By Joe Hanretty
Super Bowl XLIX is upon us, but the biggest story leading up to the most anticipated Sunday of the year may not even be the matchup. The subject: #DeflateGate. The story: 11 of the 12 footballs used by the New England Patriots were approximately 11.5 PSI (pounds per square inch), below the league-prescribed 12.5-13.5 PSI. The arguments have gone back and forth, but the fact of the matter is that the Patriots dominated the Indianapolis Colts on defense as well as offense. The Patriots are one win away from returning to glory in Glendale, Ariz. this Sunday after a long hiatus from the spotlight. Their toughest obstacle will be the Seattle Seahawks defense that has proven to be the best in the league over the past three seasons.
Player matchups are what decide a football game. The challenges of finding weaknesses, capitalizing on mistakes, and perceiving attacks define those matchups. This game should be an interesting one. Will Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throw to Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s side of the field, as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers so courageously did in the NFC (National Football Conference) title game? How will Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson bounce back from last week’s struggles with the Packers against an even better Patriots defense? Will the Patriots wide receivers be able to get open against the bigger, quicker cornerbacks of the Seahawks?
Offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Josh McDaniels and Brady should consider how successful the Packers were at running the ball in Seattle. Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount is not the same type of player as Packers running back Eddie Lacy is, but he can benefit from the strong offensive line that helped him take 148 yards from the Colts in the AFC (American Football Conference) championship game. The Seahawks like to counter with a simple four-man rush that relies on speed. The main receivers of the Patriots, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell use their speed and quickness to find space and create separation. The problem is that the Seahawks have three cornerbacks, Jeremy Lane, Byron Maxwell and Sherman, who are also quick and relatively bigger than the receivers.
But what about Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski? The Seahawks have Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner at safety and middle linebacker, respectively. If Gronkowski is double-teamed, it opens things up for other receivers. If not, he wins the one-on-one battle every time.
Advantages for the Patriots could include Brady. He played pretty well against the Colts, but it was nothing too spectacular. However, he has proven throughout his 14-year career that he can win against all kinds of teams and all kinds of defenses. However, the Seahawks pose a greater threat due to their outstanding defensive line. They have skilled players at every position. Brady will have to decide whether to attack the side Sherman is defending.
Wilson is also a topic of discussion after turning the ball over three times against the Packers. He may not be bailed out if he struggles that mightily again. The Seahawks’ most important concept lies in the running game. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has carried this offense and will be called on once again for what might be his last time in green and blue. Will he be able to answer? His success would allow for more space in the passing game. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a strategy genius and will do his best to force the Seahawks to throw, which is something they struggle with. Wilson has the ability to run and create plays outside the pocket. It will be interesting to see how Belichick tries to contain this aspect of his opponents’ repertoire.
We have what could be a gritty, defensive battle that would satisfy any casual football fan. Last year’s Super Bowl game was a disappointment. Let’s hope this game rectifies that.
My prediction is that the Patriots will win a thriller 24-20. Tom Brady will throw the game winner to LaFell with 15 seconds to go. Happy watching!