And it is here. Finally. The big one. The oft cliche, parroted, “Moment we’ve all been waiting for!” Three nights this week already I’ve lost sleep, rocketing out of bed to amble around my house, take notes, and ruminate on all the maddening fireworks this thrilling game – on paper – potentially produces. The NFL could not have crafted a better story for this year’s main event. (Sorry, Hawks nation. Even y’all know I’m right.)
Brady vs. Mahomes. GOATS. Arians vs. Reid. Both beloved geniuses (both wore translucent face shields instead of masks earlier this season). Gronk vs. Kelce. Exceptional TE juggernauts. Brown vs. Hill. Cheetah WRs. And do you, savvy sports fans, notice the prevailing trend, pattern, and constellated refulgent quality passing aslant all of these eye popping names and explosive talents of high entertainment value. Offense! A lot of it. There is more than a good chance this will be the highest scoring Super Bowl in the history of the NFL. Think Rams vs. Chiefs during the impromptu MNF game relocated practically the day before from Mexico City to L.A. because the field conditions down south were poor. I’m talking, 51-48. Do you remember that? Greatest MNF game ever.
A note: I’m positively giddy considering the prospect of screaming at my television for football reasons that do not include an opposing offense punching through the Seahawks’wet paper bag style pass coverage.
Another note: The major sports media have not provided much in the way of great SB hype (and how could they?) or player beef and grudge inducing bulletin board material this week, due in large part to all player interviews occurring via video chats of one form or another; and not forgetting the somber tone surrounding our country still immersed in the worst American public health crisis since the Spanish Flu.
What that means, incidentally, or by way of accident, is that the bulk drama of this game has ruptured in vibrant conversation featuring one of the obvious and yet still very bizarre parts of this game’s potential, yes, from of all places, what we expect to see on the field when they play.
Super Bowl LV looms equal parts ethereal and zaftig over this entire week in America. The greatest professional sports championship event in the greatest American sports league hosted for the first time by a home team in Tampa Bay, where the greatest quarterback ever, Tom Brady, is all set to strive for a modern miracle of medicine, and health, as he hunts a record setting seventh Super Bowl title, more than any NFL franchise is the history of the sport. All of this against a man who needs no introduction because he is the quarterback everyone agrees is the next greatest quarterback to step on the field in a league rife with star power and an illustrious history of savant and savage gunslingers.
This entire week, every one of the ESPN programs that discuss Super Bowl LV compare Brady and Mahomes to Tiger and Jack. It’s framed as not a question of “If?” Mahomes will rival Brady’s career SB totals, but “When?” and “How fast?” we’ll see Mahomes overtake the current GOAT. Absolute masters. Heavyweights. Therefore in predicting the events that are sure to look different than what I anticipate, I’ve also found I’m welcoming the ongoing rush of what is a refracting, thrilling, incalculable emotion I can trust to matter not at all by kickoff time this Sunday, 3:30 PST. The only thing about this game I can trust is that nothing will appear like how and what I’ve already imagined; equal parts bruising, graceful, enthralling. It is bewildering, day by day, a game that now the closer we swerve toward kickoff feels; well, mystical. It feels bountiful, gorgeous, some priming state for a slow burning spectacle; euphoria punctuated by pangs of vertigo; something that reflects almost what I and we all have endured, enjoyed this week, anticipating the ultimate conclusion, the payoff. Every time I hammer out the facts of the game, turn over revealing details in my thought stream, settle on a final score, then tell myself I have all of what I need to write this final smackdowns’s preview and sage prediction, I’m jarred yet again by some new or forgotten then recalled but pivotal and vitally strong counter point; a new style to argue away all of my fleeting, though concrete game predictive capabilities.
It’s an unmistakably vague polychrome of emotions.
And so, to illustrate: a short anecdote. Two weeks ago a man told me the Chiefs would beat the Bills. So confident in his vision, he said, “You know, I got five bills on KC,” and it was all because, “That boy (Mahomes) is something else.” At the time I was sure the Bills would win over KC, so I fired back, “You said it yourself, five bills; the Bills will appear in their fifth Super Bowl in franchise history.” He grinned at me, and started laughing. Well I was very wrong about the Bills. And so now and again, this conversation loops in my head. I’m immersed in a coruscating onslaught of predictive liquefacting after all of about about ten minutes or less, because I’ll find another great way to remind myself of many exemplary crow feasts – times where many sports writers are proved wrong by what we should have foreseen from the beginning. For all intents and purposes, although you shouldn’t trust my word completely, this seems the year, the season, the time when the GOAT passes the torch on to the next King QB of the NFL, because, despite everything we know about Tom Brady’s brilliance, “That boy is something else.”
If you’ll please forgive this rhapsodic introduction’s absolute reluctance to indulge even one modicum of brevity whatsoever, let’s now analyze parts and pieces of the big one – Super Bowl LV. Who has the edge? And why? Onward!
Offense: Andy Reid is the Stanley Kubrick of the NFL. Stunning visual masterpiece theater week in, week out. Tyreek Hill accumulated over 200 receiving yards in the first quarter against TB and TB during their Week 12 game. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are the single greatest passing and WR threat (Kelce deserves to be called a WR no matter what position he lines up in) and duo to reach the Super Bowl that I can remember. (The best passing threat since the Greatest Show on Turf of the St. Louis Rams during the 1999, 2000, and 2001 seasons, Torry Holt and Issac Bruce. Kurt Warner at QB, the Rams made it into two Super Bowls with this lineup. And lost their last SB against a young Tom Brady, his first.) And here are the numbers in two Chiefs playoff games that never seemed much in doubt to go KC’s way, barring the singular injury scare against Cleveland when Mahomes exited the game in the second half for an outside expert’s full examination under and in accordance with the NFL’s strict concussion protocol. Mahomes is 50/68 for a 73.5% completion percentage, averaging, rounding up one half yard, 300 yards a game. He has 4 TDs and 0 INTs for an altogether flawless QB rating of 118.5. Tyreek Hill, in 2 games, has 17 REC on 21 targets for 282 total yards, averaging 141 yards per game, with a long of 71 yards when he busted out on a short pass/screen play that should have gone for fewer than 7-8. He has 152 yards after the catch. Travis Kelce has 21 REC on 25 targets for 227 total yards, averaging 113.5 yards per game. He also has 3 TDs and 93 total yards after the catch.
Defense: Slight edge goes to Tampa Bay, even though Hill’s 200+ receiving yards first quarter came against TB in Week 12. Right now, in the playoffs, TB’s linebacking core, White and David, have 46 tackles between them. The Bucs have created 5 INT and have forced 3 fumbles. They have 7 sacks and 13.5 TFL. They also managed to thwart indisputable HOF skill at the QB position in order to reach the SB, defeating both Brees and Rogers on the road. They’re playing in front of their home fans as well. This fact should not be overlooked when they square off against another certain HOF lock in Mahomes.
Head Coach: Andy Reid is, let me repeat, Stanley Kubrick, and the only man who can get away with a fake delay of game penalty taking (trying to draw the Browns offsides) before his backup QB, Henne, bluffs the implied called bluff by the Browns before chucking, a designed play, and a delicate dove lob out to Hill so he falls forward for a first down on fourth and 1 at midfield with less than minute left to ice the game for KC.
MVP front-runner: Patrick Mahomes is the second coming of the GOAT. I picked up some stats to support this idea from ESPN this week. Here we go. He’s won 6 playoffs games, and the Chiefs, over 48 years, won 4 as a franchise before he arrived. In his first 7 playoff starts, Mahomes has 21 TDs. In that same time, Brady had 9. Mahomes is 8-1 in games he trails by two scores. Mahomes has never lost an NFL start by more than one score. Mahomes averages 308 yards per game in all starts. 25 yards more than any QB ever.
Dark Horse MVP: If you can believe it, then, Gronk. Don’t call it a comeback. (It is a comeback.) This lovable goofball won’t win the MVP if TB wins and Brady can manage 400 yds, and the Bucs don’t turn the ball over more than 4-5 times. Remember, Brady threw 3 INTs against GB at Lambeau. Gronk is something of a shadow of his former self, not exactly hobbled, maybe slower; yet on the field with Brady, I don’t know if there is a better dark horse on the TB side of the ball because Gronk seems the kind of wounded warrior with one excellent game left in the tank at all times, points, opportunities. It could happen.
Why the Chiefs will win: It just seems insane to bet against Mahomes and Reid and Kelce and Hill, doesn’t it? There have been no repeat SB winners since the Patriots in 2003 and 2004. Seems high time the league features a back to back champ, doesn’t it? And who better than Mahomes? For all the dynamite and fireworks I’ve elaborated on before, there appears just about nothing the Bucs might do to slow down KC. The only time the Chiefs played poorly all year was against the Dolphins when they were down late in the fourth quarter, and then one game where Mahomes threw a pick in the fourth to in many ways completely ice the game for Vegas.
Why the Buccaneers will win: The GOAT has, astonishingly, outperformed, over-performed, and exceeded all expectations everyone placed upon him this year. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Brady is just another system QB propped up by New England’s coaches.” Then remember Max Kellerman propounding, and all but writing Brady’s death certificate, proclaiming Brady would, “fall off a cliff,” starting 2017. And now even Max Kellerman has recently admitted he was completely wrong. In the same way that LeBron James crushed opposing defenses and cruised to an NBA Finals win last year in the Florida NBA bubble playoffs at an older age, Tom Brady invokes at 43, another elite athlete, Nolan Ryan, throwing gas well into his late 40’s. There is just a new standard of talent and longevity set by this man every single time he defies expectations on the field. Betting against Brady? Seems a foolish thing to do. So why would you? Well…
Prediction: News surfaced this week at ESPN that the famous pirate ship cannons at Raymond James Stadium will not be allowed to fire – and well, cannonade – after any time the Bucs score points because the Super Bowl is traditionally – though not actually this year – hosted at a neutral location where neither team may benefit from home field advantage. That can only mean one thing for the action on the field….
Shootout – because, “That boy is something else.”
Chiefs 51 – Buccaneers 48