Friday, January 30, 2015
The Hail Mary - Super Bowl XLIX
All this talk about balls the past few weeks makes you almost forget there is still one game left to be played in the 2014-15 NFL season. For the second straight year, the best teams from the NFC and AFC meet for all the marbles. In the AFC Championship, New England cruised to victory against their perennial bitch, Andrew Luck and the Colts. Seattle had a much bumpier time in their conference championship, needing a calamity of errors from Green Bay to defeat the Packers and overcome 4 interceptions by the overrated Russell Wilson. Both these teams battled adversity during the season. New England was once 2-2 and crushed by the Chiefs in Arrowhead, before getting hot and winning 12 of their last 14 games. Seattle was 3-3 at one point and seemed to have a Super Bowl hangover but has since won 11 of 12 games.
Offensively you have to give the edge to New England. Besides running back you could make an argument that the Patriots have better offensive personnel than Seattle at every position. The media might make it seem like Wilson is in Tom Brady's league, but with legally sized footballs or not, Brady is one of the greatest to ever play the game. In last year's Super Bowl, Peyton Manning and his receivers couldn't solve the tenacity of the Seahawks defense. Seattle punched them in the mouth and the Broncos appeared shook from the jump. Seattle will try to force that same physicality in this game but I don't expect Brady and the Patriots to be as shook by it. A big boy like TE Rob Gronkowski won't be intimidated by Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas. Where the Seattle defense will make a difference is against the Patriots wide receivers, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and Danny Amendola. Shane Vereen is listed as running back but lately, his main use seems to be as a pass catcher. I expect Seattle to float who they have Richard Sherman cover out of that bunch, and wouldn't even be shocked if they try to throw him at Gronkowski at times, since he is the Patriots most dangerous receiving weapon. The Patriots offensive line was a big reason for their rejuvenation later in the season after a slow start. LT Nate Solder, LG Dan Connolly, C Bryan Stork, RG Ryan Wendell, and RT Sebastian Vollmer have proven to be the right combination up front to give Brady time and bust holes open for LaGarrette Blount. Blount was a beast against the Colts but he will be facing a whole other level of competition against Seattle's defensive front. DTs Tony McDaniel and Jordan Hill are a huge reason Seattle was third in the league against the run this year. Solder and Vollmer will have to slow down Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Seattle LB Bruce Irvin is the Seahawks second best pass rusher, and the Seahawks like to send him on blitzes throughout the game. Last year's Super Bowl MVP, Malcolm Smith isn't even a starter right now, so odds are he won't repeat his MVP performance.
The Patriots are their best defensively since their last Super Bowl title. They struggled against Baltimore in the Divisional Round but completely flummoxed Andrew Luck in the AFC Championship game. Their pass defense, despite being manned by Darrelle's Revis Island actually ranked worse than their rush defense. Seattle has no weapons at receiver that will scare New England. Doug Baldwin may not want to believe it but he is the very definition of mediocre. Jermaine Kearse had the winning catch against Green Bay but before that he was targeted on all of Wilson's interceptions. TE Luke Wilson might be the Seahawks best pass catcher but he isn't a player like Gronkowski that you have to gameplan for. Wilson showed that he is not above making poor decisions and with Revis and former teammate S Brandon Browner patrolling the secondary, Wilson will have to be really careful with how he delivers the ball. As the media savvy Marshawn Lynch goes, so goes the Seahawks offense. There were times in the NFC Championship that Lynch willed the Seahawks offense, refusing to be taken down. He does also receive considerable help from his offensive line, anchored by Russell Okung. One collision I would like to see is big Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork or defensive end Chandler Jones trying to tackle Lynch. Rob Ninkovich and Chris Jones will be the ones tasked with getting pressure on Wilson. However, the Patriots defense isn't really known for pressuring quarterbacks much and their goal should mostly be to not allow Wilson to roam all over the field. Wilson is at his most dangerous when he is on the run, and creates chaos in the defense. The Patriots linebackers will also be on Lynch watch. Despite losing perennial Pro Bowler Jerod Mayo for the season back in October, the play of the Pats linebackers hasn't wavered. Jamie Collins, Akeem Ayers, and their stud LB D'onte Hightower have helped protect against both run and pass all year for New England. Patrick Chung is a weakness at safety but is much improved over his Philadelphia Eagles days of recent memory. Also, it helps that he is surrounded by the excellent Revis, Browner, Kyle Arrington, and Devin McCourty.
Special teams are about even with both teams featuring excellent field goal kickers. The Patriots have Stephen Gonkowski, while the Seahawks counter with Steven Hauschka. The only thing really noteworthy about Seahawks punter Jon Ryan and Patriots punter Ryan Allen is they have last names that could be first names. The Patriots use receivers Edelman and Amendola as their punt and kickoff returners, while Seattle has Baldwin returning punts and Bryan Walters is currently returning kicks. Coach wise you have a titan like Bill Belichick of New England serving as the head coach in his sixth Super Bowl. Pete Carroll is annoying as hell and doesn't have the cache of Belichick but he has won both national championships and a Super Bowl and can become the first coach in history to win both of those titles in back to back fashion. Carroll coached in New England many moons ago as well so maybe he can finally get revenge after 20 years.
Last season's Broncos/Seahawks game was over right away and a major disappointment. Brady and Belichick Patriot era Super Bowls have one thing in common, they are always close. I believe that the Patriots will be ready to face the challenge of the Seahawks defense. I think Brady will pick his spots as far as going after Sherman, and I think Revis and Browner are going to force Wilson into mistakes. I expect Lynch to run the ball well and Blount to struggle to gain consistency, with the passing and run games evening themselves out, I think we are in for a thriller. I can't picture Brady and Belichick losing a third Super Bowl in a row and for that reason, and because of my faith in Brady over Wilson, I am going with the Patriots.
Prediction: New England 26, Seattle 23
Last Week Against the Spread: 1-1
Overall Against the Spread: 131-130-4
Last Week Straight Up: 2-0
Overall Straight Up: 183-82-1