Seattle fought through the toughest defense in the NFL, and most bitter rival, last season to reach the Super Bowl. They were getting Percy Harvin fully available for the first time all year. Denver was missing key players like Von Miller and Ryan Clady. The more I dug into researching that game, the more confident I was the Seahawks were going to roll. This year is not last year. New England is favored by a single point, and that feels about right after pouring over hours and hours of research and game film.
A true underdog
Seattle could have played the game against the Broncos 100 times and would have won 95 of them. Too many things were firmly in Seattle’s favor. The Patriots and Seahawks could play this game 100 times and New England probably wins 51-55 of them. It is incredibly close.
The advantage for New England comes from a few places:
- Tom Brady
- Bill Belichick
- Injuries to Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman
- Absence of Brandon Mebane, Zach Miller, Jordan Hill, and Paul Richardson
- Lack of clear mismatch versus Patriots secondary
A lot of people would scratch their heads about why Rob Gronkowski is not on that list. I do not think he is as big of a factor as any of the items listed above, mainly because the Seahawks have so many players to defend him. That is not to say he will be a non-factor, but his matchup does not tilt the game significantly in the Patriots favor. In fact, the Seahawks may earn an advantage there if they are able to defend him better than most teams as I expect they will.
I have been staunch defender of the Seahawks receivers for years, but this is one game where it feels like they lack a viable plan of attack. Brandon Browner may be the best corner in football at defending those wide receiver screens the Seahawks like to sprinkle in. Darrelle Revis will erase someone. The Seahawks only threw his way twice last year when he played for Tampa Bay. Luke Willson, as good as he has been at times, but has not risen to the level of a consistent threat and New England will have a number of options to defend him.
Seattle constructed their roster expecting Percy Harvin to be a central threat and Richardson to be a deep threat. They have bullied their way past almost every team this year without either fulfilling their role. The team will undoubtedly add more weapons next year, but they will not play in this game. That means two of these three things need to happen for Seattle to win their second consecutive Super Bowl:
- Russell Wilson wins the MVP
- Marshawn Lynch wins the MVP
- The Seahawks defense limits New England to 24 points or less
Finding points on offense
The Seahawks biggest advantage when they have the ball is in the running game. New England and Belichick know it, so they will do everything they can to stuff the conventional running attack of Seattle. They should feel good enough about their matchups in the secondary that they can commit at least eight players to the task of bottling up Lynch. That may not be enough.
Seattle faces more eight-man fronts than any offense in the NFL, and the Patriots have struggled to defend power runs up the middle. Sealver Siliga versus Max Unger will be a pivotal matchup. Siliga has helped improve the interior run defense since he took over at nose tackle, but Unger is one of the best centers in football and should be at his healthiest since returning from his ankle injury.
It would be a very good sign if Seattle is getting 3-4 yards on first down runs. That would force the Patriots to adjust their plan further, and could open up things more for the passing game. Seattle must stick to the running game. They must be willing to run the ball on consecutive downs early instead of late.
Wilson is going to be far more central to the outcome of this game than he was last year. The team needs him to either be productive on the ground through designed runs and scrambles, or on target in the passing game. The Patriots pass rush is not great, and Wilson should be able to create time with his legs.
This needs to be one of those games where people marvel at Wilson’s ingenuity. Inaccurate and indecisive Wilson cannot make an appearance.
There has been plenty of discussion of the Patriots tackle-eligible play and their propensity for trickery. Pete Carroll got some love for calling the fake kick last week. Do not be surprised to see the Seahawks attempt something tricky in this game. It is the type of game where your offense may need some help creating a mismatch or getting a spark.
Carroll loves finding ways to keep the moment from feeling too big, and showing the confidence to call a gadget play is a great way to do it.
Defense must rise again
This will be the first time this team has played with an injured Earl Thomas. The way he is talking sounds like it will impact his level of play. He is the keystone. Now, if there was one game where he figures to be less critical than most, it would be this one. The reason is that the Patriots do not throw deep and they do not feature wide receivers who threaten the sidelines.
All of Thomas’ plays should come in front of him and in the seams. Good positioning and instincts should be enough to help him impact the outcome in a positive way. What may be missing are the superhuman plays where he blurs into the screen and jars the ball loose or knocks the ball carrier backwards.
We do not know the full extent of Richard Sherman’s injury. The thing to watch for is whether he can raise his arms over his head effectively. That is a big part of how he defends the deep ball or the fade route in the endzone. Seattle may need him to pick off a pass. He should get some chances.
The guys who need to step up for this team to win are: Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Byron Maxwell.
I would add Bruce Irvin to that list, depending on how he is utilized. The Patriots offensive line is not great. The Seahawks must disrupt it early and often. Seattle may blitz more often than we are accustomed to seeing. New England has had some trouble handling communication on blitzes, and it would not be what the Patriots are expecting.
Bennett may be the most important player on the defensive side of the ball in this game. He needs to be great against the run and create havoc against the pass. Avril was terrific in the Super Bowl last year and should have some favorable matchups on the edge.
This could be Wagner’s coming out party. He might be the guy they choose to blitz with. He could make the crucial interception over the middle that the team needs. The linebackers were the least-heralded part of the great 2013 defense and this year has been a chance for them to shine. A defining game here would be the cherry on top.
Should be a classic
Every game this year for the Seahawks has been close. They rarely have been ahead or behind by much. This will be Tom Brady’s sixth Super Bowl, and none of the previous five have been decided by more than four points. He won his first three and lost his last two.
Russell Wilson is built for these moments. He showed that again last week. Some other blogger for some other team could very well be writing an article like this about facing Wilson and the Seahawks ten years from now playing in their sixth Super Bowl. He is that kind of winner.
New England has a more complete team than Seattle right now. The Seahawks have more high quality talent. Belichick and Carroll likely cancel each other out. This game will come down to which team can finish. Seattle has excelled in that category. Their character and drive is unmatched. Sunday will be another chance to prove it.