Super Bowl XLIX: How the Patriots and Seahawks match up
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SUPER BOWL XLIX
PATRIOTS VS. SEAHAWKS
The facts: 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 5, 670-AM.
The line: Pick ’em (O/U 47 1/2).
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Patriots QB Tom Brady’s experience and gumption will be put to the test against CB Richard Sherman and the Seahawks’ intimidating defense. Brady knows he can’t make a mistake, but he also is more likely to turn the Seahawks’ aggressiveness against them than Aaron Rodgers was. Sherman is a noted big-game player. But if his elbow isn’t 100 percent, Brady will attack him.
ON THE GROUND
The Seahawks’ biggest challenge in stopping the Patriots on the ground is the unexpected. Patriots RBs rushed seven times for 14 yards in the divisional playoff game against the Ravens, with Brady throwing 50 passes. The next week, LaGarrette Blount rushed 30 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. Still, it’s unlikely the Patriots can afford to be one-dimensional against the Seahawks. Their offensive line figures to give Blount (and Shane Vereen/Jonas Gray) room to run between the 20s. It’s in the red zone where it’ll be a battle that might decide the winner.
IN THE AIR
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Seahawks S Kam Chancellor looks like the marquee matchup. It might be the ultimate test of the Seahawks’ ability to play physically without penalty. ‘‘It just kind of depends on how the refs let us play,’’ Chancellor said. The Patriots’ other receivers — Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola — likely will tell the tale. ‘‘You’ve got to run good routes, make good throws, throw it through tight windows,’’ Brady said. ‘‘They’ve got a lot of eyes on the quarterback, so you’ve got to be conscious of those things. But you still have to be able to play aggressively and play with confidence.’’
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, who wins games with his head as well as his arm and feet, will have to make a lot of good decisions against a Patriots defense that has had two weeks to prepare for him. He can’t afford the mistakes he made against the Packers. Patriots DT Vince Wilfork is a 33-year-old veteran whose experience is invaluable. If he’s not a factor, the Patriots might be in trouble.
ON THE GROUND
The key to containing Marshawn Lynch is doing it from start to finish. While Lynch’s power is a challenge, his relentlessness is what makes him so dangerous. Lynch was a non-factor (nine carries, 37 yards) in the first half against the Packers but made a difference in the second (16 carries, 120 yards, TD). The Patriots, though, are a sound, gang-tackling team. The question is whether they’ll be as good in the fourth quarter as they are in the first. Wilson’s mobility and the read-option might be a bigger factor from the start than it was against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
IN THE AIR
Though the Seahawks don’t have a star receiver, they have a number of threats and a quarterback who knows how to use all of them, which might be an advantage against the Patriots’ defense. Even if CB Darrelle Revis shuts down Doug Baldwin, Wilson has several other options — from Lynch to TE Luke Willson to WR Ricardo Lockette. Wilson’s ability to extend plays concerns the Patriots; it’s when the inventive Wilson does some of his best work. ‘‘He’s very dangerous in the passing game, and he’s also dangerous at extending plays,’’ Revis said. ‘‘We have to do a great job of keeping him inside the pocket, and we’ve just got to plaster on to receivers down the field.’’
Neither team has a big edge on paper, but both are good enough that one play can make the difference. Both teams are extremely opportunistic. The Seahawks’ special teams are hot, having scored a touchdown off a fake field goal and recovered an onside kick in the NFC title game against the Packers. The Patriots’ Julian Edelman was second in the NFL in punt returns (12 yards per return), but their best special-teams player is four-time Pro Bowler Matthew Slater. If it comes down to a field goal, the Patriots have to like their chances. Stephen Gostkowski is 36-for-38, including 13-for-14 from 40 yards or longer. Steven Hauschka is 32-for-38 but only 11-for-17 from 40-plus yards.
The Seahawks — and the Patriots, for that matter — are known for their aggressive, physical style that sometimes seems to redefine what a penalty is. After a regular season in which there was more of a focus on holding and pass interference, it remains to be seen just how physical these teams will be allowed to play. It’s almost like a big NBA game: How tight will the game be called, and which team can take advantage of it? The Seahawks are unconcerned about injuries to Richard Sherman (elbow) and Earl Thomas (shoulder). But if they’re not 100 percent, you can be sure the Patriots will test them. ‘‘I’m sure they will,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘They do a great job of trying to find matchups.’’