NFL Super Bowl LV (55): COVID Edition Preview and Bettor’s Guide
LOS ANGELES — As we look toward the NFL’s upcoming Super Bowl LV — the COVID edition — we find it sad to note that the 2020 NFL season was all about survival. The COVID pandemic has killed over 2.2 million people worldwide thus far. Worse, the disease continues to leave many others fighting for their lives.
Despite the odds, the NFL actually manages to put in a full season of football
Sports events normally serves as a respite from our pain. But three of the four major US sports dealt with sharply COVID-disrupted schedules over the past year. Including the NFL. But by sheer luck, professional football made it through the crisis largely unscathed.
The ongoing pandemic horror began to grip the US just after the previous Super Bowl. This actually gave the National Football League over six months to prepare for its upcoming season. The initial result: The NFL canceled its entire preseason and the 2021 Pro Bowl. Nevertheless, the league managed to play all 256 of its regular season games in addition to every playoff game. And in addition, the league’s recently-concluded regular season actually saw more playoff games than previously, thanks to additional wildcard games.
With strict protocols in place and heavy fines for those in violation, the NFL actually played football. Fans went missing for most of these games. But a limited number of fans did get to attend some playoff games. Even better, 22,000 real fans will attend this year’s Super Bowl LV this year, many of them first responders on the front lines. That’s a more than appropriate response by the league.
Catastrophes will not bring a halt to America’s premier sporting event
In true league tradition, the NFL managed to make football in 2020 about football. Let’s recall:
- The 1980 Iran hostage crisis did not stop the Super Bowl.
- The 1990 Gulf War did not stop the Super Bowl.
- In 2001, the horrific attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did not stop the Super Bowl.
- That 2008 -2009 financial crisis, aka, the Great Recession did not stop the Super Bowl.
- And now in 2021, thanks to the hard work of so many people in the fields of medicine, law enforcement and sports, the 2020 COVID pandemic will not stop the Super Bowl either.
While the annual Super Bowl goal is to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the real victory is that this annual contest game is being played at all in 2021. And so, for the 55th straight year, a king of professional will be crowned at the conclusion of Super Bowl LV, the COVID edition.
Super Bowl LV (55) is set for Sunday, February 7, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS.
In this year’s COVID Edition of Super Bowl LV, the NFC’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC) take on the AFC’s Kansas City Chiefs (AFC). The game is being played in Tampa, Florida. So, for the first time ever, a divisional champion team gets to play the Super Bowl in its home stadium.
That said, DraftKings currently has the Chiefs as three point favorites to win the big game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are in their second Super Bowl in franchise history. The 2002 team won it all. Bruce Arians is in his first Super Bowl as a head coach. He reached the NFC Title Game in 2015 with Arizona, but fell one game short of the Super Bowl. that season. Eventually, he won it all when he served as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tom Brady is set to play his 10th Super Bowl, a mind-boggling statistic. He has played in half of all the Super Bowls fought over the last couple of decades. At this point in his career, Brady has already won six Super Bowls. He has had 20 straight winning seasons under his belt. And his teams have won or been tied for his division lead for 18 straight years. Until this season, his success was all in New England under Bill Belichick. Perhaps he can bring his magic to the Bucs in 2021.
The Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are the defending champions. They won it all in 1969 and then took a 50 year break before winning it once again last year. Andy Reid is the only coach to have a team host the Conference Title Game for three straight years. Even more amazing, he accomplished this in both NFL conferences.
His Philadelphia Eagles reached five NFC Title Games and one Super Bowl. The Chiefs have hosted the AFC Title Game for the past three seasons. At this point last year, the only thing missing on Reid’s resumé was a Super Bowl win. Not a problem. He scored that win, allowing him to get upgraded from Walrus Lite to full Walrus status.
KC QB Patrick Mahomes is a freak of nature. He held a clipboard for most of his entire rookie season, playing only in the season finale. But that one game proved enough for Reid to gain the keys to the Chiefs’ Kingdom. Thereafter, in three full seasons as a starter, he led the Chiefs to a home AFC Title Game for all three years, as well as taking his team to the Super Bowl both last year and this year.
The key to winning Super Bowl LV is the Quarterback
While both teams boast their fair share of talented players, the focus in 2021 centers on the game’s two competing quarterbacks. Brady keeps playing as if he’s discovered the fountain of youth, defying Father Time in the process. Mahomes still plays the part of the young gun who carries the poise of a grizzled veteran. Brady has out-dueled fellow future first ballot Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Mahomes has taken down fellow young guns Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen.
Brady and Mahomes have played against one another four times in the past. Unsurprisingly, all four games were epic. More than one of those games became instant classics.
During the 2018 regular season, Brady’s Patriots took down Mahomes’s Chiefs 43-40 on the final play in New England.
The rematch came in the AFC Title Game in Kansas City where Brady and the Patriots won an overtime thriller 37-31. The Chiefs never saw the ball in overtime.
During the 2019 regular season, the Chiefs traveled to New England, where Mahomes excelled on the winning side of a tough 23-16 victory.
More QB match-ups on the way?
The potential for these two players to meet every year seemed to dim when Brady left New England for Tampa Bay. After Super Bowl LV, even if both quarterbacks remained with the Buccaneers and Chiefs, they would not meet in a regular season game again until 2024. Their only potential rematch after this Super Bowl might be another Super Bowl.
These quarterbacks met as signal callers for their current teams in the 2020 regular season. The score of that game was close, but the game was not. The Chiefs jumped to a 17-0 lead after the first quarter and still led 27-10 after three quarters. The Buccaneers mounted a furious comeback but fell short as the Chiefs escaped with a 27-24 road win. That game moved the Chiefs to a 10-1 record and dropped the Buccaneers to 7-5, leaving them at the brink of missing the playoffs.
The Chiefs breezed through their regular season in the fall of 2020. They opened 4-0, then lost to the Raiders in Week 5 before reeling off 10 straight wins. They rested their starters in the regular season finale loss, still gaining a franchise best 14-2 record. They won their two home playoff games.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers went unbeaten down the stretch and made the playoffs as an 11-5 Wildcard before rattling off three straight playoff wins on the road. The Chiefs made winning look easy. The Buccaneers did it the hard way.
Super Bowl LV: Coaching matchup
Arians and Reid are both offensive masterminds who run offenses that put up a ton of points. Two years ago, Brady won the Super Bowl in a 13-3 slugfest that was the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever. This one could prove the highest. Defense and special teams are not an afterthought. But in the end, these teams are powered by offense.
The Chiefs did lose left tackle Eric Fisher to an Achilles injury in the AFC Title Game. But other than that both teams are pretty healthy. Fisher is a bulwark, but the Chiefs have depth.
The main issues in this upcoming NFL championship game: Speed and mobility
Both teams boast great receivers, but the Chiefs have so much speed on offense. Tyreek Hill is a threat every time he touches the ball. If he double-covered, Travis Kelce is open. Nobody has figured out how to stop the Chiefs’ offense. In their loss to Las Vegas, the Raiders simply outscored them. They did not stop them. Brady is a pocket passer. Mahomes is as mobile as it gets.
As if the Chiefs did not have enough of an unfair advantage over the rest of the league, pass-happy Walrus Andy Reid for the first time in his life actually has a running back. And Reid usually uses running backs to catch passes. Rookie Carl Edwards-Helaire is actually allowed to run the ball. Even more odd for west Coast Offense guru Reid, Edwards-Helaire is allowed to run on first down and in other running situations. Reid will still throw the ball on 3rd and 1 as well as 4th and 1. But the threat of a run upgrades his team’s offense considerably from last year’s champions.
Brady is among the best to ever play the position of quarterback. A seventh Super Bowl might end this conversation, especially for those who have never witnessed the work of Johnny Unitas or Otto Graham. Mahomes is not the best QB ever. But he is the best right now. His loss to Brady two years ago, followed by winning it all last year solidified his ability to rebound.
Place your bets…
The Chiefs have too many weapons, too much speed, and too much versatility. They can score at will. They frequently fall behind by double digits, then storm right back. Last year they were losing a playoff game 24-0, yet gained the lead by halftime.
In the talent and skill department, Mahomes is ridiculous. As great as Brady is, he cannot play defense. Until someone finds a way to stop Mahomes, the KC star deserves to be the favorite.
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers may win another Super Bowl. But not be this season. The Kansas City Chiefs will win Super Bowl LV, the COVID edition and cover the spread as well.
— Headline image: The exterior of Raymond James Stadium, in Tampa, Florida, decorated for Super Bowl LV.
Image by Doctorindy, via Wikipedia entry on Super Bowl LV. CC 4.0 international share and share alike license.
Image resized to fit CDN format