One way or the other, history will be made when the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks meet in Super Bowl XLIX this Sunday. Either Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will win their fourth Super Bowl rings, tying for the most among their respective positions, or the Seahawks will become just the seventh franchise in history to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Coming up with five definitive reasons for why the New England Patriots will win any game, let alone a Super Bowl, is difficult. That’s not because they are unlikely to win, obviously; you are just never sure how they are going to do it.
The Patriots’ biggest strength under Bill Belichick has always been the ability to adapt to their opponent. Give him extra prep time like he has for a Super Bowl, and you can bet Belichick will find something about the Seahawks to exploit that no one saw coming.
But since we’re supposed to be the experts, and “just because” isn’t going to cut it, here are five reasons the Patriots come out on the winning side on Sunday.
Critics will point out Brady hasn’t won a Super Bowl in 10 years, and there’s no denying that fact. But you’d still be hard-pressed to find many postseason defeats that you can lay at Brady’s feet. He hasn’t thrown games away.
Still, he knows the critics are there, and since a Week 4 loss to Kansas City sparked whispers that he was no longer an elite quarterback, he has been as good as ever. Throw in the whole “Deflategate” fiasco, and Brady comes into this game with a giant chip on his shoulder.
But even beyond his motivations, Brady is just not likely to give the Seahawks any freebies. While many elite QBs become their own worst enemy by forcing passes to their top receivers or at an elite corner (Richard Sherman?) just to show that they can, Brady has always been content to take what is given. If that means dumping the ball off 15 times to a running back, he’ll do it.
Of course, Brady does have a favorite target …
The Gronkowski factor
Seattle has two very good safeties in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and against most teams they are made better by the fact that they don’t have to worry about helping CB Richard Sherman. But New England is not most teams.
The equation changes against the Patriots because tight end Rob Gronkowski is their biggest weapon in the passing game. Seattle can’t just put Sherman on an island against him and dare the Pats to throw at him.
So now the Seahawks will need to pick their poison: Commit to stopping the run and leave Gronkowski in single coverage, or double-cover Gronkowski and risk the Patriots exploiting a run defense that was good on paper (third in the NFL in yards allowed in the regular season) but has allowed more than 130 yards on the ground to both Carolina and Green Bay in the postseason.
Seattle’s passing game won’t scare the Pats
This is one area where we are giving Belichick the benefit of the doubt a bit. While the Patriots were a top 10 defense against the run, they were vulnerable at times: Excluding the meaningless loss in the season finale, New England allowed 176 yards per game on the ground in its three other losses.
On the other hand, two of those losses were in September, and the other was against Green Bay, whose passing game gave the Pats more to worry about. Seattle’s passing game carries with it no such concerns.
No NFL team threw the ball less than Seattle in the regular season, and the Seahawks ranked 27th in passing yards. None of the receivers will strike fear into a Pats defense that ranked fourth in pass coverage according to ProFootballFocus.com.
We’re betting Belichick and the Patriots will find a way to stop the run and force Seattle to beat them through the air. Even if Russell Wilson doesn’t give the ball away like he did in the NFC title game, can he win a passing duel with Tom Brady? Not likely.
New England won’t give the game away
Perhaps we are guilty of overreacting to a couple of high-profile games here, but it’s hard to imagine the Patriots playing things the way the Packers did in the NFC title game or making big mistakes like the Broncos did in last year’s Super Bowl.
History tells us Belichick will not play safe and kick field goals the way Green Bay did if given the chance to put Seattle in an early hole. And while there may be no tangible evidence one way or the other, can you imagine a Belichick-coached team bungling an onside kick?
And while we’d never suggest that Super Bowl XLVIII was just a couple big plays from going Denver’s way, when was the last time New England gave up a safety, interception return TD and a special teams TD in the same game? Right from the first snap over Peyton Manning’s head, Denver looked unprepared, overmatched, or both.
The Patriots will be none of those things.
The Pats vs. The World
This isn’t about a rousing pep talk before the game. As dominant as New England has been for 14 seasons now, Belichick can’t exactly play the “Nobody believes in us!” card. (And “They think we win because we cheat!” isn’t much better.)
But even before the whole “Deflategate” thing, this game was destined to have a huge impact on how history views Belichick and Brady. Winning Super Bowls 10 years apart with everything else changing around them would be unprecedented. And while their first three titles can’t be taken away, there is a huge difference between 4-2 in the big game vs. 3-3 with a three-game losing streak.
It also may be their last chance. Brady and the Pats recently restructured his contract to create cap space, but it also made it easier for them to part ways. Even if he sticks around, there’s no guarantee they ever get back here.
None of that will help them complete a pass or tackle Marshawn Lynch. In fact, maybe all that proves their best days are long behind them. But do you really want to bet against them?
— By John Gworek