The Kansas City Chiefs face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV on Sunday evening. The biggest storyline has been the showdown between reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, who will be starting his 10th Super Bowl in search of his seventh championship ring.
But they won’t be the only players on the field. Let’s take at the Chiefs who are trending up (and down) heading into the team’s second straight Super Bowl.
L’Jarius Sneed: This isn’t a GameStop situation. Sneed’s rise has been meteoric — but real. The way he finds the football — along with his speed, physicality, versatility and blitzing ability — makes him one of the three best players on the Chiefs defense. On Sunday evening, he’ll make plays on the biggest stage. The football world will have to take notice.
Tyreek Hill: Last time out against the Buccaneers, Hill put together arguably the greatest wide receiver performance we’ve ever seen. Yes, they’ll try to stop him this time — and no, we shouldn’t expect 269 yards and three touchdowns in the Super Bowl. But there’s no question Hill will be a factor for the Chiefs. If the Tampa Bay focuses on slowing him down, Kelce — and even Mecole Hardman or Sammy Watkins — could feast. But if they again make the mistake of trying to cover Hill without help... watch out.
Travis Kelce: You can’t talk about the Chiefs offense without raving about Travis Kelce. He’s on an entirely different level this season — and just keeps getting better and better. Oh, and the Tampa Bay defense seems to want us to think they’ll handle him with just one linebacker. Good luck with that. It’s hard to imagine that Kelce won’t score at least once against the Buccaneers — and you know he’s the guy they’ll go to when things get tough. When the lights go on, expect double-digit targets and an MVP-level performance from 87.
Patrick Mahomes: When this series of articles first started, we said that we’d likely not feature Mahomes as much — simply because he’s already the best player on the team, division, conference, league, planet and universe. But this week, Mahomes has the opportunity of a lifetime. Some are arguing that regardless of what comes after it, this Super Bowl is the biggest game of his career; it’s his chance to forcibly pry the torch from Tom Brady’s 43-year-old fingers and put on a show in front of the world. You know he’s competitive, petty and motivated. You know he’s healthy and well-prepared. So let’s see what he does in his second Super Bowl appearance. There’s a chance it’s going to be historic.
Chris Jones: The Kansas City defensive tackle has been quietly dominant this year. He’s lacked the gaudy sack numbers, but he’s nonetheless made an impact in games. If there were ever a game where Jones could cement his legacy and remind everyone why the Chiefs prioritized paying him... it’s Super Bowl LV. Tom Brady struggles when pressured up the middle — and if Jones gets in his face, he’ll make mistakes. These two have gone a few rounds, so this one could be an epic finale. Jones could get a sack or two, but also bat down multiple passes and cause hurried throws that end up in the hands of Sneed or Tyrann Mathieu.
Others trending in the right direction: Mathieu, Anthony Hitchens, Juan Thornhill, Sammy Watkins
LeVeon Bell: Aside from a few moments, Bell hasn’t been much of a factor this season. Going into the Super Bowl, he’s said, “I came here to get to this game.” But it’s hard to see him having a significant role on the field. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has recovered from his injury and should be a factor, while Darrel Williams seems to be the guy who has stepped up in the playoff run. Which of those guys should lose snaps in the biggest game of the season?
Ben Niemann: Chiefs fans and Tom Brady have something in common: they are always looking for a guy they can pick on in coverage. Around here, we’ve often been critical of Niemann — although he’s certainly had his good moments. But this Tampa Bay matchup might create some problems for 56. The Buccaneers have big tight ends and receivers that they’ll try to isolate on a linebacker. Then there’s running back Leonard Fournette, who might be the most dangerous player on the Tampa Bay offense. He’s surprisingly good in the passing game — and can flat-out run over defensive backs and linebackers in the open field. Look for Brady to target Fournette in the short passing game — and to try to get him going on the ground as well. When Niemann is on the field, he may struggle to make stops.
Others trending in the wrong direction: Demarcus Robinson, Nick Keizer, Tanoh Kpassagnon
The makeshift offensive line: One of the biggest storylines for the Super Bowl has been the talented Buccaneers defensive front against the Chiefs’ beat-up offensive line. We won’t see either of Kansas City’s bookend tackles who have been so reliable in previous seasons. We won’t see the team’s best two starting guards (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Kelechi Osemele) or their talented rookie Lucas Niang. But it’s not like we won’t recognize the five guys up front. This season, Mike Remmers, Nick Allegretti, Austin Reiter, Stefen Wisniewski, and Andrew Wylie have all played significant snaps — and plenty of them have been quality snaps. The Chiefs, of course, also have the Earthling who is best-suited to overcome less-than-ideal offensive line play. Here’s a prediction: this group will not cost the Chiefs the Super Bowl — and by the end of the game, we’ll wonder why anyone worried about them.
Demarcus Robinson: After a COVID-19 scare, Robinson will be able to play on Sunday. Sammy Watkins probably returns as well, giving the Chiefs their full complement of pass-catchers. The assumption would be that Robinson is the odd man out. But every Super Bowl seems to have a couple of role players who have inexplicably big performances. Robinson may be a deep sleeper — but he’s fast, he gets open and he won’t be high on the Tampa Bay’s radar. It’s possible that he will get loose for a long score in the championship game.