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If the focus is strictly on football, Super Bowl XLIX looks to be a game worth waiting for, as the contest pits the season’s two best teams on football's world stage. Add the fact that there is, outside New England and the Pacific Northwest, a prevalent element of dislike for both teams due to New England’s arrogance and Seattle’s bluster, and you have a game almost anyone can find worth watching.
“Deflategate” and Marshawn Lynch’s reluctance to speak with the media, distractions prior to Super Bowl week, will be discussed ad nauseam in the days come. Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, who are strategists, motivators and manipulators, understand the importance of focus and how to prepare a team for a singular performance. Both will use the distractions as motivation, building an us against them mentality.
Both teams took similar roads to Super Bowl XLIX.
New England and Seattle were written off early in the season following .500 starts. The Patriots were handled by Kansas City to slip to 2-2, while the Seahawks fell to the Rams to go to 3-3.
Each found their focus and proceeded to tear through their remaining schedule, earning the top seed in their respective conferences.
Both squads overcame a serious playoff threat, the Patriots edged Baltimore 35-31 and the Seahawks staged an epic comeback win over the Packers 28-22. Both have an opportunity to make Super Bowl history.
With their fourth Super Bowl win, Belichick and Tom Brady will equal Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw. A Seattle victory, and they become the first Super Bowl repeater since the 2003-04 Patriots.
Like it or not the Patriots are a dynasty, Eli Manning and the NY Giants notwithstanding. Over the fifteen year head-coaching career of Belichick, the Patriots are the NFL’s version of the Atlanta Braves; having reached the playoffs twelve times. They're making their sixth Super Bowl appearance. Brady is the first NFL quarterback to start six Super Bowls; he sports a 3-2 mark.
Seattle hopes to end the dynastic run of New England and establish one of their own. Carroll, who Belichick replaced at New England, aims to lead his team to its second Super Bowl win in as many attempts. Quarterback Russell Wilson, playing in his second Super Bowl, brings youthful energy and enthusiasm to the game and the hope of supplanting Brady as a playoff mainstay.
The strength of the Patriots lies in Brady and his ability to manipulate the offense. His completion percentage is a full ten points lower in Patriot losses. He completed 65.9 percent of his passes this postseason, with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has the capacity to play big in the moment, having experienced virtually all scenarios in his 27 postseason games. He doesn't like to be hurried or sacked. He faces the NFL’s number one defense, a very physical group. Safety Kam Chancellor and linebacker Bobby Wagner present the biggest challenge for New England due to their size and ability to stop the run and drop in coverage.
Wilson, a multiple threat quarterback that is capable of beating a team throwing or running, had 452 pass attempts this season. That's the fewest from a quarterback that started all 16 games. He finished with 3,475 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He added 849 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground.
After a horrible start against Green Bay, Wilson rallied the Seahawks with runs and throws that catapulted his team into the Super Bowl. New England’s defense must keep him in the pocket and force him to try to beat them throwing the ball.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski led the Patriots with 82 receptions and 12 touchdowns. He is Brady’s go-to receiver inside of 10 yards, has nine touchdowns on passes inside the 20-yard line. He seldom leaves the field, lining up out wide, in the slot or as a traditional tight end. Seattle must disrupt his routes within the legal contact zone. This will fall on Chancellor who, at 6’3” 235, matches up physically with the 6’6” 265 tight end.
Marshawn Lynch is the Seahawks offensive catalyst. He has 13 touchdowns and averages 4.7 yards per carry. Seattle primarily uses him on first and second downs. He averages 5.4 yards per carry between the tackles.
LeGarrette Blount, another Patriot reclamation project, pounded Indianapolis for 148 yards on 30 carries, New England hopes for a repeat performance versus the Seahawks. Blount runs hard and has gained most of his yardage on first down; continued success helps set up the Patriots passing game.
New England wins if:
Seattle wins if:
A Patriots victory and history will ask: Was it Brady or was it Belichick? The fifteen-year marriage, that generated six Super Bowl appearances and four wins, will forever link the duo and alter the Mount Rushmore of pro football.
A Patriot loss and all those wins, all those appearances will be for naught. The specter of “Spygate” and “Deflategate” will hover over the team; history will look to explain three consecutive Super Bowl losses.
Seattle can lay claim as the “heir apparent” with their second consecutive victory as they look to build around a tenacious defense and dynamic offense. A loss, and they become a historical sidelight.