8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Seahawks -3.5, Over/Under: 45
Bitter rivals get reacquainted as the new-look New England Patriots travel to the Pacific Northwest to face the Seattle Seahawks in a rematch of one of the more epic Super Bowls in recent memory, from CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. Granted, with these teams occupying residence in opposite corners of the country and only playing each other once every four years, it would be a stretch to call them rivals, but the events that took place five years ago in Super Bowl XLIX will forever intertwine the two franchises for ages to come. On that fateful day in early February, the reigning Champion, Seahawks, traded blows with Tom Brady and the Patriots, with the former leading a potential go-ahead drive to the latter’s Goal Line in the waning moments of the affair trailing by just four points. Then in one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl History, Seattle Quarterback, Russell Wilson, audibled out of the initial play call, dropped back to pass and rifled it just over the Line of Scrimmage, where New England Defensive Back, Malcolm Butler, instinctively jumped the route and intercepted the football, effectively ending the contest. The Pats hoisted their fourth Lombardi Trophy of the Bill Belichick/Brady Era, and their first since repeating in 2004, while a potential Seahawks dynasty ended in chaos. In the five years that have passed, Seattle has remained a power in the NFC, advancing to the Playoffs on four occasions, while New England reigned supreme in the AFC, appearing in the following four straight AFC Championship Games, adding two more Super Bowl Trophies to their ledger.
With the buildup now out of the way, this current incarnation of the Patriots (1-0, T-1st in AFC East) will look VERY different than the one that took the field five years ago, or hell, even back in 2016 when these sides last met, with the biggest difference being the departure of the aforementioned Brady. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past seven months (and we wouldn’t blame you given the state of the world), you’re no doubt aware that the franchise said goodbye to the future Hall of Fame Quarterback after twenty years of sublime service, including six Super Bowls, a staggering seventeen AFC East Titles, three MVPs, and a slew of other accomplishments, allowing the 43-year old to leave in Free Agency, where he eventually landed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That of course, left quite the hole to be filled in Foxborough, with Bill Belichick considering multiple options under Center. Would he trade for an established Starter? Nope. Would he maneuver his way up the Draft to select one of the highly-touted prospects? Nope. Would he hand the reins to Brady’s understudy, Sophomore Jarrett Stidham? That seemed to be the plan at first, but the sudden availability of another veteran Quarterback would cause the venerable Head Coach to change course; New England acquired Cam Newton (78.9%, 155 YDS, 6.67 NY/A, 0 TD, 0 INT) after the three-time Pro Bowler was released from the Carolina Panthers in a surprise move in the Spring. Ever since his magical 2015 campaign (45 Total TD), the former Heisman, National Champion, No. One Overall Pick, and MVP hasn’t quite been the same performer, struggling to stay healthy alongside a supporting cast that eroded year after year. Since narrowly meeting defeat in Super Bowl L, the 31-year old has gone a mediocre 23-23 as the Starter, with a nagging shoulder injury dramatically effecting his play over the second half of the 2018 season, followed by a broken bone his foot that sidelined him for all but two outings in 2019. With an entirely new regime in place, Carolina ultimately felt it was necessary to part ways with him after nine years of service, paving his way to join New England in what promises to be one of the most fascinating marriages of Coach and Quarterback in recent memory. Needless to say, Newton’s style of play can be branded as the antithesis of what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the position in New England; the athletic, physical, and flamboyant play of Newton runs counterculture to everything about the Pats’ efficient, methodical, business-like approach. However, no coaching staff finds a way to adapt week to week better than New England, and with Belichick and Offensive Coordinator, Josh McDaniels, pushing the buttons the probability of further success in the Northeast is rather high.
“It was relatively picking up right where I remember the game to be… I think it was just a feeling-through process as well with (offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels), coach Bill (Belichick), as well as (quarterbacks coach) Jedd (Fisch) to understand what they have… We made the adjustments and we executed.”Cam Newton, New England Patriots Quarterback
So with the Season Opener in the books, how did Newton do in his debut with the Patriots, you ask? Surprisingly well, in fact. Though the 21-11 victory over the Miami Dolphins was far closer than the final score would have indicated, it provided an interesting glimpse into how Belichick and McDaniels will be utilizing their new weapon moving forward. To hell with trying to mold him into something that he’s not (which was a HUGE problem in Carolina since 2015), New England came out with a focus on running the football, which meant that Newton would showcase his skills in this area over and over again. As a team, the hosts rushed for 217 Yards on a whopping forty-two carries, possessing the football for a commanding 34:49 of play, with Newton toting the rock FIFTEEN times for seventy-five yards and a pair of touchdowns, with that yardage marking the most by a New England Quarterback since Steve Grogan (81) in 1977. He also completed an efficient 15-of-19 passes for 155 yards. Five other players totaled at least twenty yards rushing, as the home side accounted for all but 140 of their total yards on the ground. Defensively, even without a number of contributors that opted out of the campaign (due to concerns over COVID-19) they managed to squeeze the life out of Miami, relegating the visitors to just 269 total yards, while forcing three turnovers, all of which were interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore (5 TKL, 1 INT, 1 PD), was excellent in posting five tackles, a deflected pass, and one of those aforementioned interceptions. In the end, they may go about their business differently in 2020, but the bottom line is that the Patriots are WINNERS, and will continue to be until they provide substantial proof otherwise.
Meanwhile, they talk about Super Bowl hangovers, and if there was ever a team that earned one, (with all due respect to the Atlanta Falcons) it would definitely have to be the Seahawks (1-0, T-1st in NFC West), who on that fateful night in Arizona snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. Coming off their thumping of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, Seattle was looking at a legitimate dynasty; they were one of the youngest Super Bowl Champions in NFL History, implemented a defensive scheme that would go on to be copied by roughly half of the league, and were led by a promising Quarterback who just completed his second season in the NFL. Then everything changed… one by one the more outspoken leaders of the team left for greener pastures, including the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, and Earl Thomas to name a few, while Kam Chancellor’s career ended prematurely due to injury. The Offensive Line continued to erode due to poor coaching and a lack of investment in the position group as a whole. The rest of the NFC West improved rapidly, with the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, and San Francisco 49ers each winning the division at least once in that span, and the latter two appearing in each of the last two Super Bowls. This was a team that despite the stability in leadership provided by Head Coach, Pete Carroll, and the ascension of Russell Wilson (88.6%, 322 YDS, 7.87 NY/A, 4 TD, 0 INT) into superstardom, had to take a step back as it’s identity gradually transitioned from the defensive side of the football where the Legion of Boom dominated for half a decade, to the offensive side where Wilson would be forced to carry the load.
Make no mistake about, this is now Wilson’s team in every conceivable way, and it’s clear that the Front Office felt the same way as they handed their Franchise Quarterback a mammoth four-year/$140 million contract extension with over $107 million in guarantees last Summer to captain their club for the foreseeable future. In all respects, he’s proven worth every penny thus far, leading Seattle to an 11-5 finish in 2019, advancing to the NFC Division Round of the Playoffs before narrowly meeting defeat against the Green Bay Packers. Even though he was sacked a league-worst FORTY-EIGHT times, the six-time Pro Bowler managed to complete 66.1% of his passes for 4,110 yards on 7.42 net yards per attempt, and thirty-one touchdowns in comparison to just five interceptions, all the while leading the NFL with four fourth quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives. Nobody was cooler in the clutch than Wilson and by extension no team was more successful in close games than the Seahawks; they only outscored their opponents by an average margin of 0.4 points, the fewest by any team with eleven or more wins in NFL History, with a staggering FOURTEEN contests (including Playoffs) decided by one possession, earning a shocking 11-3 record in the process. Now, we completely understand that the skeptics believe it unrealistic for this team, or any for that matter, to replicate that magnitude of good fortune from one year to the next, but at this point winning is just about all this guy does; the 31-year old has never posted a losing record since being drafted 75th overall back in 2012, sporting a record of 87-41-1 as the Starter (.674), including a 9-6 mark in the Playoffs. And for all intents and purposes, Seattle should have a stronger supporting cast around him in 2020. The Backfield is one of the deepest in the league, the Offensive Line has finally been invested in, the young Receiving Corps looks primed to take the next step, and the Defense has been bolstered by the addition of All-Pro Safety, Jamal Adams (12 TKL, 2 TFL, 2 QBH, 1.0 SK), who was acquired from the New York Jets in exchange for two First Round Picks (2021 and 2022), a Third (2021), and a player. Sure, they ultimately chose not to bring back Defensive End, Jadeveon Clowney, after trading for him last season, but Carroll likes the young talent that they’ve drafted along the Defensive Line.
“We wanted to spread the ball around… We wanted to get the ball to a lot of different guys. We wanted to be aggressive in our approach.”Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks Quarterback
So how did the Seahawks open their 2020 campaign, you ask? By blowing out the Falcons on the road in a decisive 38-25 victory that wasn’t as close as that final score would lead you to believe. Defense was indeed optional in this matchup of prolific Offenses captained by top-tier Quarterbacks, with the two combatants combining for 889 total yards and eight touchdowns. The visitors jumped out to an early 14-3 lead as Wilson found Tailback, Chris Carson (6 CAR, 21 YDS, 3.5 Y/C, 0 TD), on consecutive drives for scores. The hosts would quickly counter to cut the lead to 14-12, only for Wilson to strike two more times, hitting Sophomore Wideout, DK Metcalf (4 REC, 95 YDS, 23.8 Y/R, 1 TD), for a 38-yard touchdown, and connecting with veteran newcomer, Greg Olsen (4 REC, 24 YDS, 6.0 Y/R, 1 TD), for the Tight End’s first score as a Seahawk. A 42-yard field goal courtesy of Jason Myers extended their advantage to 31-12 early in the Fourth Quarter, though Atlanta would score a pair of late touchdowns to make the final tally more respectable between a rushing score from Carlos Hyde (7 CAR, 23 YDS, 3.3 Y/C, 1 TD). In the end, Wilson completed a surgeon-like 31-of-35 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns, with Tyler Lockett (8 REC, 92 YDS, 11.5 Y/R, 0 TD) and the aforementioned Metcalf shredding the Atlanta Secondary with ninety-two and ninety-five yards respectively. In his debut with the Seahawks, Adams was all over the field piling up a dozen tackles, including a sack, even though the Defense as a unit relinquished yards wholesale throughout the affair; Carroll’s charges were clearly in bend-but-don’t-break mode in yielding 506 total yards on twenty-eight first downs, but forcing a pair of turnovers and shutting the home side out on a quartet of fourth down attempts. With that said, this unit will need to continue to grow so that their Quarterback doesn’t have to bail them out on so many occasions as he did a year ago.