Wed Jan 20 3:28am ET
By MARK LONG
AP Pro Football Writer
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to make history at Green Bay on Sunday. If they do, it might come with an asterisk.
No team has ever played a Super Bowl in its home stadium. Tom Brady and the underdog Bucs (13-5) will try to become the first to do so by winning the NFC championship game against the Packers (14-3). The Super Bowl will take place two weeks later at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
It would be some feat for the wild-card Bucs to reach the NFL finale after playing three road playoff games. The prize would be much different this year, though, because the Super Bowl will be played in front of a far smaller crowd than usual.
Tampa Bay averaged 14,483 fans for its eight home games in 2020 - about 22% of stadium capacity. The NFL is planning for 20% capacity at the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, according to ESPN. Fans will be in pods separated by 6 feet, and masks will be required in accordance with local COVID-19 safety protocols.
Capacity at Raymond James Stadium is 65,890, so a little more than 13,000 fans are expected inside to finish a season played during a pandemic. It's a huge drop from the 75,000 that would have been expected with additional temporary bleachers in the end zones.
So if Tampa Bay advances to the big game, it won't gain a significant advantage by playing in front of its home crowd. Technically, it won't even be a sellout, and the game would set an attendance record for the smallest Super Bowl crowd.
The first Super Bowl in 1967 was played in front of 61,946 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It's the only one that didn't sell out.
In the 53 Super Bowls since, just two teams have played the game in their home region: the 1984 San Francisco 49ers beat Miami in Super Bowl 19 in Stanford Stadium rather than Candlestick Park; and the 1979 Los Angeles Rams lost Super Bowl 14 to Pittsburgh in the Rose Bowl instead of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Here's a look at the other NFL teams that made the playoffs the season their home stadiums hosted the Super Bowl and came up short:
- Minnesota, 2017
Coming off the ''Minnesota Miracle'' at home against New Orleans - Stefon Diggs hauled in a 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum on the final play - the Vikings traveled to Philadelphia for the NFC title game and got shellacked 38-7. Eagles backup Nick Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, a sign of things to come in the Super Bowl against New England.
- Houston, 2016
The Texans won the AFC South and were the No. 4 seed heading into the AFC playoffs. They beat Oakland in a wild-card game but lost 34-16 the following week on the road to Brady and New England. It was quarterback Brock Osweiler's final start for Houston. Brady went on to win his fifth of six championships, this one in come-from-behind fashion after trailing Atlanta 28-3 late in the third quarter.
- Miami, 1998
The Dolphins were the No. 4 seed in the AFC and beat division rival Buffalo at home to open the playoffs. They barely showed up the following week in Denver, getting smoked 38-3 by a team that featured four future Hall of Famers: quarterback John Elway, running back Terrell Davis, tight end Shannon Sharpe and safety Steve Atwater. Another Hall of Famer, Dan Marino, threw a pair of interceptions. Elway and the Broncos went on to claim their second straight championship.
- Miami, 1994
The Dolphins were the No. 3 seed four years earlier with the Super Bowl set to be played at Joe Robbie Stadium. They beat Kansas City to open the playoffs and traveled cross-country to face San Diego in the divisional round. Miami led 21-6 after Marino's third TD pass of the day just before halftime. But it was all Chargers from there. They scored 16 unanswered points in the second half, including the go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds remaining. Pete Stoyanovich missed wide right from 48 yards out on Miami's final play. San Diego went on to beat Pittsburgh in the AFC title game before losing to juggernaut San Francisco in the Super Bowl in Miami.
- Miami, 1978
The Dolphins lost to Houston at home in a wild-card game, ending any chance they had of returning to the Orange Bowl for the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh beat Dallas for its third Vince Lombardi Trophy in five years.
- Miami, 1970
The wild-card Dolphins lost at Oakland 21-14 in the opening round of the AFC playoffs and ended up watching Baltimore beat Dallas in Super Bowl 5 at the famed Orange Bowl in Miami.
Interview with a Champ
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) was designated to return from the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Buffalo Bills RB Devonta Freeman, C Jonotthan Harrison, WR Kenny Stills and RB Antonio Williams were designated as protected practice squad players for the AFC Championship Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Free-agent WR Corey Coleman (Giants) was suspended by the NFL for the first six games of the 2021 season for a violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy on Tuesday, Jan. 19, according to a source.
Updating a previous report, Baltimore Ravens RB Mark Ingram was officially waived Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Fantasy Spin: Ingram was a healthy scratch in each of four of Baltimore's last five games, seeing his only action over that time in a Week 17 blowout win. The writing was on the wall for his eventual departure following the selection of J.K. Dobbins in the 2020 draft, but releasing a veteran like Ingram - especially at this point of the year - is highly unusual. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner is likely to catch on somewhere else this offseason and serve as a useful committee back, but his days of fantasy relevancy are probably over.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Deone Bucannon was signed off the practice squad Tuesday, Jan. 19. The Buccaneers also placed LB Jack Cichy (elbow) on the Reserve/Injured list and designated RB Kenjon Barner (groin) for return from the Reserve/Injured list.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (concussion, toe) cleared 'some big steps' Tuesday, Jan. 19, but remains in the league's concussion protocol with what is considered a concussion. According to sources via ESPN's Adam Schefter, it is still 'too early to say that he definitely will play' against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship.
Fantasy Spin: Nothing new to see here other than Mahomes appears to be about halfway through the five-step protocol. Schefter added that the quarterback is expected to practice Wednesday, which would obviously be another step in the right direction. Chad Henne is a capable but unexciting option for the Chiefs if Mahomes has a setback or can't go Sunday, but it sure feels as though it won't come to that.
Free-agent RB John Kelly signed a Reserve/Future contract with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen has thrown for league-best marks of 1,907 yards and 19 touchdowns against the blitz this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is scheduled to interview with the Philadelphia Eagles regarding their head coaching vacancy Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is reportedly nearing a deal to become the new defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, according to sources.
New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas (ankle) is likely to have multiple surgeries on the torn deltoid and other injured ligaments in his high ankle this offseason.
Fantasy Spin: Thomas was clearly not himself in his catchless performance in the NFC Divisional game. With Drew Brees likely to retire, Thomas' value may take a hit with Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston under center. Brees had a rapport with Thomas like no other. He'll still be a WR1, but he may fall down a few pegs to the upper-middle range.