The key to the Super Bowl LV will be the secondary.
Yes, it is a showdown between Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, but it will come down to whose secondary has a shutdown evening.
Keep an eye on Tampa Bay’s Antoine Winfield and Kansas City’s Tyrann Mathieu, both safeties who can steal the show.
Both secondaries are mirror images of each other with youth and speed on their sides. They both will be faced with daunting tasks, ones that will shape the game.
The Chiefs loom as the favorite with all-world motor Tyrek Hill, who has yet to be slowed in the postseason. He dominated both Cleveland’s and Buffalo’s secondary.
Hill had 269 yards with three touchdowns against the Buccaneers’ defense in a November regular-season meeting.
There’s also the tight end Travis Kelce, who always manages to find a way to get open. Like Hill, Kelce has been a force in the playoffs.
Winfield, who should be the league’s defensive Rookie of the Year, is back in the lineup after he missed the NFC Championship game due to an ankle injury. He has been a gamechanger for the Bucs, and has been an integral part of their second-half turnaround.
It will be on his shoulders and the rest of his secondary mates to slow Hill and Kelce and to keep Mahomes from finding his rhythm.
Winfield is part of a young, aggressive unit with Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Jamel Dean, all of whom have the speed and dexterity to stay with Hill, Kelce, and Co.
They have the luxury of facing Tom Brady in practice with his complement of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scott Miller, Rob Gronkowski, and the low-profiled Antonio Brown — battling a knee injury — who could emerge as a surprise factor.
Bucs’ defensive coordinator and ex-Jets head coach Todd Bowles has referred to Mathieu as how he made him a better coach when the two were together in Arizona. The three-time Pro Bowler had six picks during the regular season, and has one with 13 tackles in the postseason.
He’ll try to throw Brady and his targets off rhythm with his usual ferocious style and lead young vets Juan Thornhill, Chavarius Ward, Bashaud Breeland, Rashad Fenton, and rising rookie L’Jarius Sneed.
The Chiefs’ secondary was the unsung hero in their victory over Buffalo as they were able to keep quarterback Josh Allen under wraps.
It will be a matter of which unit makes a pivotal mistake at a pivotal time.
I see either Winfield or Mathieu making a huge play in the fourth quarter.
Who does it? It’s hard to say. I am leaning toward Tampa Bay because it’s hard for a champion to repeat even if Kansas City has the appearance of a dynasty.
Brady and Mahomes will take center stage, but one of their secondaries that will bring down the curtain.