Super Bowl LV: where will the battle for the Lombardi Trophy be won?
With history on the line for Tom Brady's Buccaneers and Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs, we look at where Super Bowl LV will be won.
Just two days from now, a significantly reduced number of flashbulbs will fly and the talking will stop with the opening kick-off of Super Bowl LV.
One way or another, history will be made, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking to become the first team to win the Super Bowl at their home stadium and the Kansas City Chiefs out to retain the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Should the latter succeed, Patrick Mahomes will not only deny Tom Brady a record-extending seventh Super Bowl triumph but he will also break his counterpart's record as the youngest starting quarterback to win multiple titles. Brady won his second at 26, Mahomes does not turn 26 until September.
But which areas of the game will have the biggest impact on who is celebrating making history once the dust settles on a unique NFL season?
Here, using Stats Perform data, we look at where the game could be won.
Explosive plays potentially decisive
The Chiefs have established themselves as the most devastating offensive team in the NFL. Drawing comparisons to the NBA's Golden State Warriors at the peak of their powers, the Chiefs' ability to score deluges of points helps them put games to bed in a hurry.
Tampa Bay learned that the hard way in the regular-season meeting between these two teams back in Week 12 when the Chiefs surged into a 17-0 lead en route to a 27-24 win.
Mahomes had 229 passing yards in the first quarter while Tyreek Hill had 203 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the same period.
Tyreek Hill ranked 1st in average top speed within one second of the snap on all four of the primary field-stretching routes among the top 64 receivers by volume per route type.#SBLV | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/ebmYI1kZRm— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) February 3, 2021
The Buccaneers simply cannot afford to have the Chiefs get such a jump on them this time around and, if they are to successfully go toe to toe with the champions, they will need to maintain their tendency for quick strikes.
Nine of Tampa's 10 touchdown drives in the postseason have been under four minutes. In the regular season, they had 41 touchdown drives lasting fewer than four minutes and nine in which they scored in under 30 seconds, no other team had more than five.
Combining the regular season and the postseason, the Bucs lead the NFL with 90 plays of 20 yards or more compared to 88 for the Chiefs. However, the Chiefs led the way in the regular season with 79, while their 17 offensive touchdowns of 20 yards or more were tied with the Las Vegas Raiders for most in the NFL.
Whoever hits on the most explosive plays this time around will likely be lifting the trophy.
Can Bucs get home with four?
Given what Hill did to the Buccaneers' defense in the regular-season meeting, the Bucs may well largely avoid blitzing Patrick Mahomes in order to devote as many players to coverage as possible.
Thankfully that plays to the strength of their outstanding defensive line, which has done an excellent job of getting to the quarterback with only four pass rushers.
Indeed, in the postseason, the 51 pass plays on which the Buccaneers have blitzed have delivered two sacks and one interception.
The 83 plays where they have not blitzed have resulted in five sacks and four interceptions.
Edge rushers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are tied for the most pressures in the playoffs with 15 apiece. If they can get after Mahomes without blitzing and the seven defenders playing coverage can keep Hill and Travis Kelce relatively in check, the Bucs will be well-placed for victory.
Will 'Playoff Lenny' deliver again?
For all the hype around their remarkable offense, the Chiefs' defense remains underrated.
It was pivotal in closing out the Super Bowl LIV win over the San Francisco 49ers and the numbers suggest it has a strong chance of frustrating Brady.
Brady has a potent group of wide receivers to target, but the Chiefs have been one of the best teams in the league at defending wideouts.
They allowed 178 receptions to opposing receivers in 2020, giving up an average of 140.3 yards per game, putting the Chiefs second in the NFL in each of those areas.
Kansas City conceded 15 receiving touchdowns to wideouts, the Chiefs ranking tied-ninth in that category.
In the playoffs, the Chiefs are allowing just 4.78 yards per pass but have been much more susceptible to the run, opponents gaining 6.03 yards per rush.
The Bucs could, therefore, have to look to their running game, led by Leonard Fournette, to have success on offense.
Earning the moniker 'Playoff Lenny', Fournette has enjoyed a stunning postseason. After averaging 46.2 yards from scrimmage in the regular season, he is putting up 104.3 yards from scrimmage per game in the playoffs.
The run game might not be the first thing that comes to mind when looking at how to beat the Chiefs but, should Kansas City keep the receivers under wraps, the Bucs might have to turn to it.
Bucs must stand tall in the red zone
Regardless of what the Buccaneers do on offense, they will likely be fighting an uphill battle if they cannot end their recent struggles making red-zone stops.
In their last six games, the Buccaneers have allowed scores on all 19 of their opponents' drives inside the 20-yard line (12 touchdowns and seven field goals).
Looking solely at their three postseason games, the Bucs have given up scores on all 10 red-zone drives, with the breakdown of those a little more even with six touchdowns and four field goals.
Keeping the Chiefs to the latter will be crucial but that is easier said than done.
The Chiefs scored touchdowns on 57.8 per cent of their red-zone possessions in the regular season. That number ranked 16th in the NFL but it has ballooned to 73.1 in the playoffs as they have scored touchdowns on 19 of 26 trips inside the 20.
Kansas City turned a potentially mouth-watering AFC Championship Game with the Buffalo Bills into a mismatch by scoring on five of their six red-zone possessions, only failing to score on the final one because Mahomes took a knee to run out the clock.
If the Bucs cannot stop the Chiefs from being similarly clinical on Sunday, the Lombardi Trophy will again be making the journey back to Arrowhead Stadium.
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