Everyone obviously is focused on the upcoming quarterback battle between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.
Heck, we even debated Tuesday which QB we’d rather have for Super Bowl LV.
But there’s obviously much, much more to Sunday’s championship showdown between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium, and one definitely shouldn’t rule out an unsung hero rising to the occasion on the NFL’s biggest stage.
So, who will be the X factor in Super Bowl LV?
The NESN Digital team kicked around this question — excluding Brady and Mahomes, because they’re too obvious — for our latest “NESN Debates” feature and the responses were all over the map.
Here are our picks.
Ben Watanabe: Darrel Williams, Chiefs RB
The third-year back has been a factor of late, after getting buried among all the Chiefs’ many weapons all season. And when he does get involved, it often comes in bunches, something KC will need with Clyde Edwards-Helaire possibly hobbled.
Ricky Doyle: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs RB
Someone other than Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will make a play at some point for the Chiefs, assuming Tampa Bay focuses most of its attention on taking away Kansas City’s two top weapons. It could be Sammy Watkins. It could be Byron Pringle. But I’m looking toward the backfield, where the Chiefs can incorporate CEH into their passing attack against the Bucs’ linebackers, who are better pass rushers than they are in coverage. Tampa Bay allowed an NFL-high 101 receptions to running backs during the regular season.
Marcus O’Mard: Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs OC
Four Buccaneers defensive starters are age 23 or younger. Bieniemy can exploit the young Bucs’ inexperience, and possible big-game jitters, with a few game-plan wrinkles that push the explosive Chiefs offense to even higher peaks.
Doug Kyed: Jamel Dean, Bucs CB
The speedy defensive back was out Week 12 when Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill caught 13 passes for 269 yards with three touchdowns while mostly lined up across from Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis. Dean is back and healthy and should, in theory, be a much better matchup against Hill.
Zack Cox: Bucs pass rush
Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul beat the stuffing out of Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game, and the Chiefs will be without starting left tackle Eric Fisher. That’s a massive loss.
Adam London: Mike Remmers, Chiefs OT
The ninth-year pro is expected to be the Chiefs’ starting left tackle in place of the injured Fisher, who tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship Game. Of course, it will be critical for Kansas City to protect Mahomes’ blindside. It won’t be easy, as the Buccaneers’ pass rush just feasted on the Green Bay Packers, who also were without their typical starting left tackle in the NFC title game.
Logan Mullen: Tyler Johnson, Bucs WR
This might be in part because the Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning had a Tyler Johnson, and I find that to be a fun coincidence. But on a note that doesn’t make me sound like a simpleton, he really is a talented receiver, and the Chiefs’ suspect pass defense already will have its hands full. Johnson could be in position to find some soft matchups and take advantage of them. Plus, Brady always seems to make random receivers pop on the biggest stage (Malcolm Mitchell, anyone?).
Dakota Randall: Antonio Brown, Bucs WR
Is he healthy? If he is, he could see a ton of targets as Brady’s confidence in Mike Evans justifiably disappears.
Lauren Campbell: The defenses
They say that’s what wins you championships, and with two Super Bowl-winning QBs, who both have an arsenal of weapons, it will come down to which defense makes a game-changing play.
Abigail Adams: Andy Reid, Chiefs HC
His clock management skills have been critical in previous big games and likely will be again. It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw classic Andy Reid come out this time around.
Alex Francisco: Travis Kelce, Chiefs TE
Tampa Bay leads the NFL with the fewest rushing yards allowed, fewest rushing yards per carry allowed and fewest rushing touchdowns allowed. But against the pass, the Buccaneers are quite average. That leads me to believe Kelce will be a huge factor for the Chiefs as one of, if not the best tight end in the NFL. He’s a handful for any defense, and I think the Chiefs will utilize him heavily against the Bucs.
Sean McGuire: Chiefs offensive line
Kansas City was working with a somewhat patchwork group before Fisher tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills. His absence could prove monumental, especially when tasked with going against a tough Tampa Bay defensive front. The Buccaneers have seven sacks and have forced five interceptions in three playoff games. If KC can keep Tampa’s pass rush off Mahomes, it’ll be a big win for the group.
Patrick McAvoy: Rob Gronkowski, Bucs TE
He’s only had two catches so far this postseason, but I think they’re coming. He’s mainly been blocking so far, but he also started the season off this way. This is the game the Bucs will let him loose again.
Meredith Gorman: Tyreek Hill, Chiefs WR