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Super Bowl 2021 preview, On Paper: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Our Super Bowl preview is here!

Super Bowl LV - Preview Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

One more game to go in the 2020 NFL season, which means one more opportunity to break down a game On Paper.

If you’re visiting Pride of Detroit for the first time, our On Paper previews break down upcoming games from a purely statistical point of view. Here’s a relatively quick breakdown of how it works:

On Paper seeks to objectively break down each game with statistics as the deciding factor in these previews. Each team’s unit (ie: pass offense) will be matched up against the opposing team’s corresponding unit (ie: pass defense). At the end of each matchup analysis, I will hand out an advantage on a scale from zero to five based both on how strongly the matchup favors one side and its estimated importance to the final outcome. Admittedly, there is no science to that part of the preview.

At the heart of On Paper are our matchup charts. These seek to put each team’s weekly performance in its proper context. We pull the stats from that week and compare it to their opponent’s weekly averages. For example, if the Chiefs pass for 330 yards with a passer rating of 100.0 one week, that looks like a pretty solid performance on its own. But if the defense they were playing against averaged 360 yards allowed per game and a 115.0 passer rating, that’s actually a below-average performance by the Chiefs. So that cell for the week would get filled in with red. Yellow cells represent a performance within five percent of averages. Note: Color coding is based on the team we’re describing. So red for the Buccaneers = bad for the Bucs (good for the Chiefs). Green for the Bucs = good for the Bucs (bad for the Chiefs).

Normally we use this model just for Detroit Lions games, but because it’s Super Bowl week, let’s take a look at this fantastic matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Note: Averages are from the regular season only, unless otherwise stated.

Bucs pass offense (5th in DVOA) vs. Chiefs pass defense (16th)

Let’s just get the Tom Bradying out of the way. After a couple of down years—by his lofty standards—in New England, Brady’s career has clearly be resuscitated in Tampa with an impressive cast around him. For only the second time in his career, he threw for 40 touchdowns. His passer rating (102.2), yards per attempt (7.6) and QBR (72.6) were all the highest in the past three years. That being said, his 12 interceptions was also the most he’s had since 2011.

Overall, the Bucs passing attack ranks eighth in yards per attempt (7.6), 15th in completion percentage (65.5) and ninth in passer rating (102.8).

As for the chart, you can clearly see Brady has been delivering almost every week, especially down the stretch. In the past eight games (including playoffs), he’s outperformed opponents’ passer rating allowed average in all but one game—the NFC Championship game against the Packers.

It’s also worth looking at the one previous data point between the Chiefs and Bucs. In that game, Brady outperformed the Chiefs defense, but he also underperformed his own season passer rating average, as you’ll see in the chart below.

*Note: Week 17, the Chiefs benched their starters

Don’t sleep on this Chiefs pass defense. All season, they allowed just five teams to outperform their passer rating average, and one of those was during a meaningless Week 17 game. That being said, it’s worth pointing out that they played a lot of bad passing attacks. There are only 12 teams in the NFL who finished with a passer rating below 90, and the Chiefs played five of those games.

Still, the overall statistics of this pass defense are impressive. They’re 13th in yards per attempt allowed (7.1), fifth in completion percentage allowed (62.7) and 10th in passer rating allowed (89.4).

The Chiefs are led by a strong secondary that forced 16 interceptions (t-fifth) and ranked 10th in PFF’s coverage grade.

Advantage: Bucs +1. It’s not a huge advantage for Brady, as I think the Chiefs’ pass defense is a little underrated by DVOA standards. Just look at what this defense did to Josh Allen in both games with the Bills this year. Only five teams were able to eclipse a 100 passer rating against this defense, and the Bucs were not one of them. Expect Brady to have a solid, but not spectacular game.

Bucs run offense (10th) vs. Chiefs run defense (31st)

I’m not sure what DVOA numbers see in this Bucs rushing game, because I just don’t see it. They’ve only eclipsed the defense’s YPC averages five times this entire season, and they’ve only rushed for 150 yards or more twice this year.

They rank 17th in team run block win rate and 12th in PFF’s run blocking grade. They’re averaging just 4.1 yards per carry (25th) and they’re only picking up first downs on 22.2 percent of rushes (29th).

Looking deeper into Football Outsiders’ numbers, it is worth pointing out that the Buccaneers rank first in power success rate. In other words, no team was more successful at converting third or fourth-and-2 or less via the run (including goal-line situations). They converted 88 percent of the time, while the next closest team converted just 78 percent of their opportunities.

However, outside of short-yardage situations, this is still a below-average running attack.

The Chiefs either don’t care much about giving up a ton of yards on the ground or they’re just bad at it. For a team that lost just two games all season, you’d expect pretty low rushing numbers. If you’re always winning, teams won’t rush much against you.

But teams—perhaps in attempt to keep Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines—have been rushing against the Chiefs all year. Kansas City ranks 17th in yards per attempt allowed (4.5), 23rd in PFF’s run defense grade, and 26th in ESPN’s run stop win rate.

And when it comes to those short-yardage situations, they’re even worse. They are dead last in power success, allowing conversions on 78 percent of attempts.

Advantage: Bucs +1. If we were going solely based on the charts, this may be a push. However, I think that power rushing matchup is worth pointing out. Situational football is the name of the game in the NFL playoffs, and it’s clear the Bucs have a HUGE advantage when it’s third-and-2 or less. Still, don’t expect Tampa to put up 150 or anything.

Chiefs pass offense (2nd) vs. Bucs pass defense (5th)

Breaking news: Patrick Mahomes is still pretty darn good. He’s met or outperformed passer rating averages in all but two games this year. He’s had a passer rating above 100 in all but six games and a rating above 90 in all but two games.

But to drive the point home, here are some additional statistics. The Chiefs rank sixth in yards per attempt (7.9), 11th in completion percentage (66.7) and fourth in passer rating (107.3). They’re one of five teams who threw for 40 touchdowns this year, and one of six teams who threw fewer than 10 interceptions.

They’re also one of the best teams in pass protection, ranking sixth in pass block win rate, seventh in PFF’s pass blocking grades, and they’ve allowed just 24 sacks on the year (fifth).

HOWEVER, the Chiefs will be missing both of their starting offensive tackles in this game. Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz—both studs—are out with injury, meaning the Chiefs will have to start backups Mike Remmers and Austin Wylie.

Again, we see a bit of a mismatch between the Bucs’ DVOA and the chart. While Football Outsiders has this as a top-five unit, the On Paper chart suggests this Tampa pass defense is really more around average. To be fair, though, they’ve been excellent over the past two months.

As a team, the Bucs rank 11th in yards per attempt allowed (7.0), 29th in completion percentage (69.0) and 18th in passer rating. With a completion percentage so high, as you may expect, teams are not completing a lot of deep passes, but taking a lot of underneath options. The Bucs defense has only allowed 46 pass plays of 20+ yards (10th), while the Chiefs offense has 69 of those plays (second).

Advantage: Chiefs +2. Mahomes is a beast, and I don’t know of there’s a defense out there that can stop him. But the Bucs could have a chance here. With the Chiefs offensive line vulnerable, the Bucs are countering with the fifth-best pass rush win rate and a defense that created the fifth-most sacks in the NFL (48). Still, you can only hold down Mahomes for so long.

Chiefs run offense (13th) vs. Bucs run defense (1st)

The Chiefs don’t run the ball much (23rd in rushing attempts), and even though they’re not too bad at it, especially recently. They’ve surpassed 4.4 yards per carry in five of their last seven games, and they’re averaging 4.5 YPC for the season (12th). They’re also creating first downs on 27.3 percent of rushes, good for ninth in the NFL.

But when it comes to short-yardage situations, they’re the opposite of the Bucs. They’re converting on the ground in just 51 percent of those situations, which ranks dead last in the league.

Overall, let’s call this an average running game, but they just don’t use it very often.

The Buccaneers have the best run defense in the NFL, and if this chart isn’t enough to convince you, let’s run through some other statistics.

  • 3.6 YPC allowed (first)
  • 10 rushing TDs allowed (first)
  • 80.6 rushing yards per game allowed (first)
  • First downs on 21.8 percent of rushes (second)
  • 4 rushes of 20+ yards allowed (second)
  • 32 percent run stop win rate (second)

And with Vita Vea back as of last game, the Bucs run defense should be as good as ever.

Advantage: Bucs +1. This advantage is the clearest of any in this game, but I’m still only giving it a +1 advantage, because the Chiefs offense has operated completely fine without a running game. They’ve rushed for under 100 yards seven times this year, and won five of those games. So while the Bucs have a huge advantage in this matchup, I just don’t think it’ll matter much.

Overall

The Bucs come out with a marginal advantage here of +1. However, it’s worth noting they have the advantage in three of the four matchups above. That leaves it all on Patrick Mahomes to carry the Chiefs to a win. And to be clear here, I believe he’s fully capable of that, which is why I gave Kansas City the biggest advantage in that matchup.

However, with the Chiefs hurting on the offensive line and the Buccaneers really being good at everything (they have a top-10 DVOA ranking in literally all four categories), I have to go with the home team here. 34-31 Buccaneers.