Saturday, January 31, 2015

SUPER BOWL 49 PREVIEW: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS VS. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

By: Connor Glowacki


     Tomorrow (February 1) marks the final game of the 2014-2015 NFL season and there have been many twists and turns that have showcased numerous teams rising and fading down the stretch. Funny enough, the two teams that are representing the NFL in this year's Super Bowl are also the two teams that many analysts and pundits picked to make it to the Super Bowl before the regular season even started.
     Both the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks finished their respective regular seasons with 12-4 records. The fact that these two teams won their divisions and made it through a grueling postseason to Super Bowl berths is not what's surprising. What was surprising was how early on in the regular season, both of these teams were being counted out after rough starts.

Tom Brady is looking for his 4th Super Bowl title.
Photo courtesy of USAToday.
     New England started the regular season with a 2-2 record. Coming off an embarrassing 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, there was a large amount of criticism coming the Patriots way and left questions about whether or not this was the end of the dominant Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
     In the first four games of the season, Brady only had two games where he threw for over 200 yards and at the age of 37, there was a big concern that 'father time' had finally caught up with the Patriots quarterback. And yet in their last 14 games, he has thrown for at least 200 yards a whopping 12 times and thrown for over 300 yards six times.
     Tom Brady proved again this season why he is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL with a stat line of 4,109 passing yards on 64.1 percent completed passes and 33 touchdowns compared to just nine interceptions. And it's even more impressive considering that New England hasn't had a consistent running game all season.
     They have several running backs in their stable, which include Jonas Gray (89 carries, 412 yards, 5 TDs), Shane Vereen (96 carries, 391 yards, 2 TDs), Stevan Ridley (94 carries, 340 yards, 2 TDs), and most recently LeGarrette Blount (60 carries, 281 yards, 3 TDs). However, with that kind of the depth at the running back position, it could prove to be a big advantage for the Patriots as the Seahawks defense will have to prepare for four different rushers with varying styles of speed and power.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski has been the
number one receiving option for New England this season.
Photo courtesy of bleacherreport.
     Outside of Brady, the biggest star on New England's offense is tight end Rob Gronkowski who is a brute physical force, but also has the rare speed to evade many opposing secondary defenders.
     His numbers have been ridiculous this season (82 receptions, 1,124 yards, 12 TDs).   And with other playmakers at receiver, including Julian Edelman (92 receptions, 972 yards, 4 TDs) and Brandon LaFell (74 receptions, 953 yards, 10 TDs), Brady might the most offensive weapons in his arsenal in possibly the last five years.
     And the Patriots defense has gotten a lot better this year too. With standouts like cornerback Darrelle Revis (two interceptions), linebackers Dont'a Hightower (six sacks) and Rob Ninkovich (eight sacks), and nose tackle Vince Wilfork, this defense has the most playmakers its had in the last decade.

     The Seattle Seahawks also stumbled out of the gate as they started the regular season with a 3-3 record that included rumblings of tension and internal discord in the Seattle locker room. But after trading talented, but troubled wide receiver Percy Harvin, Seattle bounced back and have dominated by winning 11 of their last 12 games.
Cornerback Richard Sherman leads Seattle
with four interceptions in 2014.
Photo courtesy of Slate.com.
     The defense has really turned it around and the unit looks just as good now as they did during their championship run over a year ago. Cornerback Richard Sherman has proven why he's the best at his position with a 2014 season that included four interceptions, eight deflected passes, and a forced fumble, all in the midst of a undeserving amount of criticism for what he says off the field.
     Add in safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, each with a interceptions apiece, and the feared 'Legion of Boom' has emerged once again at the absolute right time. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril have combined for 12 sacks and linebacker Bruce Irvin added 6.5 sacks on his own to aid the Seahawks' dominant pass rush.
Quarterback Russell Wilson is looking
to win his 2nd Super Bowl in just his 3rd NFL season.
Photo courtesy of zimbio.com.
   
     On the offensive side of the ball, third year quarterback Russell Wilson is growing more comfortable as a pocket passer with every single game.
     Despite playing disastrously for three quarters against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game by throwing four interceptions, Wilson rebounded when he had to and led Seattle on two straight touchdown drives to ultimately win the game. It proved not only the resilience that this young man has, but also the confidence and respect that his teammates have in him.
     Running Back Marshawn Lynch has been a monster on the ground (280 carries, 1,306 yards, 13 TDs) and when combined with Wilson's numbers on the ground (118 carries, 849 yards, 6 TDs), Seattle has had the best rushing attack throughout the entire NFL.

     This game will come down to who wins the proverbial battle in the trenches. New England's offensive line play has improved throughout the season and led by left tackle Nate Solder, have been able to give Brady lots of time and protection. But they'll have their biggest challenge ahead of them with this Seattle defense, a defense that kept Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers under constant pressure throughout their respective games.
     How will the Patriots react on the field in the midst of the 'Deflate-Gate' scandal? And how will the Seahawks defense hold up with nagging injuries to Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor?
     With many storylines coming into this game, Super Bowl 49 could end up potentially being one of the classic games that we all remember years from now.

Who do you think is going to win this year's Super Bowl? Share your opinion below or send me your comment on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.

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