It’s crazy to think that a mere few days ago, we never would have believed that this matchup would be possible.
The Patriots were 2-2 after an absolute shellacking at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, and for the first time, the talking heads started asking if we were seeing the end of the Patriots’ dynasty and Tom Brady’s run as an elite quarterback (a loaded term in the NFL, isn’t it?).
Since then, the Pats have dropped just two games: one of them a road loss to the hottest team in the league at the time (the since-vanquished Packers), and the other in the final game of the season in which Gronk barely played and Brady played more clipboard-carrier than quarterback. They were the number one seed in the AFC and blew through the competition on their way to the Super Bowl.
On the opposing side, the Seahawks found themselves 6-4 after a loss to—who else?—the Chiefs, on Jan. 4. The champs were dangerously close to becoming just another team in a long line of Super Bowl winners who underwhelmed the following season. Since that day, Seattle has only given up more than 17 points in a game one time, in last round’s thriller against Green Bay.
In conclusion: both of these teams are pretty darn hot coming into this Sunday. Let’s take a closer look:
Patriots’ Offense versus Seahawks’ Defense
Deflation jokes aside, Bill Belichick has put together another tremendous offense out of cast-offs, late-round picks and LeGarrete Blount. The Pats put up a league-leading 30 points per game this year while leaning heavily on such luminaries as Julian Edelman and Brandon Lafell.
Of course, it all starts and stops with Brady. Tom Terrific is coming off his fourth career season with over 30 touchdowns and less than 10 interceptions, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most of all time. It was another masterful performance, and with the running game finally showing some life to go along with a healthy Gronk, they’re straight up scary. Not to mention—after Week 4’s debacle in Kansas City, they’ve put up 34+ against three of the top-ten defenses in the league.
On the other hand, the Seahawks’ defense finished in a familiar position this season: tops in the league. They gave up a stingy 16.3 points per game, and were the only defense in the league to hold teams to under 300 total yards per game this year.
As we mentioned before, they’ve been on an absolute tear as of late. Not only did the vaunted LOB (Legion of Boom) do its intended office this year, the front seven, led by Michael Bennett and Bobby Wagner, held opponents to just 3.4 yards per attempt when they ran the ball this year.
If Belichick wants to win this game, he’s going to have to be as creative as he’s been the last few weeks, because the opposing defense is faster, stronger and meaner than anyone he’s faced this year.
Seahawks’ Offense versus Patriots’ Defense
Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Marshawn Lynch is one of the best backs in the game this year. He’s 5’ 11’’, 215 pounds and though he’s not exactly “shifty,” or a “burner” or “good at avoiding the other team’s players,” he’s one of the surest things in football when you need short yardage.
Even that seems disingenuous—amid all the brouhaha of this season in Seattle, he still came out and averaged almost five yards per attempt after the loss at Kansas City. His power game combined with quarterback Russell Wilson’s frequent scrambling gave Seattle the best running game in the league this year.
DangeRuss (which is in contention for best Twitter handle in sports) actually ran for 849 yards this year, becoming just the fifth QB in history to break the 800-mark in a single season. The whole offense is contingent on Wilson.
If he can establish the passing game early with his “meh” group of receivers, the defense can’t stack the box against him or Lynch, and if that happens, watch out.
The Pats were the seventh-ranked defense this year, impressive for a group that lost Jerrod Mayo early and played a lot of the year without Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Browner.
It helps, of course, to have Darrelle Revis shut down an entire side of the field every game. He’s once again playing at an All-Pro level, and his contribution to what’s been a weak pass defense has been extraordinary.
He was one of only four Patriots to start 16 games on defense this year, the others being Devin McCourty, Rob Ninkovich, and the corpulently consistent Vince Wilfork. Wilfork and his friends on the line are going to play an enormous role in this game, as stopping Lynch is priority number one for the Patriots.
It’s a boring axiom, but it’s true—whoever controls the line of scrimmage in this game is likely going to emerge victorious.
Number of times Russell Wilson’s Christian faith is mentioned: 3
Number of times Cris Collinsworth makes reference to Katy Perry’s halftime show: 6
First commercial: Mark’s Pizzeria (bold prediction alert)
Number of times an announcer/reporter says “Deflategate”: Too many
And the big one: Seahawks 26, Patriots 17
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2018.