Scouting Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots vs. Seahawks

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The Vince Lombardi Trophy sits alongside the helmets of the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots before a press conference of the coaches of Super Bowl XLIX at the Phoenix Convention Center on January 30, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

When the Seahawks run

The Seahawks offense is built around its running game. They led the NFL with 172.6 yards per game, which was more than 20 yards per game better than any other team. The key is Marshawn Lynch, a powerful runner who had 1,306 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. In the NFC championship game victory over Green Bay, Lynch rushed for 157 yards. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is also a major threat. He led all quarterbacks with 849 rushing yards. More than 38 percent of his rushes resulted in first downs.

The Patriots have the No. 9 rush defense in the NFL, keeping opponents to 104.3 yards per game during the regular season. Their top run defender is defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, a 10-year veteran who is a force in the middle. Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins are also big contributors.

 

Edge: Seahawks

When the Seahawks pass

The Seahawks are not as dangerous through the air. They averaged 207 passing yards per game, which is No. 27 in the NFL. They improved to 226 yards per game in the postseason, but the passing game is far from prolific. It is efficient, however. Quarterback Russell Wilson threw only seven interceptions in the regular season. Seattle's receivers do not put up big numbers - Doug Baldwin is the leader with 66 catches for 825 yards and three touchdowns. Jermaine Kearse is No. 2 with 38 catches for 537 yards. He also caught the game-winning score in the NFC championship game.

The Patriots pass defense was ranked No. 17, allowing 239.8 yards per game. But they have one of the NFL's most talented defensive backfields. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Brower form a formidable combination, with Revis one of the best in the NFL. Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington are also reliable contributors. Safeties Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon also have been productive. The pass rush is headlined by defensive end Chandler Jones, who has six sacks and is dangerous around the edge. Rob Ninkovich leads the team with eight sacks.

 

Edge: Patriots

When the Patriots run

The Patriots offense seems to change each week, but it's able to run the ball when the matchup favors it. No New England running back has more than 412 rushing yards. The backfield has been bolstered by LeGarrette Blount, who rejoined the Patriots after falling out of favor in Pittsburgh. Blount rushed for 148 yards and three touchdowns in the AFC championship game. Shane Vereen is also a threat, although he has more of an effect in the passing game. The offensive line has played at a high level, with Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell, and Dan Connolly leading the way. Fullback James Develin, a Boyertown alumnus, is also a big help.

The Seahawks run defense was ranked No. 3 in the NFL, keeping opponents to 81.5 yards per game. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed time earlier this season, is the key. When he returned to the lineup, the defense improved. Safety Kam Chancellor can also play like a fourth linebacker and provide a physical presence. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett is also a key contributor.

 

Edge: Seahawks

When the Patriots pass

The best matchup of the game will come when the Patriots pass the ball. The Patriots were No. 9 in the NFL with 257.8 passing yards per game. Quarterback Tom Brady is going for his fourth Super Bowl victory and finished the season with 4,109 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Brady's top target is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is a difficult matchup for any team. He caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Wide receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell both topped 900 yards. The Patriots have caught teams off-guard during the postseason by declaring linemen eligible and skill players ineligible at times. Watch how the Patriots use that on Sunday against the NFL's top pass defense.

The Seahawks limited opposing offenses to 185.6 yards per game. The secondary is the biggest reason. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell are both physical, with coverage and ball skills. Sherman can take receivers out of the game, but the cornerback who could play a big role is nickel back Jeremy Lane. The Patriots could try to take advantage of the matchup in the slot. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are the NFL's best duo. Thomas' range and closing speed are rare for that position. Chancellor will have a tough assignment with Gronkowski.

In addition to the secondary, Seattle can get to the quarterback. Michael Bennett and Bruce Irvin are their top pass rushers.

 

Edge: Seahawks

Special teams

The Patriots finished third in the Dallas Morning News' annual special-teams rankings, which calculates 22 categories. (The Eagles finished first.) Julian Edelman has been their top punt returner, and Stephen Gostkowski is one of the NFL's top kickers. They have not allowed a return touchdown. Seattle also has solid special teams, with two key plays helping the Seahawks advance to the Super Bowl: a fake field goal for a touchdown and an onside-kick recovery.

 

Edge: Patriots

Intangibles

These were the two best teams in the NFL in 2014, and both coaches have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Both teams are hot, and both are healthy for this time of year. The Patriots have won 12 of their last 14 games. The Seahawks have won 11 of their last 13. The Patriots have endured questions associated with underinflated footballs over the last two weeks, but Belichick can also use that as a motivational ploy. No team has a major edge at a neutral venue.

 

Edge: Even

Predictions

 

Zach Berman: Seahawks 27, Patriots 24 Jeff McLane: Patriots 24, Seahawks 21