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NFL Recap: Super Bowl LV stats that matter

Mike Tanier takes a look at all of the important stats ahead of Super Bowl LV (55). Who has the advantage, and what can we expect?

NFL Recap: Super Bowl LV stats that matter
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 29: Bucs Head Coach Bruce Arians shakes hands with Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid before the regular season game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 29, 2020 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Looking for an edge when handicapping Super Bowl LV? Look no further. NFL Recap has you covered! We’ll help you draw your own conclusions about the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl 55 matchup at Raymond James Stadium on February 7th with stats curated from Football Outsiders, Sports Info Solutions, Pro Football Reference, and elsewhere.

It’s all the data you need to go beyond the Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes/past vs. future hype, whether to craft the perfect prop bet or just dazzle your friends with your football knowledge.

*(All stats are from the 2020 regular season unless noted)

Super Bowl LV Stats Preview: Turnover Differential and Big Plays

Turnover Differential

Buccaneers: 25 takeaways, 17 giveaways, +8
Chiefs: 22 takeaways, 16 giveaways, +6

Let’s start with something simple. Everyone knows that winning the turnover battle is critical. Analytics types and handicappers also know that turnover rates are volatile. Some teams are great at forcing turnovers against patsies but fall back to earth against better opponents. Other teams just get lucky and fall on their own fumbles (Buffalo Bills did not advance, so never mind about that).

The Buccaneers were +4 in the 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs entering Sunday and are still +3 despite Brady’s late-game interception spree. The Chiefs’ defense recorded at least one turnover in every regular season and playoff game except their meaningless Week 17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Both teams are very good, but not outstanding, at creating and avoiding turnovers. There’s one thing to keep in mind, however. When the Chiefs do commit a turnover, like Mecole Hardman’s muffed punt return near his own goal line, it’s usually a doozy.

Big-Play Capability

Buccaneers: 76 plays of 20-plus yards, 14 plays of 40-plus yards
Chiefs: 79 plays of 20-plus yards, eight plays of 40-plus yards

To give you a sense of the importance of the big play, the Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Bills finished second, third, and fourth in the NFL in 20-plus yard passing plays, respectively. Turnovers are key stats to help lead your team to the Super Bowl. In addition, the quickest way to success is to gash your opponent for big chunks of yardage. (Also, the Houston Texans finished first. Free Deshaun Watson!)

Yes, the Buccaneers generated more 40-plus yard plays than Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and company. No risk it, no biscuit! Also, Tampa Bay had two rushing plays of 40-plus yards. The Chiefs? Zero.

Big-Play Prevention

Buccaneers: 50 plays allowed of 20-plus yards, eight plays allowed of 40-plus yards.
Chiefs: 62 plays allowed of 20-plus yards, 12 plays allowed of 40-plus yards.

The Buccaneers were one of the stingiest teams in the league when it came to allowing 20-plus yard gains, thanks to their outstanding pass rush and run defense. They’ll need to continue with that stinginess in order to defeat the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.

Combine this data with each team’s big-play numbers, and the Buccaneers appear quite capable of holding their own, if not outright winning, a battle of haymakers.

Super Bowl LV Stats: Pass Rush/Protection

Pass Rush Percentage

Buccaneers 27.2%
Chiefs 24.2%

The Buccaneers’ pass rush took over and won Sunday’s NFC Championship Game when Brady’s youth serum wore off in the second half. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles blitzed on 39.0% of pass plays during the regular season, the fifth-highest rate in the NFL.

At times, the blitzes were simply overkill. Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, and William Gholston don’t need Devin White’s help getting to opposing quarterbacks, but they will take it.

The Chiefs also blitz often — 35.6% of passes, ninth in the league — and generate some extra pressure just by forcing opponents into shootouts in which their running and short-passing games are neutralized. After Sunday night, Josh Allen may have recurring nightmares in which he backpedals so far to escape Chris Jones and Frank Clark that he falls off a cliff.

(All the data above comes from Pro Football Reference).

Pass Protection

Buccaneers: 4.3% Adjusted Sack Rate, third in NFL
Chiefs: 4.5% Adjusted Sack Rate, fourth in NFL

Adjusted Sack Rate is a Football Outsiders metric that adjusts for factors like down-and-distance and game/score situations.

As you might imagine, most teams that make deep playoff runs are very good at protecting their quarterbacks. In their NFC Championship win, the Buccaneers’ offensive line put on a clinic against the Packers. Brady had plenty of time to find downfield receivers or second and third reads, and Packers’ blitzes rarely found their way home.

The Chiefs’ offensive line may have its hands full with the Buccaneers’ pass rush in Super Bowl LV, especially with left tackle Eric Fisher unavailable after suffering an Achilles injury on Sunday. Then again, they get a boost from Mahomes’ mobility, the most creative scheme in the NFL, and a corps of receivers that makes opponents think twice about sending the blitz.

The difference in Super Bowl 55 may be who gets out to a fast start and red zone efficiency

First-Quarter Point Differential

Buccaneers: 88 first-quarter points for, 100 against (-12)
Chiefs: 94 first-quarter points for, 70 against (+24)

First-quarter prop bettors unite! Wagering on the first quarter score (and stats) will be a fun Super Bowl 55 prop. It’s less of a newbie bet than the coin toss or length of the national anthem, but still a fun early-evening quick fix.

Of course, getting off to a hot (or cold) start can also dictate the flow of the rest of the game, meaning first-quarter scoring rates are not just important to prop bettors. The Buccaneers were notoriously slow starters throughout the regular season. However, they did outscore opponents 16-6 in first quarters in the playoffs, but they could fall behind a Chiefs team that starts every game in fifth gear (and can be generous on defense early in games).

Long story short — the Chiefs have the edge here. And if the first quarter over is 9.5 or lower, HAMMER IT!

Red Zone Offense

Buccaneers: Fifth in the NFL
Chiefs: 10th in the NFL

These ratings come from FO Plus at Football Outsiders, making them much more accurate than raw conversion rates because factors like turnovers and the actual situation (3rd and 12 from the 19 versus 1st and goal from the 2) are incorporated into the data.

The Buccaneers scored touchdowns on 68.85% of their red zone appearances in the regular season, and Brady suffered zero red zone interceptions and just four sacks. The Chiefs are surprisingly ordinary in the red zone. That’s mostly because of penalties and their habit of attempting a Wing-T Triple-Fake Shovel Pass when a run up the middle would suffice.

Red Zone Defense

Buccaneers: 19th (63.16%)
Chiefs: 32nd (76.6%)

Of all the stats leading up to Super Bowl LV, this one is a huge, huge potential advantage for the Buccaneers. The Chiefs allowed touchdowns on 76.6% of opponents’ drives into the red zone, the worst rate in the NFL. If Brady drives the Buccaneers deep, they are almost certain to come away with seven points. The same cannot be said about the mercurial Chiefs.

Super Bowl LV Stats: Various Yardage Situations

Third-and-Long Offense

Buccaneers: Sixth in the NFL
Chiefs: Second in the NFL (per Football Outsiders)

You don’t get to Super Bowl 55 by being bad on third downs. The Chiefs (mostly Mahomes) completed just 55.4% of their 3rd-and-long passes but averaged 10.2 yards per attempt in the regular season. All killer, no filler. Mahomes also ran for four first downs in these situations.

Brady and the Buccaneers averaged 66.1% of their passes, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt. That said, the Buccaneers treated 3rd and long like it was 2nd and inches in the first half against the Packers on Sunday, making difficult conversions look easy.

Third-and-Long Defense

Buccaneers: 20th in the NFL
Chiefs: 13th in the NFL (per Football Outsiders)

Despite their withering pass rush, the Buccaneers recorded just four sacks on 3rd and long. On the other hand, opponents averaged just 6.4 yards per pass against them. No opposing quarterback scrambled for a first down against the Buccaneers, but then again, they faced Drew Brees and Matt Ryan an awful lot.

The Chiefs registered eight sacks and forced four fumbles on 3rd and long. Opponents completed 54.4% of their passes in these situations.

Combine the last two categories, and the Chiefs likely have a significant edge in these Super Bowl-inspired stats on 3rd and long. In general, neither defense can expect it to be easy to get off the field in two weeks.

Short-Yardage Offense

Buccaneers: First in the NFL, 88% Power Success Rate
Chiefs: 32nd in the NFL, 51% Power Success Rate

Power Success is a Football Outsiders metric that takes into account short-yardage rushing conversions and goal-line rushing attempts.

It’s hard to imagine a more stark difference between Super Bowl opponents. The Buccaneers excel in short-yardage situations. The Chiefs are shockingly bad at running for one yard. Of course, neither team thinks twice before throwing the ball on 4th and short — see the Chiefs when running out the clock against the Cleveland Browns, or the Buccaneers just before Scott Miller’s pre-halftime touchdown on Sunday.

Short-Yardage Defense

Buccaneers: 21st in the NFL: 70% Power Success Rate
Chiefs: 32nd in the NFL, 78% Power Success Rate

Short-yardage and goal-line situations could turn out to be the Buccaneers’ greatest advantage — and the Chiefs’ biggest problem — in Super Bowl LV.

Super Bowl LV Stats: Fourth Down

Fourth-Down Conversions

Buccaneers: 8 of 14: 57.1%
Chiefs: 9 of 16, 56.3%

Fourth-Down Conversions Against

Buccaneers: 14 of 25, 56%
Chiefs: 13 of 20, 65%

No real advantages to be found here. Neither team is bolder or more successful than the other. It’s hard to glean any information from the fourth-down conversions allowed by a successful team, anyway. Weak opponents make lots of desperate fourth-quarter attempts against them throughout the season, distorting the numbers.

Game Management and Penalties

Late-and-Close Situations

Buccaneers: Second in the NFL on offense, second on defense
Chiefs: First in the NFL on offense, 12th on defense

As you might have guessed, these are Football Outsiders rankings.“Late-and-close” means anything that happened in the second half or overtime when the score was within eight points.

A team doesn’t reach the Super Bowl by playing poorly late in close games. In fact, the NFL Conference Championship contenders finished first (Chiefs), second (Buccaneers), fourth (Packers), and fifth (Bills) in late-and-close offense, with the Cleveland Browns wedged in at third.

Featured | NFL Recap: The Packers must escape the trap of their own success

If you are looking for an example of the Buccaneers’ late-and-close defense in action, look no further than the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the Packers. They forced two three-and-outs and kept Aaron Rodgers out of the end zone when the Packers needed a touchdown with the game on the line.

Net Starting Field Position

Buccaneers: 2.74 yards
Chiefs: 11.28 yards

This Super Bowl stat requires a bit of an explanation. The folks at Football Outsiders track each team’s starting field position on every drive, as well as their opponent’s starting field position on every drive. Subtract the two numbers and you get Net Starting Field Position. This measures how teams use everything from kick and punt returns to turnovers to forcing (and avoiding) three-and-outs to “tilt” the field in their direction.

The Chiefs start the average drive 11.28 yards further downfield than their opponents do, thanks in large part to the fact that they rarely go three-and-out (they rarely end up punting from around their own 25-yard line). 11 yards per drive is nothing to sneeze at. Mahomes needs to generate one less first down per drive to get the Chiefs into scoring range, as if he needs the help. A field position tilt can make a big difference in a tight game.

Net Penalty Yards

Buccaneers: +273 (+17 yards per game)
Chiefs: -189 (-11.8 yards per game)

The refs really swallowed the whistles on Sunday, particularly in the Buccaneers-Packers game (just six total penalties). But that could change in Super Bowl 55.

The Buccaneers have a big edge in this category, thanks to an all-time record 25 pass interference penalties called against their opponents. The Chiefs, meanwhile, finished second to the Bills with 23 offensive holding calls and tied for third with 23 false starts.

The Chiefs are sloppy geniuses. Brady’s presence may have a teensy little impact on how the stripes call the game, and the Chiefs are in trouble if they spot the Buccaneers 29 net yards on flags in Super Bowl 55.

(All penalty data comes from NFL Penalties)

If it comes down to a field goal …

Buccaneers: (90.3% field goal percentage in the regular season)
Chiefs: (92.6% field goal percentage in the regular season)

Buccaneers’ kicker Ryan Succop is a perfect 12 for 12 on postseason field goals and 17 of 18 on extra points. Harrison Butker is just 8 of 10 on field goals but 32 of 34 on extra points. The devil is in that extra point detail. The Chiefs have scored a lot of touchdowns in the last two postseasons, leading to plenty of Butker extra points. Both kickers should be fine in a close game, but the Chiefs have a habit of making sure it never comes to that.

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