Fans are in for a blockbuster Super Bowl LV quarterback matchup between Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs (L) and Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the final two teams standing after an unprecedented NFL season. The AFC and NFC champions face off in Super Bowl LV on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.
The matchup ends a peculiar NFL season, which started as scheduled and completed all 256 regular season games and a dozen postseason games, despite 262 players and 463 other personnel testing positive for COVID-19 from Aug. 1 through Saturday.
Fans have been rewarded with a blockbuster quarterback matchup. Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes have stolen most of the headlines in the week before Super Bowl LV.
Brady, the Buccaneers quarterback, is attempting to win his seventh Super Bowl. The Buccaneers also are the first team in league history to compete in a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Mahomes, the Chiefs' quarterback, will attempt to win his second consecutive Super Bowl. He has had one of the most remarkable starts in NFL history, with an MVP award and two Super Bowl appearances in his first three seasons as a full-time starter.
The Mahomes-Brady battle marks the first time that the winning quarterbacks from the previous two Super Bowls have faced each other in the next Super Bowl.
The Chiefs and Buccaneers have excellent chemistry, an array of acrobatic offensive playmakers and opportunistic defenses.
The teams must remain composed in the days before the game so they are in top form when the for kickoff at 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
"It would be amazing to have an opportunity to hoist that trophy and be a champion in really the ultimate team sport," Buccaneers defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh told reporters Wednesday during a Zoom conference.
"It's always one of my goals. First getting into this league was very important to me. ... I look forward to the opportunity of closing it out. I've been very blessed to be able to have an individual career that has many accolades, but the ultimate goal is to have the team accolade, and that's the Vince Lombardi trophy."
How they got there
The Buccaneers were on a 12-year playoff drought and had three consecutive seasons with a losing record before the 2020 season. The Chiefs had been perennial contenders, had one of the best rosters in the league and were betting favorites to repeat as champions.
Tampa Bay's outlook became much more optimistic in March, when Brady signed with the Buccaneers out of free agency.
The Buccaneers posted an 11-5 record, and Brady, 43, threw more touchdown passes (40) than he had in a single season since the 50 he tossed as the 30-year-old New England Patriots quarterback.
Tampa Bay went 3-2 through the first five weeks of the season. The Buccaneers were 7-5 before their Week 13 bye and in danger of not making the playoffs. They have since gone on a seven-game winning streak and are the hottest team in the league.
The Buccaneers entered the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the NFC. They advanced to the Super Bowl with victories over the Washington Football Team, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers.
The Chiefs roared out of the gate with four-consecutive wins to start the season. They lost to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5 and the went on a 10-game winning streak.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid opted to sit most of the team's best players in a regular season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chiefs -- the top seed in the AFC -- had a first-round bye and then beat the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills to reach the Super Bowl.
Mahomes produced another Pro Bowl campaign, with 4,740 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and six interceptions in 15 starts. The Chiefs' quarterback -- and his arsenal of pass-catching weapons -- are among the toughest challenges in the league for opposing defenses.
"He can do anything," Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said of Mahomes on Tuesday during a Zoom conference call with reporters.
"He can do anything and everything. When he backpedals, there is no pocket because he just keeps backpedaling and nobody in the league, or any league, can keep backpedaling and throw that ball as accurately and as far as he can.
"He is a very, very unique player."
The Chiefs had four offensive players selected to this year's Pro Bowl. Defensive end Frank Clark, defensive tackle Chris Jones and safety Tyrann Mathieu also made the Pro Bowl.
Veteran outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul was the only Buccaneers player -- on offense or defense -- selected for the Pro Bowl.
All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce was Mahomes' top target in 2020. He had 105 catches for 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns. Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the Chiefs' leading rusher with 803 yards and four scores on the ground.
Speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill had a career-high 17 touchdowns in 2020.
"I think what makes each of them great is that they really complement each other well," Mahomes said of Hill and Kelce on a Tuesday Zoom conference call with reporters.
"The fact that Tyreek can beat man coverage, catch over the top, be able to make big plays happen, opens up the middle of the field for Travis."
Wide receiver Mike Evans was Brady's top target this season. Evans had 1,006 yards and 13 touchdowns on 70 receptions for the Buccaneers. Ronald Jones led the team with 978 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Tampa Bay's offense is packed with additional trusted playmakers for Brady. All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown joined the team midseason. Brady's longtime Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski had seven touchdown catches this season. Wide receiver Chris Godwin has been an explosive playmaker for the Buccaneers.
Inside linebacker Devin White had a team-leading 140 tackles for Tampa Bay's defense. He also had nine sacks. Pierre-Paul had a team-high 9.5 sacks for Tampa Bay.
Chris Jones led the Chiefs with 7.5 sacks this season. Mathieu amplified his reputation as a ball hawk, with a team-high six interceptions and a fumble recovery in 2020.
The Chiefs entered the week as 3 1/2-point favorites to beat the Buccaneers, but that spread has since dropped to 3 points.
"All the game plan is in [place] so right now we're just trying our best to keep that engine rolling, trying our best not to peak too soon," Mathieu said Wednesday on a Zoom conference call with reporters.
"We're still a couple days away from the big game. You don't want to have too much energy before game, you want to kind of build up to it. I think we're in the right mindset right now. We're ready to go."
Mahomes might be the toughest player to defend on either roster, but both teams also have had to play defense against COVID-19 this season and in the days leading up to the game.
Chiefs and Buccaneers players have been tested for COVID-19 every day since they won their respective conference championship games Jan. 24. No players or coaches from either team have tested positive. A positive test at this date means that player will not be allowed to participate in Super Bowl LV.
The Chiefs will remain in Kansas City, Mo., until they fly into Tampa on Saturday, a safety measure put in place by the NFL due to the pandemic.
Two Chiefs players -- wide receiver DeMarcus Robinson and center Daniel Kilgore -- were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday after they came into contact with a barber who had tested positive for the virus.
A total of 20 Chiefs players were scheduled to get haircuts from the same barber. He stopped working Sunday and left the team's facility. Kilgore and Robinson will be allowed to return to the team Saturday if they continue to test negative.
About 22,000 fans are expected to attend Super Bowl LV under strict safety measures. The NFL provided free tickets to 7,500 healthcare workers.
Game tickets, as of Thursday afternoon, were listed for between $4,000 and $70,000 on the secondary market.
Nearly 100 million people watched last year's Super Bowl on TV and that viewership total could exceed that Sunday.
Super Bowl LV kicks off at 6:30 p.m. EST on CBS. The Weeknd will perform at halftime from Raymond James Stadium.
Britney Spears sings at Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Fla., on January 28, 2001. The Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Giants 34-7. Photo by John SooHoo/UPI | License Photo