The Kansas City Chiefs (16-2) are looking to end the longest drought in NFL history for a repeat champion by knocking off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5) in their own stadium in Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs are the last team to beat Tampa Bay, doing so by a 27-24 final in Week 12. It was one of five wins the Chiefs had on the road against a team with a winning record this year, a single-season NFL record.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, February 07, 2021 – 06:30 PM EST at Raymond James Stadium
The NFL odds again look to be in Kansas City’s favor as most sportsbooks have them as a 3-point favorite. That suits Patrick Mahomes just fine as the Chiefs are 10-4 SU and 11-2-1 ATS as an underdog or slight favorite in his career. The real challenge is finding anything where Mahomes does not come out looking historically great and in a class of his own.
Let’s look at the reasons the Chiefs can beat the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. For a list of reasons the Buccaneers can beat the Chiefs, click here.
The Chiefs Are Their Own Worst Enemy
Beating the Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes is hard work, hence his 44-9 (.830) record as a starter. You must move the ball consistently, score a lot of points, ideally dominate time of possession, and even then, you better catch some breaks with penalties, turnovers, missed kicks, and you must stop Mahomes in the final minutes.
Since Mahomes has yet to lose a game by more than eight points, he is never out of a game until the final snap. That is why closing late has been a must for every team to beat him so far. Usually, the best way to do it is denying him the final possession, which is what Tom Brady and the Patriots did to him twice, including Mahomes’ only playoff loss in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. It was a 37-31 overtime loss after the Patriots won the coin toss and Mahomes never saw the ball again. Mahomes got a little payback by running out the clock on Brady in Tampa Bay to deny a comeback attempt in Week 12, but revenge would be sweetest to do it in the same stadium with the Super Bowl on the line.
The Chiefs tend to be their own worst enemy. That was the case a year ago when they started their Super Bowl run by falling behind 24-0 to Houston before rallying for a shockingly easy 51-31 win. They did it again Sunday with Buffalo, dropping a Josh Allen interception, dropping a deep pass on third down, and muffing a punt to set up the Bills for a 9-0 lead after the first quarter. But then the Chiefs again showed they can score in bunches and win by double digits, pulling out the 38-24 final that wasn’t as close as the score suggests.
The Chiefs are not your normal NFL team and betting sites know it. Mahomes is 23-5 (.821) when the Chiefs score first and 21-4 (.840) when they don’t. The rest of the league since 2018 wins 37.7% of the time when not scoring first.
Over the last two seasons, the Chiefs with Mahomes are 9-2 when trailing by multiple scores at any time in the game, including 4-0 in the playoffs and still winning each game by double digits. Mahomes is also 37-1 when the Chiefs allow fewer than 29 points, so it usually takes at least 30 to beat him.
No matter how poorly the Chiefs start a game or what the stats look like, Mahomes has an uncanny ability to still lead the team to a big point total and a good chance to win. For example, a passer rating under 90.0 is below average for this era. When Mahomes’ rating is under 90.0, he is 11-1 because the Chiefs still average 28.9 points per game on those days. The only loss was to the Raiders this year, a game where the offense still scored 32 points and had multiple touchdowns called back by penalty.
Again, the Chiefs are their own worst enemy, but Mahomes is a cyborg not of this world who can make up for almost anything.
The Eric Fisher Injury
The biggest hurdle facing the Chiefs in this game might be the Achilles injury that will sideline left tackle Eric Fisher. We just saw how the loss of a left tackle can be critical as the Packers lost standout tackle David Bakhtiari before Week 17. They were okay for a couple games without him, but Tampa Bay’s front seven created chaos on Sunday and sacked Aaron Rodgers five times (without blitzing on any of them) after he had the best pass protection all year.
This could be very problematic for the Chiefs, but the good news is they have two weeks to prepare without Fisher and head coach Andy Reid is 26-5 after a bye week. He is used to reshuffling an offensive line that has been without right tackle Mitchell Schwartz since Week 6. Notice that has not been a talking point because the offense continues to shine as long as the skill players are healthy and Mahomes has the ability to manipulate defenses with his eyes and legs. The Chiefs also could be getting Sammy Watkins, their second-best wide receiver, back for the first time since Week 16. Remember that when doing your NFL betting.
According to Pro Football Reference, Mahomes is 4-4 in his career when he is pressured on at least 38% of his passes. That is on a very short list of any statistics that find Mahomes with a mediocre record. Tampa Bay pressured him 24.5% of the time in Week 12, good for only the 21st-highest game in his career. Mahomes is still 22-2 when hit while throwing at least four times in a game and he is 4-2 when taking at least four sacks.
The offensive line woes are not ideal for this matchup, but if anyone can make it work, it is Mahomes and Reid orchestrating an offense that can produce in a variety of ways. People think Mahomes lives on big YAC plays like the one Tyreek Hill had on Sunday against Buffalo. It is true that Hill and Mecole Hardman are arguably the fastest receivers in the game, but Mahomes is still 14-1 in games where the Chiefs’ receivers average under 5.0 YAC per completion, including Week 12’s game against Tampa Bay.
To put a bow on the Fisher situation, let’s quickly flashback to the first half of the 2019 season. Fisher left the Week 2 game in Oakland after a couple snaps with an injury that would keep him out half the season. Hill was already out with an injury and would not return until Week 6. All Mahomes did was throw for 278 yards and four touchdowns in the second quarter alone. A week later against a much better Baltimore defense, Mahomes threw for 374 yards and three touchdowns without his left tackle and best receiver.
The game without Fisher some people will be pointing to is the 19-13 loss to the Colts since it is the only low-scoring loss in Mahomes’ career. But that was also a game where Hill was out, Watkins played two snaps, LeSean McCoy lost a fumble in scoring territory, Mahomes himself was shaken up two times and he still nearly converted a third-and-28 in the fourth quarter had Byron Pringle just kept running forward before coming up a yard short.
In seven games without Fisher and several without Hill as well in 2019, Mahomes averaged 321 yards per game while throwing 15 touchdowns and one interception with a 110.4 passer rating. That even includes the Denver game where he dislocated his kneecap.
Mahomes is dealing with turf toe right now, but he appeared healthy enough on Sunday against Buffalo. Hill and Travis Kelce are good to go. While the Chiefs would love to have Fisher for Super Bowl 2021, there is no offense better prepared to make his absence a footnote.
Chiefs Match Up Well with Tampa Bay
You can argue the Chiefs already had their most explosive offensive performance of the season in Tampa Bay with 543 yards in Week 12, keyed by Hill’s 203 receiving yards in the first quarter alone. However, it was not the most efficient game of the season for the Chiefs thanks to going 0-for-3 at scoring touchdowns in the red zone, including a fumble lost on a strip-sack by Tampa Bay’s defense.
Red zone execution against Tampa Bay just arguably cost the Packers (the best red zone offense in 2020) a Super Bowl appearance. The Buccaneers have been great this postseason in the red zone, but only ranked 13th in the regular season in stopping touchdowns, which is something to note for your sports betting.
The Chiefs have had their issues down there, but much of that is on the play-calling getting too cute, such as the trick play in Tampa Bay where Kelce tried to throw a touchdown to Mahomes. However, against the Bills the Chiefs were money in the red zone, converting all five of their opportunities with touchdowns before taking knees to end the game on their sixth trip.
If Taylor Heinicke can throw for over 300 yards against this Tampa Bay defense in the wild card round, then Mahomes and company should be able to move the ball well and score their share of points too. The Buccaneers have trailed by at least 17 points in five games this season, easily the most by any team to make the Super Bowl in the salary cap era (since 1994). Mahomes has trailed by three scores once in his career. It took him and the Chiefs just 10 minutes and 10 seconds to turn a 24-0 deficit against Houston into a 28-24 lead on the way to a playoff win a year ago.
Defensively, the Chiefs have some inconsistencies at stopping the run, but they held the Buccaneers to 75 yards in Week 12. The only team that rushed for fewer yards this year against the Chiefs was New Orleans (Alvin Kamara) with 60 yards. The Chiefs also held up well against Cleveland’s stout offensive line and the great running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
The Chiefs would rather defend the pass better than the run, which is more important anyway. The good news is that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has a track record of success against Brady. He was behind the 2007 Giants’ effort in stopping Brady and the Patriots from going 19-0 in the Super Bowl, holding them to 14 points.
In 2018, Bob Sutton was the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator when they allowed six teams to score at least 33 points, including the Patriots twice with Brady, who averaged 40 points in those games. But under Spagnuolo, the Chiefs have allowed 33 offensive points just once and have held Brady to 20 points per game over the last two seasons, both wins for the Chiefs. Brady is 3-4 against Andy Reid’s Chiefs since 2014 with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions in those games.
While it likely will not be 17-0 after the first quarter again, it is worth pointing out that in nine Super Bowl starts, Brady has led his teams to one field goal in the first quarter.
Although they haven't delivered much on NFL picks against the spread this season, the Chiefs have had a great title defense up to this point. It will take one more big effort against a team they have already defeated to mark their place on a short list of teams. Few champions have ever repeated with as much style and consistency, but the pairing of Reid and Mahomes has been heaven for Kansas City and hell for the rest of the NFL.