On paper, the looming New England Patriots versus Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl matchup is shaping up to be a doozy. Interestingly, both Seattle and Boston sit at opposite ends of I-90, America’s longest Interstate, which traverses 3,101 miles of plains, valleys, hills, mountains, and rivers. For New England and Seattle, the road to Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz., could not have been any more divergent.
New England, at the twilight of its dynasty, will make its sixth Super Bowl appearance in 13 years. On the opposite sideline, Seattle may be fomenting the beginnings of a dynasty in its own right, after winning Super Bowl XLVIII last year.
The Patriot Way, of course, has been characterized by a methodical, business-like approach to the game of football. Alternatively, the Seattle Seahawks, led by Pete Carroll, are more noted for their for their open practices, trash talk, and unabashed swagger. For five important reasons, the Patriots will win Super Bowl XLIX and bring the Lombardi Trophy back home to New England.
Last Sunday, the New England Patriots dominated the Indianapolis Colts in every phase of the game, to claim the AFC Championship, 45-7. For the Patriots, the blowout was actually the second largest margin of victory in the history of the AFC Championship Game (1991 Buffalo Bills 51 – Los Angeles Raiders 3.)
Tom Brady, however, was picked off by D’Qwell Jackson, with the Patriots on the march deep within Colts territory. Later, on the sideline, Indianapolis equipment managers speculated that the intercepted ball was underinflated. From there, NFL officials went on to confirm that 11 out of the 12 footballs used by the Patriots were underinflated by two pounds per square inch, according to League specifications. This wouldn’t be a big deal, if not for Spygate.
Spygate, the 2007 scandal when the Patriots were caught videotaping and stealing signals from the opposing sideline, was (and is) a major point of contention among fans to this day, and DeflateGate quickly emerged as the leading story in social media, with Jerry Rice taking to Twitter to slam the Patriots, while even Don Shula mocked the team’s head coach as “Beli-Cheat.” Legions of fans, again, have made claims that the Patriots Dynasty was built largely through skirting the rules, rather than fair play.
If anything, this firestorm will only serve to motivate the Patriots, with even more bulletin board material for the locker room. New England will likely come out firing upon all cylinders to put away any doubts regarding their Championship mettle.
2. The battle in the trenches
In last year’s Super Bowl, Seattle blew out the Denver Broncos 43-8. For his part, Peyton Manning went 34-49 for 280 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Manning was sacked only once that evening. Even with such a mundane line, Manning’s statistics barely scratched the surface of realities of the evening. In dismantling Brady’s archrival, the Seahawks appeared to take a page out of the New York Giants Super Bowl playbook. Seattle owned the line of scrimmage by constantly rotating fresh, quick, and aggressive defensive linemen into the game.
Pressuring the quarterback with four down linemen enabled Seattle to drop its linebackers into coverage and tee-off upon receivers in the short zone. To shake things up, the Seahawks may send in a blitzing linebacker in passing situations to further harass the quarterback, and rely upon the Legion of Boom to man up against the big play. Tom Brady, a classic pocket passer, has been especially prone to being taken down by well-timed blitz packages.
The Patriots offensive line, however, has been recently retooled and largely credited for the team’s surge through the playoffs. In the playoffs, the Patriots have featured unbalanced lines and even ran one tackle eligible pass play that resulted in Nate Solder rumbling 16 yards for a touchdown. On game day, the Patriots’ hardhat group will be tasked with containing the relatively small, but quick Seahawk front-four that includes Michael Bennett and Kevin Williams. To do so, the Patriots will look to establish the run and overpower the Seattle front.
3. LeGarrette Blount
LeGarrette Blount, despite his off-the-field troubles at both the University of Oregon and Pittsburgh, has always filled in as the Model Patriot. In the AFC Championship game, Blount rumbled for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns on 30 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Last year, he was even more impressive, in rushing for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns upon 24 carries (6.9 yards per carry) in the Divisional Round.
At 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds, you could be forgiven for thinking that Blount would be a classic power back — mixing things up at the line of scrimmage for three yards and a cloud of dust. That underplays his quickness, though, and after breaking tackles at the point of attack, Blount will be off quickly to the second level, where he will be simply too much of a load for the safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas to bring down in space.
Expect Blount to be worked into the game plan early and often on traps, counters, sweeps, and even screen passes into the flat.
4. Tom Brady, Richard Sherman, and Derrelle Revis
The brash Richard Sherman has described himself as the best cornerback in football. Last year, in shades of the XFL, Sherman appeared miffed that the 49ers would even challenge him with a “sorry receiver like [Michael] Crabtree” in the NFC Championship Game. The final bang-bang play of the game resulted in Sherman’s deflection of the pass into the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith for the interception at the back of the end zone.
In response, Tom Brady and Darrelle Revis have offered up deafening silence off the field. In a 2013 Twitter war-of-words, even LeGarrette Blount acknowledged that Richard Sherman only covers the left side of the field, while other elite corners such as Darrelle Revis are often tasked with shadowing the opponent’s best receiver across all formations.
For strategic purposes, the Patriots can simply keep possession receiver Julian Edelman over at Sherman’s side of the field, while motioning big-play threat Brandon LeFell throughout the offense. In doing so, Tom Brady may never be forced into testing Sherman for chunks of yardage. For the Patriots defensively, Revis will perform as a wild card that locks up against receivers and tight ends, drops off into zone coverage, and even rushes the quarterback on corner blitz schemes.
5. Bill Belichick
A befuddled John Harbaugh ripped Bill Belichick’s coaching as “illegal” and “deceptive,” after taking a 35-31 loss to the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Playoff Round. In that game, Belichick, Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, and the Patriots rolled out a litany of unbalanced four-man offensive lines with an ineligible back split out wide to confuse the Ravens coaching staff. From there, the Patriots would line up a tight end at the traditional left tackle spot, and throw him the football. In the AFC Championship Game, starting tackle Nate Solder reported to the line of scrimmage as an eligible receiver before hauling in a red zone pass and rumbling in for a score.
In these playoffs, Bill Belichik has pulled out all of the stops and thrown the kitchen sink at the opposition. For his part, Belichik might have already come to the realization that his days with Golden Boy quarterback Tom Brady are winding down. To cement his legacy, Bill Belichik will be ready and willing to outduel Pete Carroll in this Super Bowl XLIX chess match. In 1999, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft fired Pete Carroll – to hand head coaching duties and the keys to the franchise over to Bill Belichik.