Super Bowl XLIX – Preview & Prediction
With their mind-numbingly improbable victory last week, Seattle put themselves in a position of great rarity. Indeed, since the Super Bowl Era began in 1967, on only 8 occasions has a team successfully defended their crown, the last of which was, of course, the Seahawks’ adversaries this Sunday, the New England Patriots back in 2005. Seattle are more than capable of becoming the 9th, and proving all their legions of ‘doubters’ (right Doug?) wrong in the process, but I have no doubt that they will find it tougher to repeat than they did to secure the Lombardi for the first time last year.
Attempting to whittle the various components of Super Bowl XLIX down to just a handful of ‘keys’ is obviously a far from simple task, seeing as this match-up between the number one seeds from the NFC and AFC for the second year in a row is littered with mouth-watering duels pretty much anywhere we care to glance. I will, however, attempt to break down some of the various battles, and present some (hopefully) realistic thoughts on the possible outcomes.
The Patriots biggest weapon has to be considered man-mountain Rob Gronkowski, and much could be made of the fact that 11 of the 17 passing touchdowns given up by the Seattle defence this season have been to tight ends. However when we look a little closer, we can see that those stats are somewhat skewed. Over the course of the last 3 years, Seattle have not given up a 100+ yard game to a tight end, and this season, they ranked fifth in the league at containing them, allowing only 41.4 yards on average per game. Of the 11 touchdowns conceded through the air to tight ends, only 1 was scored after week 10 of the regular season, when, coincidentally, the man who will almost certainly be tasked with negating Gronk’s undoubtedly destructive talent, at least to a large degree, returned from a 2 week rest, finally fully fit.
As one of the biggest safeties in the league, Kam Chancellor should match up well physically with the Patriots number 87, and be able to disrupt Gronkowski’s release from the line of scrimmage as well as deal with his sheer size and strength in coverage. The question over who will come out on top between the two will be both fascinating to watch and imperative to the entire match-up.
The running game will be hugely important to the Patriots, and another strong performance from LaGarrette Bount will be absolutely imperative if New England are to take control of the clock, unsettle the Seattle defence and give Brady the very best chance possible of finding gaps in the Seahawks defence. Since the Belichick era began in 2000, the Patriots have gone 46-1 in games where they have had a running back rush for over 100 yards, so at least statistically, Blount repeating, or even getting close to his 148 yard performance against the Colts in last week’s AFC Championship game would seem to give New England a powerful edge. However, Seattle are a completely different beast to Indianapolis, so this is obviously far easier said than done.
On the other side, it’s no secret that the strength of the entire Seattle offence pivots around the form and focus of their skittle-popping talisman Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks offence as a whole ran for more yards (2,762) than any team in the NFL this season, with Lynch responsible for 1,306 of them. He also chalked up 13 of the 20 rushing touchdowns Seattle scored, again the most of any team in the league. Uncharacteristically for such a powerful runner, the gold-soled beast achieves most success running outside the tackles, as defences wary of Wilson keeping the ball are obviously kept honest in this respect. Breaking one-on-one tackles is one of Lynch’s most fundamental strengths, and a strong performance from the Patriots defensive tackles, especially Rob Ninkovic and Chandler Jones on the outside, will be paramount in forcing Seattle’s drives to stall on the ground, both by standing firm against Lynch and also, just as importantly, containing Wilson and forcing him to remain in the pocket and beat them with his arm alone.
Last week, Clay Matthews played a role that I see being imitated by the Patriots’ athletically gifted and versatile linebacker Jamie Collins this Sunday; to spy on Russell Wilson and focus on keeping him chained up as much as possible. This in turn will force him to go to the air from the pocket, something that on the evidence of last week’s championship game, could result in mistakes and possible turnover opportunities.
Russell Wilson had a torrid time last week, and was apocalyptically poor for so much of the game that it really does still beggar belief as to how he, and his team, managed to find their way to Arizona. However, make it they did, and although there is a definite feeling brewing in my mind that tells me that Wilson surely cannot possibly be that bad two weeks in a row, I don’t like this match-up for him. Wilson is a great young quarterback, but he is not Tom Brady, and I strongly feel that if he doesn’t raise his game significantly, and continues to make mistakes that force his defence to bail him out, they will not be so lucky and be let off the hook again. If there’s one thing that can be said with the utmost certainty, it’s that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are as ruthless as they come.
When he has been forced to throw deep, Wilson has been decent if unspectacular this season, but this week he is facing a Patriots secondary who were tested by more deep passes than any other group this season, and coped admirably. The quarterback duel could well be decided by who makes the fewest mistakes. In this regard, I believe Brady has the edge.
All things considered, I think that Super Bowl XLIX must be considered the most difficult to call Super Bowl in recent memory, and it would be no surprise to me if either team won. However, I have to make a pick, and based on the fact that I believe in their quarterback’s ability to both eliminate and punish mistakes, and see this ultimately as a defining factor, I am taking the Patriots in a close one.
Patriots 27 – 23 Seattle
As always, share your thoughts with me on Twitter – @DylanBaker1986