Super Bowl LV: Chiefs-Buccaneers positional matchups and viewer guide


illustration provided by ESPN

By Danny Stipanovich

“G.O.A.T.” versus “Baby G.O.A.T.” Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes.

On Sunday, Mahomes will look to accept the torch as the next man up from Brady in Super Bowl LV, but winning a football game takes more than just exceptional play from a quarterback. Here is how both teams match up:


There is no argument for this one. Since earning his starting job, Mahomes is first in passing yards and in touchdowns.

After suffering a toe injury and a concussion scare that took him out of the Divisional Round versus the Browns, Mahomes responded by stringing 325 yards and three touchdowns the next week against the red hot Buffalo Bills.

Brady responded to his preseason critics by throwing 40 touchdowns this season, his most since 2007, and is leading Tampa Bay to its’ first Super Bowl appearance since 2003.

Since Tampa’s Week 13 BYE, the 43-year-old quarterback has thrown 20 touchdowns, including playoffs, but after his three interceptions in the second half at Lambeau Field, not hitting 200 passing yards at the Superdome and not topping a 56% completion percentage in the playoffs, the reigning Super Bowl MVP has the edge.

Advantage: Chiefs.

Wide receivers:

Both squads have a plethora of riches at the receiver position, but one team has Tyreek Hill, and the other doesn’t. In their Week 12 matchup, Hill torched the Bucs for 203 yards and two touchdowns in just the first quarter. The Cheetah leads the league in missed tackles since 2018 and his combination of speed, route running and awareness makes it impossible to leave him in single coverage with no help.

The rest of the Chiefs receiving core is a mixture of speed and reliability. Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson get lost in the sauce behind Hill and Kelce, but Head Coach Andy Reid finds a way to incorporate them into the mix.

While they may not have Hill, the Bucs boast a more complete receiving core behind former Pro-Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. However, both have dealt with nagging injuries all season. Evans missed a crucial jump ball against the Packers last week that led to an interception and Godwin already has seven drops on 27 targets in the playoffs. Maybe a two-week layoff is all they need.

Antonio Brown is considered doubtful to play, but Scotty Miller is a reliable option that Brady will trust on Sunday. The second-year pro burned the Packers in the NFC Championship game on a 39-yard bomb to put Tampa Bay up 21-10 going into halftime.

Advantage: It’s a toss-up on this one, but Bucs if Brown plays.

Tight ends:

Once again, no argument here. KC’s Travis Kelce broke the record for most receiving yards for a tight end, 1,416 in NFL history, led the NFL in tight end touchdowns, targets and receptions.

Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate of Tampa Bay prove their impact blocking and as red-zone threats.

Advantage: Chiefs.

Running backs:

Tampa Bay’s third-year pro Ronald Jones responded to the signing of former No. 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette with a breakout season. The USC product showed his explosive play-making ability and led the league in rushing yards after contact per rush, but a hamstring injury kept him out of the Wild Card and limited him to only 29% and 28% of snaps in their last two playoff games.

With Jones’ injury, Fournette stepped up to the plate. After scoring in all three postseason games and leading the competition in playoff scrimmage yards, he earned the nickname ‘Playoff Lenny.’

If Jones is healthy, look for Head Coach Bruce Arians to return to his running back by committee until he finds the hot hand.

Kansas City’s 2020 first-round draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire is coming off a forgettable six carries for seven yards in the AFC Championship and according to Football Outsiders the rookie ranked thirty-third among qualifying running backs. Remember that there are 32 NFL teams.

When Edwards-Helaire missed the Divisional Round due to injury, undrafted Darrel Williams rushed 13 for 78 while Le’Veon Bell ran only twice for six yards against the Browns.

Advantage: Buccaneers.


Tampa Bay’s defensive success starts at the line behind the ringmaster, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His defense is built around quarterback pressure off the edge and blitz schemes using his linebackers and corners.

Tampa’s defensive front overpowered the second-best offensive line in football in the NFC Championship. Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul sacked Rodgers five times and wreaked havoc on the edge.

Their stuffing middle is made up of Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, the frontline of the Bucs top rush defense, only allowing 80.6 yards per game. Look for the Chiefs to abandon the run early and lean on Mahomes’ arm as they did their Week 12 matchup against the Bucs when he threw for a season-high 49 attempts.

The key to the Buccaneers’ defensive success will be if Barrett and JPP can harass Mahomes and force him to get rid of the ball before the Chiefs extend plays. If Mahomes has time to pick apart this Bucs secondary, he will. While they are full of playmakers, they are vulnerable to giving up huge yardage. Jared Goff strung up 376 passing yards in Week 11 followed by 462 by Mahomes the next week.

The Bucs linebacker duo of Lavonte David and Devin White is arguably the fastest in the league, while KC’s Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson have combined for zero sacks on the season.

In the red zone, Tampa’s defense ranked middle of the pack but held the Green Bay Packers, the best red zone offense in NFL history, to a failed two-point attempt and only two of four touchdowns inside the 20 last week. Kansas City’s red zone defense ranks dead last in red zone scoring percentage where Brady has thrown 36 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Kansas City’s defense is spearheaded by Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnulo, the mastermind behind the defense in 2007 that stumped Brady’s perfect season and held an offense that averaged 36.8 points to 14 in Super Bowl XLII. While Spagnulo doesn’t have as fierce of a defensive line this February, his squad is littered with top-heavy talent that dominated the Bills last week.

Three-time first-team All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu is coming off his best season with 62 tackles and six interceptions. The best safety in the league is a playmaker that jumps off the screen who can also shadow tight ends, shut down the slot, and blitz off the edge. Pro-Bowlers Chris Jones and Frank Clark will look to pressure Brady, but it won’t be easy against a top-five offensive line.

Advantage: Buccaneers.

Special teams:

Both kickers boast a field goal percentage of over 90%. Harrison Butker of the Chiefs has more range while Ryan Succop of the Bucs is more experienced.

Tampa’s returner, Jaydon Mickens, ran a respectable 4.51 40-yard dash but Tyreek Hill is returning kicks and punts for Kansas City.

Advantage: Chiefs.