This Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will become the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl at their home arena, the Raymond James Stadium, in their second Super Bowl appearance.
This was an idea unthinkable 12 months ago, but in March 2020 three-time league MVP and six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady signed a two-year deal to bring his talents to the Sunshine State.
Tampa, owned by the Glazer family, will be hoping to claim their second Vince Lombardi Trophy as they take on last year’s champions the Kansas City Chiefs.
Path to the Super Bowl
Tampa finished the regular season with an 11-5 record, finishing fifth in the NFC despite a midseason dip, during which they lost to Sunday’s opponent.
In the wild-card round they met Washington and achieved their first playoff victory in 18 years with a 31-23 win.
Next up was the New Orleans Saints led by 42-year-old Drew Brees, to whom they lost twice in the regular season.
In a clash between the sport’s two greatest quarterbacks, a field goal and a rushing touchdown courtesy of Brady secured a 30-20 win for the Buccaneers.
In the NFC Championship game, the Bucs came up against another legendary quarterback and MVP-favourite, Aaron Rodgers.
Six sacks was enough to keep Rodgers quiet and seal a 31-26 win, a first NFC title and a record tenth Super Bowl appearance for Brady.
The Coach – Bruce Arians
In charge for his second season is Bruce Arians, 68, former head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
In five seasons, the Cardinals reached the playoffs twice, unable to make it to the Super Bowl after falling at the final hurdle in 2015.
The two-time AP coach of the year has two rings from his time as an assistant coach at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The team’s offence is coached by Byron Leftwich who followed Arians from Arizona, and Leftwich will have been delighted with the attacking talents at his disposal.
Brady is a major factor, but the quarterback is surrounded by stars. Of Brady’s 40 regular season passing touchdowns 13 have come through wide receiver Mike Evans, a career best that ranked him fourth in the league.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the offence will be the rushing game and in particular one of the team’s newest additions, Leonard Fournette.
With a touchdown in each of the postseason games so far it’s no surprise he’s been nicknamed “Playoff Lenny”.
With the second-highest rushing yards and the highest receiving yards among running backs in the postseason, Fournette is a versatile player who will be key in Sunday’s offence.
While praise is duly given to the offence, the Buccs defence shouldn’t be ignored.
Coached by former New York Jets head coach, Todd Bowles, the side allowed the fewest rushing yards in the regular season, 1228, and conceded the fewest rushing touchdowns, 10.
Much of that is due to their impressive group of linebackers which includes a pair of all-pro second-teamers in Devin White and LaVonte David. The former ranked fifth in regular-season total tackles with 140.
Unfortunately, their opponent’s game relies largely on passing, for which they rank top for total yards in the regular season.
Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce rank third and fifth respectively for regular-season receiving touchdowns so it will be a long day for cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who has an interception in each of his side’s playoff games thus far.
The Bucs defence forced one turnover against Washington, four turnovers against the Saints, and two against the Packers.
It will likely need to continue that form against the Chiefs if the Buccaneers are to win the Super Bowl.
Featured image: Keith Allison, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons