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The Chiefs are favored, but have an Achilles heel. Literally.

John Romano | Kansas City lost Pro Bowl tackle Eric Fisher to an Achilles injury in the AFC Championship, necessitating yet another makeover on a depleted offensive line.
 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, left, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul celebrate Pierre-Paul's sack during the second quarter of the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, left, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul celebrate Pierre-Paul's sack during the second quarter of the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 2, 2021

TAMPA — Today, you should feel bad. Awful, in fact.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line has had a biblical run of injuries and defections, and good sportsmanship insists that Bucs fans commiserate with their hard-luck opponents for Super Bowl 55.

Tomorrow, you can feel a little less charitable. The next day, too.

By Sunday? Feel free to “Pffttt” in their general direction.

The world seems to agree that Kansas City is the favored team in Super Bowl 55, and that makes total sense. They are the defending champions and were 14-1 before taking a breather in the regular-season finale.

Related: Home is where the Super Bowl is for Tom Brady

But if there is a weakness to be exploited, it’s in the offensive line.

They’ve been losing players since before the season began when guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and third-round pick Lucas Niang both opted out for coronavirus-related reasons, and the misfortunes have not let up. Guard Kelechi Osemele blew out both knees in October, tackle Mitchell Schwartz hurt his back a week later and Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher tore his Achilles tendon in the AFC Championship Game against Buffalo.

Chiefs offensive tackle Mike Remmers, left, and offensive guard Andrew Wylie, right, celebrate after running back Le'Veon Bell (26) scored a touchdown against the Raiders on during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Las Vegas.
Chiefs offensive tackle Mike Remmers, left, and offensive guard Andrew Wylie, right, celebrate after running back Le'Veon Bell (26) scored a touchdown against the Raiders on during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Las Vegas. [ ISAAC BREKKEN | AP ]

Of the five linemen expected to be in the starting lineup Sunday, only center Austin Reiter will be where he belongs. Three of the starters began the season as substitutes, and guard Andrew Wylie will probably be asked to move to tackle.

Now they’ll face a defense that tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks and was third in quarterback pressures.

Tampa Bay’s edge rushers — Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett — combined for five sacks against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game and don’t appear terribly interested in the comings and goings on the Chiefs offensive line.

“I don’t care. It don’t matter. This is the freaking Super Bowl, I don’t care if they have three offensive linemen they send to block me, if they send two to block me, I’m going to do what I need to do,” Pierre-Paul said Monday. “That’s (their) problem. They’re going to need to figure that out. I ain’t got time to play no games. The only game I’m playing is football.

“I hope that answers your question. I don’t care about their offensive linemen. I don’t care.”

Related: Chiefs placing Demarcus Robinson, Daniel Kilgore on reserve/COVID-19 list

The interior of the Chiefs line will have two of the three starters who played against the Bucs in November, but Wylie is expected to slide over to right tackle and right tackle Mike Remmers will move to left tackle.

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Remmers, who spent most of 2012-13 on Tampa Bay’s practice squad, has made a career as a versatile and dependable fill-in on offensive lines for a half-dozen teams but he has not started at left tackle since 2016.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has talked about quicker pass plays and suggested the line could get some extra help with running backs or tight ends staying in to block instead of running routes.

But the solution for Kansas City might be Mahomes himself. Few quarterbacks are as elusive in the pocket, or more dangerous throwing the ball on the run. Even in the best of times, the numbers suggest Mahomes has made the offensive line look better than it is.

The past two seasons, Mahomes has been sacked once every 28 pass attempts. When anyone else is playing quarterback for Kansas City, the rate is one sack every 14 pass attempts.

“He is amazing outside of the pocket, he can make every throw. You think of cross-body throws as bad throws, but not with him. He’s … got it all. We’re going to try to keep him in the pocket,” Barrett said. “I’ll have to dial it back a bit because I don’t want to give him no B-gap at all. I don’t want him to think he can escape. So if I don’t cleanly beat my guy, I’ll turn it into a power rush to keep (Mahomes) inside.”

What can’t be denied is that the Chiefs have survived. Even with their makeshift line, they had the best record in the NFL. And even with Fisher going down in the middle of the AFC Championship Game, they put up 38 points against Buffalo.

Related: You should hear what Patrick Mahomes had to say about Tom Brady

On a team with Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the offensive line has gotten used to being called the weak link.

“I hear that once a week, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Wylie said. “It just so happens the Bucs do have a fantastic front seven. They fly around, they got speed off the edge and power in the middle and they’ve got linebackers that can do it all. We don’t have a lot of big-name guys going out there on Sunday, but we love that. We use that as motivation, not pressure. We’re prepared to let loose.”

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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