After 5 grueling months, and 266 games with varying degrees of importance, it all comes down to this: Patriots and Seahawks facing each other for all the marbles. It couldn't get better than this, as we will get a second consecutive chance to see a Super Bowl between both top seeds, and with a bunch of storylines to follow.
Pete Carroll's possible redemption against his former team, or maybe it will be Bill Belichick's affirmation as the best coach of all time. Tom Brady vying for his fourth ring in what may be his last chance, while Russell Wilson fights for his second straight before getting a mega-deal. The Legion of Boom vs Gronk, the traditional New England facing the hipster Seattle, Marshawn Lynch's monotone against Deflategate! The game has it all.
And yet, the best part of it could be that the game itself may end up trumping all the circus around it. Unless you have a direct rooting interest, betting on the game may be the next best thing. If you don't want to mess with the endless prop bets, cashing in on the traditional wagers is the best approach available.
Today I present my thorough analysis on the Super Bowl and, as always, pick a winner.
After starting the year on a combined 8-5, the Pats and Hawks went on a tear and have been 20-3 since, with one loss coming when the Patriots rested their starters in Week 17. In what may end up being one of the biggest overreactions of our time, many were calling for Tom Brady's benching after an ugly Week 4 loss in Kansas City, while at the same time a few experts were wondering if Seattle was suffering from the traditional Super Bowl hangover that has plagued many defending champions.
In the end, both teams shook off every ounce of doubt and destroyed the league by doing what they do best. On New England's side, Tom Brady regained his mojo and had a full season of healthy Rob Gronkowski to wreak havoc, while Seattle slowly recouped their defensive prowess from 2013 and have been nearly unstoppable since. During the playoffs, the Patriots had to overcome two 14-point deficits to defeat the Ravens, while Seattle needed a few miracles to take down the Packers, showing that both teams can still be vulnerable.
Regarding the Patriots, their three meaningful losses saw them falter in a similar way. Week 1 in Miami, Week 4 in Kansas, and Week 13 in Green Bay were all games in which New England's opponents controlled the tempo and ran heavily on the Patriots' diminished defensive line. Even as Bill Belichick with two weeks' preparation will have a few surprising schemes, can the Pats really stop Marshawn Lynch consistently?
On the other hand, Seattle's woes this year came when they started slowly and could not rely on their running game to claw back into games. While one of their losses, week 7 at St. Louis, was a product of trick plays and freak occurrences, their other 3 defeats were clear signs on how mortal the Seahawks can look when they have to overcome big deficits. However, there was no clear path to their miscues, as the teams that were able to beat Seattle did it with both elite passing and superb running.
So while the Patriots don't possess a fearsome rushing attack that matches up well with Seattle's front, they could follow a similar path to what they did against Baltimore, when the team abandoned the run completely. However, with Seattle being quite adept at disrupting passes even without blitzing, it seems like a good idea for Tom Brady to take shots up the field instead.
With a diminished Richard Sherman, suddenly Seattle's secondary could be a bit vulnerable. Even if the Seahawks commit to stopping Gronkowski at all costs, Brady still has a few weapons available to mix and match. Conversely, the defense may feature a tremendous secondary fueled by Darrelle Revis, but could have trouble keeping Lynch at bay for most of the game.
Russell Wilson showed just how much he still has to develop as a passer during the NFC Championship, but using the zone read can potentially open up the playbook and give him better chances to throw downfield as the game progresses. In the end, the key to the game rests on just how much Seattle can run and keep Brady off the field.
While Belichick has demonstrated throughout these playoffs that he is still the best in the business (remember those unbalanced line plays against the Ravens?), Pete Carroll has emerged as an elite coach in his own way, capable of adapting to many situations in-game, and usually being bold in tight situations. If the players themselves are bound to match up well and give us a close contest, it is really no different in the sidelines.
However, every time I look at this game, I find more reasons to back Seattle. Even with New England's sense of urgency and what could be the last chance for the Brady-Belichick duo, they are facing a team in its prime and the exact buildup that has hurt the Patriots time and again.
The last two times that the Pats reached the Super Bowl, they came in with offenses that averaged over 30 points per game, and then were held to less than 20 in both occasions. Now facing the first team since the 80+s Bears to feature the best defense in the NFL on consecutive years, it shouldn't bode well for Brady and Co.
Also, there is something about the Patriots' surroundings that seems iffy. While Deflategate may just be a stupid blip, the fact remains that this is a team obscured by their strange practices and adherence to a superiority complex. On the other hand, Seattle plays with a weird sense of coolness that follows them everywhere they go. Their eclectic mix of players has jelled unlike any other under Carroll, and their second straight trip to the Super Bowl is testament to that.
Also, Russell Wilson is 10-0 against QB's that have won the Super Bowl, and the Seahawks have only allowed more than 20 points twice over their last 12 games. This year's big game has a strange déjà vu feeling to the last one, with Seattle being in prime position to alter a legendary QB's legacy.
It will not be a massacre like Super Bowl XLVIII, as I expect this game to be tense and determined by mistakes coming at critical times. In that regard, the Seahawks are better positioned to play a clean game and take advantage of New England's eagerness.
Enjoy the game.
Pick: Seattle PK and the under. Final score prediction: Seahawks 24 – Patriots 16.