From a pigskin nerd’s POV, the National Football League has gotten 100 times more interesting over the past few years. NFL coaches are breaking with decades upon decades of tradition. Taboos have been debunked, starting with “Lamar Jackson can’t run that college stuff in the pros” and (hopefully not) ending with the new predilection for trying to move the sticks or score points on 4th down.
Baltimore is among dozens of franchises which are exploring new concepts. Miami and Jacksonville have undergone “NBA-style” overhauls that include the unfortunate tactic of tanking in Year 1. Half of the NFC West is manned by sub-6″ starting QBs of the sort it was said could never flourish in the league. San Francisco nearly won 2 playoff games and a Super Bowl in 2019-20 by hardly throwing a pass. Read-Option skills and pure track speed are now legit scouting points on NFL passers, not “he’ll just get hurt” detriments to be waved-off with a chuckle.
But if everyone adopted a new style, there wouldn’t be a neato contrast between old-school Super Bowl contenders and the new school.
That’s where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come in. The NFC’s berth in Super Bowl 55 is owned by a club that gets it done the old-fashioned way. Big, stubborn defense. Big, fast, tough wide receivers. The “biggest” name of all at QB in zillion-time Super Bowl vet Tom Brady.
It’s a back-to-the-future season in Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay HC Bruce Arians has been portrayed as a guru of offense. That’s perhaps true when it comes to strategizing and calling plays, but not from a personnel POV. Arians has stacked the Buccaneers’ defense with an outstanding front-7 led by Ndamukong Suh, keeping every game close while Brady’s opportunistic unit takes full advantage of short fields and opposing turnovers.
Pat Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs had to survive a close call vs the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional Round just to get to defend the NFL crown as reigning Super Bowl 54 champs. But the gambling public is not convinced that Kansas City will make the same mistakes as other Tampa Bay Buccaneers opponents in the 2020-21 postseason have made, and so the Chiefs are a (-3) point spread favorite for a Super Bowl 55 match-up with a sky-high (56) Over/Under total.
2021 Super Bowl Odds: Not So Different Than Last Time
Super Bowl 55 may be unique due to its restricted COVID-era attendance, and the Buccaneers becoming the maiden club to ever host an NFL title scrum as a participant. However, this February’s Super Bowl odds don’t appear to be much different than last year’s Super Bowl odds and spreads, at least not in the game’s main markets.
Kansas City was a (-1.5) favorite over San Francisco (prior to winning a Lombardi Trophy) last season, and is a FG favorite over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Moneylines – the actual “Super Bowl odds” and not simply “numbers” with 10% vigs attached – stand with Mahomes and KC about a (-170) favorite.
We’ve talked about some of Tampa Bay’s strengths already, and it’s customary to examine both clubs equally prior to making championship-game predictions. Tom Brady will dominate TV punditry this weekend to the point where the contest should be renamed Super Bowl 43…Years Old. But when you apply Joel Buschbaum’s tactic for handicapping the Greatest Show on Earth, and try to imagine the outcome if both teams play a perfect game, a different picture begins to take shape.
I’ve got a mind that Kansas City, not Tampa, is the key to handicapping this year’s Super Bowl odds, especially in light of the Chiefs’ injury problems at QB and on the offensive line.
Mahomes, Fisher, and How Wounded KC Crushed Buffalo
Home field advantage will not be a big deal for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55. We’ve learned in 2020-21 that crowd noise is the most-important factor among the reasons why home teams win more often, and not only will there be a limit of about 15,000 partisan fans at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, but approximately half of that number will be there to support KC. All told, the Chiefs are just as happy to play in any warm outdoor setting compared to a Missouri winter.
Kansas City’s recent injuries could be a big deal, though. Mahomes labored to run against Cleveland in the divisional playoffs, and suffered a mild concussion in the 2nd half that could have sunk the Chiefs’ chances to repeat right then and there. Courageously, the 2019 NFL MVP returned to help dismiss Buffalo 38-24 in the AFC Championship Game. But decorated O-lineman Eric Fisher will not recover from an injury suffered vs the Bills in time for Super Bowl Sunday.
Mahomes is among the new breed of fast, nimble QBs who serve as their own “pass protection” by turning edge-pressure into 1st-down scrambles and sideline throws. “Turf toe” doesn’t go away as fast as a light head injury (at least for football purposes in the short term) and Mahomes only rushed for 5 yards against the Buffalo Bills. But the Kansas City QB had a brilliant AFC Championship Game through the air and was only sacked once, an indicator of his improved mobility as the postseason advances. Darrel Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire make a quality 1-2 combo at RB for Mahomes to lean on.
Kansas City’s defense is the other key. Remember how the 49ers were going to blow the Chiefs off the ball for 30+ minutes in Super Bowl 54? That never happened.
What’s worse for the Buccaneers, the KC pass rush was excellent against powerful visitors in Week 20, DE Frank Clark sacking Josh Allen twice. Buffalo’s running backs gained a grand total of 41 yards, and Allen was picked-off by CB Rashad Fenton.
The Chiefs’ strengths and the Buccaneers’ strengths put together lead to a “Buschbaum”-style handicap indeed. Brady has defied Father Time and even improved for the Bucs in early 2021, and his WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are touted as 2 of the 3 top Fantasy draft WR picks in Super Bowl 55. But the Buccaneers won’t be able to score 4-6 touchdowns on long fields. Tampa Bay could never have beaten Buffalo in the fashion Kansas City did, not without more turnovers and blunders by the Bills.
We know that the Buccaneers can prevail as Super Bowl champs with a scrappy, defense-first game plan and a QB who plays with the determination of a man possessed. But we also know that Tampa’s margin of error is smaller than Kansas City’s. The Chiefs could win in many different ways on Sunday.
Main Market Super Bowl Odds and Lines: Predictions for 2021’s Greatest Show on Earth
I’m first-in-line to complain when NFL prognosticators carry on about QBs too often. Quarterbacks are crucial in the National Football League, but after Stephen A. Smith of ESPN struggled to name a single active team member of the Chargers a couple of years back, the veil has been completely lifted as to why TV analysts and mainstream bloggers focus on NFL QBs. It’s because there are less than 100 of them at any given time. Quarterbacks are easy to remember and easy to find ready-made trivia for. Sports commentators who get paid a fortune for 2-minute soundbites are in love with NFL QB culture – it’s an escape from that thing called “hard work” that they’ve heard about but hope is only a rumor.
It wouldn’t be so annoying, though, if people actually looked at QBs more analytically. For instance, Tom Brady deserves mad respect as the most-successful pure pocket passer in the history of the sport. Yet he’s still a football player, not a god, and the pigskin doesn’t know who he is when he throws it. Even if Tom Terrific is more accurate through the air than Mahomes, the respective ages of the Super Bowl QBs – Mahomes in his prime and Brady approaching retirement – ensure that Kansas City’s field general can put up at-least equal numbers through the air while out-performing Brady in other ways.
It’s just up to Mahomes’ supporting cast to protect the football. Tampa Bay gobbles-up T/Os and easy scoring opportunities like Hungry Hippos, which helped the Bucs conquer the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game. I’m not concerned that Mahomes will fare as poorly against the Buccaneer defense as Drew Brees, but an untimely fumble from an inexperienced Edwards-Helaire or another inexperienced Chief could give Arians and Brady the opening to steal another contest.
Thankfully for Kansas City fans – and quietly when it comes to Las Vegas betting action and hype – every single active player on Andy Reid’s team, sans Fisher, is practicing in the week prior to the game. While the “-1” is a great big minus-1 at OT, the versatility afforded to Reid by an otherwise complete, healthy lineup should allow the wily coach to avoid putting too many youngsters in dangerous circumstances.
With the above in mind, let’s turn to this year’s main-market Super Bowl picks, and try to build on last February’s 3-of-3 tour de force on behalf of WagerBop’s NFL crew.
The following Super Bowl 55 picks are in order of preference/recommendation.
Super Bowl O/U: Kansas City vs Tampa Bay Point Total Prediction
Kansas City’s offense is pretty good about ball security, and the Chiefs’ special teams is a strength as well, with both factors crucial in preventing short-field drives by an opponent. Tom Brady no longer has the arm strength, stamina, or supporting cast on offense to lead 6 touchdown drives of 75+ yards and win the Super Bowl 42-41. Since the Chiefs will be as focused on limiting Tampa’s opportunities as on scoring points, and since Mahomes also might not be in shape to run around and avoid edge-pressure for 4 quarters, we’re predicting a few more punts than most O/U bettors expect in the contest.
Tampa Bay might be a rare losing-underdog that still controls the flow of the game. Arians will want a low-scoring, anxious Super Bowl, and Reid might be forced into coaching one against his wishes.
Pick: Under (3 units)
Super Bowl 55: Predicting the Point Spread Outcome
If Arians plays his cards right, Brady will have plenty of gas left in the tank by the 4th quarter, and the Kansas City Chiefs will be fully aware of that. That’s why it’s highly unlikely that Reid will call on Harrison Butker to give the defending champs a slender 1-3 point lead late in the game, so long as there is any kind of realistic chance for Mahomes to produce a TD, even on 4th down.
Kansas City might be a “technical” FG-favorite, but much more likely to put the game away with a 7-10 point lead if able to lift the trophy again.
Pick: Chiefs ATS (2 units)
Moneyline Pick for Super Bowl 55
The thin payoff odds on a Kansas City victory leave Super Bowl 55’s moneyline lacking in value…on either side of the market.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.