After roughly two weeks of hype, analysis, Marshawn Lynch “interviews”, and discussions surrounding deflated footballs, we are now just a few days away from the Super Bowl.
Led by their omnipresent defense, the Seahawks are looking to win the big game for the second year in a row and cement their standing as a dynasty in the making. While on the other side of the spectrum, the sly regime of Brady and Belichick are making their six Super Bowl appearance together and are desperately trying to win another one before their time together ends.
Current line: NE -1, over/under 48
Gronk versus the safeties: Seeing how Seattle handles Rob Gronkowski will be one of the more intriguing matchups to watch in this game. Gronk typically gets a free release from the line of scrimmage and overpowers smaller defenders, but he could be in for a battle against the Seahawks all-world safeties Earl Thomas and Cam Chancellor. Thomas covers as much ground as any safety in the league and will have no qualms about throwing his body into the massive Gronkowski, while Chancellor is one of the few DBs in the NFL with the size and physicality to go toe to toe with New England’s tight end. Limiting Gronk’s effectiveness would essentially remove Tom Brady’s primary explosive outlet and make it easier for Seattle to defend an offense that is known for methodically picking the opposition apart.
Anyone open?: With stars like Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman covering ground in the secondary, both offenses will have to get resourceful in order to create some separation for their respective receivers. The Patriots are masterful at changing formations and mixing in different personnel, but the speed of Seattle’s defense will make it difficult for Brady to continually dink and dunk his way down the field with short passes to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Seahawks don’t have any big name receivers on their roster, and will have to rely heavily on Russell Wilson’s innate ability to use his legs to extend plays and generate opportunities for them.
Give and take: Both New England (+12) and Seattle (+9) are among the league leaders in terms of turnover differential. The Patriots are a smart team that rarely makes mistakes, and by virtue of their schemes it is usually only a matter of time before the opposition does something egregious to put the Pats in a situation that benefits them. Seattle is hyper-aggressive, fast, physical, and loves to cause momentum shifting plays on both sides of the ball. Despite their forcefulness, they are usually good about taking care of the ball on offense (the exception to this being Wilson’s erratic play in the NFC Championship game against the Packers). In a game where the margins are razor slim, it is paramount that each team takes care of the ball and takes advantage of turnover opportunities if and when they present themselves.
Trends: Underdogs have fared very well in recent Super Bowls – just last year, the Seahawks were 2.5-point underdogs when they hammered the Denver Broncos. In fact, the favorite has failed to cover the point spread in six of the last seven Super Bowls, with the only outlier coming in 2011 when the Green Bay Packers covered a three-point spread against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Seattle is a solid pick as an underdog, going 17-3 against the spread in its last 20 games in this position.
Prediction: With Seattle boasting the NFL’s best defense and New England running out their typical bend-but-don’t-break unit, this could be a ball control, run-heavy, possession type of game. I can’t imagine Wilson ever playing as poorly as he did in the first three quarters of the Green Bay game, or the Patriots being able to play smash-mouth football against the ‘Hawks like they did against the Colts. I expect New England to hold a slight lead throughout before being overtaken/worn out by the overall team speed of Seattle, eventually falling by a score somewhere in the range of 23-17.