you would imagine that his against the spread record in Super Bowls is sparkling. After all, the dude does have six rings in nine tries. However, he’s just 4-5 against the spread in the final game of the season.
That’s a lot of information to process, but in the end, only one thing matters here: the Chiefs have Mahomes, and the Bucs do not. Brady is the greatest quarterback in league history, but Mahomes is in a league of his own right now. Maybe the Bucs’ pass rush will be the thing that finally slows him down, but I’m skeptical. The spread here is so minimal that essentially all the Chiefs have to do to cover is win the game. I’m not betting against Mahomes winning any games for the foreseeable future.
The Pick: Chiefs -3
Make sure to check back in next week to see all my favorite props for Super Bowl LV!
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