Super Bowl XLIX Preview

Many expected a Patriots – Seahawks match up in Super Bowl XLIX  coming into the 2014 season, but the path to Phoenix certainly wasn’t an easy one for either squad.

For the Seahawks, the chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions looked all but over by Week 7 where they went into a game against the Carolina Panthers with a 3-3 record coming off of unexpected losses at St. Louis and at home against the Cowboys. Since that time, the Seahawks have won 11 of their last 12 games capped by their current 8-game winning streak.

The Patriots stumbled to a 2-2 record through the first four weeks of the season which included two bad losses against Miami, and a 41-14 slaughter by the Chiefs. The Patriots got their act together win by putting together a 7-game streak and winning 12 of 14 since Week 4.

Both teams were helped by the timely return of key players, for the Seahawks it was Linebacker Bobby Wagner and for the Patriots it was star Tight End Rob Gronkowski.

The implications for each team are at an all-time high. Being Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick’s 6th Super Bowl appearance, a win could surely put them both in the discussion as the GOAT. If Seattle wins, this could vault their defense to legendary status. With all that is riding on the line, this is one of the most enticing Super Bowl match ups in recent history, but how does each team really match up?

Coaches:

While these two won’t be on the field, this is a great matchup between two of the best, if not most controversial coaches in the league who have a great mutual respect for one another. Both have had great success with Bill Belichick winning five Super Bowl’s as a coach (three as the Head Coach of the Patriots). While Pete Carroll will be going for his fourth overall championship (two college championships as a Head Coach at USC and one Super Bowl in 2013).

These two have been extremely successful and will have their teams prepared for every possible scenario for the upcoming weekend. Both have a great knowledge of the rulebook and have been able to bend them in their favor. The advantage goes to Belichick and the Patriots here.

Quarterbacks:

The most surprising thing about these two QB’s is the similar start each had to their career. Both were very undervalued in their respective draft classes but were able to step in and successfully quarterback their teams and both won their first Super Bowl their second year in the league. Through the first three years, Brady completed 978 of 1,541 passes for 10,277 yards and 69 TDs to 38 picks. Wilson completed 794 of 1,252 passes for 9,950 yards and 72 TDs to 26 picks.

While Wilson isn’t quite at the same level as Tom Brady, it’s interesting to see the similarity’s to the beginning of their careers. Wilson carries a little more momentum coming into the game as he won his previous Super Bowl appearance. Brady surely has the upper hand in experience as this is his 6th appearance but is currently facing a two game skid.

Both quarterbacks are proven winners, but Brady’s experience and possible legacy gives him the advantage here.

Seattle Defense vs. New England Offense:

This match up is the most exciting out of any this weekend. New England’s offense relies on a pass attack focused on the seams of the field while Seattle plays a zone defense primarily with 5 defensive backs. The Patriots two biggest weapons are both inside receivers in Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, expect the Seahawks to match Edelman up with speedy Free Safety Earl Thomas III and “Gronk” on hard hitting Strong Safety Kam Chancellor.

Another matchup that will be intriguing will be how Tom Brady decides to play Richard Sherman. Recent comments have been made about a budding rivalry between the two stars and both will surely be hungry to prove their ability against the other. Sherman is a lock down zone defender while Brady does a great job of throwing his receivers open. While his two most reliable targets most likely won’t be covered by Sherman, being unable to have a third playmaker in the passing game will make a huge difference.

The Patriots have a talented, albeit inconsistent, trio of running backs. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are anchored by one of the best young linebackers in the league in Bobby Wagner. KJ Wright, Malcolm Smith, and Bruce Irvin aren’t any slouches either. Will New England get the group that only had 16 yards against the Ravens, or burn the Seahawks like LeGarrette Blount did in the AFC Championship? The difference maker here is in the Patriots themselves as the Seahawks are an extremely consistent team in run defense.

Seattle has to get a consistent amount of pressure on Tom Brady from defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Brady has excellent pocket awareness and a quick release while being able to make his reads and dump the ball off to even his second and third options. Flustering Brady by collapsing the pocket will surely help the Seahawks in all aspects of their defense.

The Seahawks defensive philosophy is that they will give up short passes for 3-5 yards which is where Brady excels. Another elite QB who does this well? Peyton Manning. You can see how that worked out for the Broncos last year.

Overall, the Patriots lack of real weapons on the offensive side of the ball is going to be their biggest downfall. While they have Tom Brady on their side, the LOB has made a name for itself in frustrating elite QBs.

Seattle Offense vs. New England Defense:

Seattle is a team that wants to come out and establish it’s physical dominancy immediately. With a powerful running back in Marshawn Lynch and finesse in Russell Wilson, they are a great 1-2 combo out of the backfield. Expect the Patriots to combat this duo by controlling the line of scrimmage with defense linemen Vance Wilfork and Chandler Jones. These two will stuff up holes and allow for linebackers Jerrod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower to make plays.

While Seattle has an excellent run game, they have struggled in passing this year. Last year, Russell Wilson could rely on big time play makers like Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, and Percy Harvin. None of these players are on the team any longer so Wilson has relied on double tight end sets with Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet and receivers who excel in short to mid range attacks like Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Ricardo Lockette. The team lost their most consistent deep threat in the NFC Divisional Round when Paul Richardson tore his ACL. Without a true deep threat, this team will struggle against Brandon Browner and star corner back Darrelle Revis.

Seattle’s passing game is successful when Russell Wilson is able to buy himself time outside of the pocket. Their line hasn’t been the most consistent this year but will be anchored down by All-Pro center Max Unger. Russell Wilson is deadly when he’s outside of the pocket and will be a headache for the Patriots defense if he’s able to do as he wishes.

Again, the Seahawks get the advantage here. While these are two great teams, this is the side of the ball where both struggle.

Special Teams

Both teams have a great special teams unit led by their respective kickers. The Patriots will rely on Stephen Gostowski who is 35 for 37 for FGs on the year and 51 for 51 on XPs. Steven Hauschka has been dead on from 39-yards in going 20 for 20, passed 40-yards he only gone 11 for 17. Jon Ryan will also be a huge play maker for the Seahawks for his ability to pin the opposing team within their own 20 with 28 of his 61 punts on the season doing so.

While both teams have fantastic special teams, the combo of Ryan and Hauschka have been huge for the Seahawks throughout the season and will continue to make an impact in Sunday’s game.

Final Prediction

My prediction for the game is a 30-24 win for the Seahawks. While both are great teams, the Seahawks have the advantage in this game. This is a matchup between two elite teams which will end up as one of the best in Super Bowl history.