SAN DIEGO — For the first time in its 37-year history, the Super Bowl will feature a matchup of the NFL’s No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense when the Oakland Raiders (13-5) take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

News photoCanadian singer Shania Twain attends a Super Bowl
press conference Thursday in San Diego. Twain will perform at halftime of Sunday’s
game along with the rock group No Doubt.

The Raiders led the league in offense during the regular season en route to making their first appearance in the title game since 1984 and fifth overall. They ranked first in yards per game (398.8) and passing yards per game (279.7) while being the second-best team in points per game (28.1).

Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon, the league’s MVP this season, is the master of the passing game. He completed 418 of 618 for 4,689 yards and 25 touchdowns. This year, he became the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 yards or more 10 times in a single season.

Gannon’s got the gun to throw the ball quickly and accurately. But his biggest advantage is that he has a great supporting cast around him — future Hall of Fame receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown as well as Charlie Garner, a pass-catching running back.

Gannon has a strong arm to throw downfield when necessary, but going deep has not been his game this season. He throws more quick and short passes to wide receivers and lets them gain the yardage on the run after the catch, or dumps the ball to a running back who comes out of the backfield.

This type of the offense, which requires an accurate quarterback, receivers to run precise routes and running backs with good hands — and the Raiders have them all — is hard for a defense to adjust to.

The Buccaneers defense, however, ranked No. 1 in yards allowed per game (252.8) and passing yards per game (155.6) and gave up the fewest points per game (11.3) in the league.

Looks like a great matchup on paper.

The pass rush from the front four is the heart and soul in the Buccaneers defense. They’ve got good pass rushers in Simeon Rice (15.5 sacks), Warren Sapp (7.5) and Ellis Wyms. Defensive linemen produced 32 of the team’s 43 sacks during the regular season.

When you have a strong pass rush from the front four, you can use seven people in pass coverage, which is very tough to play against for a quarterback.

Let the stats tell the story. Cornerback Brian Kelly led Tampa Bay with eight interceptions and 23 passes defended. Linebacker Derrick Brooks, the Defensive Player of the Year, had five interceptions and 15 passes defended while another cornerback, Ronde Barber, accounted for 21 passes defended.

Sapp breaks the pass protection with a powerful inside rush and Rice comes from the outside. The passer is forced to make a quick decision and find an open receiver, but seven defensive guys are waiting for the ball in pass protection. With almost nowhere to throw, your quarterback is in trouble.

It provides for an interesting matchup between a quick passing game and an aggressive pass rush.

And there’s another matchup that adds a little more flavor (or spice?) to Super Bowl XXXVII: Jon Gruden vs. Bill Callahan.

When Gruden left the Raiders after last season to become the Bucs’ head coach, Oakland promoted then-offensive coordinator Callahan to the head job.

Gruden met expectations from the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs and gave up two first-round draft picks and two second-round picks as well as $8 million to the Raiders to acquire Gruden, by leading the team to the Super Bowl for the first time in the 26-year history of the club.

On the other hand, Callahan became only the third man in NFL history to lead his team to the big game in his rookie season as head coach.

The two men worked four seasons together and know each other well, probably too well.

Gruden knows the Raiders schemes? Forget that. The schemes are a lot different than last year on both sides of the ball. His reputation is preparation for the game. He is said to wake up before 4 a.m. every day and spends almost the whole day in his office.

Rivalry? Oh, yeah. Gruden skipped Monday’s press conference because he wanted time to prepare for the game. Callahan’s reaction? He followed the lead of his former boss and never showed up for the media session.

The game is scheduled to kick off at 3 p.m. local time (8 a.m. Monday Japan time). It will be televised live on NHK BS satellite in Japan.

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