Super Bowl XLIX: Preview

Hello, True Believers!

Two number 1 seeds meet in the Super Bowl in Phoenix this Sunday at 3:30pm (PST) and the match up looks spectacular! The Irresistible Force of the New England Patriots’ offense (NFL leading 40.0 pts/game) runs headlong into the Immovable Object of the Seattle Seahawks’ defense (NFL leading 15.9 pts/game). That’s just from this season.

The fact is, these teams have held those distinctions since the last time they met in 2012… where rookie Russell Wilson out-dueled future Hall of Famer Tom Brady (Hawks edged the Pats 24-23). The last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls was the New England Patriots (2002-2003). Twelve years on, they’re the final gate-keepers barring the Seahawks from that distinction. Doesn’t get much better than this, true-believers!

In this titanic display of football greatness, can we tell if there’s a clear advantage of one team over another?

Briefly… no.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t root around for some useful numbers to make sense of what’s going to happen on the field so very very soon.

Season Record

Both teams had the exact same regular season records (12-4) with identical home/road splits (7-1/5-3). During the regular season, they were numbers 1 and 2 in points scored vs. points allowed differential where the Pats had +155 and the Hawks had +140. The Pats and Hawks played five opponents in common and came away with identical 3-2 records. We both beat Denver and Oakland, both lost to K.C., and the Pats lost to Green Bay while beating the Chargers. The Hawks, of course, lost to San Diego and beat Green Bay.

Last Game

The Hawks are coming off of a dramatic come from behind victory where a lot of their weaknesses were exposed. Our defense struggles with balanced offenses using runs behind the guards with quick shotgun short-to-mid range passes. Fortunately, it’s rare for teams to have that combination. Unfortunately, the Patriots are rather good at that.

The Patriots are coming off of a steam rolling of the Indianapolis Colts where the Pats weren’t particularly challenged. That’s been mostly true for them since their loss to Kansas City in week 6, actually. However, they haven’t seen a defense as fast and flexible as the Hawks’ Legion of Boom and will need to adjust quickly and well, all game long.

Key Stats

Both teams have potent offenses. New England was the highest scoring unit averaging 30.4 points per game in the regular season (40 in the playoffs). Seattle had the greatest running game in 2014 where we averaged 169.8 yards per game and 1.2 rushing touchdowns per game.

While the Hawks earned 5.0 yards/game more than the Pats in total offense, that’s barely significant. The main difference here is that the Patriots passed for 59.59% of their plays (16th in the NFL) while the Seahawks ran for 51.44% of theirs (2nd highest in the NFL).

Defensively, the Seahawks dominated the NFL this year in allowing just 81.5 rushing yards/game (3rd in NFL) and 185.6 passing yards/game (1st). The Patriots finished the year allowing 104.3 rushing yards/game (9th in NFL) and 239.8 passing yards/game (17th).

However, when we apply a more rigorous analysis through DVOA, analyzing every play of every team in every game, we see the Pats actually had the most effective defense… second only to the Hawks.

Patriots Key Players

The spotlight players here are obvious: New England has the dynamic duo, each probably destined for Canton, of Brady and Gronk. Seattle rides the back of Beast-Mode and fields our fearsome Legion of Boom that, among other things, “damages peoples’ souls.” Lurking in the stat-shadows, are the under-appreciated elements that rounded out each team and make them dangerous and successful.

LaGarett Blount and Shane Vereen are the tools that keep opposing defenses honest against the Patriots (when they ran into a secondary that could actually challenge Brady et al). Blount is the smash-mouth runner acquired during the season that ran wild over the Colts two weeks ago for 148 yards and three touchdowns. Vereen is the quick receiving threat out of the backfield where he’s averaged 4.5 targets and just under 12 yards/reception in the post-season. For that Hawks to properly contain the Patriot offense, they have to limit the usefulness of these two.

Seahawks Key Players

We know that Wilson is under-appreciated in the league, though that’s fading on the cusp of a Championship repeat. He’s the smart, unflappable QB who can scramble for serious yardage and even reminds Pats coach Belichik of Roger Staubach. New England will need to solve the riddle of Wilson’s read-option, as well as our stifling defense, if they want to win. Neglecting either element will cost them the game.

We march to Super Bowl 49 in a meeting of dynasties and destinies and four days are all that remain before the titanomachia of 2015. Press conferences are blooming, Gronk sings Katy Perry tunes, and Michael Bennett is the second most handsome guy (after Denzel Washington) in the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, in the immortal words of Michael Buffer, “Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!”

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News Reporter
Matt Paige is the Baseball Managing Editor and a regular contributor on SSU TV and for Seahawks Football. He also writes the column "The Call-Up" and is a rabid fan of all teams Seattle (Except the Huskies. Go Ducks!).