I probably should title this post with the actual Super Bowl number, I honestly can't remember it and am too lazy to look it up. I think it's Super Bowl 49. I usually refer to Super Bowls in a different manner since I couldn't tell you who was in Super Bowl XIV, but if someone refers to the Super Bowl in the 90's when the Steelers and Cowboys played each other then I know what's being referred to. So it's time for the Super Bowl now. No more discussion of deflated footballs (who I am kidding? That talk won't go away) and it's time for the game. In the BotB Pick 'Em Challenge, Steve is the clear winner by having gone 9-1, while I'm in a dogfight not to end up tied with Bill Simmons. I just hope whether my pick is correct or not that that is a more exciting Super Bowl than last year's blowout. I'm guessing that it will be.
This is the line I will be using for the Super Bowl:
Seattle Seahawks at New England Patriots (-1.0)
Here is Peter's pick. (If you don't want to click on the link, he chooses New England 31-28)
Here is Bill's pick. (If you don't want to click on it, he chooses New England 27-19)
Seattle Seahawks at New England Patriots
Finally the game is here and I am ready to try to think through who is actually going to win this game. I think this is the Super Bowl game that "we" deserve. The Patriots offense and improved defense against the Seattle's ultra-efficient and super-clutchy offense and suffocating defense. Sherman versus Revis (not really). Belichick versus Carroll. Brady versus Wilson (not really). A team with players that talk a lot versus a team that seems to internalize everything. I'm bored doing this already. Neither team really has a wide receiver considered to be great, while the Seahawks have seemingly built their offense around their running back, the Patriots treat their running backs like used cars whose sole purpose is to make it a few weeks and then get traded in. So it should be a good game and it should be fun. Of course I thought that about last year's Super Bowl too.
I was dreadfully wrong two weeks ago when I stated the Colts would get killed by Rob Gronkowski because they had been killed by tight ends over the last six weeks. Gronkowski had 3 catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. That's not exactly him killing the Colts. Offensively, I still have no idea what the Patriots game plan will end up being. It sounds counter intuitive with the Seahawks being 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, but I believe the way the Patriots are running that they can run the ball on the Seahawks. The Packers ran for 135 yards in the NFC Championship Game and the Panthers ran for 132 yards in the NFC Divisional Round, with both teams averaging over 4.4 yards per carry against the Seahawks. The Patriots were only 18th in the NFL in rushing yards on the season, but they have been great at running the football when they choose that they want to do that. I have no idea which running back the Patriots would choose to run with, though given the bigger running back the Panthers and Packers had success with it would point to Blount. If the Patriots can run the ball then it's going to slow down the Seahawks pass rush and force them to call more run blitzes than they would normally want to call.
The Seahawks aren't a vanilla defense, but they prefer to rush four and are able to get pressure that way. So I fully expect the Patriots to avoid the Seahawks opportunistic secondary (seriously, they get the chance at a turnover and seem to never miss that opportunity...it's remarkable) as much as possible and run for 300 yards. This means the Patriots won't have but 5 rushing attempts in the game of course. My point is the Patriots' offensive line has done a great job run blocking and I think they can run the ball on the Seahawks. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't talk a little bit about Tom Brady. I'm not sure the Patriots are going to want to build a game plan around quick screens and shorter passes, because that is where the Seahawks excel in coverage. I'm not saying the Patriots shouldn't throw the ball short, but the Seahawks are excellent at covering short crossing routes and using their speed to get to the ball on quick screens. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Patriots target Tharold Simon for much of the game and try to use the speed of the Seahawks defense against them with a lot of motion and misdirection in the passing game.
Defensively, it's going to be interesting what kind of scheme the Patriots use to stop Marshawn Lynch and prevent the Seahawks from owning the trenches. Having Vince Wilfork exist on the Patriots' defensive line helps out, but the Patriots have to ensure they aren't forced to bring a safety up to help out with the run or else the Seahawks are going to get one of those long passes into single coverage they seem to magically get. See, I told you about that crap two weeks ago and that's how the Seahawks won the game against the Packers. The Seahawks don't have great receivers, but Kearse/Baldwin/Willson seem to get those one-on-one matchups in the secondary and convert them into long gains and touchdowns. The second a team brings more help to the line in order to stop Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson is throwing a high-arching pass over the head of the opposing team's defender. Belichick seems to have had success in the distant past at shutting the opposing running back by allowing that running back to rush for as much as yardage as he wants, but Belichick tries to prevent the opposing team from having success in the passing game. There may be a sort of reverse game plan from that in this game. I'm not sure how that works, but maybe Belichick will be happy to have his corners matched up against the Seahawks receivers and dare the Seahawks to run the football into an 8 man box. In my experience from watching the Seahawks, that seems like a really bad strategy.
Russell Wilson has a lot of strengths and lofting the ball into single-coverage downfield seems to be a strength of his. The goal should be to get the Seahawks off-schedule. Make Wilson throw the ball on third-and-long where he has to throw into traffic and there is less of a threat for Seattle to run. Sure, every defense wants to get the opposing offense in third-and-long, but I really do believe the Packers had the right defensive game plan until they fucked the game all up at the end. One of Wilson's strengths isn't that he is a pure passer. He's a very good passer, but he's not the type of quarterback who feels 100% comfortable sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball from behind. Of course, as I say that, Wilson has had success at the end of the Packers game just two weeks ago throwing the football. What he lacks in pure pocket passing ability, he makes up for in flawless execution when he has to execute flawlessly. The Patriots need to stop the Seahawks from running the football and stop Seattle from hitting those high-arching downfield passes. It sounds easy to do, but the Panthers and Packers have failed to stop them so far.
Offensively, the Seahawks are going to (surprise!) want to run the football well. That's where the strength of the team lies and controlling the football through the run game also keeps Tom Brady off the field. The Patriots' linebackers are pretty good in coverage and so the matchup between the Seahawks receivers underneath and the Patriots linebackers is going to be important. The Seahawks are going to want to give themselves options on third down, so they have the option of running or throwing the football. Gains on first down in the passing game will be very helpful to ensuring the Patriots can't key on Lynch in the running game. Look for the Seahawks to roll Russell Wilson out as well, which plays to his strengths as a decision-maker outside the pocket and will force the Patriots secondary to account for Wilson as a runner as well as a passer.
In the end, I don't see how the Seahawks can win this game if they don't run the ball well. I don't think the Patriots are going to make the same mistakes that the Broncos made in last year's Super Bowl that put them in such a hole early. The play of the Seahawks defense in that game allowed Seattle to be slightly more aggressive on offense and not have to worry as much about controlling the game on the ground. The Ravens had success running against the Patriots' defense and I can see the Seahawks having the same type of success. That's where it starts. If Seattle can run the football then they will be able to force the Patriots to pay more attention to supporting the run, which opens up the high-arching passes and roll out passes off play-action that makes the Seahawks offense so good. The Seahawks are still going to want to stay out of third-and-long situations and I don't think the Patriots will collapse with a lead like the Packers did. The Patriots' linebackers aren't going to let Marshawn Lynch beat them in the passing game with the game on the line like the Packers did. If the Patriots are able to replicate the game plan that forced Wilson into committing four turnovers then it will be a long day for Seattle.
Defensively, it is very basic for the Seahawks on how they are going to get pressure on Tom Brady and shut down the Patriots' offense. It's all about getting pressure on Brady up the middle and forcing him away from the spot he wants to throw. This goes for nearly every quarterback, but with a quarterback as talented as Brady it is crucial to prevent him from being comfortable in the pocket. The Seahawks did a great job against Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl last year of getting pressure on him and making him uncomfortable. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Patriots come out with a lot of two-TE sets (yes, I said this two weeks ago) in an effort to mask whether they are running or throwing the football, while utilizing Tim Wright in the passing game. Seattle has a great, fast defense and controlling the middle of the field with Gronkowski and Wright is one way to open up passes outside the hashmarks and try to reduce some of the speed of the Seahawks defense to the outside. Seattle has the linebacking talent to handle Rob Gronkowski and it wouldn't surprise me to see them put Byron Maxwell or Tharold Simon on Gronkowski when the opportunity arises. Pressure up the middle is where it starts and as good as the Patriots offensive line has been at run blocking, the Seahawks' defense can get pressure on Brady.
The Patriots have an improved receiving group with the emergence of Brandon LaFell. He's a bigger receiver who is very good at being physical, so he matches up well with the Seahawks' corners. There's still not a ton of speed in the Patriots' receiving group and they aren't terribly explosive as it pertains to long gains in the passing game. Ensuring that Brady has tight windows to throw into, being physical with the New England receivers at the line of scrimmage and taking some chances with one-on-one coverage in order to bring additional pressure on Brady or take Gronkowski away in the passing game is a strategy the Seahawks may employ. They run a lot of Cover-3 and are good at pursuing the football while also keeping the football in front of them. I don't expect the Seahawks to come out of this necessarily, but interrupting the Patriots' shorter passing routes and being very physical to not allow the Patriots' receivers a free release off the line will give the pass rush more time to get to Brady, who will want to make quick, decisive throws. The Seahawks are pretty confident they can match up well with any team's receivers, but the Patriots have been very creative offensively over the last few weeks. I fully expect the Patriots to use play-action in an effort to get the Seahawks out of position in the passing game, using their speed against them.
Time to stop rambling and to make a pick. Let me take a trip down memory lane first.
I picked the Colts to beat the Saints.
I picked the Steelers to beat the Packers.
I picked the Patriots to beat the Giants.
I picked the Ravens to beat the 49ers.
I picked Denver to beat the Seahawks.
So basically, my pick for the Super Bowl (not including the spread, but just my outright pick) has been wrong four of the last five seasons. You don't have to say, I know my pick this year inspires zero confidence. I really don't want either team to win the Super Bowl if I'm being honest. I don't really like the Seahawks and I don't think I can handle another Patriots Super Bowl victory from the perspective of their famous fan base (looks at Bill Simmons). So this is an unemotional pick with my brain not instinctively wanting the team I'm cheering for to win and thereby picking that team to win. I'll probably pick a team to cheer for on Sunday, but I'm not there yet. I think the Patriots are improved in the secondary and can stop the Seahawks from completing long passes and turn them into a one-dimensional offense. That may be Belichick's strategy, to shut down the Seahawks passing game entirely and force them to be dependent on the run game. That sort of feels like it plays into the Seahawks' hands though. I think the Seahawks will find a way to dial up pressure on Brady and the speed of the defense is going to prevent the Patriots from moving the ball and scoring points in the first half. I think this will be a low-scoring game and the Patriots are going to find a way to get Russell Wilson to commit a couple of turnovers. It won't be enough though. The Seahawks are motivated to repeat, and much like the Ravens a few years ago, they seem destined to repeat. Things constantly seem to break the Seahawks' way and they take advantage of these opportunities when they present themselves. I can't pick against a team that basically seems to shit gold. I think we have the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since the Broncos did it in the late 90's.
Seattle Seahawks (+1.0) over the New England Patriots 17-14
By the way, if the Patriots win this game then I would like to move my narrative from the Seahawks being destined to win the Super Bowl, to the Patriots spending the past two weeks hearing about how they are cheaters and being motivated to prove they can beat the best defense in the NFL without the help of deflated footballs. The Seahawks think no one believes they can repeat, while the Patriots think no one believes they can win without deflated footballs. So both teams are underdogs in their own mind...as always.