8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Chiefs -2.5, Over/Under: 45.0
What better way to cap off the fourth Sunday of the regular season than with a rematch of Super Bowl LV, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play host to the Kansas City Chiefs, from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. After advancing to four consecutive AFC Championship Games, 2022 had figured to be a curious one for the Chiefs (2-1, T-1st in AFC West), who following the offseason departure of one of their biggest weapons underwent a bit of retooling on the fly. By no means did anyone really believe that Kansas City would be rebuilding this season, but it certainly felt as if they were embarking on a new chapter of football at Arrowhead, particularly after parting ways with (All-Pro Receiver) Tyreek Hill; the league’s premier vertical threat was traded to the Miami Dolphins for a windfall of draft picks, including first, second, and fourth-round picks in last Spring’s NFL Draft, along with another fourth and sixth next year. Granted, the moment that (All-Pro Quarterback) Patrick Mahomes put pen to paper on that ten-year/$450 million contract extension two years ago, meant that the franchise would eventually have to cut bait with various members of the supporting cast, with (Head Coach) Andy Reid and (General Manager) Brett Veach opting to reinvest those picks and cap space into other areas of the team. The Defense received the bulk of the reinforcements during the offseason, as Reid and Veach selected (Defensive Lineman) George Karlaftis and (Cornerback) Trent McDuffie in the Draft, along with (Safety) Justin Reid and (Defensive End) Carlos Dunlap in free agency. With that said, the Offense received a bit of attention too, for someone would have to fill the shoes of Hill, with the team adding (veteran Wideouts) JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling on very reasonable deals. So, how have the Chiefs performed on both sides of the football, you ask? Well, unsurprisingly, they’ve been among the league’s best in each regard. Reid’s troops have averaged 29.3 points per game (4th Overall) on 378.7 total yards (7th Overall), including 285.7 yards via the pass (6th Overall) on a healthy 7.9 net yards per attempt (4th Overall), while converting 40.0% of their third downs (12th Overall) and punching it on 69.2% of their chances in the red zone (7th Overall). For his trouble, Mahomes (pictured below) doesn’t appear to miss Hill one bit, with the former Super Bowl Champion completing a career-high 67.9% of his passes with eight touchdowns in comparison to just one interception, parlaying to a TD percentage of 7.3%, which is his highest since his MVP campaign of 2018. Meanwhile, the Defense has been much stouter in the early goings than it was at this time last year, with (Defensive Coordinator) Steve Spagnuolo’s unit yielding the tenth-fewest yards in the NFL thus far (314.0), and though they’ve been stellar on third down (32.6%), they’ve capitulated far too often in the red zone, shipping a touchdown on 72.7% of their opponents’ attempts (27th Overall).
After obliterating the Cardinals in a 44-21 rout on opening weekend and rallying back to stun the Chargers in a 27-24 victory just four days later, the Chiefs were in for a rude awakening as they traveled to Indianapolis last weekend, where the Colts proved to be a real pain their ass despite their own struggles through the first two weeks of action. Though they were forced to punt on their opening drive, the hosts recovered a muffed punt at Kansas City’s four-yard line, hitting pay dirt in just three plays (though they did miss the extra point). The two sides would trade punts on the next three possessions before Mahomes found (All-Pro Tight End) Travis Kelce for a short touchdown to tie the game late in the first period. Indy would retake the lead via field goal, but Spagnuolo’s charges flipped the field as Dunlap strip sacked Matt Ryan of the football, with (young Cornerback) L’Jarius Sneed recovering it at his opponent’s 26-yard line. From there, (versatile Tailback) Clyde Edwards-Helaire carried the ball into the end zone on a short jaunt, followed immediately by a two-point connection between Mahomes and Kelce to take a 14-10 lead into halftime. Post intermission, after the two sides traded field goals on their opening drives of the second half, there wasn’t much action to be found until late in the fourth quarter, which is where things got a little wild. After (Linebacker) Nick Bolton sacked Ryan for an eight-yard loss, (Pro-Bowl Defensive Tackle) Chris Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, breathing new life into the Colts, who continued to bleed time off the clock, running it down to twenty-nine seconds as they logged the go-ahead touchdown. Mahomes was able to pilot the offense to midfield before a short pass over the middle intended for Smith-Schuster was intercepted, ending the affair. In the end, the Chiefs possessed the ball for just 26:28 and were overly one-dimensional, rushing for a scant fifty-four yards despite twenty-three carries. Mahomes was just 20-of-35 for 262 yards with a touchdown and that interception, with the unit as a whole converting just 3-of-10 third downs and half of their two attempts on fourth. The outcome was hardly the fault of the Defense, who relegated the Colts to 259 total yards, while sacking Ryan five times and hitting on ten occasions, though that gaffe from Jones proved to be absolutely crucial to the affair’s outcome. Looking to tonight’s primetime showdown, Kansas City has lost two of their last three meetings with the Buccaneers straight-up and have failed to cover the spread in any of them, with that embarrassing 31-9 defeat in Super Bowl LV being their latest encounter. Mahomes struggled widely behind a porous Offensive Line in that game, completing just 26-of-49 attempts with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions, suffering three sacks and a fumble along the way. That performance prompted Reid and Veach to completely overhaul their Quarterback’s protection, assembling five new starters along the Offensive Line last year. As for the rivalry between Mahomes and his opposite number in this matchup, the prolific 27-year-old is 2-3 all-time versus Tom Brady (much more on him shortly), completing 62.4% of his passes for 332.4 yards per game on 7.66 net yards per attempt with eleven touchdowns in comparison to five interceptions, while suffering ten sacks. Mahomes has bested him in two of their three regular season meetings, but Brady has gotten the better of him in each of their two postseason encounters. On the injury front, kicking could continue to be an issue for Kansas City, as (Place Kicker) Harrison Butker is listed as questionable after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle.
Meanwhile, they may be sitting atop the division, but the start of the 2022 campaign has been anything but easy for the Buccaneers (2-1, 1st in NFC South), who are coming off a rather eventful offseason. Tampa parted ways with a slew of veteran performers and not to mention their Head Coach, Bruce Arians, though this could have been a full-blown rebuild had it not been for the return of one Tom Brady. By now we know the story with Brady (pictured below), who after calling it a career not long after his side’s playoff exit, abruptly unretired following a six-week hiatus. This prompted the organization to keep as much continuity as they could in lieu of one last postseason run with the 45-year-old; The Bucs promoted (Defensive Coordinator) Todd Bowles to Head Coach, while retaining the services of (Offensive Coordinator) Byron Leftwich, who was in high demand throughout the league’s annual hiring cycle. However, let’s make this crystal clear, folks: this is NOT the same team that Brady left back in January. The reigning NFC South Champions bid farewell to the likes of (mercurial Receiver) Antonio Brown, (Tight Ends) Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, along with (Offensive Linemen) Alex Kappa and Ali Marpet, and that’s just on the offensive side of the football. Furthermore, (Wideout) Chris Godwin was coming off a torn ACL, while (veteran Center) Ryan Jensen suffered a season-ending knee injury early in training camp. Through the early stages of the season, Godwin has already missed time with a strained hamstring, while (free agent signee) Julio Jones has missed the last two games with a PCL tear in his knee. Oh, and (Pro-Bowl Receiver) Mike Evans was suspended for last weekend’s loss at home to the Packers due to his role in a brawl from the following week at the Saints. And it’s with that said that the stage was set for an Offense that averaged 30.1 points per game last year to decline considerably; The Buccaneers have meandered their way to 17.0 points (22nd Overall) on just 310.3 total yards (27th Overall), including 224.3 yards through the air (22nd Overall) on 5.82 net yards per attempt (21st Overall), along with another 86.0 yards on the ground (25th Overall) on a mere 3.4 yards per carry (29th Overall). And if that wasn’t bad enough, they rank twenty-eighth in both third down offense (28.6%) and red zone offense (40.0%). For Brady’s part, he’s done everything he can with a makeshift supporting cast, going from a year in which he led the NFL in passing attempts (719), completions (485), yards (5,316) and touchdowns (43), to a meager output of 673 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. While the supporting cast has been far from great, and his age may finally be affecting his play, there has been a noticeable lack of risk-taking from a play calling perspective. Though Leftwich is back calling the shots offensively, he must still defer to the wishes of Bowles, who appears to favor a more conservative approach. Granted, given everything that we’ve discussed already, that be done out of necessity at this point.
After carving out back-to-back wins over the Cowboys (19-3) and Saints (20-10) on the road, the Buccaneers returned home to face the Packers in a rematch of the 2021 NFC Championship Game, with both teams entering the encounter with a number of notable absences. Tampa was without a plethora of weapons on the offensive side of the football, with the triumvirate of Evans, Godwin, and Jones all out of action due to the issues that we already touched upon. Billed as likely the final matchup between the greatest Quarterbacks of the last fifteen years, there was little to enjoy once the game was actually being played as both sides struggled mightily to move the football; the Bucs endured the worst of it with just 285 total yards on nineteen first downs, including a scant thirty-four rushing yards on fourteen carries, while Brady completed 31-of-42 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, suffering three sacks for a loss of twenty yards along the way. However, the bulk of his production came on the final drive of the afternoon, as he very nearly steered the hosts to an unlikely victory. Trailing 14-6 with just over three minutes left to play, Bowles’ troops traveled eighty-nine yards in thirteen plays (aided by a key pass interference penalty in the red zone), with TB12 deftly completing 9-of-12 passes for eighty yards and a one-yard strike to (young Receiver) Russell Gage to pull within two points. Looking to tie the game, the Buccaneers were flagged for a delay of game backing their two-point attempt to the seven-yard line, as Brady’s throw to Gage fell to the ground, ending the contest at 14-12. It was a mixed bag for Gage, who in a golden opportunity to prove himself with so many absences in the Receiving Corps, hauled in twelve receptions on thirteen targets for eighty-seven yards and that touchdown, but also lost a crucial fumble at midfield in the third quarter. For their part, the Defense certainly showed out against Aaron Rodgers & Co, permitting just 315 total yards on fourteen first downs, including a mere sixty-seven yards rushing on twenty-five attempts, with a pair of takeaways and 6-of-15 on third down. (Veteran Cornerback) Logan Ryan was Johnny on the spot, logging an interception and a fumble recovery for the home side, while (Rookie Defensive Lineman) Logan Hall had the lone sack of Rodgers. Tonight’s affair will see Brady go from one farewell to a rival to another, as this will likely be the final meeting between he and Mahomes, the youngest and most recent usurper to his iron throne. In five career encounters, Brady is 3-2 against Mahomes, completing 64.7% of his passes for an average of 280.6 yards on 7.22 net yards per attempt, with nine touchdowns opposed to five interceptions. The Bucs are 6-3 in their last ten games as an underdog against the spread, and though they don’t meet very often, they are a commanding 5-1 in their last six games as an underdog versus Kansas City. On the injury front, Evans will be available after serving his suspension, while both Godwin and Jones should be good to go after Bowles opted to keep them out of action last week as a precaution. Furthermore, (Defensive Tackle) Akiem Hicks is listed as questionable with an ailing foot.