(Check back later, as Austin will share his favorite props for Sunday's game. Also follow Austin on Twitter @AMontgomeryLive)
Where did the time go, it’s finally Super Bowl Week. We are writing the column for the final time today. We handicapped the whole regular season, the playoffs, and we are finally here to give my final ATS pick for the Super Bowl. It’s been a wild first year with really great highs and some lows. Now, we are hoping to end the season with a bang!
We have one hell of a Super Bowl matchup between the Chiefs and the Buccaneers. It’s the GOAT Tom Brady, vs the possible future GOAT Patrick Mahomes. Will we see Brady get his 7th Super Bowl ring, or will the Chiefs be the first team to win back to back Super Bowls since young Tom Brady did it in the early 2000’s? Also the Bucs are the first team in Super Bowl history to host the Super Bowl. But with a limited number of fans we will still have a limited boost for home field advantage.
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Before we get to the breakdown, let's look at the full list of injury concerns.
Safeties: Jordan Whitehead and Antione Winfield expected to play, but both were limited in practice throughout the week.
Antonio Brown: Expected to play, did not practice during the bye. Had first full participation practice on Thursday.
Vita Vea: Played over 20 snaps against the Packers after coming back from a broken ankle. Expect to play 35-45 defensive snaps Sunday. Huge boost for the Bucs d-line.
Lavonte David: The SAM linebacker was dealing with a hamstring injury throughout the week. Said in the press conference he was good to go. Something to watch out for.
Eric Fisher: Starting left tackle is out with an Achilles injury.
Patrick Mahomes: Turf Toe, mentioned in a press conference that it was feeling a lot better with a week to heal. Mahomes should have more of his mobility back.
Sammy Watkins: Limited participation in practice throughout the week with calf. Le'veon Bell: Limited participant in practice, game time decision.
Mike Remmers: Offensive lineman will play. He was a full participant all week.
An opening thought on the game itself
Before I begin this article I should mention I am holding a 33/1 Super Bowl ticket on the Buccaneers heading into this game. You can call me stupid, but your boy is not going to hedge, cause hedging is for... well, ya know. And I really like the Bucs in this spot. We broke down this game when both teams played in Week 12. We were able to cash in with a Bucs +3.5 ticket.
The Buccaneers have improved significantly since the first matchup with the Chiefs. The Tampa defense has gotten healthier with the return of Vita Vea. Linebacker Devin White has improved in coverage. Bryon Leftwich has become a better play caller implementing more play action with Tom Brady. "Playoff Lenny" (Leonard Fournette) has become a factor to give the Buccaneers a threat in the run game. Overall the chemistry has started to mold a bit.
On other hand, the Chiefs have not looked great until their blowout win against the Bills. It was their first cover in over 11 games. Now they will have to play with two starting tackles out on the offensive line.
When the Chiefs have the ball:
I have watched the first game back about two to three times. The Chiefs were able to jump out to a big lead due to the over aggressiveness of Tampa defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and the Bucs simply were not prepared for the Chiefs speed. In this game, the Bucs secondary is simply going to be more prepared. The question really comes down to how healthy the safeties are. Will the Bucs linebackers be disciplined in play action? The Bucs have a high flying, reactionary defense, they are No. 1 against the run and lead the league in tackles behind the line of scrimmage. However, the Bucs are the worst team in the NFL against play action (62 percent success rate), and they have been vulnerable defending screens. The Chiefs were able to exploit both of those weaknesses. In this game, I don’t see the Chiefs having much of a threat running the ball. Missing both of their tackles, the addition of Vita Vea on the d-line, the Bucs should effortlessly control the line of scrimmage. Maybe it will help the Bucs linebackers from being undisciplined.
Knowing this I really think the Chiefs offense is going to try to turn this into a 7 on 7 track meet. The Chiefs have the top ranked pass DVOA in the NFL, they rank second in the NFL in explosive passing success rate, and they are facing a Tampa defense that ranks 21st against the pass. That's where the battle of the coaches Todd Bowles vs Andy Reid comes in. Tyreek Hill destroyed the Bucs on long over routes where he lined up as the No. 3 receiver. He would out run the slot corner and was able to cross the safeties face with ease. The emphasis will fall on the Bucs d-line to destroy the timing of KC offense. We saw this happen through the first three quarters of last year's Super Bowl, where the 49ers were able to get pressure with four. I know the Bucs d-line doesn’t have the same amount of talent or depth as the 49ers last year, but they are still pretty damn good. The Bucs ends against the Chiefs backup tackles is by far the most significant matchup edge in this game.
Offensively for the Chiefs, Tyreek Hill is the biggest problem for the Bucs. They really don’t have anyone who can guard him, and the Bucs love to play man coverage. So that’s kind of a problem. In the last matchup Hill went bonkers securing 15 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns. However, in the Week 12 matchup, Bucs starting corner Jamal Dean was not in the lineup. Dean has been statistically the best of the Tampa Bay cornerbacks this season: He allows just 5.8 yards per pass which ranks sixth and a 56 percent success rate ranks 16th in the NFL. Dean is faster than Davis and might be a better option to cover Hill. I’m not saying Dean is going to shut down Hill, but he offers a much better matchup, and gives the Buccaneers a small shot in covering Hill.
Even when the Bucs put a safety over Hill, they weren’t able to keep him in front of them. If the Bucs tried to sell out to get pressure on Mahomes, I fully expect Hill to beat one on one coverage. Out of all the coaching circumstances in this game, I am really curious how the Buccaneers will handle Tyreek.
When the Bucs have the ball:
You can make an argument the Chiefs defense was the unit that won the Super Bowl for Kansas City last year, allowing the 49ers to get one first down in the 4th quarter. However, it's going to be a lot harder stopping Tom Brady and the Bucs offense than it was Jimmy Garropolo a year ago. The Buccaneers offense ranks third in DVOA and second in points per game. They have an explosive passing game complemented by a newfound dynamic running game with emergence of Playoff Lenny. To my surprise, the Bills did not even attempt to run the ball on the Chiefs 31st ranked run defense. The Bucs offense has evolved since Leonard Fourtnette has become the feature back. Fournette has had 300 total yards in three playoff games, and he can really help this offense be efficient. The Buccaneers struggle when they fail to stay ahead of the chains.
The Buccaneers will be able to move the ball consistently on a Chiefs defense that allows a 54 percent success rate on first down runs. This is important because the Buccaneers run the ball on virtually every first down. But the Bucs offense comes down to Tom Brady. In their last matchup the Buccaneers matched the Chiefs play by play production averaging 7.6 yards per snap. However, Brady threw two disastrous interceptions in the red zone. Brady has to be careful with the football against this Chiefs secondary that has the sixth most interceptions in the NFL. The Chiefs rank dead last in red zone touchdown percentage on the defensive end, and the Bucs need to turn every red zone opportunity into touchdowns against the Chiefs.
The matchup to watch will be Tampa's passing offense against the Chiefs passing defense. After struggling during the back half of the regular season, the Chiefs secondary has flipped a switch during the playoffs. They are coming off two fantastic games where they have made two of the more explosive passing offenses look pedestrian. They will have to continue that performance against a Tampa offense that has been rolling since Week 11 bye. The main reason for the Bucs new found explosiveness is their use of motion that has increased 56 percent from the first 10 weeks of the season. The Chiefs defense loves to play man coverage with two safeties over the top. The Chiefs played man coverage on 40 percent of snaps this season. They have been able to lockdown opposing receivers. However, they will have to face what is arguably the deepest and most talented receiving core in football. Watching these two units go out will be fun to watch.
Battle in the trenches:
The old adage, games are won at the line of scrimmage will be true here, and this may be the advantage the Bucs have on offense. Tampa Bay is a strong run-blocking line. They ranked ninth in adjusted line yards on offense, while Kansas City was just 25th on defense. Chiefs interior line star Chris Jones will have a chance to earn his contract in one game, as Brady's QBR drops an astounding 35 points when he is facing pressure up the middle. Jones' ability to bull rush is the main key to the Chiefs' defense's success. The Bucs Ryan Jensen is a Pro Bowl level center, so it won’t be a cake walk for Jones. If the Bucs double team Jones on the inside, it is going to leave one on one opportunities for defensive end Frank Clark on the outside. We know the script, if Brady is able to stay clean, the Bucs will shred the Kansas City defense to pieces. Chris Jones and Frank Clark are the keys for Kansas City winning another ring.
It is hard to go against the recent championship pedigree of the Chiefs. It looked like they had returned to their championship form in the AFC Championship Game. However, there are too many matchup advantages for Tampa here. If I liked Tampa in Week 12, I have to take them here too. The availability of Jamal Dean and Vita Vea are an underrated boost for this Tampa team. After winning six championships, Tom Brady should not be an underdog in the Super Bowl regardless of the circumstances. I’m going to trust the GOAT to get his seventh ring to continue to add on to his majestic legacy.
The pick: Bucs +3.5
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