Super Bowl 49 Preview and Prediction

It’s almost here, and I’m having a hard time breathing when talking about the game, no exaggeration.  This game will either go down as the game that got the Patriots over the hump of the 4th Super Bowl that has alluded the team for so long, or the game that was the ultimate let down in what may, but hopefully not, end the Patriots reign as serious contenders every year in the playoffs.  The stakes could not be higher for this game, and I think that this one may even be more important than the 2001 Super Bowl, even though that was the first.  This could be the perfect culmination to maybe the greatest run in sports, when you consider factors like the salary cap era, the parity of the NFL, the number of times the Pats earned a 1st round bye, the number of division championships… and the list goes on.  Like I said, I’m having trouble breathing normally when thinking about this game, and, since the game is popping into my head every meal I eat, it’s considerably decreasing my appetite.

On to the X’s and O’s.  Of course, this is going to be a legendary quarterback going against a legendary defensive unit.  That we know, and that’s where most of the analysis has been for the past 2 weeks, other than the BS that was the deflated footballs controversy.  (I’m officially refusing to use the term “DeflateGate,” and I look down on anyone who thinks that’s a cool term.)

Specifically, the Pats are probably going to rely on their short, shifty passing game, which is the biggest weakness of Richard Sherman, Seattle’s best corner.  Sherman, at 6’3” 195 pounds, is a big, physical CB who shuts down receivers on both intermediate and deep passing routes, but the Julian Edelman – Wes Welker type game could give Sherm some issues.  In their Week 2 game vs. the Chargers, the Seahawks struggled against a short passing game with the likes of Eddie Royal and our boy Danny Woodhead, as well as with the play of Antonio Gates, especially in the red zone, as he scored 3 TDs.

The Patriots do have those kinds of weapons.  Gronk is the most important player on the field aside from Brady, but it’s no secret that the Seahawks will put special attention on him, especially with 2 weeks to prepare.  That being said, Gronk’s presence opens up so much of the Pats offense, as evidenced by how well the offense has done from week 5 when his percentage of plays on the field rose from just a little over 50% to over 80%.  All those times I got scared whenever Gronkowski got tackled during the regular season for fear of injury feel totally reasonable right now.  Gronk is huge, even if he doesn’t get 100 yards, just because of what he does for the entire offense.  The other factor here is that Richard Sherman rarely moves from the outside left part of the field, and the Pats’ 2 best receiving weapons, Edelman and Gronk, don’t need to play out there to be successful.  Either Sherman completely shuts down Lafell, which is a trade the Pats would take ever day, or he plays out of his element and maybe struggles.

Kam Chancellor scares me as the guy who would be covering Gronk, but I’ll take my chances with Gronk vs. anyone 1 on 1, especially giving Belichick 2 weeks to move around the chess pieces as he sees fit.  And if Chancellor needs help to cover Gronk, good.  All the more room for the rest of the offense.

Since Brandon Mebane’s season ending injury in November, which is HUGE for the Pats, their run stopping game hasn’t been good.  In fact, the Pats and Seahawks’ run defenses are trending in opposite directions, with the Pats looking a lot better against the run since Week 9  The unit seems to have stabilized since Jerod Mayo’s injury, which will be huge going against Marshawn Lynch.  Lynch will probably get his own, but probably not as much as most people (understandably) think.

Now for when the Seahawks have the ball.  The game that really scares me is the Packers game from just after Thanksgiving because of how much Aaron Rodgers scrambled.  The Pats haven’t faced a QB who leaves the pocket even close to as much as Russell Wilson, so I think I have every right to be incredibly nervous.  But it’s important to note that that was without Chandler Jones, and Rodgers had a much better receiving corp to target when he was scrambling all over the field.  Realistically, the Pats are probably going to have one of their linebackers or nicklebacks in QB spy all the time to prevent Wilson from scrambling or dumping off to Lynch.

Luke Willson may have a great day, because the Pats are also a little weak against tight ends, just like their counterparts in Seattle.  Jamie Collins is a beast, but do you really want to just put him on Willson and have that be all that he does on Super Bowl Sunday?  Collins is becoming one of the best linebackers in the league because he is so versatile and smart, so maybe it’s best to give up a few more Willson catches in order to let Collins do other things to slow down the Seattle offense.  But the Pats focus has to be on Wilson, Lynch, and Willson, because I’m more than ok with taking my chances with a secondary of Revis, Browner, McCourty, Chung, Arrington, Ryan, and Harmon covering guys like Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse 1 on 1.

The game will swing a little more on when the Pats have the ball than when the Seahawks have the ball, but you already knew that.  I don’t see the Pats defense getting absolutely torched, but I could see the Hawks shutting downt the Pats offense.  If Brady has one of those playoff games that we’ve unfortunately come to know over the years when he looks confused (2nd half vs. Ravens 2012, all game vs. Ravens 2011, Jets 2010, Ravens 2009, Super Bowl 42), then it could be a long night in the desert.

The 3 ways that the Pats could most likely lose are if Brady has one of those games, if Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril go off (which the Pats will probably try to counter by having blocking tight ends at the end of the line), or if Wilson scrambles around the field a ton and makes lots of plays with his feet.  But — and call me a homer if you want — I think that Belichick can handle those matchups.  He has the best defense to play with since 2004, and the offense has enough different options of how to attack the Seattle defense that I feel more confident than you’d expect with the Pats playing what may be the best defense ever.  An early injury on offense to Gronk, an offensive lineman, or obviously Brady would probably be a deathblow, because the offense seems to crumble when even one thing isn’t in place, like when the offensive line was horrible vs. the Ravens when Brian Stork went down.  But barring that, the Pats should be able to do enough against the Seattle defense. My prediction is that whoever loses the turnover battle will also lose the game, which usually happens anyway, but it’ll be especially important this game.  Brady can’t throw one of those weak interceptions to a linebacker like he did in both of the first 2 playoff games, and let’s hope that the Pats secondary reads Russell Wilson as well as they did when they picked off Flacco and Luck.

With offense and defense, the Pats and Seahawks are probably equal teams, or maybe the Seahawks get a slight nod.  But the Pats are far superior in both special teams and coaching, because of In Bill We Trust.  Patriots 27 Seahawks 20. 

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