Former 国产探花player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. In today's installment, he discusses who has the most to gain/lose in the final game of the 2023 season ...
There is nothing like competing in a Super Bowl. The Lombardi Trophy game carries unparalleled weight, with annual viewership in the nine figures and football immortality on the line. Make a big play in a key moment on Super Bowl Sunday, and you're a legend. Of course, miscues also get magnified to a staggering degree.
Bottom line: This is a career-defining event. Performances delivered on the brightest and biggest stage in the sport fuel offseason chatter and influence critical decisions down the road. Consequently, this is one hell of a pressure cooker. Everyone is on the spot.
That said, certain individuals always enter the ring game with an enhanced spotlight. Who are those folks this time around, with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers preparing for the title bout in Las Vegas? Who has the most at stake in Super Bowl LVIII? Here is my top-10 ranking, presented in countdown form.
The second-round pick has emerged as the Chiefs' WR1 over the course of a fine rookie campaign. Rice finished the regular season with the second-most catches (79), receiving yards (938) and receptions of 20-plus yards (10) on Kansas City -- trailing only tight end Travis Kelce in all three categories -- while leading the team with seven receiving touchdowns. With a strong performance in Super Bowl LVIII to cap off what's already been an impressive playoff debut (223 receiving yards and a score over three games), Rice will enter the 2024 season with a whole bunch of hype, simultaneously cementing himself as the leading candidate to eventually take the torch from Kelce as Patrick Mahomes' go-to guy.
The former No. 2 overall pick has a chance to rewrite narratives surrounding his game with a spectacular performance in the title tilt. Young's superior talents and disruptive potential could produce some "take over the game" moments against a pair of overmatched tackles (Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith). If Young can produce a few splash plays in a marquee game with the world watching, the pending free agent could boost his stock on the open market.
The ultra-conservative football world hates when team builders spend significant draft currency on kickers. Moody's entrance into the league as a third-rounder (No. 99 overall last April) put him squarely in the crosshairs of critics questioning his value. After a rough preseason debut, the Michigan product stabilized to turn in a decent regular season, but he did have some costly misses. In the Divisional Round, he had a 48-yarder blocked. On Championship Sunday, he pushed a kick from the same distance wide right. Moody must come through in the clutch, or the haters will pound on San Francisco for "wasting" a valuable draft pick on an unreliable point scorer.
The first-team All-Pro defensive tackle is a one-man army at the point of attack. Jones can win with force or finesse from anywhere along the defensive front as a super-sized defender with heavy hands and ballerina-like agility. With 75.5 career sacks over eight seasons, including 10.5 in 2023, the free agent-to-be can once again showcase his greatness (and further set himself up for a monstrous payday) with a jaw-dropping performance in Super Bowl LVIII.
Another pending free agent who should break the bank in the coming offseason. The football world is finally starting to recognize Sneed as an elite corner, but a strong showing against the 49ers' playmakers (Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, most prominently) could push him into the conversation to be considered the league's top cover man. While some will scoff and snicker at the thought of Sneed surpassing the position's brand names (SEE: Sauce Gardner, Jalen Ramsey and Pat Surtain II, among others), the veteran's 2023-24 r茅sum茅 suggests he is a blue-chip player worthy of the highest praise. He needs another shutdown performance to cap the season and fuel offseason debates.
At a time when running backs are viewed by many as disposable commodities, McCaffrey has shown team builders the value of a blue-chip RB1. The veteran has sparked the 49ers' offense as a dynamic runner/receiver with big-play potential and interchangeable skills, leading the league with in rushing yards (1,459), scrimmage yards (2,023) and total touchdowns (21). Given his hefty price tag (average salary north of $16 million) and the draft capital exchanged to secure his services from Carolina, CMC always carries a heavy burden in the RB world. The first-team All-Pro back could further debunk myths surrounding the position by leading his squad to a Super Bowl win.
After spending most of the 21st century overshadowed by Bill Belichick's greatness on the sidelines, Reid can continue to make inroads in the G.O.A.T. conversation. With a victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, Reid will have earned three rings in the span of five seasons while also drawing closer to the illustrious 300-win club. Moreover, the offensive guru is poised to continue chasing Lombardi Trophies with the game's best quarterback squarely in his prime.
For "Mr. Irrelevant" to earn the respect he deserves, given the 49ers' success under his direction (SEE: Purdy's 21-5 career record, including the playoffs), he must finish the season with confetti falling on his shoulders. Despite the naysayers' comments regarding his stellar supporting cast, no one will be able to dispute his impact if the 49ers win it all. In this league, rings shut people up real quick. Bringing one of the league's most decorated franchises a sixth Lombardi Trophy would make Purdy a legend, inside and outside of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The best quarterback in the league today is chasing "G.O.A.T." status, with Tom Brady's seven rings as the ultimate measuring stick. By earning a third Super Bowl win in his sixth season as an 国产探花starter, Mahomes would be well-positioned to make a Tiger Woods-like run at TB12's status as the league's ultimate winner. And if he can guide this flawed squad to a title, the two-time league MVP would earn bonus points for finding a way without the best hand of cards.
There is no disputing Shanahan's offensive wizardry, but the ultra-creative play-designer/play-caller lacks the hardware to validate his overall coaching greatness. He has failed to close out Super Bowl chances in the past (SEE: the Falcons' infamous meltdown in Super Bowl LI and the 49ers' blown lead in Super Bowl LIV), and the lack of ultimate success leads to questions about his ability to finish off foes in marquee games. Shanahan needs a Super Bowl win to cement his status as a truly elite coach.