Two teams with their sights set on making history will conclude the 2014 NFL season when the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks face off Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX on NBC. The Seahawks have come to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., with a goal of becoming just the eighth franchise in history to win back-to-back Super Bowls. The Patriots, who accomplished said feat in the 2003-04 seasons, are looking to snap a two-game losing streak on Super Sunday and claim the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy.
Although Deflate-gate has unfortunately (pardon the pun) taken some of the air out of this matchup, the focus should finally shift back to what will happen on the field by the time kickoff approaches. Not only do we have the top two seeds from each conference going head-to-head, we also will be treated to storylines such as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the historic duo in search of their record-tying fourth Super Bowl ring, versus Pete Carroll and Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” defense.
And they aren’t the only ones expected to take on starring roles Sunday night either. Seattle has Russell Wilson, set to become the youngest quarterback to start two Super Bowls, as well as Richard Sherman, the brash mouthpiece of the Seahawks’ defense, and Marshawn Lynch, the bruising running back who clearly would prefer to do all of his talking on the field. New England has Rob Gronkowski, its All-Pro tight end who is never at a loss for words and has the Legion of Boom’s full attention.
Even though New England and Seattle were once both members of the AFC (1977-2001), this is just the 17th all-time meeting between these two teams. The series is tied 8-8 with the most recent matchup occurring in 2012. The Seahawks beat the Patriots 24-23 in Seattle in what was just the sixth career start for Wilson. Needless to say, the stakes are considerably higher for their first-ever postseason pairing.
New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: New England -1
5 Things to Watch
Backfields in Motion
Marshawn Lynch is getting the most attention, thanks to his “talkative” media sessions earlier this week, when it comes to the running backs and for good reason. Fourth in rushing (1,306 yards) in the regular season, Lynch’s 157 yards were pivotal in Seattle’s overtime comeback win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game. Even though Russell Wilson is fully capable of making plays with his legs, the priority for New England’s defense is to prevent Lynch from going Beast Mode on it. That doesn’t mean that the Patriots’ running game should be completely overlooked, however. For one, LeGarrette Blount rumbled for 148 yards and three scores in the AFC title game. And there also is the fact that the Seahawks have allowed more than 130 yards rushing to each of their postseason opponents. Seattle’s the run-happy team, but New England’s ground game also could wind up being a factor come Super Sunday.
Wide Receiver Play
Similar to the backfields, while Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” is as good as advertised, New England’s secondary is no slouch. Headed up by All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Patriots’ back end also features former Seahawk Brandon Browner serving up the big hits and Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty. To put it another way, both wide receiver corps have their work cut out for them. If Seattle can get big plays out of Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse like the ones that happened late in the NFC title game, it should only make things easier on Russell Wilson and open up the running game even more. On the other side, New England has tight end Rob Gronkowski to take some of the burden off of the wideouts, but Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell will still need to make their presence felt. If anything, maybe all of the attention directed towards keeping Gronk in check will free up Edelman or LaFell, or perhaps maybe Danny Amendola, to make plays elsewhere. After all, no tight end has ever been named Super Bowl MVP.
Coaching Chess Match
Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll have plenty in common. Both have won a Super Bowl, come from defensive backgrounds, and each is well respected by players and coaching peers alike. Both also are known for running franchises their way, as well as for thinking outside of the box and going against the grain when it comes to in-game decisions and play calling. Belichick and the Patriots have gotten plenty of attention for the unconventional formations they have used this postseason, while Carroll had the guts to not only call for a fake field goal in the NFC title game, but later an onside kick that, if not recovered, likely would have ended the Seahawks’ Super Bowl repeat hopes. What either has in store for Sunday is anyone’s guess, but this head-to-head matchup could be just as entertaining, and equally important, as anything that happens on the field. And just to add some extra spice to this pairing, there’s this: Carroll was New England’s head coach from 1997-99 before he was fired and replaced by none other than Belichick. Revenge anyone?
In last year’s Super Bowl win, Seattle dominated Denver in the turnover department (4-0). The Seahawks picked off Peyton Manning twice and also recovered two fumbles. Seattle converted three of the takeaways into touchdowns (one coming on a INT return by MVP Malcolm Smith), or nearly half of its 43 points. This season, the Seahawks and the Patriots both did a good job protecting the ball and maximizing their opponents’ mistakes. New England tied for second (plus-12) in turnover margin, while Seattle was next at plus-nine. In the playoffs, the Patriots have posted a plus-three margin in two games, while the Seahawks are even because of their five turnovers in the NFC Championship Game. And just how important is protecting the football on Super Sunday? Very, considering that the team with fewer turnovers is 36-3 in Super Bowl history, a statistic each team is familiar with. Combined, these two teams have played in seven previous Super Bowls. In those seven appearances, the team that won the turnover battle is 3-1. Only once did either team finish with more turnovers than its opponent and that game did not end well. In Super Bowl XLVI New England had just one turnover (interception), but it was still costly in a tough loss to the Giants. And as for that one loss when winning the turnover battle? That was in 2006, when Seattle posted a plus-one margin against Pittsburgh, but still lost Super Bowl XL. However, that is definitely the exception rather than the rule when it comes to ball security, as a winning percentage of 92.3 over a sample size of nearly 40 games will certainly attest.
Related: 5 X-Factors for Super Bowl XLIX
Red Zone Success
In the regular season, Miami was the only team with more red zone possessions on offense than New England’s 67. The Patriots found paydirt 39 times or 58.2 percent, making them the ninth-most efficient team once they got to their opponent’s 20-yard line. Seattle converted a little more than half of its red zone looks (31 of 60) into touchdowns, putting them 20th. This success has carried over into the postseason, as the Seahawks are at 50 percent (3 of 6) in this category. The Patriots meanwhile have turned all but one of their 10 red zone trips (90 percent) into six points. Not surprisingly, the difference for Seattle has been on other side of the ball. After limiting teams to a league-low 37 red zone possessions in the regular season, the Seahawks have allowed touchdowns on just three of seven such trips in the playoffs. This is why despite committing four first-half turnovers, Seattle only trailed Green Bay 16-0, as the Packers got to the Seahawks’ one-yard line on successive drives following a takeaway, but ended up kicking a short field goal both times. Compare that to New England, whose defense yielded a touchdown on five of the six red zone possessions it faced against Baltimore and Indianapolis. A three-point swing may not seem like much, but ask Green Bay what the difference is between a touchdown and a field goal.
One way or the other, history will be made Sunday. Either Seattle joins the exclusive club of repeat Super Bowl champions or Bill Belichick and Tom Brady cement their legacies with a fourth Lombardi Trophy. Russell Wilson also has a chance to enter some pretty exclusive company with a second Super Bowl victory, especially considering this is just his third NFL season.
There is certainly no lack of intriguing storylines for this game, which is to be expected when it involves the league’s top two teams. But when it comes to the matchups on the field, it really boils down to one — how will New England’s offense fare against Seattle’s defense? Will it be another coronation for Belichick and Brady or will the “Legion of Boom” steal the Super Sunday spotlight once again? At least we don’t have to wait much longer to find out.