Super Bowl XLIX takes place on February 1st in Arizona and despite what Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin might want to believe, these are the two teams we thought would be here at the end. For the second year in a row the top seed in the AFC and NFC have advanced to play in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks are looking to become the first repeat champions since the team they’re playing achieved that feat in 2003 and 2004. The Seahawks are looking like the team of destiny after beating the Packers in one of the most unbelievable collapses in NFL history. After Russell Wilson threw his 4th interception with just over 5 minutes to play, the Seahawks had a 0.7% chance of winning per ESPN stats but managed to pull out the win in overtime after a series of inexplicable Packers blunders and a Jermaine Kearse redemption. The Seahawks bring their vaunted defense that finished the regular season number one in defensive DVOA, led by one of the best secondary’s ever in the NFL.
On the other side, Tom Brady, who is playing in a record 6th Super Bowl leads the Patriots who blew out the Colts on the strength of their running game, stout defense and ability to throw deflated footballs. There will be no shortage of story lines going into this game, the media will be excited to have two weeks of Richard Sherman and Bill Belichick quotes. Adding fuel to the fire, earlier this week the NFL concluded an investigation and found that 11 of the 12 footballs the Patriots used in the AFC championship win were deflated to give Brady an advantage when throwing in the rough weather. The Patriots are not new to scandal but this story has taken away from what will be a great Super Bowl between two very evenly matched teams. With the best team from each conference playing and very little separating each other, this game will come down to which X-factors show up on gameday.
12 New England Patriots
11 Vince Wilfork
10 Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich
9 Brandon Browner’s Love for Pass Interference
8 Play Action Passing
7 Crossing Routes
The Patriots have been an intermediate passing team since Randy Moss left. Their receiving core is led by their tight end Rob Gronkowski who excels at seam routes and long crossing patterns. Similarly, Julian Edelmen is at his best with the ball in his hands in space on crossing routes. For the Patriots to throw effectively against the Seahawks they will need their offensive line to hold up long enough for these crossing routes to develop.
6 Seattle Seahawks
5 Health of Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas
The Seahawks won their game against the Packers but they had to do with two of their best hobbled by injuries. Richard Sherman hurt his elbow towards the end of the game and was noticeably affected despite the Packers not seeming willing to test him. Sherman has said he will play the Super Bowl but it will be interesting to see if the elbow injury plays a role in his ability to tackle and make a play on the ball as he does so well.
4 Kick Return Game
Doug Baldwin's fumble in the NFC championship punctuated a season where the Seahawks struggled to return kicks. The Seahawks started this season with their All-Pro safety Earl Thomas returning punts before quickly realizing after some big hits and a key fumble that this was not the best use of his ability.
3 Interior Pass Rush
Tom Brady has been around long enough for teams to know that the blueprint for beating him and the Patriots is pressure up the middle and press-man coverage on the receivers. Brady lacks the mobility to throw well outside the pocket and he relies on his ability to move up in the pocket to make throws. Brady also excels when he is blitzed because he is so good at recognizing the blitz and getting the ball out quickly to receivers on hot routes.
Despite being considered a gimmick by some, when the defending Super Bowl champions needed to go down the field last week against the Packers to make their return to the Super Bowl, they turned to the read-option to get them there. Seattle is a team specifically well-suited for the read-option as it highlights the best skills of its best offensive players, Lynch and Wilson.
1 Seahawks Run Defense
The Seahawks defense has very few weaknesses but in comparison to their pass defense, this is a team that you can run against. The Seahawks lost some key contributers in the middle of their defense including Brandon Mebane who was playing at a Pro Bowl level before going down with injury. This offseason they also lost Chris Clemons and Red Bryant as salary cap causalities that happen after a Super Bowl win.
This is relative, as they still finished the season as one of the best run defenses but they did give up 4.5 yards per carry last week to the Packers and the Patriots come into this game very confident in their ability to run the ball. If the Seahawks can stop the run and force the Patriots to throw deep into contested coverage they will have a great shot at repeating as champions.
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