Although mentioning this year’s Super Bowl to local Denver Bronco fans may cause some to gag, the game will still be played.
For the second straight season the number 1 seeds in both conferences meet when the New England Patriots face the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (4:30 p.m. MST, NBC). The Seahawks are looking to become the first back-to-back champions since New England in 2004 and 2005, which also just so happens to be the last time the Patriots won a Super Bowl themselves.
The Seahawks, playing in their third Super Bowl, are 1-1 in the big game. Seattle’s loss came to the Steelers in 2006 and just last year the Seahawks put a whooping on Peyton Manning and the Broncos 43-8.
In the Bill Belichick era, all five Patriot Super Bowls have been decided by less than four points, so get your popcorn ready. New England is 3-4 all time and has lost its last two to Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
The Patriots are coming off a complete destruction of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game (45-7) where Tom Brady and LeGarrette Blount each had three touchdowns. The New England defense held Andrew Luck, who is clearly no slouch to a mere 126 yards passing, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Seahawks on the other hand, completed one of the most unlikely comebacks in NFL playoff history in the NFC championship game. Despite five turnovers and trailing by 12 with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Seattle took the lead after a successful onside kick in regulation and won on a 35-yard Russell Wilson pass to Jermaine Kearse in overtime to win the game 28-22.
If you’re still not in the mood for Super Bowl XLIX, check out some fun facts:
- Six of the past seven teams that have worn white (and are the designated road team) have won. The Patriots will wear their road white jerseys Sunday.
- Seattle is the 12th team to play in the Super Bowl a year after winning it. Returning winners have an 8-3 record.
- Tom Brady is playing in his NFL-record sixth Super Bowl. He broke the tie against Denver’s John Elway.
- This is the third time the Super Bowl will be played in Arizona and the second at the University of Phoenix Stadium. The Giants and Patriots played Super Bowl XLII there in 2008.
- The Colorado Rockies drafted Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in the fourth round of the MLB draft in 2010. He played second base in the minor leagues for two years before deciding to enter the NFL draft in 2012.
These tid-bits of history might be interesting but let’s be real: they have no impact on the game. Super Bowl XLIX is being played between this year’s Seahawks and this year’s Patriots—no one else. Let’s get down to business.
Here is how each matchup stacks up:
When New England passes: This is the matchup everybody’s been waiting for: the legendary Tom Brady against the Legion of Boom. Each team’s strength will be pitted against each other. The Seattle secondary will be banged up with stars Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas suffering injuries in the NFC championship game, but all signs point to them starting. The Seahawks have stifled nearly every quarterback they’ve played this year. They rank first in passing defense (185.6 yards/game) while the Patriots rank ninth in passing offense. Brady has been extremely efficient this year, with 33 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 97.4 passer rating. Six-foot-six, 265 pound tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots’ leading receiver, figures to matchup well against a physical Seahawks secondary. Last week though, it was the smaller Julian Edelman who got the bulk of Brady’s throws (nine catches for 98 yards). Brady is fully capable of throwing the ball to multiple targets. Three New England receivers have at least 950 yards and six have at least 200. It will be hard for the Seahawks to key on any one receiver, except for probably Gronkowski.
When Seattle passes: You would think Russell Wilson would have to do better than he did against Green Bay two Sundays ago to pull out a win. At the very least he can’t throw four interceptions again. If the Seahawks have a weakness it’s in the passing game, particularly at the receiver position. Doug Baldwin is the top receiver for Seattle statistically, but only ranks 42nd in the league in yards (825). Matters got worse when Colorado’s own Paul Richardson went down with a season-ending injury in the divisional playoff round. With all that being said, however, the Seahawks quite frankly don’t rely on the quarterback position as much as most teams. Wilson could have an average game and still lead his team to victory. He has 105 less throwing attempts than Brady and the Seahawks’ total passing offense ranks 27th in the NFL. If Wilson has a standout game Sunday against Darrelle Revis and the rest of the New England secondary, the Seahawks should count it as a bonus.
When New England runs: If you told someone at the beginning of the year LeGarrette Blount would help run the Patriots into the Super Bowl no one would believe you. After being let go by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the regular season, he was added to Belichick’s arsenal of running backs. Blount is one of four at the position who has at least 280 rushing yards. But a stout Seattle defense stands in the way. The Seahawks only allow 81.5 yards on the ground per game, which is good for third in the NFL. Last week Blount ran wild for 130 yards, but it could easily either be someone else like Shane Vereen or Jonas Gray who does well for the Patriots, or it could be even no one at all. The Seahawks have the potential to shut the New England run game down. The Packers did gain a respectable 135 yards on 30 carries against Seattle last week so that gives the Patriots some hope. Something to definitely look out for is who Belichick starts at running back. Will he go with the got hand with Blount, or switch it up and go with Vereen or Gray as he likes to do? We’ll just have to wait and see.
When Seattle runs: You’d have to imagine with Marshawn Lynch this would advantage the Seahawks. The team averaged an NFL-high 172.6 yards per game in the regular season. Coming off of a 25-carry, 157-yard performance against the Packers, it figures Lynch will have plenty of chances to go “Beast Mode.” But don’t count out New England here. Some might be surprised the Patriots finished ninth in the league in run defense, and don’t forget the giant Vince Wilfork is still alive and kicking at defensive tackle. Because Seattle generates so much offense through the running game, look for Belichick to devise a game plan to slow down Lynch and force Russell Wilson to throw more. Stopping the man will take more than a game plan though. It’ll take a push from the line and solid tackling—no one is better at brushing off weak tackles than Lynch.
Bottom Line: If you ask around, most people say Super Bowl XLIX is a toss-up. Then again, that’s what they said last year and we all know how that ended up. As it is in life and in sports, you just never know. Seattle is a two-point favorite in Las Vegas if you’re into that kind of thing.
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Jared Funk-Breay at Jared.email@example.com and follow him on twitter at @jaredfunkbreay