Super Bowl XLIX is a fun contest between the top seeds in the AFC and NFC. That is as simple as it can be put, and the matchup (in addition to all of the other soap-opera-type happenings in the NFL the last few months) could well draw a record television audience.
While Seattle had to pull off a miraculous comeback to dump Green Bay in overtime in the NFC Championship, the Patriots blasted Indianapolis 45-7 in the AFC title game.
This battle pits teams that have each caused the league to change the rules in the last few years. The Pats were a clutching and grabbing team; the Seahawks play rough and tough with receivers and were the driving force behind the league calling more pass interference and illegal contact penalties this season.
I will not say anything about the deflated footballs controversy surrounding the Patriots since the AFC Championship domination of the Colts, other than that it might have played a small distraction in the New England preparation for this game. Though with two weeks to get ready, you can be sure head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady will have some wrinkles that Seattle has not seen. In fact, it can easily be argued that this is one more chance for New England to play the ”Us Against the World” card, and it can be spun into an advantage for the Patriots.
The teams had the same record and each had similar point differentials. New England played a harder schedule. The Patriots have outscored the Ravens and Colts by a combined 66-10 since trailing Baltimore 28-14 in the third quarter of their first playoff game. It’s safe to say that the Pats are peaking at the right time.
The Patriots should have a good blueprint on how to contain Russell Wilson in the pocket. He is just an ordinary passer when not allowed to scramble around and make plays with his legs. Green Bay stymied him for 55 minutes and silenced his home crowd throughout until that fateful final five minutes (and overtime, of course).
New England has a much better and more physical secondary this season. Obviously Darrelle Revis is as good as anyone in football at clinging to the No. 1 opposing receiving threat. But Brandon Browner could well be the key here. He played for Seattle last season and his physicality at the other corner will put all sorts of pressure on Seattle and its offense to try and overcome the two Patriot cornerbacks with ordinary to below-par receivers.
Sure, Jermaine Kearse has four touchdown passes in five career games, but he’s also only got five touchdowns in 37 career regular season games. He was the target of all four of Russell Wilson’s interceptions last week, as well.
On the other side, New England has the more explosive weapons, starting with Brady and Rob Gronkowski. This is the first time the Pats have made a deep playoff run with their superhuman tight end being totally healthy. The Seahawks will have fits trying to figure out how to defend ”Gronk” over the middle, and he should eat alive anyone in man coverage, and poke holes in a zone defense that’s looked increasingly suspect as the opposing offenses have improved.
Seattle’s healthy defensive stats look that way in large part because of the bevy of poor and/or backup quarterbacks they faced throughout the second half of the season. Brady and Gronkowski present a different set of challenges than what Seattle coach Pete Carroll has had to prepare for all season.
Running back LeGarrette Blount, who is in off a career-high 148 rushing yards, has the Patriot team record with seven postseason touchdowns, and he’s the only player with multiple three-touchdown rushing games in playoff history.
The Patriots played eight games vs. a top 10 yards per play defense this season. Throw out the Week 17 laydown against Buffalo, and New England averaged over 35 points per game in those games.
Five of the last seven Super Bowls have been decided by six points or less. And New England’s five Super Bowls in the Belichick/Brady Era have been decided by 3, 3, 3, 3 and 4 points. With the line being this close to pick, it’s an edge for the Pats to have Belichick roaming their sidelines with the extra prep time. While Carroll is no idiot, he’s also no Belichick.