Super Bowl Sunday has always seemed to me to be one of the most classically “American” of all holidays. First, of course, it’s not even a holiday, but that never stopped anyone in the USA from partying. It’s a celebration of a sport that has always been polarizing (between the violent nature of the sport, the prevalence of gambling, and the obsessive fervor with which American males have traditionally followed the sport, much to the chagrin of wives and girlfriends who don’t happen to be football fans), and of course it’s an excuse to get together with friends and eat large amounts of unhealthy food and drink – I mean who’s not on board with THAT?
However, in the midst of a global pandemic, there will (hopefully) be fewer Super Bowl parties and less communal watching, and certainly a lot of the joy of the day will be lessened as a result. With a little bit of good fortune, a year from now we can get back to gorging ourselves in the first half and settling into food comas in the 3rd quarter with lots of friends and family around. Until then, we still have the game, and this year’s contest is an intriguing matchup that doesn’t disappoint in terms of generating storylines to hype.
The Favorite – Kansas City Chiefs
These guys are the defending Super Bowl Champs, and there hasn’t been a moment during the last two seasons where it wasn’t abundantly clear that when healthy (and by that I really mean when Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is healthy), they are one of the very best teams in the NFL, if not THE best. They are 31-6 over the last two campaigns (including last season’s Super Bowl run) and they haven’t lost a meaningful game by double digits since November 5…of….2017 (they lost by 11)! With Mahomes playing the QB position as well as it’s ever been played, and weapons like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce (amongst others), this is certainly one of the best offenses we have ever seen on a football field. Their defense is a mostly unimpressive, middle of the pack unit outside of star Defensive Tackle Chris Jones (maybe the best pass rusher in football other than Aaron Donald), but when you give up 22 points a game and score 29, that still translates to wins. Andy Reid has been a successful coach for a long time in this league, and his coaching tree is extensive and impressive. He seems to be almost universally respected in the game, which of course shows how quickly a narrative can change when you win a Super Bowl (just last year he was the latest in a long line of sports figures unfairly tagged with the “can’t win the big one” moniker, and routinely mocked for his clock management skills, which probably haven’t suddenly improved after 22 years of coaching in the NFL). Nobody is comparing him to Bill Belichick or anything (and they still won’t even if Kansas City wins this Sunday), but his legacy is already secure.
The Underdog – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
So, each week I write about how unimpressed I am with Tampa Bay, and of course they then win each week, so maybe it’s time to re-evaluate. Apparently their up and down 7-5 start is not as indicative of the team that they are as their current 7 game winning streak. They have scored 34 points a game during that run, and we are finally seeing what Tom Brady can do when he has multiple weapons at his disposal. Even a 43 year old Tom Brady. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are as solid a duo of pass catchers as….almost anyone other than Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Godwin has struggled mightily in this year’s playoffs with catching the ball (7 drops so far, which is, shall we say, less than ideal for a wide receiver), but that seems to be an aberration, as he only had 6 drops in 342 career targets before this postseason. On the defensive side is where Tampa Bay has the advantage. The undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins had a group called the “No Name Defense.” Now, I was only 2 years old so I can’t say I remember that group all that well, but I’m reasonably certain they were called that because the players weren’t exactly the most recognizable stars in football (and I imagine the defense was pretty good considering they rarely give out nicknames to BAD defenses, and, like I said, they were undefeated). This year’s Bucs don’t have a snazzy nickname but they WERE a top 10 defense in terms of points and yards allowed per game (fairly important statistics when judging a defense, you’ll agree). And other than Jason Pierre-Paul (mostly famous for losing a couple fingers from one hand)), unless you’re a die-hard Tampa Bay fan, you’ve quite possibly never heard of any of their starters, as their 2 best players are probably Lavonte David and Vita Vea. Think you could pick those two out of a police lineup? I didn’t think so.
I’m going to go with the Buccaneers’ Leonard Fournette, who has shown flashes of brilliance occasionally (who can forget when he split the atom during a post-game press conference), and then flashes of…sitting over on the sidelines while Ronald Jones II runs the ball with a moderate amount of success. If Tampa Bay can complement its passing attack with a solid ground game, Kansas City is going to have a hard time slowing their offense down. Also, let’s give a shout-out to the city of Tampa Bay, which gets to host it’s own team in a Super Bowl, for the first time ever. Too bad the crowd will be limited to approximately 25,000 fans and 30,000 cut-outs. Could have been the party of the Century down in the Big Guava.
The Matchups – Best Ever vs. Next Best Ever.
Tom Brady vs. Pat Mahomes. Rob Gronkowski vs. Travis Kelce. Tyreek Hill vs. Mike Evans (OK, that one is a nice match-up, but it’s not best ever OR Next Best ever. But I was on a roll there). When in doubt, pick the guys that are the best NOW as opposed to the guys who used to be the best. I mean, if right now Steff Curry and LeBron James were playing Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in a 2 on 2 game, who are you taking? The fact that Brady at 43 and Gronk a year removed from the NFL are even in the Super Bowl is amazing. As for the offense vs. defense matchup, we saw a shootout when these two teams played in November, and most experts are expecting a repeat performance. Hard to argue of course, considering the Chiefs’ defense doesn’t typically shut teams down, and NOBODY shuts down the Chiefs offense. But of course Super Bowls are fundamentally different from all other football games (sort of the Passover of the NFL season). Between the hype, the pressure, and most importantly, two weeks to prepare for your opponent, you never know what kind of defensive scheme one of the very talented Defensive Coordinators (Tampa’s Todd Bowles and Kansas City’s Steve Spagnuolo) might come up with. That said, it’s not like I’m advocating betting the under.
OK, I’m a super awesome 6-6 overall in my predictions for this year’s playoffs, which isn’t bad considering I’m picking against the spread. Of course, since I’m NOT picking against the spread, yeah, it’s pretty bad. But we can go out in a blaze of glory with a winning record and that’s what I intend to do. I have refused to hop aboard the Tom Brady train all season (although he WAS my fantasy football quarterback), and I promised my Uncle Dale, who’s rooting hard for TB12, that I would keep picking against the Bucs as a reverse jinx. As a fervent believer in the power of the reverse jinx, I can respect that request. At the end of the day, there have been few teams I can recall (the 1985 Bears and the 1989 49ers leap to mind) that seemed more imposing than this version of Kansas City, and while Tampa Bay is clearly better than I have been giving them credit for, I’m not confident that Brady can pull off another miracle without Bill Belichick’s genius on the sidelines.
I say the Chiefs win a shootout, 45-36.
Commercial Real Estate Broker/Sports Fan
Staff writer at Six Feet Apart, commercial real estate broker for CBRE, Inc., and most importantly, a father of two.