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Super Bowl XLIX Preview
Site: University of Arizona Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Day: Sunday, February 1, 2015
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m.
Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collingsworth (analyst), and Michelle Tafoya (sideline reporter)
Radio: Westwood One (check your local listings)
Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), Boomer Esiason (analyst), James Lofton and Mark Malone (sideline reporters)
Another year, another Sunday, another Super Bowl is descending upon us. It is the holiday for adults just like Christmas is the holiday for kids. This Sunday, it will be taking place in sunny Glendale, Arizona instead of the cold Meadowlands, New Jersey where last year's Super Bowl took place. You, your family and friends will be around the TV watching the defending champion Seattle Seahawks vs. the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. Plus, you will be grubbing on snacks (if you still not sure about what snacks you may want to check out The Polish Boy: Cleveland's Original - http://qc1983.hubpages.com/hub/Polish-Boy-A-Cleveland-Original) and drinking until you can't drink anymore. As we all stuff our faces with grub and wash it down with our choice of beverages, we will be cheering every touchdown, every rushing play, every pass play and every turnover. This game is setting up to be one of the best Super Bowls in a long time. This game will determine the legacies not of only the players and coaches but for the franchises. One team is trying to chase history, the other team is trying chase back-to-back titles. One quarterback is trying to win his 4th ring to solidify his future Hall-of-Fame career, the other quarterback is trying win 2nd straight ring to extend his already-impressive resume in his young career.
The New England Patriots had a slow start to the 2014 regular season. Many assumed they had lost a step when they started the season 2-2, and then many assumed they were S.O.S. when they took a 41-14 beatdown at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs on a Monday Night game, where Tom Brady was benched in the 4th quarter. But, the Patriots regained their winning form, and ran off five straight wins heading into their bye week. Then the team picked up where they left off to win their last five of seven games to clinch the AFC's top seed with a 12-4 record. The Pats headed into the playoffs capturing their swagger at the right time.
In the AFC Divisional Game, the Patriots defeated the Ravens in a come-from-behind win 35-31, which Tom Brady surpassed his idol the great Joe Montana in postseason touchdowns. The next week, the Patriots annihilated Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts 45-7. The victory has had the country deflated (pun intended) on Patriots because of the recent controversy over 11 of 12 game balls been deflated under the NFL required square inches during the first half of the game. But, Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 148 yards and scored three touchdowns. Brady finished 23/35 for 226 yards and 3 TDs to advance to the 6th Super Bowl of his career. If the Patriots win, Brady and his head coach Bill Belichick will surpass Joe Montana and the late, great coach Bill Walsh as the head coach and quarterback duo to win Super Bowl victories. And, they would also tie with the late, great Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw as being the 2nd quarterback and head coach duo to win 4 Super Bowls.
Unlike the Patriots, the Seahawks started off the regular season with a 36-16 blowout of the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night as the team and their fans celebrated their Super Bowl XLVIII victory with the unveiling of their championship banner. Everyone thought the Seahawks had continued their championship form, and will roll through the NFC to another Super Bowl. But, the Seahawks hit a wall after their game against the Packers as they lost three of their first 6 games, and found themselves with a 3-3 record. They trailed the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West Division for most of the season. But, thanks to a great November and December push; they would win 9 of their last 10 games to not only overtake the Cardinals for the NFC West Division crown, but they jumped over the Green Bay Packers (based on the tie-breaker because the Seahawks beat them earlier in the season) for the NFC's #1 seed with a 12-4 record. The defending champs headed into the playoffs with their championship swagger at an all-time high. In the NFC Divisional Game, the Seahawks defeated the Carolina Panthers 31-17 as the defense came up huge, especially with Kam Chancellor's Pick Six to seal the game.
Now, the NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks weren't playing particularly well. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense were having a rough day with 5 turnovers, which Wilson had 4 interceptions. He was making Brandon Weeden look like Peyton Manning. The Seahawks trailed 16-0 in the 3rd quarter, but their offense was jump started by Wilson. It was jump started by holder Jon Ryan to Garry Gilliam on a fake field goal to put them on the board for the first time in the game. Trailing 19-7 in the 4th quarter, Wilson drove the Seahawks for a much-needed score to cut it to 19-14 with 1:43 remaining. Then the Seahawks recovered the onside kick that bounced off of tight end Brandon Bostick's helmet at the 50, and they drove down the field to score on a 24-yard Marshawn Lynch TD, which put Seattle in front 22-19 after the 2-point conversion. But, Aaron Rogers drove the Packers down the field to set up Mason Crosby for a 48-yard field goal to tie it at 22 and send it into overtime. The Seahawks wouldn't be denied as they won the coin toss in overtime as they won 28-22 on the 36-yard game-winning touchdown by Wilson to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. Seahawks are the first defending champion to make back-to-back Super Bowl appearances since, ironically, the Patriots in 2005, and with a win will also be the first Super Bowl champion to repeat since the Patriots. Head coach Pete Caroll will also be the first coach since Jimmy Johnson to win two National Championships and two Super Bowl Championships.
Now, here's my breakdown of this match-up of the two final teams that's fighting for the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.
This is a battle of the late-round drafted quarterbacks. Both of these starting quarterbacks were drafted in the late rounds of their class by the Patriots and Seahwks. Russell Wilson was drafted in the 3rd Round and 75th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. While Tom Brady was picked in the 6th Round and 199th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft. Both have gone on to create stellar resumes in their careers, and they both have four Super Bowl titles between them. Now, they're both trying to win another title.
Tom Brady is playing in his 6th Super Bowl, and he want another shot at redemption for those two heartbreaking Super Bowl losses (Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI) to the Giants. He has had another stellar 2014 postseason so far. Brady is second in the league in passing with 593 yds., 296.5 yds. per game, 6 TDs and 2 INTs with a 99.8 QB rating. Brady, the future Hall-of-Famer that is, has been making timely and clutch passes to his receivers.
Now, Russell Wilson is playing in his 2nd straight Super Bowl, and he hasn't been outdone in this 2014 postseason. He has been clutch as anyone great player can be. When there was a big play needed, Wilson made them with his arm or his legs. He is sixth in the league in passing this postseason with 477 yds., 238.5 yds. per game, 4 TDs and 4 INTs with an 81.9 QB rating. Critics still want to call him a game manager, but he is slowly shedding that title because he has come up big in some very big games. Plus, he is 10-0 against Super Bowl winning quarterbacks in regular season and postseason victories, including last week's NFC Championship Game victory over the Packers and last year's Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Denver Broncos.
This match-up will be a huge factor in this game both quarterbacks will have to be almost perfect to win. They have to keep the turnovers to a minimum or not have any at all because if either defense takes the ball away both teams can turn it into points. The quarterback who takes care of the ball and limits their mistakes will have their team in the best position to win.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is coming off another excellent regular season. He hasn't just lived up to his nickname Beast Mode in the regular season. But, he has been making his statement on why he has that nickname in the postseason. Lynch is leading the league this postseason in rushing with 108 rushing yds. and a TD. But, he's just isn't downhill runner, he can catch passes down the field as well as he caught a crucial 26-yard pass in the NFC Championship Game.
As the old saying goes, "Better late than never." Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount is living witness to that statement. After being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers late in the season, Blount was claimed off waivers by the Patriots, who had traded him the year before. Blount didn't have a strong finish to the regular season as he only had 281 yds. and 3 TDs. But, he has caught fire in these playoffs and has been one of the key factors for the Patriots getting to this point. Blount is 7th in the league in rushing this postseason with 74 yds. and 3 TDs. He finished with 148 rushing yds. and 3 TDs in the AFC Championship Game over the Colts, and set new franchise playoff records for carries in a game (30) and career rushing TDs (6).
This is key match-up in this game because both teams will utilize the running game to move the chains, churn up yards and run time off the clock. Whichever running back can crank out the most yards and rush into the end zone, their team will have the best chance to put enough points on the board to win.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends:
The Seahawks and Patriots have talented wide receivers who can make big plays down the field. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL. He had a good 2014 regular season. He has had a good postseason with 86 receivers yds., 17 rec. but 0 TDs. But, he has also had one of the highlight reel plays of the postseason, where he threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola in the AFC Divisional Game victory over the Ravens going back to his days of playing quarterback at Kent State University. Edelman is one of Brady's primary targets on offense, and if he gets hot he can make any cornerback's life miserable.
Now, the Seahawks wide receivers might not have blown up the stat sheet during the regular season. But, receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse have been nothing but clutch throughout the playoffs. They have made big plays when the Seahawks has needed them. Baldwin is ranked 9th in the postseason with 72 yds., 9 rec. and 1 TD. Kearse is tied for 43rd in the league this postseason with 82 yds., 4 rec. and 2 TDs, even though, he started out weak in the NFC Championship Game; he had a strong finish catching 4 crucial passes in crunch time. Then Kearse capped it off by catching 36-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to give the Seahawks the 28-22 victory in overtime. Although, they may feature their receiving core, these two can still be a nightmare match-up for any defense because of their speeding, athleticism and leaping abilities.
The receivers will be important in this game because both of their quarterbacks will rely on them to make big plays down the field as well as help move the chains during possessions because time of possession will be a huge factor in the game.
Now, the Seahawks don't feature the tight end as a part of their offense. But, tight end Luke Wilson had a solid 2014 regular season replacing starting tight end Cooper Helfet, who missed the rest of season due to injury, earlier in the season. He has had a nice postseason with 79 yds., 6 rec. and 1 TD, which was the big 2-point conversion in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers.
Patriots tight Rob Gronkowski is one of the best tight ends in the business. Gronk had another great 2014 regular season. He has also had a great postseason being ranked 8th in receiving with 136 yds., 10 rec., 2 TDs. He is another primary target of Brady's on offense. Although, he is in the top 10 in the NFL in catches, Gronk is a very psychical tight end who can punish opposing teams' linebackers, safeties and defensive ends with strength, blocking and leaping abilities. If he get hot, the defense's night will be miserable.
The tight ends will factor into this game because they will be asked to stretch the field while the corners will likely focus on stopping the receivers. So, the tight end factor will play a factor in this game.
Most may not think that special teams will be a factor in this game, it will be. Field position will be a very vital part in this game, and it will depend on kick return game for each team. Both teams have been pretty good on special teams in this postseason. The Patriots are tied for 3rd in overall kick returns, averaging 169 yds. while the Seahawks are ranked 9th in the playoffs in kick returns averaging 84 yds. Plus, both special teams have made big plays in the postseason; Patriots recovered a muffled punt by the early In the AFC Championship Game, and the Seahawks recovered the onside kick in the NFC Championship Game.
Also, both teams have great kickers who can be counted on in the clutch. These kickers are Stephen Gostkowski and Steven Hauschka. They can give you extra points, but they can also give you points to tie games or win games. Whichever special teams can give their team the best field position possible will have the best chance to score.
Both teams have been very good defensively in the postseason. The Seahawks and Patriots defenses rank 7th and 8th in total yds. allowed respectively in the 2014 postseason. The Seahawks have been giving up 334 total yards per game while the Patriots are giving up 318 total yards per game. Both defenses are also loaded with the talent that can get to the quarterback, stop the run and create turnovers. The Seahawks has the "Legion of Boom" and the stingy defense in cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive end Cliff Avril linebackers Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, and Malcolm Smith, who was last year's Super Bowl MVP, plus safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. They are one of the best defense at rushing the passer and stopping the run. The Patriots also have some pretty good defensive players that can make opposing offenses' lives miserable with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and cornerbacks Brandon Browner and the ageless wonder Darrelle Revis. But, they have been suspect as far as stopping the run.
This Super Bowl not only has two great teams going against each other, but two great head coaches going against each other in Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll. Belichick is making his 6th Super Bowl appearance as a head coach, tying him with Don Shula while Pete Carroll is making his 2nd consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Carroll also coached the Patriots from 1997-1999 before he was succeeded by Belichick. This is the first time a head coach is going against his former team since Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers went against his old Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002. Both coaches not only coach Xs and Os very well, but they know how to get the best out of their players and maximize their talents. The Xs and Os have been practiced and studied for a whole week on the field and in the film room. Now, it will come down to who can inspire their to handle adversity and encourage to sustain their mental toughness throughout the game, whether their up or down. You can't go wrong with neither coach because there won't be a Mona Lisa Vito on the sideline.
This game is setting up to be a classic Super Bowl. The Patriots are trying to add onto their resume of being a dynasty while the Seahawks are trying to be the first defending champ to repeat since 2004. This game will be very close, and may come down to the final minutes. Brady will have a big game in this Super Bowl, but the Seahawks defense will be too tough for the Patriots to overcome. Plus, there isn't anyone on New England's front seven that can stop Wilson's quickness and speed. The Seahawks will recapture another title, hoist the Lombardi trophy once again and will be the first team repeat since the Patriots did it over ten years ago.
Final: Seahawks 30, Patriots 24
P.S. -- The Super Bowl MVP will be an offensive player for the Seahawks this year instead of a defensive player.