The big game is nearly upon us and it’s time to crown a champion for another season. Will the Seahawks repeat as champs or will the Patriots be crowned for the fourth time in Tom Brady’s illustrious career? Vegas has New England as a one-point favorite, so these two teams are expected to be very evenly matched. With a great game on tap, here are four bold predictions for Sunday’s game.
Prediction: Seattle won’t cross midfield in the 1st quarter
For three-and-a-half quarters, the Green Bay Packers seemed to be laying down the blueprint of how to stop the Seahawks. They were keeping Russell Wilson in the pocket, attacking the run, and forcing Seattle’s passing game to win matchups (which it didn’t). If you have to pick one area in pregame planning where Bill Belichick’s genius shines brightest, it’s finding mismatches to exploit. Against Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, those receivers won’t stand a chance. That’ll really free up the Patriots’ front seven to attack the line of scrimmage and disrupt any attempts at establishing an offensive flow. OC Darrell Bevell will get things straightened out (maybe with a trick play), but the first quarter will be rough for the Seattle offense.
Prediction: New England will run the ball fewer than 10 times in the first half
The Patriots were somewhat pass-heavy in the regular season (1.39 pass attempts per rushing attempt), but even more so in the postseason this year (1.62 pass attempts per rushing attempt). New England ran 67.5 plays per game this season, so that’d come out to 33.75 plays per half (on average). If they kept up the rate from this postseason, that’d predict 12.9 rush attempts before halftime.
But it’s been a tale of two games for the Patriots this postseason, because while they were almost perfectly balanced against the Colts, they barely ran the ball at all against the Ravens. So really it comes down to guessing which offensive gameplan is going to show up. In the first half, I expect the Patriots will lean on their passing game.
Prediction: Seattle will score a DEF/ST touchdown
Kam Chancellor’s pick-six against Cam Newton remains the only touchdown scored by a defense or kick return unit this postseason. If you add in the fake FG touchdown pass against the Packers, the Seahawks have the only two touchdowns scored on DEF/ST. When things haven’t quite been going according to plan (and sometimes even when they have), Seattle has shown a willingness to gamble on a high-risk play to try and change the momentum of the game. The defense is loaded with talent, and is the “safer” bet to score, especially since Percy Harvin is no longer back to return kicks. Expect the Patriots to emphasize ball security and making safe throws, but it only takes one big play to turn a game, and the Seahawks may need a couple if they want to win.
Prediction: The MVP won’t be a quarterback
With all due respect to (2x Super Bowl MVP) Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, this game is going to be defined by a different offensive player, and my money’s on Rob Gronkowski. Especially after Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane said “I actually don’t think he’s that good,” you can expect Gronk to come out wanting to put his stamp on the game early (as if playing in the Super Bowl wasn’t enough motivation already).
Outside of perhaps Kam Chancellor, Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for the Seahawks. At 6’6″ and 255 lbs, he’s too fast for a linebacker and too big and strong for a corner or safety. Though Gronkowski will likely face a lot of double coverage on Sunday, Brady has shown a willingness to force passes to his favorite target, even when he’s completely covered. That should result in a healthy statistical night for #87, capped off with a Super Bowl MVP. If the Seahawks truly commit to taking Rob Gronkowski out of the game, I’d give about even odds to Julian Edelman here as well.
Prediction: New England 30, Seattle 16
The last prediction pretty much gave away that I’m picking New England to win here. After all, only once has the Super Bowl MVP not been from the winning team (Chuck Howley, Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl V). After seeing how bad the Seahawks looked for 3.5 quarters against the Packers, picking the Patriots to win isn’t exactly bold, though expecting them to make this a blowout (though not nearly as bad as last year) edges this into “bold” territory.
Without a truly go-to receiver, the Seahawks offense is severely one-dimensional. And with Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman banged up on the defensive side, there are plenty of chinks in the champions’ armor. While they’ve already shown they can thrive in the underdog role on the biggest stage, I think they’ve used up every bit of luck they had in that NFC Championship game.
I expect Seattle to wind up settling for field goals while New England is scoring touchdowns, allowing the Patriots to build a considerable lead by halftime and play keep away from the Seahawks’ offense the rest of the way.