Super Bowl LV is here! Our crew made predictions before the season, then again before the playoffs and now we'll take one last crack at it. Whether or not the Super Bowl is the best way to crown a champion, regardless of who Bill Belichick is rooting for and no matter how hard it'll be for the losing team to get back next year, the game is on. We've studied everyone's legacies, the x-factors and literal goats, so here are our picks.
Chiefs 30, Buccaneers 28 | MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
I think Tom Brady’s going to play well, and the Bucs are going to play well. I think they even may outplay the Chiefs for the majority of this game. But what last year taught me—and not just the Super Bowl, but the playoffs in general—was that Mahomes has the ability to erase things the way Brady did when he was at his peak. He can erase holes created by injury or attrition (see: an AFC title game mostly without both his tackles and Sammy Watkins), he can erase the strengths of other teams and he can erase bad stretches of football. Remember, last year the Niners outplayed the Chiefs for three and a half quarters. And in about eight minutes of game time, Mahomes made that not matter. This is why I wouldn’t bet against Brady over the years. It’s why I won’t bet against Mahomes now.
Chiefs 27, Buccaneers 20 | MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
I usually like to pick the Super Bowl based on a vibe I get from being around the teams before the game. For instance, when the Giants arrived in Arizona for Super Bowl XLII wearing black suits, to mourn the death of the Patriots’ perfect season, I decided right then I would be picking the underdog to win. The Falcons before Super Bowl LI and the 49ers before Super Bowl LIV seemed tight, seized up by the added responsibilities and altered circumstances of Super Bowl week. This year, with access entirely virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more difficult to get a read on the teams’ energies. And with teams practicing all week at their home facilities, the lead-up will be more like another playoff game than the usual week-long circus that can threaten to throw qualifiers into chaos. So, I’m instead going off the vibe I had directly following the conference championship games, which is that the Chiefs’ offense would be a bit too much for even the excellent Bucs defense and the rejuvenated Bucs offense to keep up with (though I will say, the more I think about the Bucs’ front four going up against a Chiefs line without its top two tackles, the more I rethink my pick).
Buccaneers 31, Chiefs 30 | MVP: Tom Brady, QB Buccaneers
The game hinges on how well Kansas City’s backup tackles can secure the edge and how, if at all, additional protection in the backfield changes what the Chiefs do well offensively. If Tampa Bay did not have two premium edge rushers in Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, plus some chaos-creating interior defensive tackles, I would probably have gone with the Chiefs in a landslide. However, constant pressure on Mahomes, or at least disallowing him from keeping plays going and getting his receivers free, could be a game-changer here.
Chiefs 31, Buccaneers 21 | MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Apologies for the back-patting, but back in September I predicted the Chiefs and the Buccaneers would meet in Super Bowl LV. I even had Tampa Bay on the road through the NFC bracket, thinking it would take the Bucs some time to put everything together. Setting aside the fact I’m always wrong, since in this instance I was not, there’s no reason to change this prediction now. It’s incredible that Tampa Bay made it to the Super Bowl and that Brady will play in his 10th version of the game. But there is no player at this point, in 2020, that I’d rather have than Mahomes, in that explosive Chiefs offense, playing for Andy Reid, throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. There’s no reason to bet against him and, by extension, no reason to bet against the Chiefs’ becoming the NFL’s first repeat champion since, well, Brady and the Patriots in 2003 and ’04. Have those who’ve bet against Brady been wrong before? Of course. **Raises hand sheepishly.** It’s definitely possible he can win, especially with the Buccaneers’ defense playing the way it played in January. But it’s still Mahomes, who seems to be replicating Brady’s early success while playing at a higher level in terms of statistics and accolades. So far, anyway. Let the GOAT handoff commence.
Chiefs 34, Buccaneers 24 | MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
I think Tampa Bay can get some pressure against the injured Kansas City line, and the Chiefs’ defense is a concern, but I keep going back to this: The Bucs were in a battle against Washington, beat New Orleans when the Saints and Drew Brees imploded, and then benefited from a large dose of luck against the Packers last week. The Bucs struggled against elite teams this year, and the Chiefs are the best team in the league. Mahomes will be more comfortable in his second Super Bowl start, and he doesn’t have to deal with Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner this time.
Chiefs 34, Buccaneers 23 | MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
The Chiefs will play this game as they have many of their playoff games over the past two years: They will look uneven and choppy at times, perhaps even falling behind by 10-plus points. But no matter; they can score in bunches and will score 30-plus points in the Super Bowl even while having some issues with the Bucs’ defense. The Bucs and Brady will not play poorly—although I think Brady will throw two interceptions—but they can’t keep up. And the wear and tear of playing so many road games in the last month will catch up with them, even in their home stadium.
Chiefs 27, Buccaneers 19 | MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
It will be a lower-scoring game than many anticipate. For the Chiefs, you have both starting tackles out against an opponent with two very good edge rushers, which will lead to some drive-stalling sacks. For the Bucs, their 2006 playbook will continue to be ineffective, as will their insatiable thirst for between-the-tackles runs on early downs. They’ll once again rely on Tom Brady hitting Mike Evans and/or Chris Godwin on a few contested catches, but the lack of takeaways will do them in.
Trailing 27–13 with a little more than two minutes to go, a Godwin touchdown catch will cut the lead to eight. But Bruce Arians will send his kicking unit onto the field for a PAT rather than going for two, sparking thousands more renditions on why, mathematically, teams should be going for two in that situation. Ryan Succop will push the extra point wide right.
Chiefs 34, Buccaneers 26 | MVP: Tyrann Mathieu, S, Chiefs
If you had asked me every day of the NFL season to predict who’d win the Super Bowl, there was never a single day I would have wavered from saying the Chiefs. It is more tempting than I would have thought to go with the Bucs here, given recent injuries on the Chiefs’ line, the Bucs playing at home and the team finding a groove I honestly didn’t expect back in November. But I’m sticking with the team I just think is clearly tops in the league. The Chiefs have proved over the last two years they don’t even need to play 60 great minutes to beat you. Sometimes it’s ugly, oftentimes it’s closer than the oddsmakers foresaw, but they usually end up on top.
I don’t think this will be a clean game with two all-time great quarterbacks simply trading scores all night. I think we’ll see turnovers and big defensive plays. (Thus a defensive player winning MVP for the first time since 2016!) But I think the outcome will be in doubt until the end, and the better team will come out on top.