Flipping The Switch
By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports gambling analyst
The Kansas City Chiefs rolled through last year’s NFL playoffs en route to their first Super Bowl title in 50 years. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his ‘mates racked up 117 total points in three playoff wins, and Kansas City covered the spread in all three.
This postseason, the Chiefs bested the Buffalo Bills by two touchdowns, thanks to 439 yards of total offense. They were well on their way to a blowout of the Cleveland Browns before a lightning-rod hit almost struck down their franchise quarterback.
If Mahomes doesn’t get knocked out with a concussion two Sundays ago, K.C. would likely be a perfect 5-0 against the number in its past five playoff tilts. The reigning champs’ innate ability to flip the switch makes them an incredibly dangerous football team in the eyes of the oddsmakers.
"Kansas City was our highest power-rated team all season," Westgate SuperBook sportsbook director John Murray told FOX Sports. "You don’t want to overreact too much to that lull they got into at the end of the regular season. They probably would’ve covered against Cleveland if Mahomes didn’t leave the game, and they covered pretty easily in the AFC Championship."
Clearly, the postseason is worlds more important than the regular season, in which complacency often becomes an issue. The Chiefs didn’t do sports bettors any favors down the stretch – they failed to cover in nine straight football games from Nov. 8 to Jan. 17 before finally getting to the window against the Bills last week.
A quick history lesson reminds us that the Chiefs were 3.5-point favorites when these two teams met in late November at Raymond James Stadium. Mahomes & Co. jumped ahead 27-10 before taking their foot off the gas and allowing the Bucs to make it interesting.
Mahomes eventually iced the game with a kneeldown for a 27-24 Chiefs win.
"They should’ve covered that one, too," Murray noted. "They were up 17 and gave up two late touchdowns to let Tampa Bay sneak in the backdoor. The Chiefs were never really challenged as far as losing that game. They’ve taken their foot off the gas quite a bit. The people that set the lines know that Kansas City wasn’t fully focused in a lot of these games. Now you certainly have their full attention. When Mahomes is clicking, their offense has looked almost unstoppable."
The Chiefs’ attack is equal parts precision, shiftiness, skill and speed. They have unbelievable playmakers with tight end Travis Kelce and receivers Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman. Head coach Andy Reid’s schematics and playcalling help take the offense to another level as well.
But the offense starts and ends with No. 15. No questions asked.
"I’ve never seen a guy make the throws Mahomes can make," Murray said. "He made a play against Buffalo where he escaped a sack, rolled out to his right, then flung it back across his body to the left side straight into the hands of a receiver for a first down. I was just shaking my head. I’ve never seen anyone that can make these throws and do the things that he can do. He’s unbelievable.
"When you look back on this Super Bowl in 30 years from now, you’re going to have the greatest matchup of quarterbacks in the history of the Super Bowl. Tom Brady has to be one piece of it, and Mahomes is going to be an all-time great."
Obviously, there’s a path to victory for the Bucs. It would be silly to sit here and act like a 3-point underdog can’t win a football game. Relying solely on Brady to throw on Superman’s cape, though, would not be an ideal strategy. As in many of Brady’s big wins over the years, he’ll need help.
"The biggest key versus Kansas City is to get off the field on third down," Murray said. "That was Green Bay’s biggest problem against Brady. And [Chiefs left tackle] Eric Fisher is out with a torn Achilles. If Tampa Bay’s pass rush can get to Mahomes, that would be their quickest path to victory.
"Both New Orleans and Green Bay sort of gave the game away. I don’t see Kansas City doing that, but that’s what would have to happen — bad turnovers like we saw from Drew Brees and Jared Cook and bad coaching decisions like we saw from Matt LaFleur.
"That’s the only way I see Kansas City losing this game."
I’ve picked against Brady in the past two playoff rounds, so I’m super salty. This is also not the first time in my life that I’ve been on the wrong side of a Brady barrage on the way to the Big Game. Multiple people warned me to "never bet against Brady," but I would argue that he stunk against the Saints and almost blew it against the Packers.
Definitely still salty. Still, the reality is that the game’s greatest quarterback has to play a whole lot better if he wants to unseat the new kid on the block and regain control of the championship throne.
"Brady made some really good throws in the first half, but his receivers made him look good on some of those catches," Murray said. "He didn’t play well at all in the second half. Tampa Bay’s defense won that game for them, and I don’t know if they’ll be able do that against Kansas City. And I can promise you Brady won’t be able to get away with throwing three interceptions against the Chiefs."
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