Seattle is seeking its second consecutive title, while New England is going for its fourth Lombardi Trophy of this century.
Who will win? CBCSports.ca writers Tony Care and Jesse Campigotto take sides.
Before the season, I picked the Seahawks to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. But my conviction has waned somewhat. It’s not that the defending champions have tapered off from last season — not at all. It’s that the Patriots, who are slight favourites at most sports books, have far exceeded my expectations.
Still, I see the Seahawks repeating. Why? First, let’s take special teams out of this debate. I think both sides are outstanding.
Forget what you saw on offence in the NFL title game against the Packers. The Seahawks didn’t go with their read-option base until the miracle finish. It almost cost them and they won’t make that same mistake.
I can’t stand the read-option offence at the NFL level — defences have caught on, and QBs like Robert Griffin III can’t adjust after their first read is taken away. But Russell Wilson is not your typical read-option quarterback. Unless it’s a designed run, he doesn’t just take off like RG3 often does. He’ll go through his progressions and — aside from his four-interception game against the Packers — rarely makes a bad decision.
When you combine Wilson’s double-threat quarterbacking and add the power running of Marshawn Lynch, the Patriots must pick their poison. They’ll no doubt try and take away Lynch, but must still contend with receivers Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Canadian tight end Luke Wilson. This trio won’t wow you with stats, but they've consistently come up with the big plays when this team has absolutely needed it.
This is the type of offence that gives the Patriots headaches.
On the other side of the ball, there is only one way to beat Tom Brady. You need to apply consistent pressure — particularly up the middle — and rough up his receivers at the line of scrimmage. Remember the two Super Bowl losses to the Giants? Brady got hit so much he made too many throws before he wanted to.
Seattle defenders Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Bruce Irvin have the ability to make things rather uncomfortable for Tommy Boy.
On the back end, there is no better secondary in the NFL than the Legion of Boom. The name fits. Richard Sherman, Byron Maxell, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor play bump-and-run coverage like no other unit. The Patriots will counter by playing a lot of bunch formations to give their receivers space, but Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos used a similar strategy in last year’s Super Bowl against Seattle and failed miserably.
Now, the Seahawks won’t be able to completely stop brilliant tight end Rob Gronkowski, but a guy like Chancellor can limit his touches by playing physical.
My esteemed colleague will give you valid reasons for picking the Patriots, but I anticipate a close Super Bowl with a Seahawks repeat in the end.
Campigotto: New England
Alright, I'll back the bad guys. And pay attention, because I'm the guy who predicted a Denver-New Orleans Super Bowl, so clearly I'm a football clairvoyant.
The Ballghazi scandal has been mind-numbing, but it points at the reason for the Patriots' success over the last 14 years with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at the helm: they're always looking for an edge, and they usually find one.
Belichick does this in a non-scandalous way by pinpointing his opponent's strengths and weaknesses, then tailoring his strategy to compel the other team to do things it doesn't want to do.
That's easy against a team like, say, Indianapolis that can't run the ball or stop the run. All the Pats had to do was devote their resources to defending Andrew Luck, feed Indy a steady diet of LaGarrette Blount and book their plane tickets to the Super Bowl. It's harder against Seattle, which doesn't have a glaring weakness. Football Outsiders ranked the Seahawks' defence No. 2 against the rush and No. 3 vs. the pass this season. They also have the NFL's top rushing offence and the No. 10 passing attack.
That's New England's opening right there. Everybody knows Seattle would much rather ride Marshawn Lynch's punishing runs to another Super Bowl title than risk putting the ball in the air. The question is, are the Pats capable of stopping the run? Their rush defence doesn't get a lot of press, but Aaron Schatz noted on Twitter this week that the Pats had the league's No. 26 run D by his rankings through Week 9, but the second-best from Weeks 10 through 17. Maybe they've got what it takes now to shut down Lynch and make Russell Wilson and Seattle's mediocre receiving unit try to beat them.
On offence, the Pats may find it tough to move the ball. There's a good chance Blunt is rendered a non-factor by Seattle's fierce run D, but New England's strength is still its passing game and Brady's go-to guy is unstoppable tight end Rob Gronkowski. Seattle ranks only 18th per Football Outsiders in defending passes to that position.
With two excellent defences, I see a close, low-scoring game. And in that kind of environment, Belichick's ability to find those little edges — those inches — will matter even more.
Pete Carroll is a good coach, but Belichick's brilliant game-planning and savvy in-game decisions — particularly his willingness to go for it on fourth down rather than punt or kick field goals — could be the difference.
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