After a Championship Weekend that started with a bang, yet ended with a whimper, we are once again primed for a fascinating finale to an enthralling NFL season, but as the Seahawks look to defend their crown, will they overcome the Patriots, or can Brady and Belichick combine for a fourth Lombardi Trophy?
Seattle head to the desert having completed an historic comeback over the Packers, but after New England’s comprehensive dismantling of the Colts, it looks as though the game will remain too close to call, and with the line opening at a pick, we could be set for the first Super Bowl without a favourite.
The Seahawks boast one of the most fearsome defences in recent memory, with a unit that could define a generation, and after a dominant Super Bowl performance a year ago, Pete Carroll will once again look to defensive co-ordinator Dan Quinn to dial up a range of packages that will ensure Brady faces a tougher time than he did against Andrew Luck this past weekend.
However, a sprained elbow to star CB Richard Sherman could put a pin in some of those plans, and despite the fact he is due to be ready for the game, there must be some worries in the back of Seahawk fans’ minds. Yet, Sherman may not prove the key to unlocking the Patriots offense.
Earl Thomas is the perhaps one of the more underrated players in the NFL, in that he perhaps represents one of the best four or five defensive backs in the league, but is often overshadowed by Sherman or other, louder, teammates. His dominance in the defensive backfield will be crucial to the Seattle gameplan, and is a prime candidate to earn Super Bowl MVP honours, and, will be able to provide assistance to those covering the best TE in the NFL, Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk, easily the biggest offensive weapon the Patriots possess outside of Brady, dropped a crucial pass the last time New England made it to the dance, and will no doubt be eager to put those memories to bed and earn a much-heralded ring.
Whilst New England’s D may not stack up to their opposite numbers, they are a much improved group, led by rising star Jamie Collins, veteran lineman Vince Wilfork, and perhaps the most impressive player from their AFC Championship victory, Rob Ninkovich.
With a pair of evenly matched offensive lines, it may come down to the respective defensive fronts to make the biggest difference, and with Ninkovich lining up across from Chandler Jones, Russell Wilson is likely to need to make the most of his well-known scrambling ability.
Having suffered through a nightmarish first half in the NFC Championship, Wilson, who threw four interceptions, regained his composure in the second half to throw a miraculous two-point conversion before tossing the game-winning 35 yard touchdown to Jermaine Kearse in overtime. The third year QB returns to the Super Bowl on the back of another impressive season, but will certainly be relying on the raw power of Marshawn Lynch in the backfield.
Lynch, who has, at times, single-handedly carried the Seahawks’ offense on his back this season, is the one Seattle skill player that could turn this game on its head, and will be looking to make a quick impact, given the Seahawks’ predilection of leaving it late.
Having dominated nearly every fourth quarter in which they have played this season, they have often faltered earlier, and should they come close to making similar mistakes to those from their narrow NFC Championship win, the Patriots will, as defined by the Belichick era, make the most of any chances handed to them.
In 1982, the San Francisco 49ers won their first Super Bowl in franchise history having entered the game as only one point favourites. 32 years later, we are on the brink of an even tighter affair, which can only serve for the most exciting clash, and one that could define this era in the sport for years to come