The big game. And the big trade.
The big game, of course, is Super Bowl 55, and what could bring more anticipation than Tom Brady’s bid for a seventh championship, after departing New England and casting his lot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Can the 43-year old quarterback lead his new team to a title, in this strange year of the virus, without training camp, and learning new personnel?
Standing in the way are the defending Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, and their 25-year old whiz, Patrick Mahomes, who has been an unstoppable force.
They say defense wins championships. But I’m not so sure that works in this game.
Brady and Mahomes
I know that pressuring the other quarterback, getting sacks, and causing turnovers, are on the defensive side of the ball, but in this game, they seem to be more of a disruption to a pair of teams that simply are proficient at scoring points.
Two years ago, the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3.
You won’t see anything like that on Super Bowl Sunday.
Touchdowns should be the order of the day. Perhaps field goals as well, but what we now see, are teams using fourth down as just another play to advance the ball. And we’re talking of going for the yardage anywhere on the field, even in place of punting.
What you’re not going to get here is the breakdown of every position on the two teams.
No comparisons dealing with who is stronger, and where they are stronger.
No statistical evidence to give one team an edge over the other.
Throw all of that out the window.
This is not about looking at the contest as if the Chiefs and the Bucs were able to do everything they do well, as if they were in a vacuum.
They won’t be in Tampa. By the way, I would dismiss the home field advantage the Bucs have. First time one of the teams will be playing the Super Bowl at home. I don’t think the Chiefs will be intimidated by playing in front of an enemy crowd. First of all, there won’t be 70,000 Tampa Bay fans, although there will be some fans in Raymond James Stadium.
There will be no prediction of a winner here, or a margin of victory. Maybe a feeling or an instinct.
The reason is, who can forecast when the big mistake will occur? Or which trick play fools the other team.
Or who makes the spectacular catch for the key TD. Or who fails to make the tackle on a big run.
But here are things I know.
If Tom Brady can sit back without being made uncomfortable, he can pick apart any defense, certainly Kansas City’s.
If Patrick Mahomes can extend plays, with his uncanny sense of finding a receiver getting open, he can overcome any deficit.
If there is a special teams breakdown resulting in a long return or a touchdown return, that will be telling.
Easy points will be a big edge to whomever gets them.
Here’s why. Scoring is expected to be commonplace, but they will have to be earned.
Easy points have a way of demoralizing its victim.
It’s not a matter of stopping Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Tyreek Hill, or Travis Kelce.
If you take them out of the game for a period of time, there’s always Mecole Hardman, Nick Keizer, Scotty Miller, Cameron Brate, and, of course, Ron Gronkowski. Gronk is not what he was, but for one play at the right moment, look out.
Then the running game. If either the Chiefs or the Bucs can’t run the ball, they won’t win.
Remember, it’s not always how many yards you gain on the ground, it’s the number of times you call a running play.
If a defense senses you’ve given up an attempt to run the ball, game over.
Running plays keep defenses honest. Gaining huge chunks of yardage is gravy.
Then there is the injury factor.
How much of the loss of left tackle Eric Fisher will affect Kansas City?
How will Tampa Bay be hurt if their starting safeties Antoine Winfield, and Jordan Whitehead are unable to play?
So many of the factors I’ve mentioned will ultimately tell the story of Super Bowl 55.
That’s why predicting what will actually happen is amusing, but in reality, pure folly.
Tony Romo, the outstanding CBS analyst, who will be on the call with Jim Nantz flatly says, “this game will be talked about forever”.
In advance of the game, and on paper, Romo could be spot on.
If one of the teams turns the ball over a number of times and falls behind by a big margin, they may be forced to throw on virtually every down, and the chance for a blowout exists.
Keep in mind, a pick-6 (an interception run back for a touchdown), falls under the category of easy points.
If the game gets out of hand, I feel the Chiefs will be the beneficiary. But don’t quote me. Ha!
Wouldn’t it be a story if the hero of Super Bowl 55 is not named Brady or Mahomes?
In any event, who isn’t looking forward to the Bucs and the Chiefs? Brady and Mahomes.
A quarterback matchup made in heaven.
The big trade. The Lions and Rams swapped quarterbacks. Detroit sent veteran Matthew Stafford to the Rams, in exchange for Jared Goff.
Stafford is 32, a former first-round draft pick, has never won a playoff game. Not his fault.
Goff, chosen number 1 as well, is 26, and led L.A. to the Super Bowl after the 2018 season, and lost to the Patriots.
Stafford requested a trade. He has had more than his share of injuries. He also has played for four different head coaches. Stafford has engineered countless comeback drives, but he’s played for a dysfunctional team.
Goff had fallen out of favor with the Rams head coach Sean McVay, mostly because McVay thought Goff was prone to committing turnovers, a cardinal sin for all quarterbacks.
There was another feature to the deal. The Lions received two number one draft choices, 2021 and 2022, along with a third-round pick upcoming in April.
Without going into contracts and salary-cap issues which are always considered in trades, but often intensely boring to readers, including this writer, I like the trade for both teams.
In Stafford, the Rams are getting a proven leader who could maintain their status as a Super Bowl contender for several years, at least.
The Lions who need to shore up several spots, can use their haul of draft picks to do just that, including choosing a quarterback if they see one who would be better for them than Goff.
Goff had to be disappointed in heading to a non-contender, but said he was “excited to be somewhere that I know wants me and appreciates me”. An obvious shot at the Rams.
It’s no coincidence that the deal was made by the Lions new General Manager, Brad Holmes, who had been the Rams director of college scouting.
I am especially delighted for Matthew Stafford, always a class act, and a great teammate.
I have often sympathized with Stafford, who was simply stuck on a bad team throughout his 12-year career.
His request to be traded made sense and was entirely reasonable.
I don’t believe Deshaun Watson’s demand that he be traded by the Houston Texans fits the same scenario as Stafford’s.
Watson is, without doubt, one of the finest young quarterbacks in the game. He is a huge asset and played in terrific fashion for the lowly Texans who finished 4-12.
It’s too easy for players who perform at a high level to demand trades only four years into their careers because their teams is losing, and has holes to fill.
The job of the front office is to fill those holes. Build up the team. Not every quarterback can play on a contending club all the time.
I realize there have been others, such as Jalen Ramsey, the cornerback who demanded a trade from the Jaguars, and wound up on the Rams.
But Ramsey is not a quarterback, and quarterbacks with Deshaun Watson’s ability are not easy to come by.
Imagine, if every top-notch QB with a team with a losing record requested to be traded.
Still, the Texans may go along with Watson’s wishes.
It would be unfortunate for a team to trade a franchise quarterback so early in his career.
And if Matthew Stafford could command two number 1’s and a three, imagine what the price would be for Watson.
Rest assured, someone would pay the price, and there are teams ready to pull the trigger.
I’m thinking of the Patriots right now, How about the Saints? Let’s not leave out the Vikings. Or the Steelers.
Those are winning teams, who might be interested. There are a bunch of teams who are practically in the same boat as the Texans. So what’s the point. The only other team could be the Dolphins, who are on the brink of great things.
So, the big trade amounts to how the Rams will do with the veteran.
How the Lions will do in finally building team that can win and contend.
And where Deshaun Watson lands, if anywhere but where he is.
But first, and most important, the big game.