Super Bowl Sunday is set.
After a season fraught with COVID-19 concerns, the NFL’s 2020 season has reached its zenith. And, all things considered, the league and its fans couldn’t have asked for a much better matchup to crown a champion.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face off on Feb. 7 with the winner hoisting the Lomardi Trophy. It’s a matchup filled with intrigue and compelling storylines.
Home-field advantage in the Super Bowl
The Buccaneers punched their ticket to the franchise’s second Super Bowl with playoff road wins over the Washington Football Team, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.
Their reward: A home-field advantage never before seen in the Super Bowl, which will be played at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium. While the limited crowd won’t pack the stadium with Bucs fans like a normal home game, the “home team” will be afforded some significant advantages.
Most notably, the Bucs won’t be rushed into the Super Bowl city just days before the game. Both Super Bowl teams generally arrive in the host city a full week before the big game.
Because of the NFL’s COVID-19 restrictions, teams aren’t allowed to arrive in Tampa until two days prior to the Super Bowl. ESPN reports that the Chiefs won’t arrive until Feb. 6. Meanwhile, the Bucs will practice at home, sleep in their own beds and avoid playing a day removed from air travel. In a game that’s won and lost in the margins, these are small edges that could add up for Tampa Bay.
Tom Brady’s legacy
A big storyline of the 2020 season was pegged on Tom Brady’s departure from the New England Patriots. Who would win the breakup — Brady away from the Pats or Bill Belichick without Brady? The question found an answer when Belichick’s Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time since the last time they played without Brady in the 2008 season.
Brady, meanwhile, led a moribund Bucs franchise to its first playoff appearance since the 2007 season and its first postseason win since its only Super Bowl victory after the 2002 season. Now Brady accounts for three of the franchise’s nine total playoff victories and has a chance to add an emphatic fourth.
Brady’s legacy is secure. His six Super Bowl wins in nine appearances put him in a category completely of his own, a level above other great champions and contemporaries like Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Peyton Manning. Leading a new team with as dreadful a history as the Bucs to Super Bowl victory will put him in a new stratosphere that very well might never be matched.
New GOAT vs. old GOAT
If anybody has a chance to challenge Brady’s accomplishments, it’s his Super Bowl Sunday counterpart. While Brady’s resume is unrivaled, so is Mahomes’ talent and upside. Already the owner of a league MVP and Super Bowl MVP trophy, Mahomes is seeking his second championship in his third season as a starter. He’s a betting favorite to get the job done.
The quarterbacks already have an established history with four matchups over the course of the past three seasons. Brady’s Patriots edged Mahomes’ Chiefs at home in the 2018 regular season before winning an overtime thriller in the AFC championship en route to Brady’s sixth ring.
Mahomes’ Chiefs beat Brady’s Patriots in the regular season in 2019 and did the same to Brady’s Bucs in a 27-24 win in Week 12 this season. All of their matchups have been close. Now they’ll play a rubber match with the highest stakes in the game attached.
Andy Reid’s legacy
For years, Chiefs coach Andy Reid carried the reputation of good, but not great. A high-end tactician who came up short on the big stage and in the game’s biggest moments. Now he has a Super Bowl ring. And he stands on the sideline at the helm of one of the most feared offenses in football history.
At 62 years old, Reid is in a position to continue rewriting his script, to leave the ranks of the very good to stand alongside the coaching greats who lay claim to multiple rings. The list of two-time Super Bowl champion coaches includes name like Don Shula, Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells and Tom Landry.
Of course, nobody expects Reid and the Chiefs to slow down anytime soon, win or lose on Super Bowl Sunday.
Just like the rest of the world, COVID-19 isn’t over for the NFL. And it could play a significant impact on football’s biggest stage. Outbreaks among teams have ebbed since an early-season coronavirus surge wreaked havoc on the NFL and its schedule makers. But it still made its imprint on the playoffs.
The Cleveland Browns played their wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers down head coach Kevin Stefanski and several key players thanks to an outbreak. Somehow, they won. That’s not a situation either the Chiefs or Bucs want to deal with with a Lombardi Trophy on the line.
Besides the obvious reasons to maintain proper coronavirus safety, both teams have extra motivation to avoid exposure in the coming weeks. The last thing the NFL wants to deal with is a decision on the Super Bowl if one or both teams see key players test positive.
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