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 eighth franchise in history to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
While Belichick and Brady are obviously critically important to their team’s potential success Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., Seattle has a pretty good head coach and quarterback in its own right, not to mention a very good defense. Here are five reasons why the Seahawks will claim their second straight Lombardi Trophy on Super Sunday:
Defense Wins Championships
It may be a cliché, but it’s one that has worked pretty well for Seattle these past two seasons. The NFL’s No. 1 defense in terms of yards and points allowed in 2013 and ’14, no one has forgotten what the Seahawks did to Peyton Manning and the Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl. The highest-scoring offense the game had ever seen, all Denver managed against Seattle’s defense was one touchdown that didn’t come until the final play of the third quarter.
After experiencing a few bumps in the road in the middle of the season, the Seahawks’ defense has found its groove. During the current eight game-winning streak, this unit has allowed 235 yards and less than 10 points per contest. It has been particularly dominant during this stretch in the fourth quarter, yielding just one touchdown and a total of 13 points. New England’s offense has put up 80 points in its two playoff wins, but it’s not like Seattle hasn’t been down this road before.
Marshawn Lynch finished the regular season fourth in rushing with 1,306 yards and tied for first (DeMarco Murray) with 13 touchdowns. New England’s collection of five running backs (Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden) combined for 1,551 yards and 13 scores, albeit with nearly 100 more (376 to 280) carries. Lynch is leading the postseason with 216 yards on 39 attempts (5.5 ypc), including 157 in the NFC Championship Game win over Green Bay.
Every defense knows that slowing down Lynch is priority No. 1, but it’s easier said than done. The Patriots have fared pretty well against the run, giving up just seven rushing touchdowns in 18 games thus far, but they also have had some trouble against some of the league’s better backs. Knowshon Moreno (134 yards rushing), Matt Forté (114), Chris Ivory (107), and Knile Davis (107) all broke the century mark against the Patriots in the regular season with Davis’ teammate Jamaal Charles (92) and Eddie Lacy (98) both coming close. And in the Divisional Round win over Baltimore, Justin Forsett gashed Bill Belichick’s defense for 129 yards on 24 carries (5.4 ypc). In nine career playoff games, Lynch is averaging five yards per carry with eight touchdowns. This includes just 39 yards on the ground (on 15 carries) in last year’s Super Bowl win. You don’t think Lynch wants to “redeem” himself with a big game Sunday and, more importantly, that he won’t get the opportunity (i.e., touches) to try and do so?
Russell Wilson Rebound
If Seattle hadn’t come back and defeated Green Bay in overtime to win the NFC Championship Game, much of the blame would have been pinned on Wilson. His four interceptions against the Packers were the most the three-year starter had thrown in his career (55 starts, including playoffs), while the 44.3 passer rating was his second lowest in a game.
But despite the horrendous start, Wilson rebounded to lead his team to 15 fourth-quarter points, his rushing touchdown getting things started, and then throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse on the first possession of overtime. Statistically speaking, Wilson had never put together a game this bad before, and yet he still won.
Set to become the second-youngest quarterback to start two Super Bowls (eclipsing Tom Brady’s mark), I’m expecting better results from Wilson compared to two weeks ago. Possessing a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio in the postseason prior to the Green Bay game and based on his showing in last year’s Super Bowl (18-of-25, 206 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 26 yards rushing), Wilson is the least of the Seahawks’ worries headed into their matchup against the Patriots.
As we saw last year, Seattle’s defense ended up being ideally suited to slow down Denver’s prolific, high-octane offense. Not only did the Seahawks have the physical secondary that could match up (and beat up) the Broncos’ pass-catchers, they had a pass rush that could disrupt Peyton Manning’s timing and force him to move him from his spot in the pocket. While the pass rush produced just one sack, Manning was picked off twice and also fumbled the ball when he was brought to the ground.
There’s no reason why this same defensive game plan won’t be as effective against New England. Brady’s not the most mobile of quarterbacks either and teams that can generate consistent pressure (like Miami, Kansas City, Baltimore) have given the Patriots’ offensive line some trouble. All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski could be considered the difference-maker, but Seattle seems well suited to match up against him, with guys like All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner and hard-hitting safety Kam Chancellor lurking.
On the other side of the ball, I’ve already touched on the challenge that Marshawn Lynch (see above) poses for a sometimes-shaky New England rushing defense and, outside of the NFC title game, the Seahawks generally do a good job protecting the football. The Patriots used five turnovers to help fuel their wins over the Ravens and Colts, while the Seahawks had committed just five in the seven games leading up to the NFC Championship Game.
I’m not saying Bill Belichick and his coaching staff don’t have another trick or two up their sleeves that they will throw at Seattle this Sunday, but when it comes to how the Seahawks appear to match up against the Patriots’’ strengths, I like their chances.
Team of Destiny
To even be in a position to win back-to-back Super Bowls, Seattle had to overcome several obstacles along the way, including a sluggish start to its season and both history and adversity in the playoffs. As is always the case with the team that wins the Super Bowl, no sooner is the Lombardi Trophy in tow then the talk shifts to doing it again. And after sitting at just 3-3 in the middle of October, there was plenty of doubt when it came to the Seahawks’ repeat chances.
But then Pete Carroll’s team went back to the drawing board, got healthy and proceeded to roll off nine wins in its last 10 games to finish the regular season at 12-4, champions of the NFC West and the No. 1 seed for a second straight campaign. A seemingly easy 31-17 win over Carolina in the Divisional Round was anything but, as Seattle became the first defending Super Bowl champion to win a playoff game the following season since New England nine years ago.
Then despite five turnovers and staring at a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit at home against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks not only weathered a wild final four minutes that produced a tie score, they also made the plays necessary to finish their memorable comeback on the first possession of overtime.
Now all that stands in Seattle’s way of becoming just the eighth franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowls is New England, the last team to accomplish this feat (2003, ’04 seasons). History aside, the ties between these two teams goes beyond Super Sunday. Carroll was the Patriots’ head coach from 1997-99. He went 27-21 those three seasons, including 1-2 in the playoffs, before he was fired and replaced by none other than Bill Belichick.
This is not the first “revenge” game in Super Bowl history for a head coach (actually it’s the fourth), but with the Seahawks’ repeat hopes at stake, there’s no question how sweet a victory Sunday would be for Carroll. And given how this season has played out for Seattle, I don’t think New England will be able to keep these Seahawks from accomplishing what the Patriots did more than a decade ago.