With a few notable exceptions, the Super Bowl is often analyzed year by year as a quarterback duel before anything else. Like two starting pitchers scheduled to toe the rubber in a Game 7, it starts and ends with the QB "initiator" - the man who controls the ball and distributes it to determine the fate of each play.
And in Super Bowl LV, the QB matchup couldn’t be more compelling than Tom Brady vs Patrick Mahomes.
If you’re reading this, you likely understand the full context around the two: an ageless legend and the greatest to ever play the position, looking for his 7th Super Bowl title against the most talented young player in the league and reigning Super Bowl champion. When taking a first glance at the game from a betting perspective, there’s no comfortable direction to lean either - do you fade Brady in a Super Bowl, surrounded by arguably the most talented group he’s ever taken to this stage? Or do you fade Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid coming off a bye with the most talented player in the world leading his offense?
Luckily, we’ve seen the two go head to head before. They’ve in fact split four previous matchups, with Mahomes winning the most recent two. The first pair of these matchups both came in the 2018-2019 season, when it was Brady’s New England Patriots that won both, 43-40 and 37-31, each coming in wildly entertaining contests. The 43-40 thriller was also Brady’s 200th career NFL win, a Week 6 victory at home and the first defeat of Mahomes’ first full year at QB. Kansas City trailed 24-9 at half after two Mahomes INT's, all before a 31-point second half - amidst a flurry of touchdowns - almost completed an unbelievable comeback for Mahomes & Co. Later that winter, the Chiefs and Patriots would meet again in an AFC conference championship game for the ages, this time at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
New England won the game in overtime, following a controversial penalty on Dee Ford in regulation and a subsequent overtime coin toss win, two opportunities that "TB12" was more than prepared to take advantage en route to securing his third straight Super Bowl berth and his eighth overall appearance.
Mahomes and Brady have since met twice more, both regular season contests won by Kansas City.
In their 2019 matchup, Mahomes’ Chiefs won impressively on the road and most notably, they sacked Brady three times after not managing one in either of the previous seasons. Kansas City controlled the game with its defense, holding on for a 23-16 win after jumping out to a two touchdown halftime lead. The Chiefs allowed Brady to complete only 53% of his passes in the game while sacking him three times and allowing 16 total points. It was certainly the type of defensive performance to build upon.
This year, the two QBs faced off yet again - this time in Tampa, where they’ll also meet on Sunday. Brady, now a Buccaneer, came equipped with a better receiving corps than he’d had in any of their previous three matchups. The Bucs had lost two of three entering their Week 6 matchup this season with the Chiefs as well, and their defense was ailing. Tampa Bay had allowed 29.3 points per game prior to Week 6 while facing the offenses of Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, and Jared Goff. Mahomes and the Chiefs took advantage immediately, cruising to an early 27-10 lead and eventually holding on for a 27-24 victory.
So what did we learn from these four career meetings between Brady and Mahomes?
To start, it seems safe to say this game will finish within one score. Both quarterbacks are notoriously hard to put away and have famously come back from large margins, even against each other. Should either side go ahead by more than one score, or let's say more specifically by more than 17 points, then a live bet on the underdog will likely be quite valuable. In their last two matchups, the Chiefs have managed to confuse Brady throughout the first half, and given Brady’s Super Bowl history (he’s been outscored 27-3 over 8 total first quarters), a first quarter wager on the Chiefs (-0.5, +105) is a good place to start as well.
It’s also worth noting how well Tampa Bay has played dating back to their previous matchup with the Chiefs - the Bucs have gone undefeated since, winning their final four contests of the regular season before ripping through the NFC playoffs, entirely on the road. There would be nothing shocking about either of these transcendent signal callers winning the Lombardi trophy by the time Sunday night is over.
Perhaps the better question, then, is which of them is a better bet to win the MVP award? With five Super Bowl MVP awards between them, Brady (4) and Mahomes (1) have combined to win the award more than a quarter of the time dating back to the inauguration of George W. Bush as President of the United States.
Diving into the history of the award, QBs have won it 30 of 55 times (roughly 55%). More recently, though, QBs have won 8 of 11 (73%) and three of the last four. From a betting perspective, I believe that the more recent sample is worth leaning on, too. The NFL is becoming more of a passing league each year, and a quarterback’s value has never been higher as we saw with the Los Angeles Rams trading for Matthew Stafford last week (and the future haul Deshaun Watson is bound to accrue). Assuming a 73% chance that the winning QB wins the award, then which QB is more likely to hoist the MVP trophy on Sunday night?
At the time of this writing, Tampa Bay is +150 on the moneyline to win the game, implying a 40% chance.
If we assume that Brady wins MVP in 73% of those outcomes, then the future first-ballot hall of fame quarterback has a 29% chance to win the MVP award overall. Mahomes’ Chiefs, on the other hand, have an implied 60% win probability, which produces a 44% chance that Mahomes himself wins the MVP award.
Given the notoriety and talent of these two QBs and the role they’re each playing in the narrative heading into this game, I’d probably bump those numbers up even more. With Patrick Mahomes a -120 favorite or larger everywhere I’ve seen, it’s hard to argue there’s value in betting him to win MVP. For Brady, however, I’ve seen numbers anywhere from +200 to +230, the higher of which is certainly an intriguing wager to consider. The +230 here also represents an implied odds of 30.7% if you like Tampa Bay to win the game.
With hundreds of angles to get at for the big game, it sure an be easy to get carried away with your Super Bowl LV betting for Sunday. I’ll likely have 15+ wagers active myself, with props and the like. But hopefully these angles mentioned above can help you get started and off on the right foot with your card. BOL!