Super Bowl LV kicks off on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET, with the Kansas City Chiefs looking to defend their title against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady will be seeking his seventh ring — and first outside of New England — while Patrick Mahomes will be trying to earn his second in three seasons as the Chiefs’ starting QB. Sunday will mark the first Super Bowl between starting QBs who have previously won a Super Bowl and an MVP award.
Our NFL team has you covered with everything you’d ever want to know for Chiefs-Buccaneers, including team previews, bold predictions and game picks. We also provide betting advice from our ESPN Chalk experts, game-plan breakdowns from our analysts and in-depth statistics from our ESPN Stats & Information team. We look at the two quarterbacks, the head coaches and some X factors as well. And to wrap it up, we’ll tell you how COVID-19 protocols will impact the game Sunday.
It’s all here in a handy one-stop cheat sheet. Let’s dive in, starting with an overview of the exciting matchup.
Most of the pregame hype has focused on the two quarterbacks, and given their track records, you can understand why. When these two teams met in Week 12, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady combined to throw for 807 yards and six touchdowns. Each team’s star wide receiver had a multi-touchdown game, as Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans scored twice late after Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill racked up an unreal 269 receiving yards and three touchdowns on the way to a 27-24 Chiefs win.
It’s tough to imagine this rematch turning into a defensive battle. At the same time, as I’ve thought more and more about this game, I’ve been focused more on the defensive coordinators. Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles and Kansas City’s Steve Spagnuolo are two of the most creative, fertile minds in the business, and they’ve had two weeks to piece together creative game plans. More than anything, I’ve thought about how Bowles might try to accomplish what has seemingly been impossible. How on earth do you try to stop the Chiefs? — Bill Barnwell, senior NFL writer
What ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) says
- FPI predicts a Chiefs victory in 52.1% of its simulations by an average of 0.7 points.
- Our matchup rating grades Chiefs-Buccaneers as a 98.7 on a scale of 1 to 100. It is the second-highest Super Bowl matchup rating since 2009 behind the Seahawks-Broncos matchup in 2014 (99.6). It is also the highest-rated matchup of the 2020 season, narrowly beating out the previous Chiefs-Bucs matchup in Week 12 (98.1).
- The Chiefs were No. 1 in FPI this season, while the Buccaneers were No. 3. Both teams were also in the top five in overall efficiency rating.
- In the preseason, the Chiefs had a 36.2% chance to make the Super Bowl per FPI, but the Buccaneers were looking at an 8.9% chance.
Mahomes grateful to be playing for a winning team
Patrick Mahomes discusses how fortunate he was to land with the Chiefs and describes the COVID-19 precautions he’s taking leading up to the Super Bowl.
Who wins the game?
We asked 109 experts to weigh in on who will win.
- The Chiefs were picked by 82 of them (75.2%).
- The Buccaneers claimed 27 votes (24.8%).
Key stats to know
- The Buccaneers will be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. It will be the team’s second Super Bowl appearance, and it will mark the fifth time since 2000 that a wild card has made it. Each of the previous four teams went on to win. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are in their fourth ever appearance and are trying to become the first repeat champion since the 2003-04 Patriots.
- The Chiefs (303.4) and Bucs (289.1) finished 1-2 in passing yards per game during the regular season. Per Elias Sports Bureau research, this will be the first Super Bowl ever to feature the top two passing offenses in the NFL.
- Kansas City generated pressure on 35.8% of opponent passing plays this season, second best in the NFL, and Brady ranked 27th in QBR under pressure (10.6). Per ESPN metrics/NFL Next Gen Stats, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones had the second-best pass rush win rate as an interior rusher this season (20.3%), trailing only Aaron Donald. On the other side of the ball, Mahomes leads the NFL in QBR when pressured (75.6), but Tampa Bay’s Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett both rank top-five in pass rush win rate among edge rushers this postseason.
- During the regular season, the Buccaneers ran the ball by design 34% of the time, which ranked 26th in the NFL. They finished tied for 28th in rushing offense (94.9 yards per game). According to Elias, only one Super Bowl-winning team has averaged fewer than 95 rushing yards per game during the regular season (2011 Giants).
- The Chiefs have allowed touchdowns on 76.6% of red zone possessions, worse than any other team in the league and the worst mark by a Super Bowl team in the past 20 years. Only five other Super Bowl defenses had a red zone efficiency at or above 60%, and their collective Super Bowl records were 0-5. Tampa Bay’s Evans has nine red zone touchdown catches this season (including playoffs).
- Tampa Bay’s defense has produced seven takeaways this postseason. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting can join Rodney Harrison and Aeneas Williams as the only players to record an interception in four consecutive playoff games if he hauls one in on Sunday.
- Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (418) and Buccaneers wideout Chris Godwin (398) are first and second in receiving yards when put in motion or shifted, and they are tied for the most TDs on such plays (four).
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu will have a pair of interceptions. He played more at safety than slot corner over the second half of the season, and he has five interceptions in his past seven games, including one against Brady and the Bucs in Week 12. — Adam Teicher, Chiefs reporter
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski will catch his 13th career playoff touchdown pass from Brady, breaking a tie with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice for the most touchdowns for a duo in postseason history. Gronk hasn’t caught a touchdown pass from Brady since December, but with two weeks of prep time and so much experience between the two — plus Gronk’s 106-yard performance against the Chiefs in Week 12 — it has to happen. — Jenna Laine, Buccaneers reporter
Brady will score four touchdowns en route to winning his fifth Super Bowl MVP. Brady has accounted for four-plus scores in five games already this season but has done so in only three career playoff games (most recently in 2011). The Chiefs, meanwhile, allowed 36 touchdowns to quarterbacks during the regular season (sixth most). The Bucs have scored at least three offensive TDs in 10 consecutive games, and with Brady at the controls, they’re a decent bet to do it again Sunday. — Mike Clay, NFL analyst
Ninkovich: Mahomes has a long way to go to surpass Brady
Rob Ninkovich isn’t ready to put Patrick Mahomes in the GOAT conversation with Tom Brady.
The quarterback matchup
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
If Mahomes wins, he will be the first quarterback ever to have two championships and an MVP award at 25 years old. (He’d join Emmitt Smith as the only players to do this in NFL history.) He dazzled again this season, throwing for 4,740 yards, 38 touchdowns and six interceptions en route to an 82.9 Total QBR. Excelling on off-schedule throws and slinging the deep ball, Mahomes doesn’t have many weaknesses. And more bad news for the Bucs: He has won 12 straight road/neutral-site games and is 3-1 over the past three postseasons when trailing by 10 or more points. Even an early two-score lead for Tampa might not be enough to stop Mahomes.
Tom Brady, Buccaneers
Brady is playing in his 10th Super Bowl, which means he’ll have started in 48% of the Super Bowls played since he came into the NFL in 2000. Seeking his seventh title, the 43-year-old will be making his third Super Bowl start since turning 40 — no other QB has started even one at 40 or older. Brady has 33 career postseason wins, more than 28 active franchises, and has led six game-winning drives in the Super Bowl over his career, per Elias. This season, his first away from New England, he tallied 4,633 passing yards, 40 touchdown throws, 12 interceptions and a 72.6 Total QBR. His 13 TDs on throws at least 20 yards downfield are his most in a season since throwing 13 in his 2007 MVP campaign.
Read more: Let’s stop the Brady-Belichick debate and just appreciate what Brady did this season … Brady’s 10 Super Bowl paths from easiest to toughest … Mahomes vs. Brady: A clash of eras … Mahomes could join select club of QBs to top Brady in Super Bowl … Even Brady has limits — and embracing them is what got him here … Round 5 of Mahomes vs. Brady
Who wins Super Bowl MVP?
Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Brady. I think the Chiefs’ offensive line issues show up just enough to make a difference in this game, which I still expect to be high scoring. The Bucs’ offense is operating at a high level right now, and Brady will make enough plays down the field to win his seventh Super Bowl title.
Mina Kimes, NFL analyst: Mahomes. Yes, he is fortunate to play with arguably the best combination of head coach, No. 1 wide receiver and tight end in the NFL — but he is also playing behind a ramshackle offensive line that will be facing a fearsome Bucs pass rush. He’s going to have to make some dazzling plays on the run to pull off the win.
Jason Reid, The Undefeated writer: Mahomes. While sharing the game’s biggest stage with the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Mahomes will shut the door on one era and add a big accomplishment to his own.
Seth Wickersham, NFL writer: Pierre-Paul. Bowles’ strength as a defensive coach is attacking the opponent’s offensive line, and the Chiefs are thin there. JPP will have a monster game.
Field Yates, NFL analyst: Mahomes. The Bucs are going to be able to hang offensively with Kansas City, which means Mahomes needs to be at his best. And while he won the Super Bowl MVP award last year, his performance wasn’t eye-popping, and I expect a stronger showing this Sunday.
- Of the 109 experts who weighed in, 62 picked Mahomes to win Super Bowl MVP. See all of our experts’ picks.
- Mahomes is the betting favorite at -120 at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. Brady is 9-5, while Hill and Kelce at 9-1.
Inside the game plan
I’m keeping my eye on how Buccaneers edge rushers Pierre-Paul and Barrett match up with the Chiefs’ offensive line. With the expectation that the Bucs will play more split-safety coverages on Sunday night to limit the deep-ball ability of Hill, our focus should be on the Tampa Bay defensive line. Look for Bowles to scheme isolation matchups with his front four, creating edge one-on-ones for Pierre-Paul and Barrett versus that depleted Chiefs offensive line. The idea here is to squeeze the pocket and pressure Mahomes while playing disciplined zone coverage on the back end. — Matt Bowen, NFL analyst
Buccaneers X factor: Devin White, LB
White recorded the second-highest pass rush win rate among off-ball linebackers this season (36%), behind only Deion Jones. But in coverage, there are questions. In the regular season, White allowed the third-most expected points added as the nearest defender to the target of all linebackers, per NFL Next Gen Stats. — Seth Walder, analytics writer
Chiefs X factor: Andrew Wylie, OL
He’s expected to shift over to right tackle with Mike Remmers moving to the left side following Eric Fisher‘s injury. And Wylie draws a crucial matchup on the outside, squaring off against Barrett, who ranked 10th in pass rush win rate at edge this season and has played more on that side of the line since the Bucs’ bye week. Wylie ranked 16th among guards in pass block win rate, but it’s a different game outside, especially against a high-end pass rusher. — Walder
How do the Chiefs plan to defend against Brady, Bucs?
Dianna Russini details the Chiefs’ game plan to pressure and confuse Tom Brady.
How to bet Super Bowl LV
Total passing yards for Mahomes: Over/under 315.5
Total passing yards for Brady: Over/under 295.5
Total sacks by both teams: Over/under 4
Total touchdowns in the game: Over/under 6.5
Favorites have covered in two straight Super Bowls and in three of the past four big games. In Super Bowl history, favorites are 27-25-2 straight up. And in each of the past 11 seasons, the winner has also covered the spread. Mahomes is 27-13-1 against the spread when he is not a double-digit favorite, but Brady is 41-17-1 against the spread as an underdog in his career, both best in the Super Bowl era.
Looking at the over/under, the past two Super Bowls fell short of the total, but it’s 10-10 over the past 20 games. All time, it’s also split at 26-26-1 (there was no total in Super Bowl I). — David Bearman, ESPN Chalk
Who is in, and who is out?
Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins is optimistic that he will be able to play for the first time since Week 16 because of a calf injury, though he began the practice week on Wednesday as a limited participant. Running back Le’Veon Bell‘s sore knee makes his availability in doubt, though he has slipped down the depth chart and doesn’t figure to get a big workload even if he plays. — Teicher
Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle), receiver Antonio Brown (knee), safety Jordan Whitehead (shoulder) and linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring) have been practicing this week, but on a limited basis. With Winfield and Brown, the issue is monitoring swelling, while with Whitehead, it’s more about the use of his arm. David suffered his injury in the third quarter against the Packers and played through it, so there seems to be less concern about him. — Laine
Andy Reid, Chiefs
Reid ranks fifth on the all-time wins list for head coaches, but he’s the only one in the top five without multiple championships. Sunday will mark his third Super Bowl appearance as a head coach (1-1). The Chiefs have averaged 27.2 points per game since he took over in 2013, the best mark in the AFC and second only to the Saints (28.0) in the NFL over that time.
Bruce Arians, Buccaneers
Per Elias, Arians will be the second-oldest head coach to reach the Super Bowl (behind Marv Levy). It’s his second year as the coach of the Buccaneers after coming out of retirement in 2019. He has two Super Bowl titles as an assistant but has never won the big game as a head coach.
Read more: Fortune favors the bold for Arians … Success, trust and burnt ends: Why everyone loves Reid … Why the Bucs were the only team that could get Arians back to coaching … Brady says everybody wants to win for Arians
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Mike Greenberg, Ryan Clark and Domonique Foxworth break down whether Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes is the best Super Bowl matchup of all time.
How the Chiefs, Bucs got here
The Chiefs entered the 2020 season hot off a Super Bowl win and continued that momentum right out of the gate, winning 34-20 over Houston on opening night. They had to survive an overtime scare with the Chargers in Week 2 but moved swiftly to 4-0 to start the season. In mid-October, the Chiefs suffered their first loss of the season, giving up 40 points to the Raiders. Kansas City rattled off 10 straight wins from there before sitting starters in a Week 17 loss, having already wrapped up the AFC West and the No. 1 seed in the conference. The 14-2 Chiefs held off the Browns in the divisional round of the playoffs after Mahomes left the game, and then dismissed the Bills in the conference championship behind 172 receiving yards from Hill.
The Bucs’ season began in the loss column, but they’d quickly right the ship after the Week 1 loss to the Saints and win seven of their next eight. A midseason stumble included a blowout by New Orleans (38-3), a close defeat to the Rams and that Week 12 loss to the Chiefs. But the Week 13 bye served its purpose, and the Buccaneers closed the season with four wins to lock up the No. 5 seed in the NFC and an 11-5 record. In the playoffs, Brady led Tampa Bay past Washington with 381 passing yards, then outdueled Drew Brees in the divisional round. And though Brady threw three interceptions against the Packers in the conference championship game, Tampa Bay won and reached the Super Bowl.
The Week 12 matchup: The Chiefs beat the Bucs earlier this season 27-24. This will be the 14th Super Bowl in which the teams also met in the regular season. The regular-season winner won seven of the previous 13 instances. In Week 12, Hill had 13 receptions for 269 yards and 3 TDs. The two teams combined for 807 passing yards, but neither reached 100 rushing yards.
What to know about the officiating
Referee Carl Cheffers will be working his second Super Bowl in five seasons, with an all-star crew that includes the first woman — down judge Sarah Thomas — to work the game. Cheffers’ regular-season crew averaged an NFL-high 16 flags per game in 2020, a notable position given the leaguewide drop in penalties. He and his crew will take the field amid extreme scrutiny of the NFL officiating department following the championship round. (There were only six flags thrown in the NFC Championship Game, while the NFL’s replay department reviewed and reversed an unreviewable play in the AFC Championship Game.) — Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer
COVID-19 protocols in place
How is the NFL approaching the game?
The NFL has mandated that Chiefs and Buccaneers players must be tested twice daily for COVID-19 leading up to the Super Bowl. Any player who tests positive for the coronavirus will be ruled out for the game. But if a player is placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and hasn’t tested positive — deemed a high-risk/close contact, as was the case with Demarcus Robinson and Daniel Kilgore of the Chiefs — they have a chance to play if they continue to test negative. Both teams are working overtime to get to the season’s finish line, with the Chiefs implementing a facility- and home-only policy. — Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer
Will there be fans?
The NFL announced updated plans this week to have 25,000 fans at Raymond James Stadium, where the normal capacity is 65,000. Of that total, 7,500 will be made up of vaccinated health workers who have received free tickets from the league. Most will be from the Tampa Bay area, but each of the league’s 32 teams received an allotment for local awards. All fans will be required to wear masks, sit in pods that leave extra seats between unaffiliated parties and follow other COVID-19 protocols. — Seifert
Read more: NFL testing twice daily for COVID-19 ahead of Super Bowl … How the NFL navigated COVID-19 this season … Tampa mayor issues outdoor mask order for Super Bowl … Chiefs place Robinson, Kilgore on reserve/COVID-19 list … Fauci warns against Super Bowl parties … No COVID-19 scenario where Super Bowl LV would be moved … Chiefs’ barber tests positive amid haircuts, sources say