by Justin Rasile
Let the tears roll down your beautiful faces as our beloved season of football is close to the end. I may be holding back tears for not seeing football for another 8 months, but I can hopefully savor what might turn out to be a great game. The New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks had very similar roads to get to where they are now. They were both favorites to get to the big game from the beginning of the season but they faced uphill battles to get there. Tom Brady was getting castrated for having an “un-Brady-like” season in the first few games and members of the media and “experts” were calling for him to step aside (and move onto whom, Ryan Mallet?). Then came a night battle on October 5th where the Patriots were set to battle the non-primetime Cincinnati Bengals. The experts were all banking on the Bengals to manhandle the Pats and start a new era in the AFC. Then in typical Bengals fashion, they crumbled in the primetime light and the Patriots completely dominated them, starting off a seven game winning streak which helped claim the number one seed in the AFC. The Seahawks season had an issue as well: the ALWAYS dangerous Super Bowl hangover. That in addition to the heart and soul of the defense, Bobby Wagner, being out in the beginning of the season, made it difficult for Seattle to shake off the complacency. After the embarrassing loss to the Rams, the Hawks won 11 of their last 12 and the defense has not allowed a team to score more than 24 points in that span. The two juggernauts of their respective division are set to face off. The battle of the 14-4 teams is about to ensue. The veteran Hall of Fame players for the Pats vs. the young, captivating Seattle energy is a few hours away. Here it is ladies and gentlemen, my three keys to victory for Super XLIX.
1. Tom Brady vs. the Legion of Boom. This is the matchup to watch. Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time facing off against one of the toughest secondaries the National Football League has ever seen. Brady is a master game planner and will not be one to shy away from making a throw to any spot on the field. Seattle will run their typical zone cover schemes and Brady will have to be on point with his pre snap reads because finding the holes in the zone are tough to do against this team. The biggest issue for the Legion of Boom will be all the injuries that are piling up. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas both suffered arm injuries in the NFC title game against Green Bay and Kam Chancellor inured a knee injury in practice the other day (the extent of which will be unknown until the helmets are strapped on). Earl Thomas’s injury is the most bothersome. He is the last line of defense as the free safety and if his shoulder problem is worse than what we believe it is, tackling those big skill men in Rob Gronkowski, Tim Wright, and LeGarrette Blount will be extremely harsh and will be an all day venture.
2. The running game. Everybody knows how important Marshawn Lynch will be in this game. He may have a slow start and will have to churn away until he finally starts picking up large chunks of yards. Then in typical Beast Mode fashion, he will come out in the second half and look fresher than he did in the first. That is when he is the most dangerous. Russell Wilson’s legs are also very important to the success of the Hawks. He had an unreal 7.2 yard per rush average during the regular season but it’s his ability to extend plays with his legs which may be the useful tool that he has today. Wilson has this uncanny sixth sense in the pocket that allows him to feel the pressure all around him when the pocket collapses. When the pocket does fold up, he side steps one defender and then moves outside and tries to find an open man downfield. Time and time again, it’s his maneuverability that allows him to be the dangerous quarterback that he is. Depending on the Patriots game plan, Blount may be a huge factor or may not have much of an impact at all. The Pats stick to their game plan unlike any team I have ever seen. They find some weakness on the defense they are facing and will exploit it over and over again. So even while this secondary is the best New England will see all year, the injuries to that unit may be just enough for Brady to want to throw it and force those injured players to make tackle after tackle; wearing them down with each snap. The game plan may choose to go with Blount and have him run outside the tackle box more than usual, forcing those secondary players (specifically Earl Thomas) to have to tackle the 6 foot, 250 pound wrecking ball.
3. Patriot’s offensive line vs. Seattle’s defensive line. The key to beating any great quarterback, but in particular Tom Brady, is hitting him in the mouth. Seattle needs to hit Tom Brady every chance they get. The only issue with that is Brady whines to the refs more than any other player in the league. This will give him a roughing the passer penalty or at least get the referees attention to watch the defenders as they bring him to the ground. Any kind of odd or peculiar tackle will be a flag against Seattle. Despite getting hit often, Brady will keep his cool in the pocket. The Seahawks will have to keep bringing pressure or hope that the front four can beat the New England offensive line, at least enough so that the Patriots will have to keep Gronk in to block and allow Brady to stay upright. The defense will have to get the Pats' offense to stall and force as many field goals as possible because if it comes down to a shootout, Russell and the Hawks offense won’t be able to keep up. In addition to Blount, Jonas Gray is another large person standing at 5’10” and 225 pounds and runs hard and low to the ground. If the Patriots choose to run the ball with their big backs, then it will be a clash of two titans as the Seahawks rush defense was third best in the league allowing a miniscule 81.5 yards per game on the ground.
Will “Deflategate” be a factor? For as often as the Patriots’ players said “Deflategate” won’t bother them, it is on their minds. They have been asked hundreds of questions over the past two weeks and every time they turned on the TV, something about this scandal was on. That has to be mentally tiresome, especially leading up to a game that is as mentally and physically draining as it gets. And if you give the Seahawks an edge or a leg up, they will take advantage of it and bury the Patriots early on, just like they did with the Broncos in last February’s massacre. There is also the slight factor of fumbling the ball more with the footballs holding more PSI in this game than the last one for the Patriots. If the fumbles start accruing, then this may be a bigger issue than we originally thought. But the weather in Arizona will be 65 degrees and sunny, so ball control should not be a factor for either team.
Prediction: 31-28 Seattle Seahawks
Yes, I may be a Patriot and Tom Brady hater (I was raised in a house with a father who is a Raiders fan and can still vividly remember him screaming at the TV during the Tuck Rule fiasco) but I truly believe that Seattle is the better team, even given the injuries to key players. Marshawn Lynch will get going and will find a way to accumulate 150 total yards. His receiving game is an area in which he improved drastically this year so I could see him having a huge momentum swinging catch later on in the game. Both kickers have ice running through their veins so there should be no issues with missed field goals in this game. So this game should come down to who is better. I just believe that this Seattle defense will be too much for the Patriots to handle. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas will take turns at covering Gronkowski and hopefully a linebacker will be hitting him on every single play as to not let him get going in the receiving game. The run defense for the Seahawks should not have too much trouble with Blount and Gray and as long as they can force the Patriots to become one-dimensional. Either way, I still expect it to be a great game and one filled with lots of Buffalo Wild Wings and beer. Or um, I mean a ground and pound type of running attack with giant plays in the pass game. One way or another I don’t want to see Tom Brady hoist another Lombardi Trophy, so today I am a member of the 12th man. Go Hawks!