A rematch of Super Bowl LV is the highlight of the Week 4 NFL schedule, even if both offenses aren't clicking as well as they'd hoped.
Any matchup between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes is immediately appointment television.
The Chiefs and Bucs each enter this "Sunday Night Football" matchup at 2-1 and among the favorites in their respective conferences despite head-scratching losses last week. A depleted receiving corps left Tampa Bay's offense neutered as they fell 14-12 to the Packers. Kansas City, meanwhile, lost on a two-minute drill drive to a Colts team that looked destined for the top of the draft.
But regardless of their last outings, this game will be a great measuring stick of how these teams stack up since they last met at Raymond James Stadium in February 2020.
Can Brady revitalize the Bucs' offense and score another big win over the Chiefs' would-be-GOAT? Or can Mahomes even this head-to-head matchup at three wins apiece?
Sunday Night Football: Kansas City (2-1) at Tampa Bay (2-1)
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Buccaneers fix their offensive woes?
The Buccaneers' scoring this season is nearly half of what it was in 2021 – from 30.1 points per game to 17.0. Now, much of that has to do with a group of wideouts that is starting to look like the Patriots team Brady bolted two years ago. And the good news is that Mike Evans will return from his one-game suspension while Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Julio Jones (knee) will be game-time decisions. But more than a lack of playmakers ails this offense.
Despite all of those absences, Tampa Bay is still far more successful passing the ball on first down (0.17 EPA/play) than running the ball (-0.06 EPA/play). And yet they keep digging themselves into holes by handing it off to Leonard Fournette. Fournette hasn't been terrible this season (4.0 ypc), but running often on first down is rarely the right answer, and his efficiency is dropping as he gets to 19 carries per game.
The Bucs could get some good news as left tackle Donovan Smith returned to practice Wednesday, although he remains a game-time-decision. But since the Chiefs' pass rush has generated pressure 35.8 percent of the time (second in the NFL) and hurries 16.1 percent of the time (third), Tampa Bay ought to have Brady do what he does best and get throws out quickly, regardless of who is protecting the blind side.
2. Can the Bucs force the Chiefs to run?
Despite losing Tyreek Hill over the offseason, Mahomes has been as effective as ever. In fact, his completion rate (67.9 percent), adjusted yards per attempt (8.9), and passer rating (112.1) are all even above his career averages. The Bucs boat-raced the Chiefs in their last meeting because Kansas City's O-line was decimated, but they have a respectable 58 percent (16th in the NFL) pass block win rate this season, so rushing the passer won't be as easy this time around.
Perhaps the best way to beat Mahomes is to dare him not to throw. The Bengals were able to beat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game by dropping eight men into coverage on Mahomes, and he wound up throwing two picks, taking four sacks, and only averaging 7.1 yards per attempt. Of course, the Cardinals tried playing quarters defense in Week 1, only to allow a good performance from Clyde Edwards-Helaire. But the Bucs do have the benefit of actually having a good run defense (3.8 ypc, 0 TDs allowed).
The Chiefs have never had a great rushing offense to pair with Mahomes, but it's been particularly mediocre this season. After averaging 4.8 yards per carry (seventh) last season, they're down to 3.6 (20th) this year. Jerick McKinnon has led KC RBs in snaps each week, and he's only averaging 4.3 yards per rush. Rookie breakout candidate Isaih Pacheco hasn't done much outside of one 22-yard run, and Edwards-Helaire continues to disappoint. If the Chiefs can beat a tough run defense on the ground, you just have to tip your hat to them.
3. Will special teams sink the Chiefs?
One of the key reasons why the Chiefs lost to the Colts last week was poor special teams play. With kicker Harrison Butker sidelined by a left ankle injury, Kansas City had to turn to Matt Ammendola, and that proved to be the difference in the three-point loss.
Ammendola missed a PAT in the first quarter and then a field goal with two minutes left that would have given the Chiefs a seven-point lead. The team also had such little faith in him that they attempted a fake field goal on fourth-and-10 rather than attempt a 42-yarder with 13 minutes left. Ammendola wasn't long for the Chiefs, since Butker's return is imminent, but his tenure was cut shore when the Chiefs released him Monday.
With Butker not practicing this week, the Chiefs will likely be turning to recently signed Matthew Wright. The former UCF kicker was 21-of-24 with the Jaguars last season, which should present an upgrade on last week's debacle. At least the punting unit is in good shape with Tommy Townsend, who leads the NFL with 55.6 yards per punt and a 49.6-yard net average.
This should be a much more competitive game than the 22-point blowout in the Super Bowl, and it's easy to see how both teams' disappointing Week 3 performances could be the kick in the butt they need to show up Sunday. Brady won a ring in their last face-off, but expect the Chiefs to pull away on the strength of their comparative offensive edge at this point in the season.
Prediction: Chiefs 27, Buccaneers 20
*Price as of publication.