Can New England overcome the distractions from deflated footballs and exploit the human mismatch of Rob Gronkowski? Will the injuries to Seattle’s defense prevent them from repeating as Super Bowl champions?
I am extremely split on this Super Bowl. In recent previous years, I usually have a pretty good feel for the game after watching each team for almost 20 weeks.
Ed did an ensemble prediction that combined The Power Rank’s numbers with those from 8 other sources on CNBC. It gave the Seahawks a half point edge, the toss up that I expect.
Even in speaking to some sharper bettors, they seem split on this game on both the outcome and the point spread (New England -1 as of Tuesday afternoon). Nonetheless, let’s highlight some match up advantages and disadvantages for each team.
Patriots Offense vs. Seahawks Defense
The big question for the Seattle defense is the health of cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman seemed to injury his elbow pretty badly in the NFC Championship as he used only one arm in bump and run coverage against Jordy Nelson.
If Sherman is affected at all by his elbow, I guarantee the Patriots and Tom Brady do their best to exploit the opportunity. If Sherman is close to healthy, it’ll be interesting to see who the Patriots put on his side of the field.
Richard Sherman lines up on the left side of the defense almost 100% of the time. Thus, the opposing offense can almost pick their match up for Sherman.
For the Seahawks, this strategy eliminates one side of the field and the receiver trying to beat Sherman down field. However, the Patriots have a number of equally dangerous receivers.
The catalyst for the Patriots offense is Rob Gronkowski. Since Gronk probably will not line up against Sherman, it’ll be interesting to see Seattle coordinator Dan Quinn’s approach to slowing him down.
They could certainly bring Kam Chancellor down from the safety position to cover Gronkowski. After seeing the soft spot in the middle of the field get exposed by Aaron Rodgers and his tight ends, I’d guess this is exactly what Dan Quinn ends up doing.
The size, speed, and aggressiveness of Chancellor could slow Gronkowski down as much any team has this season. I don’t think anyone can shut him down completely, but it gives them a chance.
In the games I’ve watched, it seems Brandon LaFell tends to lineup on the opposite side of Sherman. Thus, that leaves either Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola taking up Richard Sherman’s time.
Strangely, I would like the Edelman match up against Sherman. If there is the slightest weakness in Sherman’s game, it’s the crossing routes that drag him the width of the field.
I don’t expect the Patriots to stick to the running game like they did against the Colts. Seattle has the second best run defense in the NFL, and I highly doubt LeGarrette Blount will gash the Seahawks like he did the Colts.
If they are going to have success in the running game, it will have to come from smaller, speedier guys like Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray.
Though I’ve heard some talks about the Seahawks front making Tom Brady uncomfortable, they have an average sack rate this season. The Patriots only trailed Denver and Peyton Manning in sack rate allowed this year. Brady should have plenty of time with his usual quick trigger.
Seahawks Offense vs. Patriots Defense
Frankly, I hate this match up for the Seahawks offense. Bill Belichick had a field day with Andrew Luck last week, and this Seahawks offense is a lot less sophisticated.
I never agree with the run-heavy approach, but this might be the best strategy for the Seahawks. New England ranks just inside the top ten in opposing yards per carry but they could also quickly stunt Seattle’s poor passing game.
Belichick’s typical plan is to put Darrelle Revis out on the offense’s best receiver while allowing Browner, McCourty, and the others to match up against the rest of the wide outs with safety help over the top.
It is looking like Jermaine Kearse will end up on Revis Island on Sunday. Kearse does have some speed and has shown to be a down field threat as of late.
However, much like Sherman, Darrelle Revis eliminates the big play. It’s not a great match up for the Seahawks.
Seattle will more than likely depend upon Doug Baldwin and Luke Willson in the passing game. Baldwin is very similar to Kearse with a little less athleticism and speed.
Luke Willson, on the other hand, has shown to be a little better at tight end than most expected. He’s extremely similar to guys like Heath Miller or Jason Witten with good route running and a great set of hands.
I’d expect Russell Wilson to target his tight ends with some bad match ups on the outside. Speaking of Russell Wilson, it is imperative that he runs the ball himself with more success than last week.
Clay Matthews drew the job of spying Wilson throughout the entire game last week. He got after Wilson and really shut him down in the running game.
Jamie Collins will more than likely get that job this week. For those of you haven’t watched Collins play, he’s even quicker and more explosive than Matthews. Regardless, Wilson must finds ways to extend and make plays with his feet.
The Seahawks will need to expose the Patriots defense much like the Ravens did in New England’s first playoff game. They will have to use Baldwin and Willson in the middle of the field while running Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin out on the edge.
Inevitably, Pete Carroll will be creative enough to set up some quick hitters like wide receiver screens, running back screens, end-arounds, and read-options to keep the ball systematically moving down the field.
However, the Seahawks offense isn’t capable of putting up a lot of points.
After the games ended last Sunday, I would have leaned extremely heavily on the Patriots. In the way the Seahawks and the Patriots won their games, the better team was clearly the Patriots.
I wasn’t alone in thinking this way. The line opened on Sunday night at Seahawks -2.5. The sharps crushed that line literally within a few minutes. The line snapped down to pick ’em almost immediately and has now settled around Patriots -1 to -1.5 depending where you look.
The books want to make lines as close to 50-50, in terms of money and number of bets, as possible. It seemed like they completely misjudged the public perception after an emotional Seahawks victory and the bigger money bought the line down right away.
After a week of looking over the match ups, this game is much closer than I initially thought. I foresee both defenses being able to control each offense.
In typical weeks, I almost always lean on the defensive side. That’s the side most undervalued in the eye of the public. In return, you typically get favorable lines on good defenses.
The Seahawks defensive value, though, is typically accurate or even overvalued. The next aspect of the game is the quarterbacks and his protection. This edge is significantly in Brady’s favor.
For the sake of picking a winner, I’ll take the Patriots. I think Deflategate will have the Patriots playing angry and give them a little incentive to run up the score if they get ahead instead of taking the laid back approach that the Packers took.
If anyone has an argument in favor either side, I’d love to hear it in the comments because I don’t have much of a lean in breaking this game down. This is as much as a toss up for a Superbowl as I can remember.
Let’s hope this one comes down to the last possession. Enjoy the game and the next eight months until football comes back again next season.