Super Bowl LV Shuffle
A Super Bowl Preview 35 years in the making!
Last Week: 2-0
The original Super Bowl Shuffle is 35 years old this season, and it’s source-city Chicago feels a long way off from reliving it’s glory days. This season, the Bears were a meager 9-7 and slipped into the playoffs on a defense that, while very good, probably isn't any sort of Monster of the Midway. Still, Chicago’s NFL legacy is etched in stone thanks to a dominant performance over those hapless Patriots back in 1986 (will the Pats ever get it together?). Fan favorites like Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, Richard Dent, Refrigerator Perry, Willie Gault, Ron Rivera (!?), Leslie Frazier (!?), Buddy Ryan (50 percent of the DNA supply for Rob and Rex Ryan) and, of course, Mike Ditka. The Bears became a national delight, with their antics and shenanigans drawing attention from everywhere. Even SNL got in on the fun with a series of skits based on the exploits of some Bears fans, including the legendary Chris Farley.
Here we are 35 years later, and I am willing to bet that you still know what I am talking about. Will this year’s combatants end up so famous? Maybe, but first we need to play the game. Here is a look at the game this weekend, through the lens of the Super Bowl Shuffle. I will be stealing some quotes from the Shuffle itself to give us a starting point.
We are so bad, we know we’re good
There are plenty of bad men in this matchup, but when I read this, I read it a little different. The Chiefs defense spent most of last year and some of this year under the microscope. They were viewed as the weak link. The soft spot on an otherwise unstoppable team. Tyrann Mathieu (pictured above) was/is the heart and soul of that defense. Mathieu himself experienced a bad-good transition, as he moved past a drug addiction that derailed his college career, to become an elite, hard hitting safety with coverage chops to match. This year, the Chiefs defense isn’t the weak spot it was. This year they were 10th in points allowed (a very important statistic). Suddenly, what was once a weakness is now a strength. I have noted previously their ability to clamp down on WRs, a core element of the Bucs attack. This exposes a problem for Tampa Bay, their reliance on downfield passing. Tampa is third in percentage of offense that is passing and second in yards per completion. Meaning, they like to go down the field a lot. The Chiefs, meanwhile, allow only 2/3 of their yards via the pass (12th lowest). This is going to be strength on strength, with Mathieu to play a huge role.
Blowin’ your mind like we knew we would
Nothing in this Super Bowl could be more shocking than the 43 year old Tom Brady showing up AGAIN. 43 seems like a lot, but let’s think about this more. Cam Newton is finished right? He’s 32. More than a decade younger than Tom. Andrew Luck? He retired two years ago. Same age as Newton. Philip Rivers is definitely done now, he’s 39. Almost a half-decade younger. Sam Darnold, the Jets starter for the last 3 years? He 20 years younger than Tom Brady. He’s twice as close in age to Tom’s son, who’s 13. This is Tom’s 10th Super Bowl, but it’s his first from the NFC side (which ties him in NFC appearances with Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers). Brady has played in more conference championship games than 26 other TEAMS. He has gone to 10 Super Bowls (the next best QB has 5). He has won 6 times, which means… (close your eyes Chicago) he might pass Michael Jordan for the modern day sports ring GOAT. Football is not really an individual sport, but it seems pretty obvious given the outcomes (and the Patriots collapse without him), that Tom is the key part to this. Even his avatar improvement is crazy.
OK, that’s enough Brady blowin’. Mind blowin’ I mean.
We’re not here to start no trouble…
There probably aren’t two people harder to like in this game than Tyreek Hill and Antonio Brown. I would give Tom Brady a hug (as a Dolphins fan) rather than cheer for a single second for these two. Before you get too comfortable with what you are watching on Sunday, you need to know who you are watching (and potentially rooting for). The NFL has long had a domestic violence problem, and I am not willing to whitewash this just to have a little more fun. These are two people who shouldn’t be in the league. Tyreek Hill and Antonio Brown have a long history of mistreating others, especially women. This includes allegations of rape, child abuse, child endangerment, fraud, and sexual assault. In Brown’s case, there are multiple accusations. Don’t bother rooting for either of them. It makes you really think about Martellus Bennett’s recent thoughts about playing in the NFL, and the kind of people you are rooting for. I am not saying you shouldn’t watch the game, I am saying you shouldn’t put these guys on some sort of pedestal. They are people, and in Hill and Brown’s case, extremely bad people.
You know we’re just strutting for fun, strutting our stuff for everyone’
Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL, and it isn’t close. Prior to the end of the season, people started trying to anoint players like, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen and Tom Brady himself as contenders for the throne. Nope. Just like Simba taking his rightful place, the king has his crown, and he is waiting on the top of the mountain for Tom “Rafiki” Brady to pass the torch. Over the last three seasons, Mahomes has amassed 136 TD passes (counting the playoffs). That’s an AVERAGE of 45 total a year (and he still has another game to go). Marino has the next best ‘first 3 years as a starter’ with 111 (counting playoffs). That’s 25 less. Most QBs would be lucky to get 25 in a full season. It’s more than that with Mahomes, though. His effervescence and joy defines him more than any throw or run. Most of the famous QBs in history could best be defined as… serious. Less charitably, you could say they were a pill. Brady, Marino, Brees, Rivers, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Favre, and Elway were all a bit unpleasant at times, if not flat out unlikable. The only two major QBs that didn’t come across that way were probably Montana (he of the mild swagger) and Peyton (never forget that SNL skit). Even they weren’t “fun”. Mahomes is cut from a totally different jersey cloth. While players like Brady scream at their bumbling teammates and coaches, Mahomes does this…
Hardman had just muffed a punt that cost the Chiefs a touchdown two weeks ago. Mahomes was there to pick him up. Mahomes seems like the kind of boss we all wish we had, encouraging, motivating, smart, talented and productive (don’t be confused, the QB is a boss). I genuinely hope Mahomes stays Mahomes for the duration of his career. The pressure, stress, and consistent pain of being an NFL athlete can wear off even the most pleasant veneer.
5. I practice all day, and dance all night…
Two of the biggest names in this game are in one of the least glamourous positions in football: the oft mocked “tight end”. Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski are two of the three best tight ends ever (shout out to Tony Gonzalez, the first great receiving tight end). They are two very big persons. They are also two VERY big personalities. Gronk is legend at this point. It’s a wonder, given his lifestyle, that he has never found himself on the wrong end of some uncouth shenanigans. Yet, year after year he has remained a lovable polar bear, who isn’t funny per se, but makes you laugh.
Kelce meanwhile, is so interesting he has had his own reality tv show for 5 YEARS! You saw Kelce picking up his teammate earlier, and while he doesn’t quite have a head that is as full of meat as Gronk does, there is still plenty of Kansas City BBQ in there. If you had to pick two people to hang out with after the game, it’s these two, as long as Hill and Brown are gone.
6. Runnin’ the ball is like makin’ romance
Not with these two teams. In this case, running the ball is a brief fling you have at a Citgo bathroom before you go back to your QB wife. I already mentioned the Bucs passing proclivity. The Chiefs also have very little interest in the run, unless it is pouring rain and windy. The top running backs are a who’s who of who cares. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrell Williams, LeVeon Bell, Ronald Jones, and Leonard Fournette are all afterthoughts in the running back market. The thing is, almost all Super Bowl champs have afterthoughts at running back. The last great running back to win a Super Bowl? It wasn’t HOF’er Walter Payton, but it feels about that long ago, it was Marshawn Lynch in 2013. If you don’t like that answer, and you want me to pick someone who almost certainly will be, or is, a Hall of Famer… then you go all the way back to Jerome Bettis in 2005. If you have been hitting Twitter or Facebook and asking your team to draft a running back with it’s first pick this offseason, think again. Literally any running back can be a Super Bowl champion. Here is a list of some running backs who have led the Super Bowl in rushing in the last 20 years: Dominic Rhodes, Sony Michel, Michael Pittman, Ahmad Bradshaw, LeGarrette Blount (not once, not twice… THREE TIMES), CJ Anderson, James Starks, Damien Williams, Cordarrelle Dillon, Pierre Thomas, Willie Reed, and Antowain Smith. Two of those names are made up. Good luck figuring out which. Remember that Marshawn Lynch one I mentioned? Percy Harvin was the leading rusher. The less these guys do Sunday, the better off their team will be.
7. We stop the run… (we DON’T stop the pass)
The Bucs defense is lead by one of the NFL’s best coordinators, Todd Bowles. Todd has a long history of putting together high quality NFL defenses. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to his head coaching experience. He had largely unsuccessful times in NY and MIA. Todd’s whole plan is to totally eliminate the running game. This was immensely successful two weeks ago against the Packers, who love to run. This season, the Bucs held teams to almost 200 yards rushing less than any other other team held their opponent. Unfortunately, they gave up the 12th MOST yards to the pass. What this means is that, while the Chiefs strength is matched up on the Bucs strength, the opposite is true here. The Chiefs don’t care if you stop the run. They don’t want to run anyway. This is a major problem, and I suspect it will be the undoing of the Bucs. While last week was a great matchup for the Bucs D (and the two playoff games before that too), this week is absolutely not.
What does it all mean? On Wednesday, I promised I would explain my prediction, so here we are. In their matchup earlier this year, the Chiefs exploded on the Bucs, grabbing a big lead fast, then riding it out to victory. While the Bucs managed to make it look respectable, that game was over fast. The problem in that game was the Bucs coming out with a single high safety (a conventional look for them, and it allows the safety to be close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run), only to watch as the Chiefs speed burned them over and over down the field. After a switch to two high safety, the Chiefs backed off and milked their lead. I expect the Bucs to start out in this look to avoid a repeat, but the Chiefs will be ready for them. I would expect them to work the middle of the field with Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins a lot. With the Bucs out of their normal defense, I think the Chiefs will be able to exploit players playing where they shouldn’t be. On the other side, I expect Mike Evans and Antonio Brown to be non-factors. The Bruce Arians offense runs on chunk gains, and I suspect they will need to try a different approach here. Brady has gotten less accurate in short and intermediate passing over time (who wouldn’t), so it’s up to him to be consistent and get 1st downs. While the Bucs defense was actually better overall than the Chiefs, the Chiefs defense knows how to force you to beat them slowly. It will be imperative for the Bucs to get a lead early in this one. Unfortunately for them, I don’t think they will. Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes have NEVER been held under 30 points with two weeks to prepare for a game. I think they win this one going away, and Patrick Mahomes takes over as the face of the NFL for good. Chiefs -3.5
P.S. It was Cordarrelle Dillon and Willie Reed. Those were stand-ins for Corey Dillon and Willie Parker. Willie Parker was the leading rusher for the Jerome Bettis one I mentioned.