Three reasons I’m all-in on the Chiefs
Kansas City’s defense
» There’s a lot of love going to the Tampa Bay defense this week, and for good reason, but you need to put some respect on the Chiefs’ name. This defense is absolutely good enough to make Tom Brady’s life difficult and give the Kansas City offense all the cushion it needs to win.
Three things stand out to me on this front — all are being under-discussed in the buildup to the game.
The first is Steve Spagnuolo, who is as clever a defensive coordinator as there is in the NFL. Few coaches can disguise coverages the way Spagnuolo can, and with Tampa Bay not running much pre-snap motion this season (something I would change for the Super Bowl) that gives the Chiefs’ secondary — patricianly their safeties — an extra boost.
Brady loves throwing over the middle of the field — the only time the sidelines are used in the Bucs passing game is on deep nine routes. But with two weeks to shove tricks up his sleeve, Spagnuolo and Tyrann Mathieu have a chance to create a game-flipping play, or two.
Add in the fact that Kansas City is one of the best teams in the NFL at covering outside receivers, and Tampa Bay’s offense is likely to be extremely slot-heavy in this contest. I like Kansas City’s chances in that regard, especially with Chris Jones’ ability to provide interior pressure (Brady’s kryptonite) and Frank Clark speeding Brady up on the outside.
There are only two ways for Tampa Bay to win this game — their defense needs to do what no one has ever done before, slow down Patrick Mahomes, or their offense needs to put up at least 35. The talent is there for Tampa Bay — there’s no doubt about that — but I like Kansas City’s defense to make some plays, too, and keep the home team below 30.
»It’s been said so often that it’s a trope, but don’t overlook Andy Reid on a bye week.
This year’s Super Bowl is unlike any other (there’s another trope) with both teams being able to spend the majority of two weeks in their home facilities, practicing. The media obligations, bus rides, and constant inundations of a normal Super Bowl week are gone. It’s just football until Kansas City hops on a plane as if it was a normal long-distance road game.
Kyle Shanahan told me last year that during the Super Bowl week, nothing gets done — you get a week to game plan and then a week to deal with the bullshit. There’s some BS this year, but it’s much easier to handle via teleconference.
That means that both coaching staffs — who already played against each other in December — can really spend some time on building their best game plans of the year.
Who do you think will make the most of that time?
Is it the coach who is supposedly an offensive genius but also delegates much of his work and is known for telling everyone to clock out before 6 p.m.? A coach whose system didn’t work for Tom Brady for the majority of the season, so now he lets the quarterback pick all the plays?
So if Byron Leftwich is the offensive coordinator but Arians has now outsourced play-calling to Brady, what is it that Arians does? Seems to me like it’s a great gig, a bit of semi-retirement.
Super Bowl week is about grinding — working tirelessly to find that one small advantage you can exploit. I don’t think Arians deserves the benefit of the doubt that he’s looking for it. Hopefully Brady finds it.
I’d bet on Reid instead. He’s one of the most creative — and this is the important part — pragmatic coaches in the NFL.
There’s going to be a wrinkle, a twist, a little something funky that changes this game — it happens in every Super Bowl.
And I’m betting that Reid — the only grinder in the NFL who can do it with a smile — is the one that finds it.
» Patrick Mahomes has turned me into a football nihilist. Nothing matters when you go up against him, because he’s playing a different sport than 31 other teams.
I believe that Chiefs’ offensive line coach Andy Heck is the best in the business but there’s no doubt that Tampa Bay is going to get pressure with four against two backup tackles for Kansas City.
It doesn’t matter.
And Tampa Bay has done really well in 2-man coverage as of late, something that, at least statistically, makes Mahomes a non-video-game player.
But it doesn’t matter.
Keep throwing stuff at me — you’ll get the same answer again and again and again.
They might be good points, but Mahomes beats everything.
Mahomes is a near-perfect quarterback against the blitz. He is plus-150 EPA in his short career against the blitz. He is just as effective on the run as he is in the pocket, and he can throw the ball from any body angle at any arm angle.
There is no defense that you can play to slow him down. He is inevitable.
The Chiefs sandbagged an entire regular season and went 14-1 with their starters. They even dogged it in the Divisional Round against the Browns.
In these teams’ regular-season matchup, the Chiefs lollygagged for an entire half. They still won.
Mahomes is playing basketball on grass, and much like the Kevin Durant superteam Warriors, these Chiefs can merely ‘flip the switch’. Once they do that, it’s inevitable that they win.
And the switch is going to be flipped for the Super Bowl. Even if it takes a while for the lights to come on — Kansas City could be down 10, 13, 17-nothing, they’ll eventually illuminate and down out everything.
There’s no answer for how to stop them. Play zone and Mahomes will carve you up out of the pocket, turf toe and all (just ask Buffalo). Want to play with one high safety? Mahomes will toy with him. Two high safeties? Congrats, Travis Kelce is going to catch 15 balls and you’re going to see Tyreek Hill in the slot six times, and every time he’s going to go for 15 yards.
The only way to slow down Mahomes is to be immediate with your pressure and even then, you’re only delaying the inevitable.
So bet on Brady all you want. I get it.
But remember that Mahomes is simply on a different level, and at the end of the game, it’ll be plainly obvious.
My recommendation: Chiefs -3, play alternative lines up to -9.5