The amazing thing about the Super Bowl is that just about anything can happen. We spend two weeks trying to predict what’s going to happen as if we have a clue, but after kickoff, anything can happen.
After a season in which things we never could have foreseen happen, who knows what the Super Bowl has in store for us? Of course, all of the pre-game talk will be about Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Tyreek Hill, Mike Evans, Travis Kelce, Chris Godwin and a few others. But what about everything else?
What about some of the role players and forgotten aspects of the game? Well, let’s try to cover all of our bases by looking at the 10 biggest X-factors who will decide Super Bowl 55.
Eric Fisher’s Injury
You can’t help but feel terrible for Eric Fisher, who tore his Achilles late in the AFC Championship Game after the Chiefs had a comfortable lead.
Even though they’ll have two weeks of practice to adjust to life without Fisher, the Kansas City offensive line had limited game time to gel after moving around several pieces. Mike Remmers had to move to left tackle, Andrew Wylie shifted from guard to right tackle and Stefen Wisniewski came in off the bench. That makes for a lot of moving parts along the Kansas City offensive line.
Protecting Mahomes could be particularly problematic after Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combined for five sacks in the NFC Championship Game, completely dominating the Packers' offensive line.
It remains to be seen how quickly the Chiefs can adjust to playing without Fisher and how they’ll handle Tampa’s pass rush.
Tampa Bay’s Home Field Advantage
As you might have heard, the Buccaneers will be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium, so there’s no way of knowing if it’ll give them an edge or not. Keep in mind that the stadium will have about 22,000 fans. Plus, it’s not like the Bucs will be in charge of distributing the tickets the way they would for a home game.
That being said, the Buccaneers should have plenty of their home fans in attendance. They also won’t have to worry about traveling, staying in a hotel or getting out of their routine. That could end up giving them a slight edge, although nobody can say for sure.
Patrick Mahomes’ Toe Injury
Mahomes appeared to be fine in the AFC Championship Game after suffering a concussion the previous week. But he also took precautions against a turf toe injury, which could be a lingering concern for the Super Bowl.
Of course, another two weeks should help the injury heal, but it’s impossible to say if he’ll be fully healed. He only made one or two errant throws against Buffalo that made it seem like there might be a problem. However, the Bills also didn’t force him to do that much running, which might not be the case against the Bucs' pass rush.
Let’s face it, the Chiefs aren’t overly concerned with establishing a running game. They’ve also received decent production from Darrell Williams late in the season. However, Le'Veon Bell brings another dimension that Andy Reid might find a way to utilize with an extra week to prepare. Even if he hasn’t been a prominent contributor in Kansas City this season, he has the skillset that could do wonders in the Kansas City offense.
After missing the AFC Championship Game with an injury, Bell will be back for the Super Bowl and could be overlooked, putting him in a position to be a surprise contributor.
Look at that, Bell’s former Pittsburgh teammate is in a similar position, just on the other side.
Antonio Brown started to come on strong late in the regular season and Brady seemed genuinely disappointed when Brown got hurt in the playoffs and missed the NFC Championship Game. However, he’s on track to return by the Super Bowl. With Evans and Godwin getting most of the attention, Brown’s presence will surely test the depth in Kansas City’s secondary.
In many ways, Brown is the definition of a wild card who could be a game-changer in the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady v Steve Spagnuolo, the Sequel
Nobody is expecting the Chiefs to win with their defense, but that doesn’t mean the Kansas City defense can’t play a role in the Chiefs winning.
Specifically, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is an X-factor because of his track record. Remember, he was the defensive coordinator with the Giants when they beat Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl 42. He should have some idea of what Brady doesn’t like to face and how to throw him off his game.
It’s not an obvious advantage that the Kansas City defense has in this game, but it’s one worth watching.
Only on an utterly loaded Tampa Bay offense would it be possible to overlook Rob Gronkowski and view him as an X-factor. He’s made just two catches in two postseason games this season. However, his track record and Super Bowl experience speak for themselves.
More importantly, we know that Brady trusts Gronk. In a big spot, don’t be surprised if Brady makes it a point to look in Gronkowski’s direction, giving him a chance to be a difference-maker in another Super Bowl.
Hardman had both highs and lows in the AFC Championship Games, gifting the Bills a touchdown following a muffed punt, but making up for it with a touchdown catch and a 50-yard run.
Mecole Hardman has so much speed and play-making ability, yet opposing defenses can’t give him too much attention because of Hill and Kelce. In that sense, Hardman is the perfect example of a player on the fringe who has all of the tools to steal the show and become the difference between winning and losing a Super Bowl.
Andy Reid’s Super Bowl Experience
Experience doesn’t always matter in a Super Bowl, but there’s no denying a huge gap between the two coaching staffs.
Andy Reid, in particular, has coached in two previous Super Bowls, including last year’s win. In fact, most of Kansas City’s coaching staff was around for that win, so they’ll know the drill and won’t be fazed by the moment. On the other side, Tampa coach Bruce Arians has never been to the Super Bowl as a head coach while the team’s coordinators are also lacking experience on this stage.
While it’s impossible to quantify it, the experience of Reid and his coaching staff could end up playing a significant role in the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady’s Legacy
There’s no player in NFL history with more experience or success playing in Super Bowls than Brady. It’d be foolish to say that doesn’t mean anything. Even if the Buccaneers and most of their players aren’t accustomed to being in big games like this, knowing Brady’s track record undoubtedly creates a sense of calm and confidence for the entire team.
The Bucs will be expecting Brady to step up and shine on the big stage because that’s what legends do. Few will dispute that the Chiefs deserve to be favored in this game. However, the fact that the Chiefs are playing Brady’s team changes the equation.
Brady is the ultimate equalizer and arguably the biggest reason why the Bucs have a legitimate chance of winning.
Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration