Superbowl XLIX – Too close to call

Who will win in the desert? Seattle Seahawks or New England Patriots?

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With one day to go, it’s the million dollar question –and one I’ve been avoiding trying to answer. This is one of a closest matchups in Superbowl history and after watching, reading and taking in as much of the build up as possible it seems that everyone has come to the same conclusion: it’s too close to call. With explosive offense on both sides there is sure to be some decent scoring action so I’m predicting a high scoring game with few points in it. Which way it goes is anyone’s guess, but personally, it won’t surprise you that I don’t want the Patriots to win, therefore by default I’m rooting for Seattle. However, I have a niggling suspicion that it will go the way of the Brady Bunch, but only by a hair, albeit a well-coiffured one.

In all honesty, for the (sort of) neutral, it’s going to be the potential quality of play which will make this a great game to watch. Across all three phases of the game, both sides have exceptional depth and talent and the winner will have to find and exploit the few weaknesses presented by the opposition. It will likely come down to who plays better at key positions; Brady or Wilson, Sherman or Revis, Lynch or Blount.

All teams who have previously won back to back Superbowls have had extremely strong leaders at QB (Montana, Elway & co) and Wilson is no exception to this rule but don’t forget Brady has achieved that feat already. He has led the Patriots since 2000 and the way his ex-teammates such as Willie McGinest talk about him leaves you in no doubt of his leadership capabilities. Wilson, despite having less experience in terms of years in the league, shows extraordinary confidence and leadership even at the lowest points, as evidenced in the NFC Championship game, proclaiming to his team on the sideline that ‘we can still win this’ even with a 16 point deficit. In terms of play, Wilson is more mobile than Brady, with the ability to throw the sexiest of deep balls although Brady has made more plays from outside the pocket this year than previously and continues to put together long scoring drives. Wilson’s strength is in his versatility but you can never count Brady out.

Both teams have many stand out playmakers on offense but Rob Gronkowski and Marshawn Lynch are likely to make the biggest impact. Stopping these two will be of prime importance to both defenses. Lynch’s performance with the media shows he intends to do his talking on the field and will cause problems for the Pats run defense, which although recently improved, is not as strong as it could be. With LeGarrette Blount , New England have recently scored well on the run but the Hawks run defense is a formidable opponent. Throughout the season, tight ends have been kryptonite for the Seahawks defense. Gronk is currently the best in the business at that position and is at the top of his game. With none of injuries that have dogged him previously, a big game is expected.

Despite Seattle being famed for its boom D, both defenses will cause problems for the quarterbacks. Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins will ensure Wilson is consistently under pressure but of course Brady won’t escape the ‘legion’. In the secondary, Sherman vs Revis is an important comparison. Wilson was dogged by turnovers in the NFC Championship game and will need to avoid a repeat of this. Which side allows the most completions to receivers will be important, especially if they manage to slow the run. Sherman is on top form but Revis, taking his island to it’s first Superbowl, will also want to prove a point. Kam Chancellor will be tasked with diminishing Gronk’s impact on the game. Although he is more than qualified for this role, with a reported injury sustained at Thursday practice, he will have to be at his best to avoid a ‘Gronking to Remember.’

The coaching match up in this game is fascinating too. Belichick and Carroll are very different in their approaches but both have a great respect for each other as was clear in Friday’s press conference. In terms of game management and decision making Belichick is more level headed and organised, making well timed decisions, such as the Edelman/Amendola trick play against Baltimore. Carroll is more openly passionate and is supremely confident in his players, playing football in a simple, but effective form. Several games in these playoffs have come down to the grit of the coaches and with everything else so closely matched, a miscalled play or a stroke of innovation could make the difference.

Putting aside match ups and speculation, a good story is one of the key reasons that sport in general is so alluring and captivating. This matchup is full of potential great narratives which NFL films can exploit for the forthcoming ‘America’s game’ regardless of who wins. Pete Carroll was fired by Robert Kraft after the 1999 season to be replaced by Bill Belichick. There would be some kind of sweet symmetry if he could put one over on his very successful replacement. Similarly, the last team to win back to back Superbowls were the Patriots in the 2003/4 seasons; a bit more symmetry there. On the other side, Belichick and Brady are in the hunt for that elusive fourth ring to cement the Patriots dynasty after losing at the last opportunity against the Giants in the 2011 season. This game is an opportunity to right that wrong and to continue to make NFL history as the most successful HC and QB combination. Of course, there has been speculation that Belichick’s uncharacteristic cheeriness this week might signal his intention to retire if they win; the idea that it would be ‘job done’. This would be music to Jets (and the rest of the AFC) fan’s ears as well as a spectacular conclusion to the season if it proved true. Then there is Revis in only his first SB appearance of his 8 year career which arguably hasn’t provided as much success as his level of play has deserved.

You could write a novel about this game and still not be able to draw a decisive conclusion, which is why it’s so exciting. For now, it’s time to get in the beers and snacks and wait for it all to unfold.  Let’s hope it lives up to the hype and our high hopes are not deflated.

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