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Breaking down the most critical matchups for Super Bowl 2021

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Breaking down the most critical matchups for Super Bowl 2021

Any Super Bowl is enhanced when a top-level quarterback duel is pending. Consider what goes down Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa as enhanced.

Tom Brady, at age 43, appearing in his 10th Super Bowl, his first with the Buccaneers, is countered by Patrick Mahomes, the reigning best quarterback in the NFL, going for his second-straight Super Bowl triumph for the Chiefs. As brightly as these stars figure to shine, they do not line up across from each other, but likely will have to match points with one another.

The true test comes when one side knocks heads with the other. Thus, with no further ado, we bring you the Super Bowl LV matchups:

Chiefs pass offense vs. Buccaneers pass defense

There is no more feared label than “Chiefs pass offense.’’ Mahomes is at the top of his game and appears to have allayed fear that his toe injury will hamper him much, if at all. He is hard to get to — he was sacked just 24 times this season, twice by the Bucs in Week 12. He can throw it short, intermediate or long, and his first inclination is to go deep. Why not, considering what he has at his disposal?

Speed demon Tyreek Hill devastated the Bucs (mostly CB Carlton Davis) in the regular season meeting and is a big play waiting to happen. TE Travis Kelce is basically unstoppable. Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, take your pick, are all dangerous.

The Bucs have a young and talented secondary but will have to dominate up front with OLBs Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett going after a patchwork, injury-depleted offensive tackle group. That is the huge question: Without injured starters Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher, can fill-in tackles Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie hold up? Without pressure on Mahomes, it will be lights-out in the defensive backfield for Davis, Jamel Dean, Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield Jr. The Bucs are ball-hawks, with five interceptions in three playoff games.

Edge: Chiefs.

Chiefs run offense vs. Buccaneers run defense

The Chiefs were No. 16 in the NFL in rushing, mainly because they throw it so often, rather than an inability to produce yards on the ground. A fast start to his rookie season devolved for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was banged up with ankle and hip injuries, but finally seems healthy. He can run it and catch it and continues in the Kansas City theme of killer speed. Darrel Williams (130 yards, one TD in two postseason games) is a capable backup. Former Steelers star and Jets flop Le’Veon Bell has been a no-impact addition, but has talent.

The Buccaneers should be bolstered by the return of massive DT Vita Vea, who returned in the NFC title game from a Week 5 fractured ankle. He is a load for a unit that allowed only 85.7 rushing yards per game. Vea, Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston up front, Pierre-Paul on the edge and inside LBs Lavonte David and Devin White are a formidable group to run on. Again, can the backup Chiefs’ offensive tackles keep the edges clear in the run game?

Edge: Buccaneers.

Buccaneers pass offense vs. Chiefs pass defense

No wonder Brady did not look in his rear-view mirror when leaving the Patriots and their shabby offensive personnel for the talent he is surrounded with in Tampa. Mike Evans is an elite, physical receiver, and Chris Godwin, despite a few uncharacteristic drops this postseason, is a threat. The speed of Scotty Miller in the slot is a significant addition, and, oh by the way, Antonio Brown if he can shake off a knee issue is capable of a big play, especially if he is matched up on a No. 3 cornerback. Rookie Tyler Johnson is another target for Brady.

At tight end, Rob Gronkowski is a shell of his former self, but he can block and make a key catch when needed — Gronkowski’s best game (6-106) this season came against the Chiefs in Week 12. TE Cameron Brate is the more consistent option. Chiefs CBs Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland played better than expected in 2020, and L’Jarius Sneed was the highest-graded rookie corner by Pro Football Focus. Daniel Sorensen at one safety spot is a frequent blitzer.

It all begins and ends here for the Chiefs with Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger had a career-high six interceptions in the regular season, encouraged by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to use his instincts all over the field. The Bucs’ offensive line — anchored by LG Ali Marpet, rugged C Ryan Jensen and stud rookie RT Tristan Wirfs — allowed pressure on Brady on just 24 percent of his dropbacks, fourth lowest in the league. DT Chris Jones can be unblockable inside and Frank Clark (two sacks vs. the Bills in the AFC title game) can be a force on the edge.

Edge: Buccaneers.

Buccaneers run offense vs. Chiefs run defense

After a solid regular season, Ronald Jones (978 rushing yards, seven TDs) has been overshadowed in the playoffs by Leonard Fournette (211 yards, three TDs in three playoff games). Jones got knocked around and lost a fumble in the NFC title game, but he cannot be discounted. Fournette, not known for his hands, has 14 receptions for 102 yards in the postseason, but also a few drops. He is hard to bring down and seems to be running to prove something.

Make no mistake, Brady at this stage of his career wants to run it and use the play-action game to ignite the air attack. Chiefs DE Tanoh Kpassagnon is primarily a run-stopper. The Chiefs’ inside linebackers do not attract a great deal of attention but they are active, as Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are solid against the run. The Chiefs have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past six games.

Edge: Chiefs.

Special teams

After six years with the Titans, Ryan Succop came to Tampa Bay and solved the Bucs’ kicker issues, hitting 28 of his 31 field goal attempts. He is 8-for-8 in the postseason, with one missed extra point. Bradley Pinion put six of his nine punts during the playoffs inside the 20-yard line. Jaydon Mickens had a 43-yard kickoff return against the Packers two weeks ago.

For the Chiefs, Harrison Butker is reliable (25-of-27 on field goals this season) and one of the more consistent kickers in the league. He is 4-of-5 in the playoffs, with a missed extra point. Tommy Townsend punted just 52 times this season and put 20 of them down inside the 20-yard line. Hardman has great speed, but he lost a fumble on a kick return two weeks ago against the Bills.

Edge: Chiefs.

Coaching

Remember when Andy Reid was known as a good coach who could not win the big one with the Eagles? He is a superior play-caller and orchestrator of an offense, and as the man in charge, he keeps his team loose with his Hawaiian shirts, hunger for postgame cheeseburgers and easy-going demeanor. He has an ally in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who already has helped beat Brady once in a Super Bowl (with the Giants after the 2007 season).

Bruce Arians, 68, came out of retirement to take the Bucs’ job, and he is known for his “no risk it, no biscuit’’ approach. He is a gambler and put together the most diverse staff in the league. His defensive coordinator, former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, is not afraid to send pressure.

Edge: Chiefs.

Intangibles

This is the first time a team will play a Super Bowl on its home field. Wouldn’t you know it, much of the home-field advantage will be mitigated by having just 22,000 fans in the stands, though it figures to be more of a Bucs crowd. The Chiefs have the added pressure of trying to win a repeat title, something that has not been done in the NFL in 16 years. The Bucs have the all-time Super Bowl winner in Brady (six rings) but he has been beaten three times in the Super Bowl.

Edge: Buccaneers.

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Donald Douglas, longtime PSAL executive director, dead at 58

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Donald Douglas, longtime PSAL executive director, dead at 58

Donald Douglas, the longtime executive director of the Public School Athletic League, died late Friday night, according to friend and PSAL colleague Dwayne Burnett.

Douglas was 58, according to his Facebook page.

Douglas died of a heart attack, while vacationing on the island of Jamaica, after a bad fall eventually caused a blood clot to form, according to Burnett. The Brooklyn native and Bushwick High School alum had retired this week from his post. He was PSAL director since 2004, when he was promoted from deputy director, and spent more than 35 years working for the New York City Department of Education.

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Don’t make this catcher mistake

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Don’t make this catcher mistake

The 2021 fantasy baseball draft season is upon us, and with its arrival comes a variety of strategies to test out and employ.

Drafting with position scarcity in mind is something we see every year, and though the catcher position is routinely linked to the strategy, the belief that you need to draft one of the top backstops early is a mistake. If you have been leaning in that direction, it’s time to change gears before you fall over.

In fantasy football, position scarcity has people drafting No. 1-ranked tight end Travis Kelce early because, in securing him, you are obtaining a significant advantage over your opposition. His production dwarfs that of anyone else at his position and on a 10-man roster in a weekly matchup, the impact is huge. The same cannot be said regarding the No. 1 catcher, J.T. Realmuto.

There is plenty to love about Realmuto from a fantasy perspective. His three-year average has him as a .273 hitter with 25 home runs and 81 RBIs. The numbers are strong, but does drafting him in the fourth or fifth round over a 40-homer Pete Alonso or a 200-strikeout Lance Lynn still give you an advantage? Not when you understand it’s just one-fourteenth of your overall team production or when you see what you can get at the position several rounds later.

Casting aside 2020 data, we can look at a number of backstops who not only hit 20 or more home runs, but also hit .270 or better in 2019 and can be obtained at a much lower cost. Willson Contreras, Mitch Garver, Christian Vazquez and Omar Narvaez immediately stand out.

JT Realmuto
JT Realmuto
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You also have players such as Yasmani Grandal and Roberto Perez, who matched the power, but fell short on the batting average, or James McCann and Travis d’Arnaud, who posted strong averages, but hit for slightly less power. That’s already eight players who can provide similar numbers at a fraction of the cost, and we’re just scratching the surface.

If Realmuto was a .300-30-100 player, the conversation would certainly be different. He’s a great player but he isn’t performing at a level that leaves your opposition in the dust. If his production can be matched 10 rounds later, you’re better off using that early pick on an elite arm or a bigger bat at another position. Leave your catchers for later.

Howard Bender is the VP of operations and head of content at FantasyAlarm.com. Follow him on Twitter @rotobuzzguy and catch him on the award-winning “Fantasy Alarm Radio Show” on the SiriusXM fantasy sports channel weekdays from 6-8 p.m. Go to FantasyAlarm.com for all your fantasy football advice.

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Mets star Pete Alonso opens up on why he quit social media

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Mets star Pete Alonso opens up on why he quit social media

PORT ST. LUCIE — Pete Alonso wasn’t the only big voice in the Mets organization to deactivate his social media accounts over the offseason.

But the first baseman going dark on Twitter and Instagram had nothing to do with the aftermath of a stock market saga, which was the reason owner Steve Cohen ditched Twitter, and everything to do with a new outlook on life away from a screen.

“I think that real life is just absolutely fantastic and for me, I think life is a blessing, it’s something that I feel like a lot of people, sometimes including myself, take for granted,” Alonso said Friday after a workout. “And I want to spend every second soaking in every single day because every single new day is a blessing, and I feel like especially in wake of what happened last year, there’s a lot of things that I feel like were taken for granted.

“In 2019, if you see everybody wearing this mask, you kind of scratch your head and just be like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ But there’s a lot of new social norms that are in place now that we took for granted. I think for me, I just want to be appreciative of every single day. I want to live in real life.”

Alonso had been one of the more active Mets interacting with fans through social media, especially during his Rookie of the Year season in 2019, when he adopted “#LFGM” as the team’s new rallying cry.

Though he will no longer be in touch with fans online, Alonso is very much looking forward to welcoming them back in person at Citi Field this season. After playing at an empty stadium in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Mets are expected to have at least a portion of Citi Field open to fans when the 2021 season begins.

“Playing on TV is absolutely fantastic, but being there in person where one swing of the bat or making a diving play or striking somebody out, you can make that many people in person smile, stand, clap, cheer, yell even just by doing something,” Alonso said, with a big smile breaking out. “Once I heard 40,000 people at Citi Field go absolutely bonkers, that’s an adrenaline rush that I’m addicted to.

“I can’t wait until it’s packed out again like that. If it’s 25 percent, 30 percent, I can’t wait to hear people cheer again in person. For me, it’s addicting, and I love it.”

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