Breaking down the on-field matchups for Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs (16-2) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5) in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., at 3:30 p.m. PST. (TV: CBS)
Chiefs pass offense vs. Buccaneers pass defense
The biggest key for the Chiefs is they can’t go backward. That means no giving up sacks, and no holding calls. Not easy when the Buccaneers apply pressure off the edge with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, and Kansas City is playing with two backup tackles. Patrick Mahomes can drop way back, extend plays, then throw on a rope with the flick of a wrist. The Chiefs will look to take the edge off that pass rush by emphasizing the quick-passing game, meaning the ball is thrown within 2.5 seconds, and with an up-tempo offense that will cause that pass rush to wane in the fourth or fifth play of a drive. EDGE: Chiefs
Chiefs run offense vs. Buccaneers run defense
Tampa Bay had the NFL’s best run defense this season, giving up 80.6 yards per game. What’s more, defensive tackle Vita Vea was coming back from injury in the Green Bay game and logged a robust 33 plays. He’s a brick wall. The Chiefs have a good rookie back in Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and they have so much speed that they can do big damage running Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman on jet sweeps. Still, their passing game is their bread and butter, so the short-passing game will replace the running game to some degree. Linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White will present problems for Chiefs. EDGE: Buccaneers
Buccaneers pass offense vs. Chiefs pass defense
Tampa Bay’s pass game is predicated on the running game‘s success. If the Buccaneers can run enough for the Chiefs to commit resources, Tom Brady is going to get 6-foot-5 Mike Evans in one-on-one coverage, and Evans isn’t a receiver who needs to be entirely open to reel in passes. Speedster Scotty Miller will be more of a factor than Antonio Brown, who hasn’t been part of what’s made the Buccaneers good. Like the Chiefs, the Buccaneers have many capable targets, among them Chris Godwin as well as tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate. EDGE: Buccaneers
Buccaneers run offense vs. Chiefs run defense
Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones are good, not great, but they get the benefit of going against a so-so Kansas City run defense. The Chiefs are surrendering 122.1 yards per game on the ground. That’s somewhat deceptive, though, because Kansas City is so explosive in terms of scoring, opponents often have to abandon the ground game to start slinging it. The Buccaneers need to establish the run to get the Chiefs to play them honest, and to set up one-on-one matchups against their receivers. So Brady will be handing it off a fair share in hopes of keeping Mahomes on the sideline. EDGE: Buccaneers
Both teams have good kickers. Tampa Bay’s Ryan Succop has made all eight of his field goal attempts this postseason, and eight of nine point-after tries. Kansas City’s Harrison Butker had the most accurate field goal season of his career (92.6%) but missed a couple of PATs in the playoffs against Cleveland. The scale-tippers are Hill and Hardman, both of whom are capable of being big-time returners for the Chiefs. EDGE: Chiefs
The needle points to Kansas City, both because the Chiefs won the Super Bowl last year, and Andy Reid is particularly tough after a week off. Even though he’s a quarterback whisperer coaching the best to ever play the position, Bruce Arians had some rough spots getting in rhythm with Brady. An X-factor: Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo beat Brady in a Super Bowl, when Spagnuolo was with the New York Giants. EDGE: Chiefs
Three Buccaneers who must come through
Donovan Smith, left tackle — He protects Tom Brady’s blind side. If Brady has time, he wins. Defensively, you don’t have to hit home runs with sacks. If you make Brady see and feel pressure, the football doesn’t come out the same way.
Shaq Barrett, outside linebacker — Barrett is the kind of defensive talent who can take over a game, and he needs to get to Patrick Mahomes. Barrett had eight sacks this season, and is the type of player who can force critical turnovers.
Leonard Fournette, running back — Fournette was on thin ice earlier this season, but he has come through in the playoffs, and he’s solid in pass protection, which is key when you have a 43-year-old quarterback.
Three Buccaneers you should know
Tristan Wirfs, right tackle — Wirfs , a Pro Bowl snub, has been spectacular in his first season, giving up just one sack this season. The rookie from Iowa will have his hands full against the Kansas City defensive front but he’s up to the challenge.
Antoine Winfield Jr., safety — The second-round pick is the son of a former NFL player, a tape junkie and workout warrior who shows up to do extra work with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Missed NFC title game with bad ankle.
Scotty Miller, wide receiver — So much focus is on the speed of Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, but Miller is lightning quick too. He scored a big, and demoralizing, touchdown at the end of the first half against Green Bay.
Three Chiefs who must come through
Tyreek Hill, wide receiver — Even if he doesn’t catch a bunch of passes, Hill can impact this game because he’s always a threat. The Buccaneers are going to have to double-team him, and that’s going to create opportunities.
Travis Kelce, tight end — Kelce is a force in the middle of the field, where he can sit down in the middle of the defense and cause problems. He’s a sure-handed security blanket for Mahomes, and the Buccaneers will struggle containing him.
Frank Clark, defensive end — This could just as easily be defensive tackle Chris Jones, but Brady has a hard time with defensive linemen caving in the pocket and moving him off his mark. Just look when he’s struggled in Super Bowls.
Three Chiefs you should know
Demarcus Robinson, wide receiver — If Hill attracts double-teams, another receiver will be expected to step up. Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins are obvious choices, but it could be Robinson, who missed the week of practice while on the COVID/Reserve list.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, running back — The Buccaneers have a smothering run defense, so it might not be on handoffs that Edwards-Helaire shows his worth. Dating to his days at Louisiana State, he has been terrific catching passes out of the backfield.
Juan Thornhill, safety — Fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu gets the bulk of the attention, and for good reason since he’s excellent. But Thornhill will play a key role against Tampa Bay’s towering receivers such as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
The Chiefs are a zombie team in that they relentlessly come at you with waves of explosive offensive players. Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in a generation. But the Buccaneers will apply a lot of pressure up front to an offensive line that has backups at the tackle positions. Seven times this season, the Chiefs failed to score 30 points. Tom Brady isn’t shabby in Super Bowls — check out his six rings — and for the first time he’s playing one at home. Tampa Bay pulls off the upset in a shootout. Buccaneers 31, Chiefs 28