Nothing about the build up to this Super Bowl is familiar. The Kansas City Chiefs, due to COVID-19 protocols, won’t be allowed to arrive in Tampa until two days before the game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will already be at home. The usual pre-game build up full of parties, crowds swarming team hotels and the media day won’t take place. 22,000 fans are permitted to attend the game at Raymond James Stadium. To honor healthcare workers during the pandemic, fittingly the NFL has invited 7,500 vaccinated health care workers to the game with all expense paid trips. Change and diversity will be reflected on the field. For the first time a female referee, Sarah Thomas, will be involved in a Super Bowl. Poet laureate Amanda Gorman, fresh from her remarkable reading at the Presidential Inauguration, will be the first poet to take center stage on pro football’s biggest day. Tampa Bay has two full time coaches who are female - Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar. Head coach Bruce Arians deserves credit for pursuing a culture that champions diversity. At a time when the annual recriminations are underway for the lack of minority new head coaches, the Bucs can point to having Black coordinators for all the major coaching position groups. I’ll break down some of the key Super Bowl talking points, before providing an update on exciting free agent news. Clash of the Balanced, Offensive Juggernauts The NFL has got a salivating tie between its greatest quarterback and his presumed heir apparent. If there’s one person who has an outside chance dominating the league over the next 15 years like Tom Brady has done, and winning a sackful of Super Bowl’s, Patrick Mahomes is that guy. Each team is well balanced and has impressively dispatched playoff opponents. The Buccaneers have won three straight on the road and hope to be the first team since the Green Bay Packers in 2010 to win three straight playoff road games on the way to a Super Bowl. Tampa Bay’s offensive line has to keep Brady clean. The Bucs have the one offense that could keep apace with the Chiefs in a shootout. Brady’s chemistry with wide receiver Mike Evans has been integral to their successful season. In the NFC Championship game, Chris Godwin soared and was a major contributor. Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s comfort blanket from the Patriots, although on his last legs, is still capable of making a play with the game on the line.
The blueprint that the San Francisco 49ers followed beautifully for three quarters against Kansas City in last year's Super Bowl bears repeating: if you can contain them offensively and are getting enough from the run or pass game to score touchdowns, you have a fighting chance. The Bucs plan to give Tom Brady the ball with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, is predicated on getting pressure on Patrick Mahomes, and investing more in the ground game over the obvious strength of their pass game. The Chiefs are susceptible to the run. As important to Tampa’s game plan is if the battered Chiefs offensive line can withstand the Bucs defensive front, which exposed the Packers and sacked Aaron Rodgers numerous times. If Mahomes has enough time, he will dismantle Tampa’s secondary and pile up the points.
In the past six games, the Buccaneers have scored at least 30 points and averaged 35.7 in that time. That puts them in a position to keep up with Kansas City. Todd Bowles, the Bucs defensive coordinator, used to coach under Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and we can expect an aggressive game plan from Bowles for the Chiefs. Around the NFL Trade News
Matthew Stafford to the Rams trade: The Los Angeles Rams picked up the best quarterback free agent - the Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford - off the trade bloc to give their Super Bowl aspirations over the new few seasons a major boost. In the process, the Rams off-loaded the expensive and erratic quarterback, Jared Goff, with whom they were increasingly at odds. Goff is a former number one overall pick, who played in the Super Bowl two years ago with the Rams. He’ll trade seats with Stafford in Detroit. The Lions have pocketed a package of trades in addition to Goff. On paper, the Rams are in a win-now, mortgaged to the hilt window, and betting that pairing Stafford with head coach Sean McVay’s play-calling smarts, and their great defense, they can win it all. A typically aggressive move from L.A. which I like for Stafford and his new team.
Houston Has a Deshaun Watson Problem: Some franchises seem to attract trouble. Like star players around the NFL before him, Jalen Ramsey and Jamal Adams, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is fed up and has put himself up for a trade. The dysfunctional Texans front office, with a new general manager and head coach only just in the building, is in a complete tailspin. A team, such as the New York Jets or the Miami Dolphins, offering a truckload of first and additional round picks represent the likely landing spots. Watson is a top five quarterback, and at 25 years old would be worth it as generational talent. He was an integral leader in the Black players video that brought Roger Goodell and the NFL to the table in the summer, and is loved by the fans. Go get him.
Glory Beckons in Tampa
“Unique times, but I’m extremely proud of the NFL and how they’ve handled it, tried to take a positive road and to be an example to the rest of the country on possibly how to do this thing. Life can go on in a positive way and we will conquer this thing. And the doctors that have been involved have just been phenomenal and the job that they’ve done.” Andy Reid, head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs’, is a decent man and his perspective on how the league has worked through the process of delivering football during a pandemic is both moving and uplifting. For the Bucs to win, Brady will need to be more restrained than in the NFC Championship Game. Throwing three interceptions against Kansas City will be fatal. I talked about Tampa playing the ideal game to get them in position in the fourth quarter. I can see the running game under Leonard Fournette and Roland Jones flourishing and causing the Chiefs problems. But when it comes down to it, I have too much faith in Mahomes and his chief offensive lieutenants, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The damage they inflict in seconds is enough to swing a game and destroy opposition chances. Defenses have to be lucky all the time. Kansas City’s offense only has to be lucky once. I backed them from the outset and I’m not budging now. This extraordinary, unprecedented season-for-the-ages is down to one game. That it is Brady v Mahomes at the final hurdle seems wholly appropriate.