Eight things to watch for in Super Bowl XLIX
MANILA, Philippines - Less than 24 hours from now, the 2015 NFL Super Bowl will kick off featuring the best of the AFC and the best of the NFC.
The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks have been the two most dominant teams this past year in football, so It’s only fitting that the two settle who becomes world champion on Monday morning, February 2 (PH time), at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Both squads are loaded from every position on both sides of the floor and have tremendous coaching staffs, making Super Bowl XLIX potentially the most exciting championship game in recent years.
What makes the duel even more intriguing is how much is on the line for both franchises this Super Bowl. For the Patriots, it’s perhaps the last chance to win a championship in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era, and their fourth overall, in the past 15 years. For the Seahawks, it’s an opportunity to become the first team to win back-to-back titles in 10 years, starting the kind of NFL dynasty that takes place only once a decade or so.
Here are 8 things to look out for when New England and Seattle kick-off the biggest sporting event in the United States:
1. The Battle of the Elite Cornerbacks
A few years ago, Darrelle Revis was considered the best cornerback in the NFL while he was with the New York Jets. Richard Sherman, a brash and talented kid out of Stanford, was considered a star CB in the making. But due to a torn ACL and lost season playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Revis fell off the top of the cornerback standings while Sherman, who became the face of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, took over, as he racked up interception after another en route to helping the Seahawks win last year’s Super Bowl.
But this past season, Sherman has been more vulnerable and has allowed more big plays down the field. Revis resurrected his career in New England, and has re-asserted his famous nickname - Revis Island - for quarterbacks are once again fearful of throwing the ball his way. The two cornerbacks have exchanged barbs on Twitter in the past as well, and believe they are still the best shutdown defensive back in football. That argument could be decided by whoever makes bigger plays on Monday.
The New England Patriots have the most unstoppable receiver in football in Rob Gronkowski. The knock on the big tight end over the past few years was that he can’t stay healthy, but this season, he hasn’t missed a single game and it’s not a coincidence that the Pats are in the Super Bowl. Covering him one-on-one is nearly impossible, and putting two or three defenders on him will open up another receiver for the Patriots to make big plays. Seattle’s defense is very good, but even the Legion of Boom may not be enough to shutdown the Patriots’ biggest weapon. They can only hope to contain him. After all, he did catch 82 receptions for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns this regular season, in addition to being used as an extra body for the offensive line to give Brady more time to throw passes.
3. Beast Mode
If New England has Gronk, Seattle has Marshawn Lynch.
This season, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound running machine carried the football for 1,306 yards in the regular season. In two playoff games, he’s carried the ball for 216 yards and ran in for a TD. Those numbers don’t include his contributions in the passing game, where he’s also a lethal option and a security blanket for Seattle QB Russell Wilson.
Many have tried and many have failed to stop Lynch. Tackling him is going to be the toughest job for New England’s defense, and something they need to do quick if they have hopes of coming out of the desert with the Lombardi Trophy.
4. Masters of their craft
Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll are images of different coaching dispositions. While one keeps a serious look on his face 99% of the time, the other doesn’t shy from showing his emotions.
While one is quiet and tranquil throughout games regardless of the situation - whether his team is up or down by 20 - the other is animated, running up and down the sidelines on almost every down. But here’s what’s common between the two coaches: they’re winners. Belichick is a three-time champion, and his team has been division champions 12 of the last 15 years. Since taking over the Seahawks in 2010, Carroll has helped lead his club to four playoff appearances, two conference titles, and a world title.
Both Belichick and Carroll are great in-game tacticians. Seattle vs. New England will be physical and the pace of the match will be dictated by the players who make the biggest plays. But the ultimate victor will be determined by adjustments and play-calling of the coaches.
5. The Quarterbacks
On one side of the offense, New England’s quarterback Tom Brady has been in the Super Bowl many times in the past. 2015 will be his sixth - the most ever for a starting QB. He’s won three and lost two, so needless to say he won’t be a stranger to the environment. Russell Wilson, in only his third year as a pro, is already going to be in his second Super Bowl, and if there’s anything he’s demonstrated in his young and successful career, it’s that the big stage and bright lights don’t frighten him.
Both quarterbacks are clutch. Brady has led multiple game-winning drives in his career, including three that took place in each of the Super Bowls the Patriots won in 2002, 2004, and 2005. In the first few dozen games he’s played in his career, Wilson has done the same, including two clutch drives against Green Bay in the 2015 NFC title game to help force overtime and the one that sealed the game in the extra session.
The styles of both passers are different. Brady is lethal when given time in the pocket, so it will be Seattle’s defensive line’s assignment to make sure the Pats’ QB doesn’t have the time to set his feet and fire a shot to his receivers - it’s the same tactic Justin Tuck and the New York Giants used to beat NE in their last two Super Bowl matches.
Wilson, on the other hand, likes getting out of the pocket and using his feet to either run for a first down or yield extra time to rifle a pass to Doug Baldwin or Jermaine Kearse down the field. This bodes badly for New England, considering the one weakness in their defense is their inability to provide an effective pass rush. Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck were barely sacked when New England escaped Baltimore and blew out Indianapolis the past few weeks. The Pats still won, but they can’t use the same gamble against a more lethal dual-threat like Wilson.
6. The Other Guys
Watch every Super Bowl and one thing has always been clear: the winner received contributions from the other guys. For New England, wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman need to catch passes that total at least 70-80 yards each. Moreover, LeGarrette Blount has to challenge Seattle’s devastating run defense that will ensure the Pats’ offense isn’t one-dynamic, even if it means risking a potential concussion.
For Seattle, Kearse and Baldwin need to make plays down the field, even if it is against Revis and New England’s other talented secondary defenders: Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung. Luke Wilson will also have to continue making explosive catches and attain yards after the catch to turn momentum to the Seahawks’ favor.
Here’s another very important factor: special teams can’t make mistakes. In a game where the participating squads are as evenly matched up as New England and Seattle, one fumble, one dropped ball, one erratic punt, or one missed field goal could spell the difference between champion and runner up (or, in reality, “the last one who got beat”).
7. The Halftime Show
The only thing more exciting about the Super Bowl than the game itself is the halftime show. This year, Katy Perry headlines the festivities, so, yes, it’s pretty self-explanatory why it’s a can’t-miss performance.
8. Dynasty vs. Destiny
Even at 37-years-old, Brady is still playing the toughest position to play in sports at a high level. But he is getting up there in age, and he hasn’t won a Super Bowl in 10 years. Father Time remains the only undefeated adversary in sports, and it will take Belichick’s quarterback one day as well.
The Patriots, for all the talk of Spygate and Deflate Gate, are the model franchise of the NFL. In a league where parity is king and some defending champions don’t even make the playoffs the next season, the fact that NE has won their division 12 times in the last 15 years is outstanding. It speaks volumes to the level of consistency the team’s head coach and QB have performed at over the last decade and a half. But with such success comes lofty expectations, and the mandate for the Pats, every season, is clear as day: Super Bowl or bust.
The last 10 years, there have been a lot of busts. And with the finish line of their reign above the AFC East now more visible than in the past years, they cannot take this opportunity to become champions once again for granted. It’s been a decade since the new “America’s Team” of the NFL has been champions, and the last time they were at the University of Phoenix Stadium in 2008, they lost to the Giants. Is it their destiny to finally break through and claim their seats atop the league again?
Seattle, meanwhile, has the opportunity to build what New England has established. Their quarterback isn’t even in his prime yet, while the defense will remain the best in football granted they stay together. Money-permitting, there’s no reason why they would break up. They’re cocky, arrogant, and they won’t be afraid to get up on your face. But they always back up their talk. You might not like them, but respecting the Seahawks for their old-school, run-it-down-your-throat, smash mouth football is a must, otherwise, they will beat you to a pulp. Just ask the Denver Broncos.
There have been very few franchises who have won back to back titles. The Seahawks can enter their name in that list and start their own reign. The storyline can basically write itself with a victory on Monday: the new dynasty of the NFL takes the torch from the old one. It’s an opportunity not many teams get, and one Carroll, Wilson, Lynch, Sherman, and the rest of the crew must take advantage of.
Prediction: New England wins, 27-24. Tom Brady wins Super Bowl MVP.