Chase Claypool is expecting another Super Bowl victory for the Kansas City Chiefs, but the Pittsburgh Steelers' Canadian receiver won't be overly surprised if Tom Brady captures a seventh NFL title.
Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will meet Kansas City on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The Chiefs, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are favoured to repeat as NFL champions, but the 43-year-old Brady is appearing in his 10th career Super Bowl and four times has been named its MVP.
Brady is making his first Super Bowl appearance with Tampa Bay. His previous six championships were all with the New England Patriots.
"I'll be expecting a win by Kansas City," Claypool, coming off a strong rookie season, said in a telephone interview. "But I wouldn't be surprised if that Brady magic earns the Bucs a good win against a high-powered team.
"I think K.C.'s offence has the edge even though Tampa Bay has Brady and (receivers) Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and all those guys. I just think K.C. has plenty of firepower."
Last summer, Mahomes signed a record-breaking 10-year deal with Kansas City worth up to US$503 million. The 25-year-old then led the Chiefs to a league-best 14-2 record, completing 66 per cent of his passes for 4,740 yards with 38 TDs against just six interceptions.
Mahomes suffered a concussion in Kansas City's 22-17 playoff win over Cleveland. But he returned to throw for 325 yards and three TDs as the Chiefs overcame a 9-0 deficit en route to a 38-24 AFC title win over Buffalo.
The Bills had no answer for Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill (nine catches, 172 yards) and tight end Travis Kelce (13 receptions, 118 yards, two TDs).
Brady was 20-of-36 passing for 280 yards and three TDs in Tampa's 31-26 NFC championship win over Green Bay but also had three second-half interceptions. The Bucs defence had two turnovers (interception, fumble recovery) and sacked Packers starter Aaron Rodgers five times.
"I think the Bucs' defence being able to overcome three turnovers in the second half to the Packers and Aaron Rodgers is very good," Claypool said. "I think K.C.'s firepower might be a little too much and they have a really good defence to back it up."
Claypool's first NFL season had ups and downs. Pittsburgh opened the year 11-0 before losing three straight en route to finishing atop the AFC North with a 12-4 record. The Steelers' campaign ended with a 48-37 playoff loss to Cleveland.
Pittsburgh took the six-foot-four, 238-pound Claypool in the second round of the '20 NFL draft out of Notre Dame. Despite being brought along slowly, the 22-year-old Abbotsford, B.C., native had 62 catches for 873 yards and nine TDs while rushing for two more.
On Oct. 11, Claypool had four TDs (three catches, one rushing) in a 38-29 win over Philadelphia, becoming the first Canadian-born player to accomplish the feat.
"There's always things you can improve on and dissect through the season and get better at," Claypool said. "But I think it was a good year.
"There's a lot left on the table still, which is promising moving forward. I thought it was going to be a very big jump because the jump from high school to college was big so I was kind of nervous for my first game. But obviously the way we started and being able to produce pretty quickly, the transition wasn't too bad."
Claypool had no problem playing the longer NFL schedule, which didn't include exhibition contests due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Claypool admitted he had to adjust to pro defences.
"In college, there was a lot of traditional coverages," he said. "In the NFL it's a lot more complex (coverages) and it was just trying to identify that."
Another big difference, too, was playing before no fans in the stands.
"It wasn't as if they threw me into the fire and I was starting from the first play," Claypool said. "But that (no fans) was definitely weird, making a big play (28-yard reception in a 26-16 Monday night win over the New York Giants) in my first game and then hearing yourself scream and hearing other people.
"But honestly, it was a pretty good (experience) also. You can say you were part of something that may never happen again."
Claypool's rookie season was mostly about football because of the pandemic. But that didn't stop him from enjoying every day as it came.
"This year was so different because it's so unlike any other," he said. "I didn't have huge expectations in terms of the hype around this year just because I knew stadiums would be empty.
"But I didn't want to take any day for granted. I just enjoyed my experience because it could've been my only year in the NFL so I want to enjoy every day I have in it."
The season also included Claypool working with DAZN, the live on-demand service that will live stream the Super Bowl. Claypool was featured prominently on its "Rookie Diaries" segment this year.
Claypool said despite Pittsburgh's playoff loss, he'll have no problem watching the Super Bowl.
"I'm not going to be sitting there pouting or anything," he said. "I'll be enjoying the game, hoping one year I'm able to play in it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press