The Chiefs traveled to Tampa Bay in Week 12, defeating the Bucs by three points, 27-24. Using one game sample sizes to influence sit/start decisions or bets is a very dangerous game to play if done incorrectly, but there are some things we can learn by looking at the schemes and coaching decisions made in the first matchup to possibly help us grind edges for the Super Bowl. Here are my notes from that Week 12 contest:
The Week 12 Final Score Is Misleading
The Chiefs only won by three points, but the reality is Kansas City blew Tampa out in Week 12. Per nflfastR and Lee Sharpe, the Chiefs had a 90-plus percent chance of winning before the end of the first quarter and that’s exactly how it felt while watching. The final score could’ve been closer to 38-24 if the Chiefs hadn’t coughed up a red zone fumble and settled for two red zone field goals, if the Chiefs kept their foot on the gas in the second half instead of chewing clock, or if Mike Evans hadn’t scored two garbage-time touchdowns in the fourth quarter. This game was a textbook example of how the final score doesn’t tell the full story.
Tyreek Roasted Davis Repeatedly
Carlton Davis is an underrated player and is asked to win on an island more than most corners, but my lawd, did he get absolutely bodied in Week 12. He allowed a 12-263-3 receiving line on 15 targets in coverage per PFF, most of that coming against Tyreek Hill. His first touchdown, a 75-yarder, came in Cover 3 zone defense where Hill got a few steps on a double move and the deep safety couldn’t get over in time to help Davis out. Hill’s 44-yard touchdown came in Cover 1 man defense where Davis followed Hill into the slot (he shadowed Hill whenever playing man this game) and just got burned one-on-one downfield because of Hill’s speed. Davis was left fending for himself in both incidents, so Bucs DC Todd Bowles made an adjustment after that 17-point first quarter.
The Tampa defense looked like this (see below) on the very next play after Hill’s second touchdown and for many obvious passing downs for the rest of the game. Unfortunately for Bowles, the defense can’t look like this every play unless they’re okay with Travis Kelce setting the Super Bowl record for most receptions. Davis will have to defend Hill on an island in Cover 3 at times. He just has to play better.
The Chiefs LT Didn’t Have An Achilles Injury
Eric Fisher tearing his Achilles at the end of the Conference Championship has a domino effect. It moves RT Mike Remmers to left tackle, former undrafted free agent RG Andrew Wylie to right tackle, and backup journeyman Stefen Wisniewski into the starting lineup at left guard. Remmers hasn’t played a snap at left tackle since 2016, and the last team he played in the Super Bowl, Von Miller won the MVP thanks to Remmers’ three sacks and 10 pressures allowed. Simply put, the Chiefs currently have a bottom-10 offensive line right now. Maybe worse. It’s the Achilles heel of the team.
The Chiefs Passed A Lot
The Chiefs highest neutral pass rate of the season came against the Buccaneers in Week 12, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. My research shows that the defense’s run defense efficiency is more correlated to the opposing team’s neutral pass rate than the defense’s pass defense efficiency. In other words, if an offense thinks they can run successfully, they’ll run. If an offense doesn’t think they can run successfully, then they’ll pass. Not the other way around. In this matchup, it’s very clear that the Bucs’ run defense (1st in rushing EPA) is a mismatch against the Chiefs’ run offense (10th in rushing EPA). The Chiefs are likely to be even more pass-heavy in neutral situations in the Super Bowl than they were during the regular season when they ranked second in neutral pass rate.
The Chiefs Safeties Played Deep
Tony Romo was broadcasting this game, and he kept saying things like “They are daring them to run the ball” after pointing out how deep the Chiefs’ safeties were playing. It’s a DC Steve Spagnuolo staple, and partially explains why the Chiefs ranked 28th in neutral pass rate against on defense this season. Offenses simply love to run the ball against Kansas City. In Week 12, the Bucs had a 50% neutral pass rate, which fell below their 58% season average. A similar balanced approach by the Bucs’ offense could be in play again. That would be -EV.
Bucs Deferred After Winning The Coin Toss
There might be an unaccounted for edge in looking at which teams want the ball in the first half or second half when they win the coin toss. Most teams want the ball coming out of halftime, and that’s exactly what coach Bruce Arians opted for in this Week 12 game. So why am I writing about this? Well, in recent games, the Bucs have been opting to receive the opening kickoff. I’m not sure which piece of evidence is more important, the Week 12 outcome or the recent-week strategy. But I am confident that the Bucs have a better than 50/50 chance of receiving the opening kickoff for the Super Bowl. I’m looking at the Bucs to cover the first quarter spread and looking to sprinkle some Tampa players for “first touchdown scored” props.
Thoughts on the Super Bowl Spread and Total
The Super Bowl opening line started at Chiefs -3 with an over/under of 57.5 points, and I took the Chiefs and the under immediately after projecting a 30-24 final. The under is my favorite bet right now between the sides and total for a few reasons:
1. There will be some juice on the over with more casuals betting this game.
2. It’s the highest totaled Super Bowl ever.
3. The Bucs’ may opt to chew the clock against the Chiefs’ iffy run defense.
4. The Chiefs are starting backups everywhere on the offensive line.
5. It’s the second time these teams have faced each other this season.
As for the point spread, the Chiefs just seem in a tier of their own right now. I’m not convinced that betting models have accounted for the Chiefs’ reemergence after sleepwalking through the second half of the season, and I’m really not sure the Bucs’ Cover 3 defense is the type of coverage that is best suited for defending Hill and Kelce after re-watching this Week 12 matchup. The Bucs path to pulling off the upset is by creating pressure with four rushers against the Chiefs’ backup-quality offensive line, but Mahomes is just so good while under pressure that I’m willing to bet on him and coach Andy Reid figuring things out with two weeks to prepare.