Super Bowl LV pick: Can the Buccaneers slow down Patrick Mahomes and Chiefs offense?

Assuming a team can just “turn it on” in the postseason is generally a myth. It’s often an excuse for an underachieving team with a lot of talent, and often that team underwhelms in the playoffs too.

The Kansas City Chiefs have turned it on in the postseason.

The Chiefs seem to be the rare team that can get by in the regular season and then show off its highest gear in the postseason. Kansas City wasn’t bad in the regular season, and we saw the Chiefs best a few good teams, most notably when it outclassed the Baltimore Ravens on a Monday night. But bettors know the Chiefs weren’t great, either.

Kansas City didn’t cover the spread in any game from Nov. 1 to the divisional round, and didn’t win any of those games by more than six points. Then came the playoffs. The Chiefs didn’t cover in the divisional round against the Cleveland Browns, but that was probably due to Patrick Mahomes’ concussion. They led 22-10 after the drive in which Mahomes exited, and didn’t score in the fourth quarter without him. They outgained the Browns 293-144 in the first half with Mahomes. They were just fine, and Chiefs bettors that day took a bad beat due to Mahomes’ injury. Then in the AFC championship game, the Chiefs made a statement with an impressive 38-24 win over a Buffalo Bills team that probably was the NFL’s best team in the second half of the regular season. Kansas City made it look easy. It was obvious pretty early on that if you had the Bills, you were on the wrong side.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been very impressive, winning three straight road games to make Super Bowl LV. They’re good on both sides of the ball and deserving of an NFC championship. But it’s hard to bet against Mahomes and the Chiefs after being reminded of their top gear the past couple games.

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs beat the Buccaneers in the regular season. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs beat the Buccaneers in the regular season. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Chiefs (-3.5) over Buccaneers

Picking the Chiefs isn’t exactly going out on a limb. They were getting 62 percent of the bets at BetMGM, though the money bet on the spread has been balanced out by $2.3 million and $300,000 bets on the Buccaneers. But the public loves the Chiefs.

It’s hard to disagree. In the first meeting, the Chiefs were dominant early on. They were up 20-7 on the Buccaneers at halftime, out-gaining them 377-131. Here’s where confirmation bias comes in: If you like the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, you point to the second half in which Tampa Bay outscored Kansas City 17-7, covered the 3.5-point spread and looked better after some adjustments. If you like Kansas City in the Super Bowl, you say the Chiefs just let up after a dominant first half, which they did a few times late in the season.

Just know that in the Super Bowl, you’re getting a focused Chiefs team for four quarters. And nobody else in the NFL has their ceiling.

How can Buccaneers win (or cover)?

Given the expected public money on the Chiefs, and the fact that most of the Super Bowl bets come in from Thursday on, it’s unlikely we see the spread dip under 3.5. Since 3 is a key number in NFL betting, it’s a bit scary to give the Buccaneers that extra half-point.

Tampa Bay is a quality team that has impressive back-to-back wins over the Saints and Packers. The Packers in particular had a great year on offense and didn’t do much against the Bucs. While Tom Brady’s incredible journey is the story of this Super Bowl, the biggest key to the game itself is Tampa Bay’s defense. If edge rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett disrupt Mahomes that can shift the game. And Kansas City’s offensive line is depleted due to injuries. Linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White are fast and talented, and they can take away a lot of Kansas City’s underneath attack. You won’t see Kansas City go up and down the field with no resistance, like it did at times in that regular-season meeting.

There’s an obvious path for the Buccaneers to cover and win. Even if you’re taking the Chiefs, it shouldn’t be because you don’t think the Bucs are capable.

Should we expect a high-scoring game?

BetMGM said 74 percent of bets and 71 percent of the money bet on the total of 56.5 has been on the over. The number started at 57.5, which would have been a record high for a Super Bowl, then quickly moved to 56.5.

The over/under for the regular-season meeting between the teams was 56.5 as well, and the teams scored 51 points. I don’t think the defenses of either team get enough respect. The Chiefs have been solid on defense, especially against the pass, and the Buccaneers are a top-10 NFL defense. It won’t take much to hit the under, considering how high the total is. A sluggish first quarter due to some nerves might do it.

And just for fun, some extra picks for Super Bowl LV: Mike Evans to score the first touchdown (+1100), Super Bowl MVP to be a defensive player (+750), Mecole Hardman to record the longest reception (+700), Tampa Bay over 1.5 turnovers (+160), Leonard Fournette to have the most rushing yards (+180), and tails (-105).

Explore the Super Bowl trophy cases in augmented reality: