Complete Super Bowl coverage:
At this prediction column’s beginning, I don’t have a final call other than guaranteeing that this will be a classic Super Bowl for the ages. Let’s see if we can get there together.
Historically, the No. 1 scoring defense is 15-5 when it gets to the Super Bowl. And while that’s Seattle, this unit lacks the pass rush that made executing basic plays for Peyton Manning in last year’s 43-8 blowout loss impossible. You can sorta run on these Seahawks, control the clock, and find a win by ignoring the secondary (one that allowed 185 passing yards per game during the regular season).
That the ‘Hawks got to pad stats by performing twice each against the replacement quarterbacks St. Louis and Arizona trotted out in 2014 meant little— Seattle only finished 20th in team sacks this season. The action film bull rush of 2013 is the biggest difference about this team, and I expect Tom Brady to have the time he needs to poke holes, and handoff the rock.
But this thing is a mismatch for New England’s under-sized receivers. So the game plan should be to find the play-action pass, and I trust Bill Belichick and Brady to make enough in-game adjustments to exploit moments 99 times out of 100.
It’s the same formula for Seattle: Control time, run into the middle, wait for guys to get open. Brady gets the edge as being one of the most pinpoint-accurate players in history; but Russell Wilson gets the overall advantage for being able to slip out of the pocket, extend the play, and find one of his two crusty wideouts. Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin are subprime pros, and, sure, having the breakaway speed of Percy Harvin would be a helpful gadget, but these lames have a comfortable rapport. I’m expecting big moments where Wilson rolls out and connects on busted coverage.
And, of course, there’s the “personification of the 100 emoji,” Marshawn Lynch. If New England is a catering hall that will customize its menu for the big day, Lynch is the barbecue craftsman that will make you wait four hours for brisket. The Patriots can mix and match in the backfield, but Lynch is going to optimize 20-plus carries into damage you have to build around.
The emotional, X-factor stuff is tough to diagnose. I expect New England to flaunt its #DeflateGate-induced persecution complex to its advantage. I expect Wilson to struggle to find the endzone. But I also expect Brady to let the adrenaline get to him—he’s playing a three-deep secondary that he can read on the John. The Seahawks will throw their formation at you and, like a bully, dare you to take a swing first.
For an offense that tosses forward passes almost 60 percent of the time—for a QB that threw 58 passes against Seattle in 2012 and almost won, who now has his legacy on the line—Brady will have to. That means finding cookies in the middle of the maze and firing bullets over the slot. Expect a bunch of stick routes and pre-snap realigning that finds openings with trips right.
Last year, I wrote that Seattle would win and then become the team of the decade. I think Tom Brady is the greatest QB of all time, but defense wins… you know the rest. Seattle in a thriller, 27-25.