6:30 PM EST, CBS – Line: Pick ’em
After five months of action, the 2014 Season reaches it’s climax as the New England Patriots battle the defending champion Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona. There are any number of palpable storylines to touch upon in this matchup, from the increasingly ridiculous “Deflategate” to a new potential dynasty, but instead we’ll simply choose to cover the game itself, which sets up to be one of the most compelling matchups on this stage in recent memory. Then again, that’s what we said this time last year before the Seahawks went on to absolutely embarrass the hapless Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII…. However, there is a feeling in the air that this particular pairing will provide a much more competitive contest, or at least we hope. So without further ado, let’s all collectively roll up our sleeves and dig deep into the final act of the 2014 campaign.
Though they went through a relatively disappointing stretch during the middle of the term, it was a familiar story for the Seahawks (12-4, 1st in NFC West) who once again rode the league’s No. One Defense and running game to the top seed in the NFC. Injuries and locker room toxicity (I.E. Percy Harvin) threatened to derail them early on, but Pete Carroll and his Staff did a masterful job of righting the ship to get back to this point. As we stated earlier, it was simply a matter of getting back to basics (and health); when the regular season concluded, his charges finished ranked tops in the league in points allowed (15.9), total defense (267.1), pass defense (185.6) and first downs allowed (17.3), while also leading the NFL in rushing yards (172.6), rushing touchdowns (20), and yards per rush (5.3). Getting a healthy Bobby Wagner back at Outside Linebacker was a huge jolt for the defense, while Marshawn Lynch ran angry throughout the second half of the season, despite nearly falling out with Carroll and Management. All in all, this team won nine out of their final ten outings, including each of their final six in which they allowed a mere 5.5 points per game, along with victories over the Panthers (31-17) and Packers (28-22) in the NFC Division and Championship rounds of the Playoffs, with the latter housing nothing short of a miracle that will linger in the minds of both teams for quite some time afterwards.
In all honesty, Seattle was very fortunate to escape defeat two weeks ago, for all intents and purposes Green Bay had them dead to rights. But that’s why they play a full sixty minutes folks, and in their case, another five to boot. Trailing 16-0 at Halftime, the hosts appeared to be dead in the water. Though their defense managed to stifle Aaron Rodgers and Co. on two occasions inside the ten-yard line (which would loom large later on), Russell Wilson and the offense were absolutely dreadful throughout the first thirty minutes of play. Seriously, the third-year Quarterback had a 0.0 QBR at Halftime (0.0!). However, the offense slowly started to get rolling on the strength of the running game which by the end of the game had racked up a healthy 194 yards on 35 attempts. Wilson scampered in for a one-yard rush with 2:09 left to play to cut the lead to 19-14, before the Seahawks improbably recovered a botched Onside Kick return, leading to a 24-yard touchdown run from Lynch (157 yards) to put the hosts up one with just 1:25 on the clock. Then, on the following Two-Point Conversion Attempt, Wilson scrambled to his right with the pass-rush bearing down on him, and slung the ball back to his left towards the middle of the field. After hanging in the air for what seemed like a lifetime, Luke Wilson miraculously pulled down the pass for the conversion. With under a minute left to play, Rodgers responded by leading the Packers into Field Goal range, where Mason Croaby drilled a 48-yard kick to send the game into Overtime. From there, Seattle won the coin toss, chose to retrieve possession, and Wilson found Jermaine Kearse for a beautiful 35-yard touchdown pass to book the team’s ticket to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year. The connection between teammates was particularly validating as each of Wilson’s previous four interceptions had been thrown to Kearse.
One thing is for certain; there is no way that Wilson can expect to play as poorly as he did in the first half of the NFC Championship and come back to win the Super Bowl. At the end of the game, he was 14-of-29 (48.3%) for 209 yards, a touchdown and the aforementioned four interceptions, but through the first thirty minutes was a miserable 2-of-11 from the pocket. He began to settle into quite the groove after managing to consistently break containment and find space outside of the pocket to read the defense downfield. Remember, at just 5′-11″, Wilson must work to find throwing lanes, as he often uses his legs to create said lanes to attack opposing Secondaries. While you can bet Bill Belichick will copy what Green Bay had such success with early on, containing him for a full four quarters is easier said then done. For after all, he can run with the best of them when given the opportunity; the third-year veteran rushed for a career-high 849 yards and six touchdowns on 118 carries. In fact, his 7.2 yards per carry is the highest average from a Quarterback since Fran Tarkenton made defenses nervous back in the 70’s. With a victory Sunday, Wilson will become the first Quarterback to have won two Super Bowls in his first three seasons in the league, and will have also become the youngest to ever win a pair, which was a title that used to belong to his opposite number…that’s right folks, none other than Patriots’ Quarterback Tom Brady.
Meanwhile, this is all becoming regular business for the Patriots (12-4, 1st in AFC East), who now will be playing in their sixth Super Bowl since 2001. It truly has been a remarkable run of success for Belichick and Co. who have won at least ten games in thirteen of the past fourteen years, advanced to the postseason a dozen times in that span, with four consecutive Conference Championship Games appearances to their credit. Together, Brady and Belichick have conquered virtually every meaningful Playoff Statistic for a Quarterback and Coach, with the latter winning more Playoff Games than any other skipper in NFL History (14). However, the other side of the coin comes in the guise of falling in defeat in each of their past two trips to the Super Bowl (2007 and 2011). And then there is the little matter of (allegedly) breaking the rules, particularly the stain of “DeflateGate” which is threatening to tarnish their legacy. With eleven of the twelve game balls found to be deflated by two to three PSI apiece during their 45-7 romp over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, there is a cauldron of controversy surrounding this team that is exponential in size compared to Spygate back in 2007, which prompted their perfect run through that Regular Season. After all, this is the Super Bowl we’re talking about here, folks, and Media Day should be a taxing one for a group that is well-versed in dealing with such things.
The craziest thing about the whole DeflateGate claim is the fact that in a 45-7 thrashing such as that, the Patriots hardly had to resort to such foolery. They were clearly the better team on the field that day, by a cavernous margin. On a rainy, gusty day at Gillette Stadium, the hosts led 17-7 at Halftime, before outscoring the hapless visitors 28-0 over the final thirty minutes of play. You see, Officials during the game only found the balls to be deflated during the First Half, with the ones used during the the latter half were regulation weight, meaning New Engalnd put the hammer down with legal balls. Come on, folks, this is the same team that went to Indianapolis on a Sunday earlier in the season and pummeled them to the tune of 42-20 in front of a national television audience. On the night, Belichick’s charges outgained their opponent 397-209, forced three turnovers, and converted a ridiculous twelve of eighteen Third Downs (66.7%), in start contrast to the Colts’ three of eleven (27.3%). Brady was nearly flawless with or without tampered footballs, completing 23-of-35 passes (65.7%) for 226 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, with Julian Edleman hauling in nine passes for 98 yards. Tight End Rob Gronkowski drew a ton of attention from the opposing defense, catching a touchdown pass with a modest 28 yards on three receptions, but allowed eight other Patriots to reel in a pass.
Though it borders on rhetoric, Gronkowski must play a huge role in Sunday’s affair if the Patriots are indeed to secure Super Bowl Championship No. Four. The All-Pro Tight End’s presence will be huge against Seattle, allowing Brady and Belichick to exploit one of the few weaknesses in the Seahawks’ Secondary. As great as the “Legion of Boom” have been, they haven’t fared well against opposing Tight Ends this season; opposing Quarterbacks have thrown eleven touchdowns to just two interceptions when targeting Tight Ends against them, opposed to six touchdowns and eleven interceptions when targeting Recievers and Backs. That’s a whopping 64.7% of their passing touchdowns allowed coming at the hands of Tight Ends, a truly perplexing statistic with Pro Bowlers such as Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor at Safety. This should definitely play into New England’s hands as Brady and Gronkowski have combined for 82 receptions, 1,124 yards, and a dozen touchdowns this season, while fellow Tight End Tim Wright totaled six scores of his own. That means eighteen of Brady’s thirty-three touchdown passes went to Tight Ends, equating to 54.5%. Belichick, has preferred to utilize two Tight Ends more frequently over the past four seasons, mostly to augment the running game. However, the volume of opportunities they’ll have to throw to said position will be contingent on just how effectively they’re able to run the ball. Both Green Bay (135 yards) and Carolina (132 yards) proved successful running on Seattle, so if they can establish the run early enough, they should be able to attack the Safeties with the Tight Ends downfield.
Final Score: Seattle 26, New England 23
So what do you think? Will New England add another Lombardi Trophy to their mantle, or will Seattle prove to be the next young dynasty? Is Russell Wilson really the next Tom Brady, or will No. 12 finally earn that elusive fourth championship? How many references to deflated footballs will there be? As always, we here at Oracle Sports value the opinion of you, our beloved customers! Feel free to sound off about our opinion!