The time has arrived. After 260-plus games and thousands of COVID tests, the 2020 season comes down to one game with a World Championship on the line.
Super Bowl LV is a sliding doors moment in history for the Buccaneers and Chiefs. One legendary, grizzled veteran quarterback trying to hand the new challenger for greatness his second career playoff loss. The results of this game will ripple through the halls of Canton for years to come.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, those ripples won't be draped in stripes. Three decades have passed since the franchise won a playoff game, let alone battled in a Super Bowl.
They've found a key component of that journey back to greatness in quarterback Joe Burrow. It's time to fill out a roster that can compete with the contenders.
Here are three things the Bengals can learn from the Chiefs vs Bucs in Super Bowl LV.
Never Enough Speed
Speed kills in today's NFL and the Super Bowl participants have been taking pelts all season.
The Bengals have to find a way to get more team speed on offense or they'll never stand a chance of lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
Kansas City's stable of horses will be around for a while. Mahomes is signed for a decade. Travis Kelce's locked up until 2026 and Tyreek Hill is under contract for the next two seasons.
That trio forms a dynastic offense, all while the Buccaneers added plenty of offensive firepower in the past few seasons. Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller are two of the many difference makers on their offense. Godwin has been one of Tom Brady's favorite targets. As for Miller, his wheels drove a few nails in the Packers' coffin last week with a deep touchdown catch to close the first half.
Even star wide-out Mike Evans is fast for his size. The Bucs have the ability to beat their opponent downfield in multiple different ways. That's helped Brady push the ball downfield at a high rate this season and led to plenty of big plays.
The Bengals are too slow on offense. John Ross was picked ninth for that exact reason, but that didn't work out. A.J. Green struggled to separate and didn't play at his rookie testing speed last season. That left Tyler Boyd as the fastest receiver in the weekly game plan. They'll have plenty of opportunities to find the next deep-ball weapon for Burrow this offseason in the draft and/or in free agency.
Instant Impact Rookies
Miller isn't the only first-year player helping to elevate these rosters. Rookies from all different rounds are having an immediate impact across both teams.
Tampa hit early with the selections of Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Wirfs was an elite pass-blocking tackle this year. Winfield had a nose for the ball all season at strong safety, impacting blitzes and the run game. Fifth-round pick Tyler Johnson wasn't a big factor in the receiver room, but he's made some crucial catches in the postseason.
The Chiefs hit on a trio of picks as well despite selecting at the end of every round. Clyde Edwards-Helaire took control of the backfield early on and played solid football. Willie Gay also looked like a future starter at linebacker before getting injured, but the star of the class has been L'Jarius Sneed. He was Pro Football Focus' number one graded rookie corner. Snead has been lights out all season notching three interceptions and four pass breakups.
Cincinnati got significant contributions from this year's rookie class. They'll need to duplicate that haul in 2021. Bengals fans are hopeful this is the last time the team picks in the top five. Nailing another draft goes a long way towards that goal.
Take Necessary Risks
Rookie quarterback contracts are all the rage. They give teams flexibility and breathing room to forge a complete roster. Tampa Bay didn't have that luxury after signing Tom Brady to a two-year/$50 million deal this offseason. Jason Licht and the Bucs front office had to work the margins to fill out the roster with guys like Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski.
Both have turned into important pieces for a top-five offense, with Brown leading the team in targets over the final five weeks of the season and Gronkowski catching seven touchdowns.
Brady's New England running mate had to get his sea legs, but he's quickly regained the blocking form he used to dominate last decade. Not to mention Shaquil Barrett, who the Bengals let slip away in 2019 only to watch him total 19.5 sacks on a one-year deal from Tampa. He promptly got the franchise tag and helped terrorize Aaron Rodgers this past weekend.
It's risky to dole out big money in the NFL, but the Chiefs have calculated the right figures so far. They made Tyrann Mathieu and Chris Jones two of the highest-paid players at their positions in recent years. The duo has continued leading the defense with great play while cheaper names slide in around them. On offense, the Chiefs negotiated bargain contracts for Mahomes and Kelce. The latter could've reset the market after setting the single-season receiving yards record among tight ends with 1,416 yards. Instead, he re-signed prior to the start of the 2020 season.
The Chiefs and Buccaneers timed the market to snag gems and lock them up at value. Now they are battling in the Super Bowl thanks to that savvy decision making, along with two guys named Brady and Mahomes.
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