February 1st is fast-approaching, even if the days seem to be passing at the pace William "The Fridge" Perry would be running in the 40-yard dash.
With #DeflateGate just about in the rear-view mirror - now that we all know that 2 PSI wouldn't have changed the fact that the Pats would have annihilated the Colts - we can finally start to focus on the biggest game of the year.
Football fans with no allegiance to either team get what they wanted in terms of a matchup: the top seeds in both divisions going head-to-head on a neutral (and WARM) field, pitting two top defenses against two of the best quarterbacks in the league. Endless storylines, plenty of hype, and enough factors to debate the game for an entire month (but two weeks is already long enough, so don't get any ideas, Roger).
The Seahawks come into the matchup as defending Super Bowl champs, with enough swagger and confidence to make Kanye West feel insecure. The Pats are coming off the dismantling of the hapless Colts - and if there is any team that can shake off the nonsensical deflated balls "scandal," it's Bill Belichick's New England Patriots.
So who has the upper hand? Some might point to the Patriots vast experience, but they haven't been in a Super Bowl since 2011, and haven't won one since 2004. The Patriots might actually be catching a break here - as good as the Seahawks are, they aren't the New York Giants.
Despite all the reasons there might be to actually go with New England in this one, there are too many factors going against them in their quest for the franchise's fourth ring. If there's a team that can run with Seattle, it's the Patriots (and the Packers, but only for about 50 minutes), but they'll only be able to keep up for so long before Seattle finds a way to pull away and defend their title.
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10 Trick Plays?
Playing, and coaching in this game, requires several things: skill, luck, and balls.
OK, no more ball jokes for today, promise - but the fact remains that it will take some aggressive calls on Sunday for either team to be able to pull out a victory against a formidable opponent. Both teams have shown they aren't afraid to reach into their bag of tricks during this postseason: the Patriots scored a touchdown by having Julian Edelman throw a touchdown pass, and part of the reason the Seahawks are even in the Super Bowl is because of Jon Ryan's rocket arm and the perfectly run onside kick by the Seahawks at the end of last week's contest.
The Patriots will already have enough to worry about without having to worry about what ridiculous calls Pete Carroll might make in the game's biggest moments. Speaking of Carroll...
9 Pete Carroll
"Revenge" is one of the most understated factors when it comes to sports. Athletes and coaches will rarely admit it in public, but there's no doubt that these fiercely proud and competitive sportsmen will always welcome an opportunity to stick it to a former team - or employer, in this case.
Pete Carroll was the head coach of the New England Patriots from 1997 to 1999. Things got progressively worse for Carroll, as his Pats went from AFC champs in '96 to out of the playoffs in '99. The firing allowed Carroll to head to USC and rebrand himself and resurrect his coaching career, but there's no forgetting getting fired by an organization, no matter what the situation. Obviously, it worked out for both Carroll and the Pats - who, coincidentally, hired Bill Belichick as Carroll's replacement - but there's no denying Carroll would love to stick it to Robert Kraft, no matter how much respect he has for Kraft and the organization.
Lest we forget that besides all this, Pete Carroll is a damn good football coach - and if any group of players is ready to lay it on the line for their coach's personal "retribution," it's this Seahawks team.
8 Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson had arguably the worst outing of his career in the NFC Championship game against Green Bay, and yet he somehow turned it into one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.
With regards to Super Bowl Sunday, we can get one thing out of the way right now: there's no way Wilson will be throwing four picks again. It's just not happening. Two of those picks were tipped balls on perfect throws, and you can be sure that the issues that nearly derailed Seattle last week will be corrected.
Besides that, there's also the fact that Wilson simply has the "it" factor - that special something, the ice-cold veins, the nerves of steel, and the ability to simply get the job done. Reminds you a bit of Tom Brady circa 2001, doesn't it?
7 Brady's Super Bowl Ghosts
While we're on the topic of Terrific Tom, we have to acknowledge the struggles he had in 2007 and 2011. Granted, Brady's kryptonite might just be the Giants, but the average-at-best stat lines are troublesome. He didn't get much help from his offensive line in those games, and couldn't do anything about David Tyree's sticky helmet or Mario Manningham's tip-toeing ability, but the fact that Brady couldn't manhandle those defenses - arguably much lesser defenses than what he'll face on Sunday - leaves the door open for us to question if Brady can handle the vaunted Legion of Boom.
6 The Unknown X-Factor
Does anyone remember who the Seahawks Super Bowl MVP was last February?
Not Russell Wilson. Not Marshawn Lynch. Not even a big defensive name like Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas.
The 2014 Super Bowl MVP was Malcolm Smith. Today, Malcolm Smith is the Seahawks backup right-outside linebacker, behind K.J. Wright.
The point? Someone is going to step up for Seattle, and it can come from anywhere. Robert Turbin might spell Marshawn Lynch and have the game of his life. Defensive backs Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead might have to take reps for the injured Thomas and Sherman and make game-changing plays. If you're planning on betting on the MVP award, take a chance on an underdog, because there's a good chance you haven't even heard of the Seahawks MVP yet.
5 Unleashed Pass Rushers
Pete Carroll is not an ignorant fool. Neither is defensive coordinator (and soon to be head coach) Dan Quinn. In fact, anyone who's watched Tom Brady play football over the past 10 years or so knows that if you get pressure on him, he's not the same quarterback. Granted, this can be said about almost any QB, but it's been detrimental to Brady's success on the biggest stages and was the blueprint the Giants followed in 2007 and 2011.
The Seahawks pass rush was statistically below average this season, but in the biggest game of the year, the trio of Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin and Michael Bennett will be unleashed in a way they never have been before - in theory, at least.
4 Limiting Gronk
Rob Gronkowski has proven to the football world time and time again that he is a dominant force and one of the best tight ends in league history - but if there's a defense that has a chance at limiting him, it's this one.
Gronk is a physical freak of nature, but a physical defense like Seattle's should be able to mess with Gronk's timing and routes at the line of scrimmage by lining up a defender near him, with the goal of "chipping" him off the line to slow him down, or by providing safety help over the top when he is covered by a linebacker.
Whatever the Seahawks decide to do with Gronk, they'll at least be able to focus on him without having to worry too much about other weapons - more on that later.
3 Beast Mode vs. Blount Force
In what is perhaps the most important matchup of the Super Bowl, we have two individuals who might be a bit of a pain in the locker room, but are busy doling out the pain on the field.
Marshawn Lynch and LeGarrette Blount will feature prominently in the outcome of the big game - and while Blount has shown he's capable of carrying the load, no one will ever mistake him for Beast Mode. Lynch has an opportunity to once again prove how dominating of a back he is, and even though the Patriots have a stout run defense, it's Blount who will have the task of trying to find holes in the Seahawks vaunted run defense. Overall, this should be a fascinating matchup to keep an eye on throughout, but the smart money is on Lynch to make the greater impact on the final score.
2 Legion of Boom Legacy
The Seattle Seahawks have built one of the best defenses of the past decade - if not longer - and another decisive win over an elite offence will cement their legacy as one of, if not the greatest, of all-time. Many will point to the Steelers Iron Curtain of the 1970's, or the Bears of the 1980's - but many also forget what those defenses were going up against during those years. The emphasis on offence has never been greater than it is in this era of football, as defenses today are flagged for even the slightest contact with an opposing player. If the Seahawks can shut down the Manning-led Broncos and follow that up by knocking off the Brady-led Patriots, it will be hard to argue against the legacy of the Legion of Boom - and don't think those guys aren't aware of this, either. They know it, and they'll be ready to prove it come Sunday.
1 Erasing the Patriots Receivers
Speaking of that great defense: does it help that Seattle's defensive backs have a major advantage (at least on paper) over the Patriots wideouts?
The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. The Seahawks should have no trouble shutting down Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola. Julian Edelman has proven he can get open against just about anyone, but he's a pure possession receiver that the Seahawks should be able to keep contained. Edelman might catch 10 passes, but if he only racks up 60-80 yards, the Seahawks will be quite content with their day's work.
If Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell can erase the outside options, Brady will be forced to stare right into the teeth of the Seattle defense and continuously look for Edelman and Gronkowski. Of course, Shane Vereen represents a solid receiving option out of the backfield, but against a defense that tackles and pursues as well as Seattle can, it will be difficult for Vereen to make a major impact as a pass-catcher.
All of these factors combined will not only make it a little tougher for Brady to find the open man, but it will also force him to wait the extra second to release the pass - which could be just enough time for the rush to get to him - and we all know what happens when the rush starts to get to Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
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