by Clint Elsemore
If you’re like me, you never gave up hope the Seahawks could come back against the Packers two weeks ago, but at one point your belief they would somehow pull out the victory started to look colossally unrealistic. The offenses’ ability to go from zero to one hundred during the span of the game’s last few minutes and overtime was stunning. Coupled with an onside recovery and some stiff run defense the improbable comeback became reality. Like last year, the NFC Championship game was far from a walk in the park- featuring the Hawks having to overcome a tough start and a double digit deficit to eventually win the game. Like last year, I believe these Seahawks will play a much cleaner game in the Super Bowl, and think their opponents present favorable matchups for them.
The Patriots are coming off a lights out performance against the desperately overmatched Colts. If a teams isn’t balanced, and have weaknesses on either side of the ball, the Patriots will discover and exploit them. In the case of the Colts they could defend the pass but had trouble against the run- having no consistent running game themselves to speak of on offense. The Patriots kept hitting these areas and ended up with a big day on the ground from LeGarrete Blount. They also held Andrew Luck to one of the worst performances of his career.
The Patriots have a knack for losing both yardage and turnover battles, while winning games by double digits. How exactly does this happen? They are extremely efficient at capitalizing on their opportunities both on offense and defense. Their drives into the red zone generally end in touchdowns, and their defense is a bit of a bend but don’t break model; they’re in middle of the pack in yardage, but in the top 10 in points allowed.
The Patriots tend to develop game plans to suit their opponents strengths and weaknesses and change their focus on a weekly basis making them a chameleon to a degree. A strategy other teams rarely pursue. The Seahawks are as far on the other side of the spectrum as possible. The Hawks believe in what they do well and plan to out-execute you on both sides of the ball, instilling their will via toughness and adherence to the teams core principles.
So who has the upper hand from a philosophical perspective, the team that changes to suit the competition, or the team that doesn’t care about the competition, and plans to execute their game plan regardless of the opposition’s approach?
In this case I give the upper hand to the Seahawks. In general the games they’ve lost were to balanced offensive teams who committed to running the ball, that also possessed a powerful offensive line that could control the line of scrimmage. On defense, teams that made the Seahawks one dimensional by shutting down the running game, and containing Russell Wilson to the pocket with a sustained pass rush have had the most success against them.
Contrary to the Patriots success running the ball against the Colts, I don’t see them controlling the line of scrimmage in this game, instead I see them turning the offense over to their short passing game and becoming fairly one dimensional. On defense, I expect they try to stack the line and stop Marshawn Lynch, but that will only open things up for Russell to pass over the top and to use his legs to get crucial first downs. I don’t believe the Patriots have an effective enough pass rush to consistently pressure Russell into the kinds of mistakes he made last week against the Packers (At least let’s hope!).
An extra week to prepare ( season opening games, in season bye weeks, initial round playoff games, and last year’s Super Bowl), has served the Seahawks well as they’ve gone 6-0 in those situations over the last two years. The Seahawks also have an exceptional record in prime time games by not making the moment too big. This allows them to play free and execute at their best even with so much at stake. I expect both teams to feel each other out at the start of the game with the Patriots attempting to establish a consistent run game as they throw the ball to Rob Gronkowski as often as they can. While they’ll have sporadic success, they won’t be able to put the ball in the end zone consistently.
The Seahawks will attempt to run the ball into 7 and 8 man fronts for much of the first half, with some keepers by Russell Wilson and shot plays to tight end Luke Wilson and receiver Jermaine Kearse providing the majority of the offense for the Seahawks in the first half. The Patriots will go into halftime with a slight 13-10 lead, more yards on offense, and a few big stops of Lynch in the first half as a result of loading the box.
Mirroring the second half of their season, the Seahawks will come out a different team and wear down the Patriots front in the second half with Marshawn punching in a score on the ground, and possibly catching another through the air.
A fumble by Blount proves pivotal in the second half leading to a short field, allowing the hawks to tack on an additional field goal to stretch their lead to 27 – 16 in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady, being an unbelievable competitor, leads the Patriots back through the air – scoring a TD with 6 minutes left. The Seahawks are then able to grind out two first downs, but must punt the ball back to New England with 2 minutes left in the game and rely on their defense to close out the victory. The Patriots bring the ball down the field, but needing a touchdown they stall at the back end of the red zone and end up turning the ball back over to the Hawks on downs. Marshawn ends the game with 90 yards rushing on 23 carries and a TD – adding another 30 yards with a TD through the air- and receives the MVP award. He then declines all interviews after the game preferring to celebrate with teammates in the locker room. A fitting end to a remarkable season.
Final game prediction: Seahawks 27 Patriots 23