After suffering their first losses of the season in week 3, the two participants from Super Bowl 55 are looking to get back on track as they march ahead with the hope of another appearance in the big game. The Chiefs were stunned by a Colts team that had done nothing but disappoint for two weeks, and the Bucs’ comeback came up just short as they took a home loss against the Packers. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some predictions for Sunday Night Football, where one of either team could get back on track, or drop to a disappointing 2-2.
Chiefs Vs. Bucs Betting Odds
The Bucs are installed as a home underdog, as the Chiefs are favored by 2.5 points. Meanwhile the points total is set at 45, usually a bit low for a Brady-Mahomes showdown but given the inconsistent Chiefs offense, the depressing one on Tampa’s side, and the sheer dominance of the Bucs defense so far, it seems like a pretty good number
Chiefs Vs. Bucs Prediction
When Mahomes and Brady first met during the former’s breakout 2018 sophomore season, it felt like the transition between one era and the next- Brady was “passing the torch” to Mahomes as he rode into the sunset. Well, it’s proven to have been less of that, and more of the budding of one of the NFL’s premier player-to-player rivalries, as they’ve clashed for a handful of years since then, and provided us with two iconic postseason matchups along the way. Both have a ton of potential to be great again this year, but if they’re going to meet again in February, the two sides each have a lot to figure out.
In Tampa, it’s an ultra-rare problem, when it comes to Tom Brady teams, of how to get the passing game going. The simple answer could be more health, with Chris Godwin in and out of the lineup and the o-line relatively decimated. But of course, that’s not something you can fix with x’s and o’s, it just has to happen, and the Bucs don’t have the luxury of waiting. They’re going to have to find a way to scheme around their injury-caused deficiencies, and it falls on the shoulders of new head coach Todd Bowles, and perhaps more relevantly, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
In Kansas City, it’s a similar question, albeit under different circumstances; how can the passing game thrive in the absence of Tyreek Hill? It’s not that the KC air game has been bad by any means- it was on full display on opening day against a hapless Cardinals defense. But without Hill, it loses some of that gamebreaking, rabbit-out-of-the-hat magic that made it so special throughout the earlier years of the Mahomes era. This missing piece has also been on display this season, most notably during a shocking defeat to the Colts, where the Chiefs failed to seal a game, the likes of which it felt like we had seen them close securely so many times before.
To me, the huge catalyst in this game is Mike Evans coming back from his suspension. The Tampa defense has been downright outstanding, and will be by far the toughest test for the post-Tyreek Chiefs; I’m not so sure they pass with flying colors, at least not right away. This will put them in a hole, one that the Bucs will be able to take much more advantage of with a veritable star wide receiver. I have Tampa covering the spread, and in fact, winning outright. I also have the under, as I think the Bucs offense is still ramping up, and their defense will be able to hold the Chiefs in check. Nobody’s ever gotten rich betting against Tom Brady.
Chiefs Injuries: Trent McDuffie (Out), Harrison Butker (Q)
Bucs Injuries: Chris Godwin (Q), Ryan Jensen (Out), Donovan Smith (Q)
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Chiefs vs Buccaneers below.
Bucs Passing Game vs. Chiefs Pass Defense
The key to limiting Tom Brady is to pressure him, particularly from the inside, and the Chiefs so far are between top-10 and league average in pressuring opposing passers, according to PFF. Chris Jones has been absolutely outstanding for KC in pass rush, and could be the key to making life hard for #12- he certainly has done so in the past. Michael Danna has been solid off the edge in limited snaps, and rookie George Karlaftis has shown the potential to be a great contributor. In terms of limiting Evans and co, Jaylen Watson has been the Chiefs’ best CB by a good bit, and he’s been more solid than excellent.
In terms of that banged-up Bucs o-line, it’s mostly been what you could expect- Tristan Wirfs has been great, Shaq Mason has been fine, and everyone else is a mess. The problem with this is that while Tom Brady has generally been excellent- ranking in the top 5 for PFF passing grade, and the bottom 5 for turnover worthy play percentage- he’s starting to show his age in terms of pressure avoidance. Over 28% of the pressures on Tom have turned into sacks; only 3 full-time starting QBs so far have a worse total, not a great trend for playing behind a makeshift o-line. The receiving group for Tampa has been a mixed bag. Mike Evans is always outstanding, having him back will be absolutely enormous in this matchup. Chris Godwin is still a huge loss, which could be mitigated by the likes of Russell Gage and Breshad Perriman, who have been fine but need to limit their fumbling, and Julio Jones getting involved.
Bucs Pass Defense vs. Chiefs Passing Game
In an absolute stunner, I’m seeing this chapter of Brady-Mahomes as being defined by who will be able to pass the ball effectively, and who will be limited. So far, per PFF, the Bucs are below average at pressuring the QB, but the 2nd best coverage unit in the game. This success against the pass has been led by Jamel Dean, Mike Edwards, and Lavonte David, all of whom have been excellent in providing solid coverage at different levels, and Antoine Winfield has been his usual, generally effective self.
Pressuring Mahomes will be a challenge, however, as nobody other than Shaq Barrett and Vita Vea have done any of that, and both have been at a solid level rather than an elite one. Tampa will need more in this regard from second-year linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. If they can’t make Mahomes uncomfortable behind the line of scrimmage, he will tear the secondary apart, no matter how solid it has been so far.
Chiefs still have a top-10 receiving grade from PFF without Tyreek Hill, of course still anchored by superstar tight end Travis Kelce, but their pass blocking has been just average. Creed Humphrey has continued to be one of the best centers in the game and Joe Thuney’s strong performance at guard has been vital, but Orlando Brown Jr. has not been nearly as sharp in year 2 in KC, and Andrew Wylie is once again the picture of mediocrity. All four will need to be on their game in order to give Mahomes the chance he needs to slice and dice Tampa’s elite secondary.