Week 21: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
SUPER BOWL XLIX EDITION
New England Patriots 14-4 (-1) @ Seattle Seahawks 14-4 (48): Patriots 24-21
Sunday, 6:00 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Clear, low 50s)
Reasons: The Super Bowl most pro football experts around the country predicted before the season began has come to fruition and it would be hard to argue against either of these two teams facing off for the Super Bowl title. What drama, to boot: The Seattle Seahawks are the first team to make it back to the Super Bowl in consecutive season in 10 years, since 2003-2004, when their Super Bowl XLIX opponent New England Patriots not only made consecutive Super Bowls, but won back-to-back titles, the first team to do so since the 1998-1999 Denver Broncos. What no experts could have predicted, however, was the Conference Championship path each team would take. The Seahawks came back from down 19-7 to the Green Bay Packers in the 4th quarter, while nearly losing their two best defensive backs and Marshawn Lynch to injury in the process; the Patriots demolished the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 only to mired in “DeflateGate” ever since. Suffice it to say my feelings on the subject are well documented in the ProFootballMedia.com Championship reviews: Tuesday’sGone: Championship Round Edition.
The real story here is that other than a hobbled Brandon LaFell and a sickly Tom Brady, the New England Patriots are 100% in a Super Bowl for the first in their three tries since the Patriots’ last embarrassment, the so-called “SpyGate” scandal. They’re going to need it, because if the Patriots thought the New York Giants defenses of 2007 and 2011 were something, 2014 Seattle is something to be marveled. No defense since the Ravens’ defenses of the early 2000s conjure the fear the Seattle Seahawks do, and they’re no flash in the pan. After taking the 2013 regular season by storm, allowing only 14.4 ppg with 39 takeaways, the Seahawks eventually demolished the record-setting Denver Broncos 43-8, solidifying their place in history. However, after starting the 2014 season 3-3, and with their defense allowing 23.5 ppg, the 2013 championship year seemed liked a distant memory and Seattle seemed destined to become yet another Super Bowl winner to miss the playoffs the following year. Not so fast my friends – the Seahawks went 9-1 to close out the season, and allowed fewer points (136) than they had in the first six games (141), allowing only 13.6 ppg. Sound more like it?
New England suffered a similar path: after starting the season 2-2 there were whispers of the demise of the great New England Bill Belichick-Tom Brady dynasty; the dynamic Patriots’ offense was only averaging 20 ppg as tight end Rob Gronkowski recovered from injury and slowly got back into the swing of things. Then came the swing of things. With a healthy Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots rattled off seven straight wins, winning won ten of their final twelve games, with one of the two losses coming Week 17 at half strength against the Buffalo Bills. During the Patriots meaningful eleven-game stretch (sans the Bills game), New England averaged 34.5 ppg, and finished the season averaging 29.2. If the Patriots played any starters besides Tom Brady in that final Buffalo game, New England would have led the NFL in scoring. Truth is, the Patriots didn’t lead the NFL in anything of importance other than individual game scoring differential (+9), which they tied with, guess who, the Seahawks. The Seattle Seahawks led the NFL in many things: rushing yards, passing defense, total defense, and scoring defense. They were second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers in defensive TOP by 23 seconds, and were the 3rd-ranked rush defense, held their opponents to 37% on 3rd down, and finished the season ranked 4th in turnover ration (+10). What about the Seahawks offense, the supposed bane of their existence? In addition to being the league’s top-ranked rushing attack, the Seahawks ranked 10th in the NFL with 24.6 ppg, and 11th in 3rd down conversions.
Before we get caught up in the Seahawks’ glory, let’s consider their opponent, lest we forget about the most recent, and still highly functioning NFL dynasty. The 2014 Patriots were an offensive juggernaut, ranking 4th in scoring offense (29.2ppg), 4th in first downs, 5th in Red Zone offensive TD percentage, 6th in 3rd-down conversions, and 9th in passing offense, while ranking second in the league in turnover ration (+12). Don’t let the offensive numbers fool you, the Patriots’ defense, led by All-Pro Darrell Revis, play great defense, too. Besides ranking 8th in the NFL in scoring defense, the Patriots were the 9th-ranked rush defense, something that will come in handy against Lynch and the bruising Seahawks.
The numbers suggest a team with a great offense and a good defense is playing a team with a great defense and a good offense. History suggests teams with great defenses, sound running games, and timely special teams win Super Bowls. The Seahawks are the best defense and the best running game, and kicker Steven Hauschka ranked 10th-ranked in scoring while the Seahawks’ punt coverage team ranked 7th in punt return yards allowed. New England has a respectable running game that improved as the season progressed, one of best defenses in the NFL, and some of the best special teams in the league led by kicker Stephen Gostkowski (ranked 4th in the NFL in points), return man Julian Edleman, and special team guru Matthew Slater. In other words, when you set aside the statistical accolades shared by both teams, Super Bowl XLIX boils down to one of the best defenses of this latest NFL generation and an emerging superstar in Russell Wilson led by innovator Pete Carroll against arguably the greatest quarterback and head coach in NFL history, both playing in their 6th Super Bowl in their 14 years together.
The pressure to repeat combined with the Patriots’ burning desire to eliminate the haunting memory of that nearly perfect 2007 season destroyed on the very field of University of Phoenix Stadium will be too much for the banged-up Seahawks to overcome, despite Brady’s flu and the fear it spreads to Gronkowski. The Seattle Seahawks are one of the best teams we’ve seen in the past few years; the New England Patriots are one of the best teams we’ve seen over the past fourteen years. Brady is far too hungry and the Patriots far too angry over DeflateGate, SpyGate, PlaceWordHereGate, and related nonsense, as well as their past Super Bowl failures to let this one slide.
Check back following Super Bowl XLIX for the Week 21 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) SUPER BOWL EDITION review at ProFootballMedia.com!
2014 Playoff results (through Championship round): 7-3 wins (.700); 7-3 v. spread (.700)