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Worst to First: How the Buccaneers Can Win Super Bowl 55

By: Ethan Fore

There are 123 teams in the four major American professional sports leagues.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the worst team of them all.

Historically speaking, of course. The Bucs have played 708 regular-season games and have won only 278 of them. That’s a .393 winning percentage – the lowest mark in the Big Four. Before the 2020 season, Tampa Bay’s winning percentage was .386.

Enter Tom Brady.

After an 11-win season, a wild-card berth and three consecutive playoff victories on the road over division champions, the Buccaneers head home to Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl 55 – the first Super Bowl in which a participant is playing in its home stadium.

Few picked the Bucs to make it this far. But Tom Brady has once again stood the test of time. Here’s how Tampa Bay can defy the odds once more.

Buccaneers Secondary vs. Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill

It’s no secret that Hill is one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the league. Seriously. No, seriously.

On the year, Hill leads Kansas City in routes run and is second behind Travis Kelce in targets. Hill has converted a burn percentage (BURN%) of 69.4 and gets open at a rate of 73.9% (OPEN%). Over the course of the 2020 season, Hill has generated a big play rate (BP%) of 35.6% while compiling the fifth-most big plays among NFL receivers, behind Calvin Ridley, Davante Adams, DK Metcalf and Stefon Diggs.

Hill is most lethal from the slot, where he converts a BURN% of 72.2, an OPEN% of 76.4 and a BP% of 37.9, the seventh-best rate among NFL slot receivers.

In their Week 12 matchup at Raymond James, Hill exposed the Tampa secondary, catching 13 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns, with all three scores coming from 20 yards out or more. He beat Carlton Davis III on touchdowns of 75, 44 and 20 yards from both the outside and the slot.

Tyreek Hill #10 caught 13 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting with the Bucs. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

The Bucs tried to use man coverage on Hill with a single-high safety to provide assistance on deep routes. But Hill’s speed is far too difficult to contain in man coverage. While Tampa Bay safeties Jordan Whitehead and rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. are talented, smart and physical, they are not rangy enough to play true to the free safety position.

But the Bucs will receive two bonuses this time around, as Jamel Dean and Vita Vea, who were both out for Week 12, are on track to suit up on Sunday. While Davis III is a good, physical cover corner, he got burned by Hill multiple times. Dean, a far faster corner, might have a better chance to keep up with Hill should the Bucs implement more man coverage. Dean allows a BURN% of 46.9, more than six percentage points better than league average, while Davis III allows a BURN% of 50.0.

Meanwhile, Vea’s return will allow Tampa Bay’s linebackers and safeties to drop into coverage more often instead of playing closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Vea is a monster in the trenches, disrupting opponents’ runs (RD%) on 23.2% of rushing attempts.

Because of this, expect the Bucs to go with more split-safety looks to help Dean and Davis III over the top. Hill has been doubled 26.3% of the time this season, the third-highest rate in the league among receivers with 50 matchups. Dean and Davis III have won 80.3% and 73.1% of their matchups, respectively.

Containing Hill is a daunting task for any defense, and the Chiefs weapons outside of Hill force defensive coordinators to make tough decisions. But if the Bucs want to win on Sunday, they can’t afford to let Hill gash them again.

Buccaneers Edge Rushers Jason Pierre-Paul/Shaquil Barrett vs. Chiefs Offensive Tackles

OK, you’ve figured out a way to possibly slow down Hill. Now what?

Get to the quarterback.

Pierre-Paul and Barrett put on a pass-rushing clinic last week against the Green Bay Packers, sacking Aaron Rodgers twice and three times, respectively. Barrett tacked on an additional quarterback hit, while each recorded two tackles for loss.

Since 2019, Barrett has the most sacks in the entire NFL with 30.5, including postseason play. Over the course of the 2020 season, Barrett has generated a pressure rate (PR%) of 21.8, the eighth-best rate among edge rushers with at least 100 snaps. Pierre-Paul has not been as impactful with a pressure rate of just 13.4, but he still registered an above-league-average adjusted sack rate (ASR%) of 4.0.

In Week 12, Barrett and Pierre-Paul each recorded a sack, with Barrett forcing a Patrick Mahomes’ fumble in the red zone in the second quarter.

But left tackle Eric Fisher, whom Barrett beat on that strip-sack, ruptured his Achilles in the AFC championship, which will force a backup to take his place for Sunday’s game. Mike Remmers, who replaced Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle when Schwartz went on injured reserve with a back injury, moved to left tackle following Fisher’s injury.

Remmers, who as a member of the Carolina Panthers struggled mightily against Von Miller in Super Bowl 50, has arguably been Kansas City’s best pass protector on the outside this season. His pressure rate allowed (PR-A%) is 8.2, better than league average, while Fisher and Schwartz have been below league average in allowing pressure. Remmers also has allowed an adjusted sack rate of just 0.7.

As a result of Fisher’s Achilles tear, Andrew Wylie moved from right guard to right tackle. The former undrafted free agent has struggled to protect Mahomes while at right guard, allowing a pressure rate of 10.2. Wylie is the likely starter at right tackle in Super Bowl LV, and he’ll have a tall task against Barrett and Pierre-Paul.

Pressuring Mahomes against a depleted offensive line is a must for Todd Bowles’ defense. Under pressure, Mahomes’ well thrown percentage (WELLTHROWN%) drops from 81.6 in a clean pocket to 66.5, a rate well below league average. His pickable pass rate (PKP%) increases from 2.39 to 5.49, and his open target percentage (OPENTGT%) drops from 84.8 to 72.0.

Mahomes can do ridiculous things, especially when he’s on the move. But pressuring the pocket could lead to mistakes, and in the Super Bowl, mistakes are magnified. It’s a game that can shift on one or two plays.

The Buccaneers blitz at the third-highest rate in the NFL. Mahomes’ time to throw in Week 12 was 2.58 seconds – his third-quickest time of the season. Expect that number to decrease on Sunday.

Buccaneers WRs vs. Chiefs Secondary

Defense is important, of course, but you can’t win if you can’t score.

While Hill ran circles around the Bucs in Week 12, the Chiefs’ secondary held Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown relatively in check. The trio combined for 158 yards, 13 receptions and two fourth-quarter touchdowns from Evans.

In Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed, the Chiefs have three of the best cover corners in the NFL. Each rank in the top 16 in burn percentage allowed (BURN-A%), with Ward (3.3%) ranking fourth among all NFL cornerbacks. Sneed prevents big plays at the fifth-best rate in the NFL, and Breeland places eighth in allowing opposing receivers to get open (Open-A%).

Among outside corners, Breeland and Ward win their matchups at the fourth- and eighth-best rates. Sneed has won just 71.4% of his matchups, but he still sits in the top-15 among inside cornerbacks.

These defensive backs benefit from the playmaking efforts of ball-hawking free safety Tyrann Mathieu. While he can struggle in man coverage, he excels as a center fielder. In 2020, the “Honey Badger” converted a tackling success rate of 82.9, broke up nine passes and added six interceptions to his career total of 23.

In Week 12, the Kansas City secondary picked off Brady twice. Midway through the third quarter, Breeland intercepted a deep pass intended for Scotty Miller that floated just a little too much. Later in the third, Mathieu picked off a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage.

Though Kansas City was able to contain Tampa Bay’s offensive weapons in Week 12, it’s safe to say that Brady & Co. will be more than prepared. Godwin ranks eighth in burn% among all wide receivers (72.6) and ranks second from the slot (77.6). Godwin gets open on 81.0% of routes and generates a BP% of 34.9.

Evans ranks 14th among all NFL receivers in burn% with a 70.6 rate. Evans gets open 72.5% of the time and has totaled a BP% of 42.0 this season, the fifth-highest rate in the league. Brown is not nearly as dynamic as he used to be (and is no guarantee to play), but he still has generated a burn% of 61.3 and an open% of 77.4.

Evans and Godwin win their matchups a 37.3% and 36.1% rate, respectively, only slightly better than NFL-average, but both are doubled at a high percentage. Evans and Godwin are both in the top 25 in terms of double-team rate. Brown, meanwhile, is doubled on 12.9% of matchups but wins just 31.1% of all matchups.

Brady seems to will his receivers open in big games, but he’ll need even bigger moments from his former-All-Pro receivers if he wants to lift his seventh Lombardi Trophy.


Data analysis by Greg Gifford and Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads.

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