This article is part of our Beating the Book series.
I went 1-1 last week, winning with the Chiefs and losing with the Packers. I didn't feel strongly about either game – I could just as easily gone with any of the four combinations, so the result doesn't mean much to me.
Super Bowl 55
Buccaneers +3 at Chiefs
The better defense typically outperforms against the spread in Super Bowls. I delved into this last year and bet (heavily) on the 49ers as a result. You can laugh now, but it was 20-10 49ers with 10 minutes left in the game before the wheels came off. That doesn't mean I got to keep the money I wagered, but it also didn't feel as though the thesis were falsified, either. Accordingly, when two teams meet in the Super Bowl, my general lean (against the spread at least) is still to take the one with the decidedly better defense.
If the Chiefs crush the Bucs, I might have to make an Andy Reid-with-two-weeks/Patrick Mahomes exception. In that case, the thesis might be – in general the top defense in the game is underpriced, but when the other offense is otherworldly great, ignore the general rule. Except it's unclear why there would be a special exception for the Chiefs and not the highest scoring team in NFL history, the 2013 Broncos, who got destroyed by the Seahawks, or the 2007 Patriots who got crushed (ATS) by the Giants. In some ways, Tom Brady's Buccaneers are the closest analog to the Giants, a decent regular-season defense that is peaking at the right time due to its ability to pressure the quarterback. Consider Aaron Rodgers was sacked only 20 times all season, and the Rams, who were second in the NFL with 53 sacks, didn't drop him a single time in the divisional round. But the Bucs sacked Rodgers five times and had him under duress most of the game.
Even so, you'd figure Reid and Mahomes would have an answer for that with two weeks to prepare, but it'll be a taller order after they lost starting left tackle Eric Fisher in the Bills game. And they were already missing their other starting tackle Mitchell Schwartz since November. Moreover, Mahomes claims to be over the turf toe injury he suffered in the Browns game, but he looked gimpy to me – though obviously highly effective from the pocket – against the Bills, and turf toe injuries often linger. If Mahomes is more confined to the pocket than usual, I'd expect Tampa's rush to give him problems.
On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady has had all day to throw of late, taking only two sacks combined against the Saints and Packers. The Chiefs defense isn't bad, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who beat Brady in the 2008 Super Bowl, got to Josh Allen last week – four sacks, a couple of which came on blitzes. But when Spaguolo's Giants crushed Brady in 2007, they were able to get to him with a standard four-man rush (Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck were on that squad.) If Spagnuolo needs to blitz, he'll be facing a QB who will identify it more quickly and have a good chance to beat it.
Bottom line, It's possible Mahomes and Reid are simply operating a different level right now, and I wouldn't be surprised if that turned out to be the case. But if you're asking me what's most likely to happen on this particular Sunday under these conditions – including the game being played in the Bucs' stadium – it's Brady getting his seventh ring.
Buccaneers 37 - 31
I went 1-1 last week during the Conference Championship round, to go 7-5 so far in the playoffs and lost my best bet, the Packers. My season-long record was 118-130-8, my best bet record was 5-12 and I finished the Supercontest 35-48-2. Last year, I finished 127-123-6 on the regular season, 8-9 on best bets and 43-40-2 in the Super Contest. In 2018, I went 141-106-9 on the season, 10-7 on best bets, 48-36-1 in the Super Contest. From 1999-2020, I've gone 2,808-2,626 (51.7%), not including ties.