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Super Bowl 55 preview: Storylines galore as Brady and Mahomes face off

By Barry Wilner
AP Pro Football Writer
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) moves out to throw as offensive tackle Eric Fisher (72) provides coverage against Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) in their regular season meeting.

Someone will make history Sunday in a Super Bowl so filled with storylines it would fill a season of TV programming.

Tom Brady, already the true Game of Thrones king, going for a seventh ring. Patrick Mahomes, the apparent heir to the quarterbacking summit, seeking a second in a row with Kansas City — something no team has done since Brady led New England to the double in the 2003 and '04 seasons.

Brady, 43 is in his 10th NFL title game, but with a new outfit, the Buccaneers — who happen to call Tampa home. Yes, Tampa, Florida, where the Super Bowl is being played this year. Pirates of the Caribbean make port: No host team has ever played in the big one in its home stadium.

"There's a lot that comes along with the Super Bowl," says  Rob Gronkowski, the three-time champion tight end who came out of retirement to reunite with Brady. "There's a lot that comes along with this week. I've been there before. I've experienced it all before. But just having it at home, cutting out the travel, knowing where you can stay, where your friends can stay, where you family can stay, it just makes it a lot easier to have it at your home stadium, big time."

Add in two sixty-something head coaches, K ansas City's Andy Reid and Tampa Bay's Bruce Arians, both offensive masterminds as comfortable with today's high-scoring, creative NFL attacks as all those kid coaches who are all the rage. 

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes meets with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady following the Chiefs' regular season win in Tampa. The two will match up again in Super Bowl 55 next week.

"There's nobody that would ever say a bad thing about B.A., he's just so endearing to everybody and I think everyone wants to win for him," Brady says of Arians, the kind of praise the quarterback rarely used about his previous head coach. 

"He's got almost like a father figure kind of role in the building and it's because everyone loves him so much," Chiefs unanimous All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce says of Reid. "He's got an unbelievable way of getting the best out of everybody that is relating to all different aspects and all different forms of life." 

Don't forget the defenses, which could easily be ignored with all the dynamism on both offenses. Tampa has probably the best set of linebackers in the NFL with Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David and Devin White, studs up front in Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul, and an ever-improving secondary. 

KC has All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, linemen Frank Clark and Chris Jones — and a coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, who doesn't back off.

"I've played for a lot of coaches in high school and college," Clark notes, "and I'm not saying they were bad, but I'm not saying their intentions were to bring out the best in players. I can say that for sure with coach Spags. His intentions are not negative or anything like that. His intentions are solely to have the best defense on that field."

All of this at the end of a season played during a pandemic, yet not delayed, with no games canceled, and each of the Super Bowl participants experiencing relatively few COVID-19 setbacks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul (90) hits Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) after the throw in their game earlier this season. The Buccaneers hope to get pressure on Mahomes in their rematch in Super Bowl 55.

"I think with the pandemic and the sacrifices they have all made for each other, they go to work and go home," Arians says. "They don't get to sit and eat together, don't get to have conversations, it is amazing to me how close they are. It is the commitment they made to each other to beat the virus."

The NFL and Florida health officials have approved about 22,000 fans and all will be required to wear masks. Raymond James Stadium normally has a capacity of 75,000 fans.

Playing before real people rather than just cardboard cutouts — oh, there will be plenty of those, too, with proceeds donated to local charities — has been rare in the NFL all season. But both the Chiefs and Buccaneers were among the few teams to have fans on hand for some games.

Their paths to the championship game have been divergent, though. The Bucs (14-5) finished second in the NFC South to the Saints, sending them on the wild-card route. That meant trips to Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay. And now, staying home.

The Chiefs (16-2) had the top seed and lone bye in the AFC, then outlasted Cleveland with Mahomes sidelined for nearly half the game before routing Buffalo. 

Of course, with the week off between the conference title matches and the Super Bowl, each side should be well rested. The only perceivable edge might be the Chiefs needing a plane ride to the game site while the Bucs could drive over to RJS.

By Sunday, they will be as eager as possible to get back on the field and write the final chapter to an unfathomably atypical season.

"You don't get these opportunities every year in the NFL to be in the Super Bowl and to be in these games," Mahomes says, thought it sure seems as if Brady has a Super Bowl habit, and Mahomes is developing one. "So you don't want to look back and have regrets on how you played or how you went about the week before preparing to go out there to play your best football. 

"When the end of your career is done, then you can kind of look and see where those moments were in your career where you could've had something or that you executed and you did go out there and achieve your dreams."

AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker and Dennis Waszak Jr. and Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed

SUPER BOWL 55 AT A GLANCE

TAMPA BAY (15-5) at KANSAS CITY (16-2)

Sunday, 5:30 p.m. CT, CBS (KCTV 5)

OPENING LINE — Chiefs by 3

RECORD VS. SPREAD — Buccaneers 11-8; Chiefs 8-10

SERIES RECORD — Buccaneers lead 7-6

LAST MEETING — Chiefs beat Buccaneers 27-24 on Nov. 29, 2020, in Tampa

LAST GAME — Chiefs beat Bills 38-24 for AFC title; Buccaneers beat Packers 31-26 for NFC title

AP PRO32 RANKING — Buccaneers No. 8, Chiefs No. 1 (as of end of regular season)

BUCCANEERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (7), RUSH (T28), PASS (2)

BUCCANEERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (1), PASS (21)

CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (16), PASS (1)

CHIEFS DEFENSE —OVERALL (14), RUSH (17), PASS (13)

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs and Buccaneers have not met in the playoffs. ... Tampa Bay went 8-2 against common opponents this season. Kansas City went 7-2. ... This will be the first Super Bowl featuring the starting quarterbacks that won the previous two: Patrick Mahomes with the Chiefs last season and the Buccaneers' Tom Brady with the Patriots the previous season. ... Mahomes and Brady are the first QBs with MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards to meet in the Super Bowl. ... Mahomes (.830) and Brady (.757) have the highest and third-highest winning percentage among QBs with at least 50 starts since 1950. ... The Chiefs are trying to become the ninth team to win back-to-back Super Bowls and the first since the Brady-led Patriots in 2003 and '04. ... Chiefs coach Andy Reid (62) would be the oldest coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls. The Packers' Vince Lombardi (54) has the record. ... Reid would earn his 18th postseason win, passing Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs for the fourth most in NFL history. ... Mahomes (25) is trying to become the youngest starting QB to win multiple Super Bowl titles. Brady is the only other QB with two in his first four seasons. ... Mahomes threw for 325 yards and three TDs without an interception in the AFC title game against Buffalo. He has 17 career postseason TD passes, the most by any QB in his first four seasons. ... Mahomes has a 109.8 passer rating in seven playoff games, the highest mark in NFL history. He needs 322 yards passing to break his own franchise record (901) for a single postseason. ... Mahomes had 462 yards passing and three TDs without an interception in the Chiefs' Week 12 win over Tampa Bay. ... Unanimous All-Pro Travis Kelce had 13 catches for 118 yards and two TDs in the AFC title game, tying Shannon Sharpe and Kellen Winslow for the most receptions by a tight end in a playoff match. Kelce needs 91 yards receiving to break the record for a TE in a single season (317) set by the Colts' Dallas Clark in 2006. ... Kelce needs two TD catches to tie Dave Casper's record of five for a tight end set in 1977. He needs two catches to pass Dan Ross (22 in 1981) for the most by a TE in a postseason, needs 10 to break Larry Fitzgerald's record for catches by any player, set for the Cardinals in 2008. ... All-Pro WR Tyreek Hill had a Chiefs record of 172 yards receiving in the AFC title game. ... Hill and Kelce are the only teammates in NFL history with at least 100 yards receiving in consecutive games in the same postseason. ... Hill and Kelce have 8,770 yards since the start of the 2018 season, passing the Hall of Fame duo of the Vikings' Cris Carter and Randy Moss for the most by a pair of teammates over a three-year span. ... Chiefs DE Frank Clark had two sacks in the AFC title game, becoming the 14th player since the sack became an official statistic in 1982 with at least 10 in the postseason. ... Chiefs All-Pro SS Tyrann Mathieu had a career-best six interceptions in the regular season. He had another against Cleveland in the divisional round of the playoffs. ... L'Jarius Sneed has sacks in each of the Chiefs' first two playoff games, becoming the first rookie CB to accomplish the feat since 1982. ... The Chiefs have allowed 24 points or fewer in four consecutive postseason games. ... WR Sammy Watkins (464) needs 18 yards receiving to pass Otis Taylor (481) for third most in Chiefs postseason history. Kelce (859) and Hill (723) are first and second. ... The Buccaneers are trying to become the seventh wild-card team to win the Super Bowl. ... The Buccaneers are the first team since 2012 (Baltimore) to beat the top two seeds in its conference. .. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians (68) would become the oldest coach to win the Super Bowl. ... Brady is trying to win his seventh Super Bowl, extending his record for a player. He would join Peyton Manning as the only QBs to win Super Bowls with multiple franchises. ... Brady has Super Bowl records for yards passing (2,838), single-game yards passing (505) and touchdowns passing (18). He is also the playoff leader in completions (1,085), yards passing (12,248), touchdowns passing (80) and wins (33). ... Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette can join Terrell Davis and Larry Fitzgerald as the only players with touchdowns in four consecutive playoff games in the same postseason. ... Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski has 23 catches for 297 yards in four Super Bowl appearances, all with the Patriots. ... Gronkowski has the most receptions (83), yards receiving (1,206) and TDs (12) among TEs in the playoffs. Kelce is second in each category with 73 catches, 859 yards and nine TDs. ... Tampa Bay led the NFL in rushing defense (80.6 yards per game) for the second straight season while piling up its most sacks (48) since 2000. ... Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones set career highs with 1,143 yards from scrimmage, 978 yards rushing and seven TDs in 2020. ... The Buccaneers have five interceptions, two fumble recoveries and five sacks in their three playoff games. ... Tampa Bay LB Shaq Barrett had three sacks against Green Bay in the NFC title game, joining Warren Sapp as the only players in franchise history with three in a postseason game. ... Buccaneers CB Sean Murphy-Bunting has interceptions in each of his first three career playoff games. The only others to accomplish the feat are Aeneas Williams, Ed Reed and Jason Sehorn.

– The Associated Press