Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers said he is honoured to be named MVP after being crowned the NFL's best player for a third time.

Rodgers capped a stellar 2020 regular season by receiving another Most Valuable Player award on Saturday, having also reigned supreme in 2011 and 2014.

The Packers fell short in the NFC Conference Game, beaten by Super Bowl finalists the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but veteran quarterback Rodgers still enjoyed a memorable campaign.

Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers this season.

His quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

"It's an honour to win this award for the third time," Rodgers said in a pre-pared video acceptance speech. "2020 was definitely a crazy year filled with lots of change, growth, some amazing memorable moments, 180 straight days of having my nose hairs scraped, playing for very little fans or no [fans] the entire season. I got engaged, and I played some of the best football of my career. "

The 37-year-old Rodgers is now level with Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Packers great Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

"The guys on that list are guys I grew up watching, idolising," Rodgers said. "To join that list of guys who've won it more than twice is pretty special."

Rodgers became the first QB to lead the league in the categories of touchdown passes, completion percentage, passer rating and interception percentage (1.0) in the same season since 1992, when Steve Young won the first of his two MVPs.

"To have won it in my fourth year as a starter was very special, and now to win it in my 13th year as a starter, in a new offense, is pretty amazing and something I'm really proud of," Rodgers said.

"To have sustained success and to be playing your best football at 37, in my 16th season, is something I take a lot of pride in."

Rodgers added: "I'm really thankful for my team-mates, the way that they played this year. It's so much fun being called upon to be a leader of this football team.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity to still be here, to still be the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.

"The success we had this year made the season a lot of fun at a time when there was a lot of turmoil and protocols around coronavirus.

"So I'm thankful for all my guys, all the support from them, having my back, listening to me, questioning me, having great conversations, growing together on the field, and then going out and putting up big-time performances."

If Aaron Rodgers intended to make a statement in the 2020 season, he could hardly have done so more emphatically.

The quarterback's future in Green Bay became a hot topic in the offseason when the franchise surprisingly used their first-round pick in the 2020 draft to seemingly choose his replacement. 

Selecting Jordan Love was obviously part of the long-term plan for the Packers, but Rodgers – who may have hoped for an upgrade in weapons, rather than an apprentice to watch and learn while waiting in the wings – showed he is no mood to relinquish the starting job in a hurry. 

Winning the MVP award for a third time in his career may not ease the disappointment of his team missing out on the Super Bowl, but it is a thoroughly deserved honour following a season that suggests, even at 37, he may just be better than ever. 

The basic numbers are impressive enough: 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent. His quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, just behind... Aaron Rodgers. His 2011 campaign sits top at 122.5, though that year he threw fewer touchdowns (45) and one extra pick. 

Dig a little deeper, though, and you see just why the members of the Associated Press voted the signal-caller as the most valuable player during the regular season. 

 

Old dog, new records

Conventional wisdom suggests Rodgers' career should, at his age, be winding down towards a conclusion. However, the man who helped defeat Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, 43-year-old Tom Brady, has redefined the limits for quarterbacks seemingly in their final years in the game.

And Rodgers produced some NFL firsts as he led Green Bay to the best record in the conference.

No player in NFL history had previously managed to complete at least 70 per cent of their pass attempts while managing a passer rating of at least 120.0 in a season - until this year.

Displaying a devastating ability to carve up defenses while doing a superb job of protecting the football, Rodgers also became the first quarterback to have 40 or more touchdowns while throwing five or fewer interceptions. Two of those picks were in Week 5 against the Buccaneers, the only outing in which he failed to manage a scoring pass.

Davante Adams was, unsurprisingly, his favourite option. The wide receiver was targeted 149 times - putting him fourth on the list for the entire league, behind only Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson.

Running back Aaron Jones was second for the Packers with 63 targets, but Rodgers was willing to share the ball around. On the roster, nine players made it to double figures, among them receiving duo Marquez Valdes-Scantling (63) and Allen Lazard (46), who both finished with 33 catches. Breakout tight end Robert Tonyan, meanwhile, caught all but seven of his 59 targets.

Hat-trick hero

Though Rodgers could not get the better of Brady in either the regular season or the playoffs, he did at least emulate an achievement the six-time Super Bowl champion pulled off during the season widely considered as his greatest.

Rodgers had 12 games with at least three passing touchdowns, tied for the most in a single campaign in NFL history. Brady had reached that same tally in 2007, when he scorched defenses across the league in leading the New England Patriots to an unbeaten 16-0 regular season.

Yet even Brady at that 2007 zenith could not produce what Rodgers did in 10 games in 2020, as he reached double figures with at least three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Of course, it is significantly easier to protect the football when playing with a lead - and Rodgers' extraordinary first-half performances ensured the Packers did a lot of that this season on their way to a second successive 13-3 record under head coach Matt LaFleur.

Stunning in the second quarter

Rodgers threw an incredible 70.8 per cent of his touchdown passes in the opening half, with his total of 34 scores the most ever in an NFL season. The second quarter was clearly his favourite too, with 25 TDs also a new record for a single quarter.

Those remarkable numbers were fuelled partially by Rodgers' dominance over the rest of the NFC North, which was illustrated by him throwing 20 touchdowns with no interceptions in six games against division opponents. No other player has reached that number and avoided being picked off in divisional match-ups.

With the Minnesota Vikings the only realistic threat in the NFC North as the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions plot their next moves at the quarterback, there is no immediate sign of the Packers' grip on the division loosening.

So while Rodgers pondered his future in the aftermath of the Packers' postseason exit, the reality is that, as long as he has the ability to perform at his 2020 levels and Green Bay have control of the NFC North, there is little reason for the newly crowned MVP to look elsewhere to fulfil his ambition of winning a second Lombardi Trophy.

Love may well end up being the future starter for Green Bay, but there is little reason to suggest they are about to move on from a franchise legend just yet.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been crowned the NFL's MVP for a third time.

Rodgers was honoured during Saturday's awards – on the eve of Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – as he added to his 2011 and 2014 MVPs.

The 37-year-old is now level with Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, Packers great Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three Most Valuable Player honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

The Packers fell short in the NFC Conference Game, beaten by Super Bowl finalists the Buccaneers, but Rodgers still enjoyed a memorable campaign.

Packers star Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent this season.

His quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rodgers – a Super Bowl champion during the 2010 season – featured in his first NFC title decider at Lambeau Field, but the Packers fell to Brady's Buccaneers 31-26.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald won the Defensive Player of the Year for a third time.

Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt had been tipped to win the award, but Donald maintained his dominance, having also reigned supreme in 2017 and 2018.

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski claimed the Coach of the Year award after leading the franchise to their first postseason victory in 25 years.

Not since the 1994 season had the Browns won a playoff matchup, until upstaging the Steelers before losing to the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round.

 

List of NFL Honors

Rookie of the Year: Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Defensive Player of the Year: Los Angeles Rams DL Aaron Donald
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Offensive Player of the Year: Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Washington DE Chase Young
Comeback Player of the Year: Washington QB Alex Smith
Coach of the Year: Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski
Most Valuable Player: Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

The NFL crowned its two top rookies on Saturday as Chase Young and Justin Herbert claimed deserved recognition for stunning first years in the league. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year Young, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, had long since been the frontrunner for that award.

His case was helped substantially by the pivotal role he played in propelling the Washington Football Team to an unlikely playoff berth as part of a fearsome defensive front.

Herbert was not given the chance to test himself in the playoffs as the Los Angeles Chargers' mystifying tendency for throwing away leads condemned them to another losing season.

But the Chargers can afford to be confident that better days are ahead, Herbert looked every inch a franchise quarterback as he subverted pre-draft expectations that were not as high as those placed on former Heisman Trophy finalist Young.

Both Young and Herbert look poised to have a defining impact on the NFL over the course of the 2020s and here, using Stats Perform data, we look back on their magnificent maiden years.

Chase Young

Just like his fellow former Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa, drafted second overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, Young emphatically lived up to his draft status, becoming the fourth ex-Buckeye to win Defensive Rookie of the Year in the last five seasons (DE Joey Bosa, 2016; CB Marshon Lattimore, 2017; DE Nick Bosa, 2019).

He did so through making the lives of opposing offensive linemen miserable, leading rookies in every metric that measures pass rush.

Young's 7.5 sacks were first among all rookies, while he also led the way hurries (37), knockdowns (12.5), quarterback hits (12) and total pressures (55).

Similarly dominant against the run, Young was first among all rookies with 10 tackles for loss and six stuffs, his performance in the latter category putting him tied-13th among all defenders.

He demonstrated a nose for the football, his four forced fumbles tied third in the NFL. Three of those resulted in turnovers, with only Myles Garrett (4) performing better in that regard.

Young's game-wrecking rookie year proved his pre-draft billing was well deserved and, in the eyes of many, vindicated taking him ahead of the other quarterbacks not named Joe Burrow.

However, the success of the Chargers' gamble on a quarterback seen as a level below Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa raises the question of whether Washington would have been better served taking a chance on Herbert.

Justin Herbert

After making his first start in Week 2 amid unusual circumstances, Herbert's rookie season was one defined by him setting rookie records.

Herbert is the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season having not played the opener, Week 1 starter Tyrod Taylor sidelined after a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung while administering a painkilling injection.

His 4,336 passing yards rank second all-time among rookie quarterbacks behind Andrew Luck, who racked up 4,374 with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

With his completion percentage of 66.6 trailing only Dak Prescott's 67.8 in 2016, Herbert set all-time leading marks for rookie quarterbacks in completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1), passing touchdowns (31) and 300-yard games, of which he recorded eight.

Just three players - Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Tom Brady - finished with a higher yards per game average in the regular season in 2020.

Herbert's name already being in such elite company indicates he is primed to make the leap to the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, provided Los Angeles can build an ecosystem to make the most of his undoubted gifts, and it unquestionably makes him worthy of being the first Charger to win Offensive Rookie of the Year since Don Woods in 1974.

Few anticipated Herbert outperforming both Burrow and Tagovailoa in his rookie season. While Young's incredible first year is an endorsement for betting on freakish athleticism on defense, Herbert's record-setting start to what the Chargers hope will be a storied career serves as further evidence of the significantly more imposing challenge that comes with evaluating quarterbacks.

Much of the Super Bowl LV build up has understandably focused on the tantalising battle between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.

Brady is eyeing a seventh Super Bowl crown against the NFL's top superstar Mahomes, who looks the most likely candidate to come close to his total in the years ahead.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs have not made it to Sunday's game purely based on their quarterbacks, though.

Stats Perform's NFL research analyst Ethan Cooperson will be in the commentary booth as part of the CBS broadcast crew with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo at Raymond James Stadium.

He has highlighted some of the most interesting data that suggests the Bucs' Mike Evans and Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill have pivotal roles to play.

EVANS RISING TO BRADY CHALLENGE

Brady and Evans have had a few difficult moments over the course of a campaign where the wideout has battled injuries at times.

But his contribution may not have had the credit it deserved for the Bucs' run to the big game.

"The Mike Evans effect is actually underrated," Cooperson said to Stats Perform News. "A little indication of that - Evans, this season, 14 touchdown receptions including the playoffs.

"The only wide receiver in Brady's career to catch more from him in one season is Randy Moss in 2007.

"So of all the years he played in New England with Wes Welker, with Moss, Evans is having the second most productive year in terms of TDs by any wide receiver who has been paired with Brady.

"This is obviously a great talent in Evans, who has had 1,000 yards in every season of his career, an unknown because he played on a team that was never in the playoffs.

"But now that he's with Brady, suddenly he's become, in some respects, a star because now we are realising how good this guy has been for all these years - and Brady's helped bring that out."

Evans is a formidable red-zone weapon when he is targeted. He has had one red-zone catch in each of the past two games, both touchdowns.

Per Stats Perform data, including the postseason, 11 of his 15 TD catches have come in the red zone; both figures are franchise records.

CAN HILL BE STOPPED?

In the AFC Championship Game, Hill (nine catches, 172 receiving yards) and Travis Kelce (13 catches, 118 receiving yards) became the first pair of team-mates all-time with 20+ catches and 280+ receiving yards combined in a playoff game.

The only time any NFL duo reached those numbers during the 2020 regular season was Kelce and Hill in Week 12 when they won impressively at Tampa Bay (21 catches, 351 receiving yards).

The Bucs will need an answer for Hill. In the first meeting, he became the second player in NFL history with 13+ catches, 20+ yards per catch and 3+ touchdowns in a game, joining Jerry Rice (December 18, 1995).

His 269 receiving yards were the most by any player in a game this season and the most ever allowed by Tampa Bay.

Cooperson explained: "Let's see what the Buccaneers do to defend Tyreek Hill.

"Last meeting, Carlton Davis against Hill, Davis allowed 194 receiving yards in that game - 183 to Hill, but 194 receiving yards, the most that any one defender has allowed in any single game all season.

"Clearly, they need to do something different against Hill, that's what this might come down to.

"In that game it was one of one of the better performances by a receiver in a single game in league history, something has to be done differently to try to shut him down.

"But, of course, there's the danger that if you rotate through much of the coverage to him then Travis Kelce's open all day to catch passes and beat the defense that way.

"It is a dilemma for any defensive coordinator with two great weapons like that, it seems like it's almost impossible to stop both of them - so maybe try to stop one of them.

"It's a nightmare to try to try to defend. And clearly they struck out in trying to defend Hill the last time. Recently, no one else has been able to cover both of those receivers.

"I like Hill with the speed. I think he's tougher to bring down in the open field. Some of his runs when he gets into the open field are electrifying and what he can do after the catch is pretty dazzling.

"He's an effective rusher in addition to being a great pass catcher. In the open field, that's a big part of what makes him so dangerous."

GRONKOWSKI V KELCE

The two star tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Kelce, are also sure to capture plenty of attention and have been subject to many pre-game comparisons.

"To be fair, I don't think Gronk is a great weapon at this point," said Cooperson as he gave his verdict.

"I think he has one catch in the postseason. So he's a great blocker. That's one thing that's not mentioned about him, more than some of the other very good pass-catching tight ends.

"Cameron Brate actually is having a much more productive postseason than Gronk as far as receiving.

"It's essentially a case where Kelce has inherited the mantle from Gronkowski as the game's elite tight end. He has statistically, in terms of receptions and yards, surpassed a lot of what Gronk has done.

"Five straight 1,000-yard seasons - unprecedented for a tight end. Kelce is such a weapon, he's almost a wide receiver playing tight end.

"He's such a weapon in the red zone, he is such a weapon over the middle, he's a weapon on deep throws. There's not much in his game that he can't do.

"And there's not much that they don't use him to do. He's having the best season ever by a tight end and he's destroying the tight end record book.

"His next catch, assuming he gets a catch in the Super Bowl, that will be number 127 of the season, which will be the most ever by a tight end over a regular season and playoffs combined."

History is up for grabs on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

A mouth-watering clash will see Tom Brady, at the age of 43, seek his seventh Super Bowl title in his first season with the Bucs.

If he succeeds, Bruce Arians' team will become the first ever to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy at their own stadium.

The opposition could not be any tougher, though, as Brady's heir apparent Patrick Mahomes seeks a second straight Super Bowl title with the free-scoring Chiefs.

REGULAR SEASON REMATCH

These two teams have already played this season, with the Chiefs winning 27-24 in Tampa Bay on November 29.

The Week 12 victory was more comfortable than the scoreline suggests, with the defending champions 17 points clear going into the fourth quarter.

However, Stats Perform data shows that history may side with the Bucs in this scenario.

There have been 13 previous Super Bowls between teams that met in the regular season, and the winner of the first matchup is just 6-7 in the rematch.

Mahomes lit up the regular season game, going 37-for-49 for 462 yards (fourth-most in franchise history), adding three touchdowns and zero interceptions. 

He became the first player in NFL history to complete at least 75 per cent of his passes for at least 450 yards and zero interceptions in a road game.

That win means Chiefs coach Andy Reid, dating back to the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles, has won nine straight games played in the state of Florida across the regular season and postseason.

It is the longest such streak all-time by a head coach of a non-Florida team. 

Stakes could not be higher for the rematch, which is also only the second playoff game all-time between starting quarterbacks of the previous two Super Bowl winners.

Brady triumphed in 2018, his penultimate season with the New England Patriots, while Mahomes was Super Bowl MVP last year as the Chiefs fought back to beat the San Francisco 49ers.

The only previous playoff meeting between the prior two Super Bowl winners was the 1983 NFC Championship Game between San Francisco's Joe Montana and Washington's Joe Theismann.

Washington held off a late Montana comeback attempt to win but could not go on to finish the job in the Super Bowl.

BUCS IN RARE COMPANY

Higher seeds have excelled in the playoffs over recent NFL seasons, though this year the Bucs (seeded five) have surged despite being on the road since Wild Card weekend.

Tampa Bay are the fifth team all-time to win three road games in a single postseason, joining the 1985 Patriots, 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2007 New York Giants and 2010 Green Bay Packers. 

The most recent three all won in the Super Bowl in a positive omen for the Bucs, with Brady famously falling to the Giants to conclude that 2007 season after going 16-0 in the regular season.

Aged 68 years and 127 days, Bruce Arians will be the second-oldest head coach in Super Bowl history, behind only the Buffalo Bills' Marv Levy (68 years and 180 days).

Arians has the chance to become the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl, with Bill Belichick (66 years and 293 days) the current record holder after he and Brady saw off the Los Angeles Rams with the Pats two years ago.

The Bucs are the 11th team all-time to score at least 30 points three times in a single postseason. Nine of the previous 10 won the Super Bowl; the only team that did not were the 2008 Arizona Cardinals. 

No team has ever scored at least 30 points four times in a single postseason, but Arians and Brady likely need to do so if they are to prevail, due to the Chiefs' firepower.

MAHOMES IS COMEBACK KING

Mahomes has done wonders for Reid's legacy – the head coach now has seven playoff wins with the Chiefs (7-5), one shy of the combined total of all other coaches in franchise history (8-14).

If the Bucs take an early lead, they will know they must keep their foot on the gas.

Kansas City trailed the Bills 9-0 in the AFC Championship Game before rallying to win 38-24. 

It was the fourth time Mahomes has rallied from a two-score deficit to win a playoff game by two or more scores. No other QB in NFL playoff history has done so more than once.

Indeed, Mahomes has won 25 of his past 26 starts (including postseason), only the third QB to ever go on such a run (after Jim McMahon and Brady).

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce comes into the game in form. He has eight TD catches in his past six playoff games - only Jerry Rice (11) and Larry Fitzgerald (nine) have more in a six-game postseason span.

The Bucs, meanwhile, have been spreading the ball around - six different players have caught a TD this postseason, one shy of the most by any team in a single postseason all-time (1999 Rams). 

None of those six are Rob Gronkowski. But the tight end will still need to be watched closely – his 12 career postseason TD catches are tied with John Stallworth for second all-time behind Rice's 22.

Tom Brady's huge late-career success means his legacy is already "set apart" from greats in other sports such as Michael Jordan, according to Stats Perform's NFL research analyst Ethan Cooperson.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brady will take on the Kansas City Chiefs, who are led by his heir apparent Patrick Mahomes, in Super Bowl LV on Sunday.

The Bucs are looking to become the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl in their own stadium.

Cooperson will be in the commentary booth as part of the CBS broadcast crew with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo in Florida.

He believes the accomplishments of Brady, who is 43 and in his first season with Tampa Bay, separate him from many of the historic greats produced by the NBA, NHL and MLB.

Brady will be playing in his 10th Super Bowl and targeting his seventh title overall, with Cooperson highlighting none of his previous six crowns came in what should have been considered his prime.

Cooperson told Stats Perform News: "How much more can he add to his legacy? 

"It's hard to extend and it is already incomparable. To do it at his age is now another phase of that, but he's already won Super Bowls after the age of 40. 

"It's almost hard to comprehend because he's already done so much.

"It's curious that he's won the six Super Bowls and you can make a case that he didn't win any in the prime of his career, a nine-year period between ages of 28 and 36. 

"He won three of them by the age of 27 and he's now looking for his fourth after the age of 37. 

"There is one thing that we looked at, some of the great champions, the great players, the great winners and in some other sports. 

"So we looked at Bill Russell with the Celtics, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter. Those four won a combined 26 championships. They didn't win any after the age of 36, none. 

"And Brady is going for his fourth after this age. So he's doing something that the greats in these other sports didn't come close to doing. 

"That's why you say his legacy, I think that's what we could say would set him apart, already has set him apart and will continue to when you compare it to some of the greats in the other sports."

Amid the awe at Brady reaching the Super Bowl, Cooperson highlighted how there was a significant stretch of the 2020 season where things were not going smoothly for the Bucs, leaving Brady in unfamiliar statistical territory.

Cooperson added: "It's important to remember that this year for Brady in Tampa Bay, it was not a smooth ride from the start. It was not a straight path to what they have achieved.

"Remember that Week 5 in Chicago, he apparently forgot what down it was, threw an incomplete pass on fourth down and thought he still had another down to play with. 

"He suffered a 35-point home loss to the Saints, it's the largest loss of his career, and that started a run of three straight home losses, which he had never done before. 

"So at the point when they were 7-5 and had lost to Kansas City, certainly it was unclear where this was going for Tampa Bay." 

However, Cooperson highlighted the areas where Brady and Tampa have made the required improvements to spark their run to the big game.

"And what's happened since then, they had a bye week, and since then they've gone 7-0," he said.

"Brady's average is over 300 passing yards per game. That's the regular season and playoffs, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. 

"So this was almost a case of, for three months, this team was sort of finding itself. Brady was sort of finding himself. 

"There was a lot of talk that [coach] Bruce Arians was insisting on throwing the ball deep and it wasn't working.

"So to that point through the end of November, on deep passes, 20 or more yards downfield, Brady had four touchdowns, five interceptions.

"Since that bye week, on those deep passes, it's 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. So at some point, it started to click. It started to work.

"It wasn't perfect from the start, but it's almost as if even at age 43, Brady is learning their offense and it's not clicking right away, but by the end of it, it is clicking."

Just two days from now, a significantly reduced number of flashbulbs will fly and the talking will stop with the opening kick-off of Super Bowl LV.

One way or another, history will be made, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking to become the first team to win the Super Bowl at their home stadium and the Kansas City Chiefs out to retain the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Should the latter succeed, Patrick Mahomes will not only deny Tom Brady a record-extending seventh Super Bowl triumph but he will also break his counterpart's record as the youngest starting quarterback to win multiple titles. Brady won his second at 26, Mahomes does not turn 26 until September.

But which areas of the game will have the biggest impact on who is celebrating making history once the dust settles on a unique NFL season?

Here, using Stats Perform data, we look at where the game could be won.

Explosive plays potentially decisive

The Chiefs have established themselves as the most devastating offensive team in the NFL. Drawing comparisons to the NBA's Golden State Warriors at the peak of their powers, the Chiefs' ability to score deluges of points helps them put games to bed in a hurry.

Tampa Bay learned that the hard way in the regular-season meeting between these two teams back in Week 12 when the Chiefs surged into a 17-0 lead en route to a 27-24 win.

Mahomes had 229 passing yards in the first quarter while Tyreek Hill had 203 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the same period.

The Buccaneers simply cannot afford to have the Chiefs get such a jump on them this time around and, if they are to successfully go toe to toe with the champions, they will need to maintain their tendency for quick strikes.

Nine of Tampa's 10 touchdown drives in the postseason have been under four minutes. In the regular season, they had 41 touchdown drives lasting fewer than four minutes and nine in which they scored in under 30 seconds, no other team had more than five.

Combining the regular season and the postseason, the Bucs lead the NFL with 90 plays of 20 yards or more compared to 88 for the Chiefs. However, the Chiefs led the way in the regular season with 79, while their 17 offensive touchdowns of 20 yards or more were tied with the Las Vegas Raiders for most in the NFL.

Whoever hits on the most explosive plays this time around will likely be lifting the trophy.

Can Bucs get home with four?

Given what Hill did to the Buccaneers' defense in the regular-season meeting, the Bucs may well largely avoid blitzing Patrick Mahomes in order to devote as many players to coverage as possible.

Thankfully that plays to the strength of their outstanding defensive line, which has done an excellent job of getting to the quarterback with only four pass rushers.

Indeed, in the postseason, the 51 pass plays on which the Buccaneers have blitzed have delivered two sacks and one interception.

The 83 plays where they have not blitzed have resulted in five sacks and four interceptions.

Edge rushers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are tied for the most pressures in the playoffs with 15 apiece. If they can get after Mahomes without blitzing and the seven defenders playing coverage can keep Hill and Travis Kelce relatively in check, the Bucs will be well-placed for victory.

Will 'Playoff Lenny' deliver again?

For all the hype around their remarkable offense, the Chiefs' defense remains underrated.

It was pivotal in closing out the Super Bowl LIV win over the San Francisco 49ers and the numbers suggest it has a strong chance of frustrating Brady.

Brady has a potent group of wide receivers to target, but the Chiefs have been one of the best teams in the league at defending wideouts.

They allowed 178 receptions to opposing receivers in 2020, giving up an average of 140.3 yards per game, putting the Chiefs second in the NFL in each of those areas.

Kansas City conceded 15 receiving touchdowns to wideouts, the Chiefs ranking tied-ninth in that category.

In the playoffs, the Chiefs are allowing just 4.78 yards per pass but have been much more susceptible to the run, opponents gaining 6.03 yards per rush.

The Bucs could, therefore, have to look to their running game, led by Leonard Fournette, to have success on offense.

Earning the moniker 'Playoff Lenny', Fournette has enjoyed a stunning postseason. After averaging 46.2 yards from scrimmage in the regular season, he is putting up 104.3 yards from scrimmage per game in the playoffs.

The run game might not be the first thing that comes to mind when looking at how to beat the Chiefs but, should Kansas City keep the receivers under wraps, the Bucs might have to turn to it.

Bucs must stand tall in the red zone

Regardless of what the Buccaneers do on offense, they will likely be fighting an uphill battle if they cannot end their recent struggles making red-zone stops.

In their last six games, the Buccaneers have allowed scores on all 19 of their opponents' drives inside the 20-yard line (12 touchdowns and seven field goals).

Looking solely at their three postseason games, the Bucs have given up scores on all 10 red-zone drives, with the breakdown of those a little more even with six touchdowns and four field goals.

Keeping the Chiefs to the latter will be crucial but that is easier said than done.

The Chiefs scored touchdowns on 57.8 per cent of their red-zone possessions in the regular season. That number ranked 16th in the NFL but it has ballooned to 73.1 in the playoffs as they have scored touchdowns on 19 of 26 trips inside the 20.

Kansas City turned a potentially mouth-watering AFC Championship Game with the Buffalo Bills into a mismatch by scoring on five of their six red-zone possessions, only failing to score on the final one because Mahomes took a knee to run out the clock.

If the Bucs cannot stop the Chiefs from being similarly clinical on Sunday, the Lombardi Trophy will again be making the journey back to Arrowhead Stadium.

Miami Dolphins veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick said the franchise believe in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as he predicted an improved 2021 season amid doubts over his future.

Tagovailoa – selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft – experienced a challenging rookie season in the NFL, headlined by a costly letdown in the regular-season finale.

The 22-year-old completed 35 of 58 passes for 361 yards, an average of 6.2 yards per attempt, for a touchdown and three interceptions as Miami's playoff hopes were dashed by the Buffalo Bills.

That performance came after Tagovailoa was benched for Fitzpatrick the week prior against the Las Vegas Raiders.

There have been reports claiming the Dolphins could part with Tagovailoa in a bid to acquire disgruntled Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

But Fitzpatrick anticipates a much improved Tagovailoa in his second season with the Dolphins in Miami.

"Everything is going to be a little more comfortable this year," Fitzpatrick told ESPN on Thursday. "Playing in the league is going to be a little more familiar, your routine through the week and on road games.

"He's no longer trying to figure out where the grocery store is, where he's going to live or what car he's going to drive. All that stuff is figured out. He can solely focus on being an NFL QB.

"To have an offseason, to have repetitions, to have some sense of continuity with [co-offensive coordinators] George Godsey and Eric Studesville in his ear calling the plays and working with him.

"All that stuff points to him having a much better season this year and continuing to progress as a quarterback. That's the most important thing for him -- progression.

"They drafted him in the top five for a reason, with his skill set and what he can do. There are very few people on this planet who can do that. For them to be fully bought in and believe in him, he's going to do the same thing.

"He's going to buy into what they're coaching and I think good results are going to come from it."

In 10 appearances in the 2020 season, Tagovailoa had 186 completions for 1,814 yards at 64.14 per cent, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce said the reigning NFL champions are not focused on "legendary" Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady heading into Super Bowl LV.

The Chiefs will be looking to claim back-to-back Super Bowl honours when they face Brady's Buccaneers in the NFL showpiece in Tampa on Sunday.

No player has won more Super Bowl titles or appeared in more NFL showpieces than six-time champion Brady, who has more playoff wins since turning 35 (17) than any other quarterback has in his entire career, per Stats Perform.

It will be Brady's fifth Super Bowl since turning 37 – tying the most appearances in a championship game/series by any player in any major North American sport, alongside NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and MLB great Roger Clemens, while he is only one of three athletes in North American sport to make three championship appearances at age 40 or older.

Chiefs tight end Kelce was asked about facing Brady and Rob Gronkowski, and the six-time Pro Bowler told reporters on Thursday: "When you're going up against a great quarterback like Tom Brady is, how legendary he's been in games like this, you just have to be able to control what you can control.

"That's what we do on the offensive side of the ball. We preach situational football, taking care of the football, winning the turnover battle. Things like that are things we can control as an offense.

"Going up against a high-powered offense like that, that's the key, you have to put up six points more than you're putting up three but at the end of the day, putting points on the board so you give yourself a chance in the fourth quarter."

The Buccaneers will be the first team to host a Super Bowl on home soil, but as big of an advantage as Arrowhead Stadium can be for the Chiefs, they have won 12 consecutive away games – one of the longest such streaks in NFL history, only behind the New England Patriots (15 between 2016-17) and San Francisco 49ers (21 between 1988-1990).

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid could also become the seventh coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls, and could also move into fourth place for all-time playoff victories – he is tied for 17 with Joe Gibbs, and behind leader Bill Belichick (31), Tom Landry (20) and Don Shula (19).

The Chiefs are also trying to become the eighth NFL franchise to claim the Lombardi trophy in consecutive seasons.

"I'm aware of it because the media, and I'm old, so I've heard it and seen it before with my own eyes," Reid said when asked about the milestones.

"But when you're in the middle of it, I don't think you appreciate it as much. Maybe when you're doing with the whole thing and look back on it, you can appreciate it more.

"But we're just scrambling from one drill to another drill, to a meeting, another meeting, making sure we are taking care of our media obligations."

Tom Brady believes "everybody in their next life wishes they can come back as Rob Gronkowski" as the superstar duo aim to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to glory at Super Bowl LV.  

Legendary quarterback Brady and tight end Gronkowski forged a strong bond as part of the dynasty that dominated the NFL for so long at the New England Patriots. 

Gronkowski retired after the 2018 season but, after just one campaign out of the game, the lure of playing alongside his long-time friend in Tampa proved too strong to resist. 

Now Gronkowski has the chance of a fourth Super Bowl ring, while Brady is attempting to win a seventh. 

Speaking at a news conference previewing Sunday's showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady was asked by Gronkowski's girlfriend, Camille Kostek, for an inside track on what it is like playing together. 

"You know what he's super excited because he feels so good, he's played 20 games this year so it's the most I think he's ever played his career," Brady said.  

"He's one of the most unique people, as you know, just being around him. He's so positive I think everybody wishes in their next life they can come back as Rob just because he's got such a great personality about him, just his way of being positive and he's a real high achiever.  

"He's very competitive, and I see the competitive nature, the determination like, when you're down and out, you want him with you. And I think that speaks to him as a team-mate and as a person. And I love playing with him.  

"You know I've known him for a long time, and I'm just so proud of all his accomplishments. He's an amazing guy. And I know, for both of us, we rely on each other a lot for different things. And I'll be looking for him this Sunday so that's the most important thing."

At the age of 43, Brady is about as experienced as it gets when it comes to preparing for the Super Bowl. 

But he is under no illusions as to the size of the task the Buccaneers face against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on Sunday. 

"It's a slow build I think for this game because it's two weeks of prep," he added.  

"You feel out the physical stuff. You're pretty much done at this point. And at this point it's just going through in your head, different situations, scenarios, all your different calls that you'd have, just trying to think about how they're going to play us.  

"And then, again, I think that's where the mental prep, you really can't leave any stone unturned at this point. Friday, Saturday, Sunday just over three days left in the season. So, 72 hours.  

"And, you know, you got to use it all and use it to the maximum, because this is a game that's really going to challenge us as a team, it's a very tough team to beat. They haven't been beaten in a long time.  

"They've got a great offense, got a great defense, really well coached. We have to be in a good place out there and compete and get ready for a great game. So, it's a long game, it's a hard game, it's a long day. But you got to be ready when the ball's kicked off and we're going to be challenged. They're going to challenge us and we are going to answer the challenge."

Roger Goodell remains unsatisfied with the level of minority hires for head coaching roles in the NFL, while he has also revealed his hope that international games can return in 2021. 

Only two of seven vacant head coach positions have been filled by a diverse candidate, with the New York Jets hiring Robert Saleh – the first NFL coach known to be Muslim – and the Houston Texans appointing David Culley, who becomes just one of three black head coaches currently in the league. 

NFL commissioner Goodell noted positives in other positions but said alternative avenues to encourage more diversity will be explored. 

"It's much broader than just head coaches for us, but the head coaches are important, and we put a lot of our policies and focus on that this year as you know," Goodell said at a pre-Super Bowl LV news conference.  

"We had two minority coaches hired this year, but it wasn't what we expected and it's not what we expect going forward.  

"So, for us we want to continue to look and see what went right and what went wrong. There needs to be visual discussions with candidates both successful and unsuccessful candidates of the teams and try to understand it.  

"They're not the outcomes we wanted and we're committed more than ever to make sure that we do that but we want it to be a natural process. We want it to be a process that is what we believe in diversity is making us better ultimately." 

The coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of five games that were due to take place in London and Mexico City last year due to uncertainty over travel amid the global health crisis.

Goodell is planning for the international fixtures to return to the calendar this year, though warned the league is ready to pull the plug again if the situation demands such action. 

"We are planning for our international games in 2021. That's the approach we're going to take, we obviously are going to stay in close contact with our partners in the UK and in Mexico and make sure that we are doing that safely," he added.  

"If at any point in time, we don't think we could execute that safely we will make that determination like last year. I think we ended up deciding not to play the international sometime right before the schedule was announced.  

"I think it was in April and that I think that was done after a lot of consultation not only with our medical officials, but also looking at the risks with the Players Association of travelling the entire party over in a stadium where we weren't able to implement our protocols. 

"So, we hope to get back there and we're planning for it and we'll make that decision whenever we have enough information to do so."

An NFL season unlike any other concludes on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet in a Super Bowl with a difference.  

The Bucs have home advantage as they bid to make history – no team has ever before played for the Lombardi Trophy in their own stadium – but there will be no full house present to watch the action unfold. In a campaign shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, there will be more cardboard cut-outs in attendance than real fans.   

As for the game itself, Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes is box office viewing. Both have supporting casts that can accentuate their talent, giving us a battle between two quarterbacks at opposite ends of their NFL careers but with the same goal: Win one more ring.   

Then there are the head coaches. Andy Reid, who couldn't win the big games, until he actually did. Bruce Arians, who retired from coaching, until he came back. They have continued to work through unprecedented times in the league, where protocols have dictated daily schedules and the only talk of two-a-days referred to COVID-19 testing, rather than practices.    

Adapting to their specific situations has been the key to getting this far, according to former NFL head coach Brian Billick, now working for NFL Media. 

"They evolve, they do what their players do best," Billick said on a conference call. "Certainly, Andy Reid has morphed that offense around Patrick Mahomes. He's been able to adapt exactly to the talents. 

"Bruce Arians is the same way, the things that he's doing with the experience of Tom Brady and the big play presence on the outside. They adapt, specifically to the type of players that they have around them."

After starting out in the NFL in a number of roles with Green Bay, Reid had success in charge of the Philadelphia Eagles – he remains top of their all-time list for wins - without ever managing to secure the franchise a first Super Bowl. The narrative of coming up short in the postseason continued in Kansas City, but eventually – thanks to a fourth-quarter comeback – he got over the hump.   

The Super Bowl triumph in 2020 ended any suggestion that Reid's Hall-of-Fame career required a ring for validation. Since then, he has appeared to be playing with house money.   

Depending on what unfolds on the field this weekend, the fourth-down call against the Cleveland Browns may well remain the lasting memory of this playoff run for Kansas City. Minus Mahomes and defending a five-point lead late in the game, a hard count by stand-in quarterback Chad Henne seemed the prelude to a punt. 

Hold what you have and hope to hang on, right? Not for Reid, who went all in. 

Knowing a first down would seal victory and a place in the AFC Championship Game, he allowed Henne to snap the ball while in the shotgun, wait briefly for Tyreek Hill to break on his shallow route and then fire in a pass to the wide receiver. The risk was great, but so too was the reward.  

Had Arians been in a similar situation, he too may have gone for it. A cancer survivor, the 68-year-old is known for his "No risk it, no biscuit" way of thinking, both in terms of his coaching philosophy and life in general.  

The Buccaneers certainly pushed all their chips into the middle of the table for this season, too. The seemingly unthinkable became reality when Brady walked away from the New England Patriots to start afresh in 'Tompa Bay', a move that tempted the retired Rob Gronkowski to put away the wrestling pants and don the football pads again. 

There were teething problems, as to be expected, yet Arians always insisted the team was learning on the fly, adjusting from week to week with a new starting quarterback – even one as good as Brady. 

However, the Bucs have been on a roll since their bye week. Four straight victories in which they amassed a combined total of 148 points to finish the regular season were followed by playoff triumphs on the road in Washington, New Orleans – who had previously beaten them twice – and then finally Green Bay.  

Arians went close to making a Super Bowl in his previous head coaching job in Arizona, losing in the NFC Championship Game. When he left in 2017, his future appeared to be in television working as an analyst.  

Then the Bucs called. 

Convincing both him and his wife Christine that it was the right move, he made a comeback. The arrival of Brady for his second season in charge changed the timeline, requiring Arians to use his man-management skills - "I'm not a father figure. I'm the cool uncle you'd like to have a drink with" - to bring it all together. 

The presence of a great quarterback on the rosters for both franchises should not overshadow what their coaches have achieved. Arians has ironed out the wrinkles in time while allowing Brady to turn back the clock in terms of airing the ball out. Reid's biggest issue in the regular season seemed to be finding a suitable face mask to wear, yet he could still see how to put Mahomes in situations that allowed him to dazzle.  

Arians and Reid have prevailed in hugely different circumstances but with the same positive outlook. Despite all that is on the line, you should expect both to be ready to gamble in the bid for glory. 

There are always fascinating storylines around a Super Bowl clash, but Tom Brady facing off against his heir apparent Patrick Mahomes might be as good as it gets.

Six-time Super Bowl champion Brady will look to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become the first team to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy on home soil this Sunday, in his first season with the team.

To do that the Bucs must find a way to derail the Chiefs, who are looking to become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since Brady and the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004.

Stats Perform's NFL research analyst Ethan Cooperson will be in the commentary booth as part of CBS' broadcast crew with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo in Florida.

He has outlined the history behind the longest-ever NFL streak without a repeat Super Bowl winner.

Cooperson told Stats Perform News: "So we have the drought without a repeat Super Bowl champion goes back to the Patriots of '03 and '04. 

"It's actually the longest drought in NFL history, going back to the days before there were even postseason games.

"Then, the champion was just determined by the league standings before there were Super Bowls and there was just an NFL championship game and then later an AFL championship game."

Cooperson has detailed the reasons why Mahomes is likely to help the Chiefs end the long drought, even if it does not happen this year.
 
Mahomes' legacy is winning

The 2018 NFL MVP and 2019 Super Bowl MVP is well known for his spectacular plays and outrageous throws from all angles.

Cooperson, though, points to his incredible win-loss record as something which has him on a historic trajectory.

While such a win rate is tough to sustain, if anyone can, it is Mahomes.

"Keep in mind Brady has never won back to back Super Bowl MVPs, Mahomes has a chance to do that," Cooperson said to Stats Perform News.

"No one has done that since Terry Bradshaw over 40 years ago. 

"To achieve what Mahomes has achieved at his age is phenomenal. There is no quarterback who has started two Super Bowls and won an MVP while 25 or younger. 

"The only player to do that is [Dallas Cowboys running back] Emmitt Smith. 

"Mahomes is now going to be the first quarterback - for him to have done this at such a young age and to have the success is phenomenal. 

"He has a 44-9 record, so that's an .830 winning percentage, regular season and playoffs. That's the highest all time for any quarterback with at least 50 starts, Otto Graham is second and Brady is third. 

"So the legacy, as much as we love the aerial display, the amazing throws that he makes, the improbable throws that he makes, Mahomes is a phenomenal winner. 

"We can't overlook that he's winning games at a higher rate than Brady. I don't know if that kind of an .800 winning percentage is sustainable, but there's no reason right now why it shouldn't be."

Chiefs are starting a new cycle

The rise of analytics is changing the NFL – just look at how many more teams are going for it on fourth down these days.

Another change resulting from data is a better understanding of the value of passing the ball, as opposed to the traditional strategy of establishing the run or having a balanced offense.

Even a middling passing offense is more efficient on a play-by-play basis than a league-leading rushing attack.

That trend suits the league-leading passing attack - with Mahomes and some amazing Chiefs firepower deployed by Andy Reid - perfectly.

Cooperson continued: "It's worth noting there's been one team to lead the league in passing offense and win the Super Bowl in that same season. 

"That's what the Chiefs are trying to do, it has only happened once in the Super Bowl era with the 1999 Rams. 

"This is again perhaps a different era now that a team that's maybe dominant on offense and dominant in the passing game is going to be an elite team.

"This is shifting now and Mahomes is bringing in this new era of passing teams winning.

"We are [near a Chiefs dynasty] and it's interesting, though, that the Patriots dynasty, if we call it that for all those years, was not built around a slew of Hall of Fame players. 

"It was really Brady and an ever-changing, supporting cast, though Rob Gronkowski came in in the last decade and he's a bit of an exception to that. 

"The Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 70s, they won four Super Bowls in six seasons, Hall of Fame players at almost every position. 

"The Patriots of today were nothing like that. The Chiefs are a little bit more based on star power because they've got a superstar tight end in Travis Kelce, a star wide receiver in Tyreek Hill. 

"It's a different type of team but it's a team that's going to be built to score points for many years to come."

The league of the quarterbacks

It has always been hard for NFL teams to create a dynasty due to the draft system, salary cap and free agency constantly rearranging the pecking order.

However, with the modern game now more reliant on quarterback play more than ever before, having a dominant player at the position like Mahomes moves the needle to a greater degree than it may have done even five or 10 years ago.

Cooperson added: "So clearly, in this age of free agency, with players changing teams, it's difficult to keep teams together and to sustain excellence. 

"I do, however, think that the way the league has become quarterback dominated that so much of the game now is based on having a great QB and then building and building your team from there. 

"I don't know that it's going to stay this difficult to repeat as champions, certainly. You would think that any team with Mahomes for the next 10, 15 years is going to be at least a contender to repeat. 

"I don't think this drought will continue. It might continue this year, but I think that soon enough we'll see a team, very possibly the Chiefs, repeating as Super Bowl champions. 

"Since the Patriots repeated in the '03 and '04 seasons, only two defending champs have even reached the Super Bowl. 

"It was the Seattle Seahawks, who lost to the Patriots, and the Patriots who lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. Both of those teams led the game in the fourth quarter but could not hold on. 

"So only two teams since then have even gotten this far, it's just been such a tall order over these years. 

"The Patriots have had excellent teams that could not repeat as champions. I don't doubt, though, that Mahomes will be the guy to do it, and if not this time, then maybe soon after this."

Do you believe in unlikelihoods?  

It's unclear how familiar Patrick Mahomes is with the underdog story of 'Average Joes' in the movie 'Dodgeball', but reflecting on his first three seasons as a starter in the NFL, it's fair to assume his answer to the question posed by fictitious ESPN anchor Cotton McKnight would be an emphatic yes. 

Since the Kansas City Chiefs installed Mahomes as the starter in 2018, he has turned achieving the unlikely into an art form. 

From a league MVP award in his first season, three double-digit playoff comebacks and a Super Bowl MVP in his second, Mahomes has defined himself as a quarterback for whom the seemingly impossible always appears well within his grasp.

On Sunday, he will attempt to become the first quarterback to win back-to-back Super Bowls since his Tampa Bay Buccaneers counterpart Tom Brady achieved the feat at the end of the 2004 season. 

It would be a fitting way to cap arguably the most remarkable three-season spell by any quarterback in NFL history, and here we examine the numbers behind his stratospheric rise.

Pre-draft concerns prove inaccurate

When Mahomes entered the NFL Draft, he was viewed as a prospect with phenomenal upside but one whose unorthodox, gunslinging style risked inefficiency and turnovers at the highest level. 

The Chiefs were undeterred by such concerns, however, taking a significant gamble in trading up from 27th in the first round to select the former Texas Tech standout with the 10th overall pick.

It is a move that has been overwhelmingly justified, with any doubts over his accuracy completely quashed.

Mahomes ranks first in completions all-time among quarterbacks in their first three full seasons (which is defined as a campaign where a quarterback attempts at least 100 passes). He has connected on 1,092 of his passes, doing so at a completion percentage of 66.1 that, using the same criteria, puts him sixth all-time. 

Only five quarterbacks have hit their team-mates more consistently in their first three full seasons, but there are none that have done a better job of avoiding turnovers and putting the ball in the end zone.

Prolific and protective of the ball

First in passing yards among quarterbacks in their first three full seasons with 13,868, Mahomes also leads the way in touchdown passes. 

He has 114 TD throws through the air while being intercepted on just 23 occasions during that same span. That disparity gives him the all-time lead with a touchdown to interception ratio of 4.96.

What is even more impressive is that Mahomes has largely succeeded in taking care of the ball despite being very aggressive in pushing it downfield. 

His yards per attempt average of 8.39 is fifth all-time among signal-callers in their first three full seasons, while for his career he is the all-time leader in adjusted net yards per attempt (8.49). 

The combination of Mahomes' high yards per attempt, impressive completion percentage and unmatched TD-INT ratio has left him without an equal in the most widely used measure of quarterback performance.

Unprecedented early success

Passer rating is viewed by many as an imperfect metric when it comes to analysing quarterbacks, but the fact Mahomes is the all-time leader with a rating of 109.3 across his first three full seasons is illustrative of the utter dominance he has enjoyed to this point. 

Mahomes also boasts the highest career passer rating in the regular season (108.7) and the postseason (109.8) and it is his incredible level of performance in the playoffs that has ensured he will be the first quarterback in the NFL to start multiple Super Bowls aged 25 or younger. 

Should the Chiefs prevail, the 25-year-old will break Brady's record and become the youngest starting quarterback to win multiple Super Bowls, Brady having claimed his second at the age of 26. 

It was a scenario few envisaged when he left Texas Tech, but the Chiefs had the foresight to understand he was a talent that could elevate them to the league's elite.

The devastating impact and speed with which he did so was what took the league by surprise, yet few are now shocked by the exploits of a player who makes the amazing look startlingly routine. 

There is perhaps no greater sign of the aura Mahomes has quickly established than the fact he and the Chiefs are favoured to deny the man regarded as the greatest quarterback ever a seventh Lombardi Trophy. 

Super Bowl LV will not be an underdog story for Mahomes and there are unlikely to be many rubbing their eyes in disbelief on Sunday if, as he has done so often, he delivers yet another tale of the unexpected.

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