NFL roundtable: Which player for the Buccaneers or Chiefs will have the biggest impact on Super Bowl 55?
History says the Super Bowl most valuable player on Sunday will most likely be a quarterback. After all, a QB has won 30 of the 54 awards. That includes three of the last four -- Tom Brady of the Buccaneers and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs among them.
Whether those decisions were based on numbers or the fact quarterbacks get more credit -- and blame -- than they probably deserve does not necessarily mean they had the greatest impact on a particular Super Bowl.
So with that in mind, we asked our NFL staff: Which player for the Buccaneers or Chiefs will have the biggest impact on Super Bowl 55?
Here are their answers (spoiler alert, no one picked Brady or Mahomes):
Tyrann Mathieu. The Kansas City Chiefs safety might be Bruce Arians “favorite draft choice of all time” -- Mathieu was a third-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals when Arians was coaching there – but he won’t be high on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach’s list after Sunday’s game. Look for Mathieu to wreck Arians’ hopes for a Super Bowl title with a pick of Tom Brady on a decisive drive. Mathieu has had arguably his best season with a career-high six interceptions, including one off Brady in Week 12, and had another in the divisional round. Brady, meanwhile, has looked vulnerable in the playoffs, nearly giving away the NFC championship game with picks on three consecutive series. Mathieu is going to get the better of this matchup, denying Arians a win on the biggest stage while confirming his old coach’s faith in him.
Obviously, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes are in this conversation. But let me venture here with defense. That’s what really wins championships, right? Or so they say. Given that, I’m intrigued by Bucs linebacker Devin White. This second-tear pro is a versatile dynamo with the potential to wreak havoc as a major difference-maker. No, you won’t find the inside linebacker trying to cover Tyreek Hill in man-to-man coverage. Nor would the Bucs want to have him shadowing tight end Travis Kelce very much. Coverage is not his strong suit. Yet White is prone to turn up in a lot of places. His team-high 140 tackles vouches for his sideline-to-sideline pursuit as a perfect complement to the other speedy inside linebacker, Lavonte David. White is most dangerous, though, when he winds up in the backfield on blitzes. His nine sacks ranked second among Bucs defenders after Jason Pierre-Paul (9 1/2), making him the type of weapon that might at least get Mahomes off-script. Okay, no one improvises on broken plays quite like Mahomes, but White’s impact as a blitzer could complicate the adjustments for Kansas City’s offensive line as backup tackles Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie fill in for the injured Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher. The tackles will already have their hands full in trying to handle edge rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett. Throw White’s threat into the mix — whether it’s slide protection with the tackles picking up the blitz coming off the edge, or if it is the interior linemen cutting off inside lanes or the running backs staying picking up the blitz -- White will have to be accounted for as a legitimate swing factor who flies under the radar in a matchup with a galaxy of stars.
Buccaneers LB Devin White. He’s cocky, loquacious … and undeniably talented. The fifth overall pick of the 2019 draft continues to blossom and fulfill his vast potential as one of the NFL’s up-and-coming off-ball linebackers. White was the only player in the league this season with at least 100 tackles and nine sacks. After missing the wild-card round while on the COVID-19 reserve list, he made 11 tackles, picked off Drew Brees and recovered a fumble in his playoff debut at New Orleans. White piled on 15 more tackles and recovered another fumble as the Bucs punched their Super Bowl ticket in Green Bay. Sunday, look for him to be flying around the field, possibly spying on Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and definitely forcing TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hills to keep their heads on a swivel over the middle. And with the Kansas City offensive line in so much disarray, don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles sends White on an A-gap blitz or two if the Chiefs are struggling to contain the Bucs’ pass rush off the edges.
Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu. I doubt six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady at my own peril. But when I heard his effusive praise of Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu this week, I imagined Mathieu must take it as a challenge. “Seems like he always comes up with the biggest plays in the biggest moments,” Brady told reporters by Zoom. “You better believe I’ll have an idea of where he’s at every play. … Hopefully I can keep the ball out of his hands.” My prediction: Brady won’t. Brady is playing at a high level for a 43-year-old, and for that matter if were he a 33- or 23-year-old. But he threw interceptions on three straight possessions against the Packers in the NFC championship, moments when we remember that he has been in Bruce Arians’ system and with these Tampa teammates for mere months. Understanding where the communication breakdowns are and what Brady intends to do is key for disrupting his passes. I trust Mathieu, a wily veteran with versatile athleticism and a high football IQ, to take advantage of a Buccaneers inconsistency. The takeaway will differentiate two talented and well-matched teams, giving Patrick Mahomes and Co. just the edge they need to seal the win.
I have two guys: Tampa Buccaneer pass-rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. They’ll both be going against a pair of backup offensive tackles, and if the Chiefs don’t have a way to keep these two sack artists at bay, their chances of repeating as Super Bowl champs very well could be shot. It could take some creativity from Andy Reid and his staff to give Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie help. Pierre-Paul and Barrett combined for five sacks against Green Bay in the NFC Championship. They could be primed for a big day on Sunday.
Tristan Wirfs, Tampa Bay offensive tackle. If the Bucs are going to beat the Chiefs Sunday night, Brady will have to stay on his feet. For that to happen, rookie offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs will have to man his position at right tackle like he’s a veteran — something he’s done throughout the 2020 season. Wirfs, the 13th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, has given up only one sack while playing every snap this season — 1,284 of them. Not only is he agile, but he’s 6-foot-5, 320-pounds and has emerged as one of Brady’s most dependable linemen.
The health of the Kansas City offensive line is a massive question mark, especially given how explosive the Buccaneer pass rush can be. That’s why, when starting left tackle Eric Fisher went out with an Achilles injury, Mike Remmers instantly became a crucial player in Super Bowl 55. Yes, Patrick Mahomes is unique and Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are dynamic weapons. But defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is aggressive and the Buccaneers blitzed opposing passers on 38% of dropbacks in the regular season, sixth-highest in the NFL. Tampa edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul said during Monday’s media session he didn’t know who Remmers was. Remmers, a backup when the season began, started 11 games at right tackle after an injury to Mitchell Schwartz. He now moves to the crucial left tackle spot and can get the last laugh if he helps give Mahomes enough time to throw.