More than 100 million people remember shouting at their televisions a little more than 21 months ago when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson didn’t turn around to hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, and instead threw an ill-advised pass that Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler broke on just quick enough to seal one of the wildest endings to a championship game in NFL history.
Super Bowl XLIX and Butler’s remarkable interception to seal a Lombardi Trophy will serve as the historical backdrop to Sunday night’s rematch between New England and Seattle in what many are viewing as a possible preview to this season’s big game.
The Patriots easily look like the class of the NFL at the halfway point of 2016, with a 7-1 record leading the conference and topping the AFC East by three games. The team more than survived Tom Brady’s four-game suspension at the beginning of the year and are playing as well as anybody right now behind stellar quarterback play and surprisingly solid defense. While everybody respects the mad genius that is head coach Bill Belichick at this point, it’s hard not to be impressed with the amount of talent on the field for New England — especially on offense.
On the flip side, Seattle is finally starting to regain that Super Bowl form from a few seasons ago and are sitting atop the NFC West and playing like a top-five team in the NFL. The defense is as salty as ever, slowing some of the league’s top offenses the past month and allowing some leeway on the offensive side of the ball. Wilson was bothered earlier in the year by an injury but seems to be fully able to escape the pocket and pick up yards with his legs right now to help Pete Carroll’s team look even more dangerous.
It should make for a fun one on “Sunday Night Football” in what might be the biggest game of the year across the NFL and a potential cure for the league’s ratings concerns. The overall series is split at an even eight games apiece during the regular season with Seattle winning in a thriller back in 2012. Of course, as you’re bound to figure out by the time these two kick off, New England owns the only postseason meeting between the two back in 2015.
Seattle at New England
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Patriots -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Brady vs. Seattle’s D
Even without the benefit of playing in the first four games, Tom Brady might be having his best season yet as the Patriots’ quarterback. He’s already over 1,300 yards for the season and has 12 touchdown passes without throwing an interception. Those numbers might be even better had his team not been so far ahead in several blowouts and he’s really benefited from a diversity of weapons that include Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. He’ll face his biggest test all year on Sunday however, as Seattle ranks in the top 10 in just about every defensive category and are third in the league (behind the Pats) in points allowed. You can bet Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and company are ready for a shot at the possible MVP this week and are sure to create some havoc against one of the best offenses in the NFL.
2. Wilson’s Mobility
It’s no secret that Seattle’s offense isn’t what it once was with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch and it has really been hampered with quarterback Russell Wilson suffering from an early knee injury to limit his effectiveness outside the pocket. He has looked much better in recent outings however and his legs played a key role in a win over Buffalo on Monday night. If he’s close to 100 percent this week, that will likely play a key role in making something happen against a New England defense that has proven to be better than expected this season.
3. Carroll vs. Belichick III
This might be one of the most anticipated rubber matches between head coaches given the success both men have had in the NFL and during their football careers. This will be Pete Carroll’s first trip to Foxborough as a member of the visiting team and his third meeting against Belichick, who replaced him in New England back in 2000. The two coaches are among the most respected defensive minds in the league and each has had their team become a perennial conference and Super Bowl contender since assuming the job. While the game is ultimately about the players on the field making plays, the chess match between the two veteran coaches is worth tuning in for alone. You also can’t discount the revenge factor at play given their last meeting for all the stakes in the world either.
One of the biggest storylines of the 2016 season in the NFL has been how ratings have been down across the board for the league. Well, if this matchup can’t bump things up, there might not be much that will until the playoffs because this Sunday nighter features the best team in the AFC against one of the top ones in the NFC.
Seattle was a trendy pick to make it to the Super Bowl before the year began but got off to a bit of a slow start. They’ve started to look much better as of late behind a great defense and an offense that is starting to find a bit of a rhythm with a healthier Russell Wilson at the helm. While nobody is going to pick the Seahawks to win a shootout given how they have been built, this is always a team that loves to play well when the pressure is highest and enter this week’s game with more focus than others because of the opponent.
It’s no easy task, however, to beat Tom Brady at home in the cold confines of Gillette Stadium and especially not with the team coming off a bye (they’re 12-4 after an off week under the quarterback). The offense is a matchup nightmare from their two-tight end looks to an ability to spread you out and run the ball behind LeGarrette Blount and company. Another added dimension might suit up on Sunday in scatback Dion Lewis to add to the team’s riches.
While it would be tempting to pick the revenge-minded Seahawks on the road, it seems like too much of an uphill battle without defensive tackle Michael Bennett putting pressure on Brady. This is one of those games that certainly could turn into a classic given the big names involved but it’s hard to go against a home team that looks like the class of the league this year looking to extract some revenge themselves.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Seahawks 23
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.