The long wait for Super Bowl XLIX is nearly over, as the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots prepare to face off for all the marbles on Sunday in Phoenix (6:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC).
The two teams had polar opposite experiences in their respective conference championship games.
Despite being seven-point favorites – and facing a hobbled Aaron Rodgers – the Seahawks had to score two touchdowns in the final minutes of regulation to send the game to overtime.
The Patriots, meanwhile, utterly dominated the Colts, 45-7, making a mockery of their own seven-point spread.
Still, Seattle is a heavyweight, and the Patriots will need a monumental effort to dethrone the defending champs.
For New England to have success, its offense must establish the run-game early. Falling behind the chains against Seattle’s superb pass rush and historically dominant secondary could spell doom. The Patriots’ run-game was subpar, at best, throughout the regular season, but running back LeGarrette Blount emerged in the AFC Championship game with a 148-yard, three-touchdown performance.
The formula for Seattle’s offense is much the same: heavy doses of Marshawn Lynch with the occasional designed run for (or scramble by) QB Russell Wilson mixed in. Seattle doesn’t have game-breakers on the outside, so the ground game is essential for the Seahawks’ offense.
With the shortages at wide receiver, Wilson has relied more heavily on tight end Luke Willson of late. Willson and receiver Doug Baldwin are Wilson’s two primary options in the passing game. (It will be interesting to see how Russell Wilson utilizes his second wide receiver, Jermaine Kearse, after Kearse tipped multiple passes into the hands of waiting defenders in the NFC Championship Game.)
New England’s defense also presents problems for Seattle on the outside. Corners Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner matchup well against Baldwin and Kearse, which again makes the run game all the more important for Seattle.
All told, this game will come down to which team can control the line of scrimmage and run the ball. Not much will get past either secondary, so winning the trenches is a must for both teams.
New England is currently a slim one-point favorite for and the over/under is at 48.5.
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)