Since the early days of September 2014, thirty-two teams have now been whittled down to just two, as the New England Patriots take on the defending champion Seattle Seahawks to determine who will lift aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and the ultimate accolade of being a world champ at Super Bowl 49.
Seattle are looking to join an illustrious bunch of seven other past teams who have won back-to-back Super Bowls – and ironically, they would be the first since New England completed the same feat ten years previously. The Patriots have joined the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys with their eighth appearance in the National Football League’s showpiece game, and will be hoping to rebalance their Super Bowl record with three wins from their seven previous attempts.
The current match odds can barely split the two rivals – Seattle currently holds a very narrow favouritism - and this game is likely to be one of the closest contests in recent history if the market is correct. We will take an in-depth look at some of the key battles within the contest that could determine who comes out with the win.
Coaching collision course
New England’s coaching supremo, Bill Belichick and Seattle’s Pete Carroll are two of the finest head coaching masterminds who are currently working within the NFL, and Sunday will be a fascinating watch to see which footballing guru will outwit their counterpart. Ever since both teams qualified for the biggest game in American Football, you can be assured that hours and hours of videotape will have been scrutinised on their respective opposition – over the current season, and likely beyond - to try and find even the smallest weakness, either on offense, defense or special teams that can gain a vital edge.
It should not be underestimated how important that this side of the game is to the destination of who emerges victorious in the biggest game of all.
One of the main points that will have likely given Coach Belichick the biggest headache will be how to stop the Seattle offense. Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson is only in his third season as a professional, and incredibly has nine wins without defeat against Super Bowl winning QBs. Wilson’s main ally on offense is running back, Marshawn Lynch, who is one of the finest exponents of his position in the NFL. Wilson is a very mobile quarterback who can extend plays with his running ability that gives his likely starting wide receivers, Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin and tight end Luke Willson extra opportunities to break away from their coverages.
Seattle are very adept in their version of the ‘read option’ offense – which confuses the opposition with a variety of run plays and other tricks. Coach Belichick must be able to impose his defensive unit on Seattle – otherwise it could be a long evening for the Patriots.
Fast moves needed
Seattle have their own major concerns by stopping legendary Tom Brady from winning his fourth Super Bowl ring. At 37 years of age, Brady is showing no real signs of regression in his performances as this postseason have suggested. The Patriots’ signal-caller will face a very stern test of his ability against an imposing and aggressive Seattle defense though.
Brady loves to use his quick-tempo offense to keep the opposition off balance, and this could be the key for New England. Fast, short yardage gains are a staple diet for the Patriots receiving troops – and also help running back LeGarrett Blount to establish the run game.
Tight end troubles
Tom Brady’s key offensive weapon has to be the future Hall of Fame tight end, Rob Gronkowski. ‘The Gronk’ has hauled in 12 touchdown passes already this season, and causes serious concerns for any opposing defensive coaching staff with his size and strength, not to mention his speed for such a big man.
Seattle will have to decide who will cover Gronkowski, and the likely candidate will be safety, Kam Chancellor – but that isn’t likely to be near enough. Seattle has to limit the offensive output of Gronkowski without leaving too many holes for others to take advantage – and Brady could well be the man to do it.
Ball security essential
Seattle lost their turnover battle 5-2 against Green Bay before performing a miraculous recovery to qualify for the Super Bowl. The Seahawks must improve their ball security as the turnover statistics are generally key to who comes out on top in postseason games. You can expect some serious tackling from both teams – especially on kick and punt returns - who will be hoping to capitalise on a loose ball to give their side some excellent field position that could swing the game irrevocably one way.
Super Bowl 49 promises to be one of the most intensely contested matches in recent history. If you can manage to stay awake for the duration of the game, I seriously suggest you do it!