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Superbowl XLIX preview

Bit of a tradition on the blog to call upon the services of my old mate Ian Steven, @deevo82, to preview the Superbowl. You won't be disappointed...

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Super Bowl 49

Just like a knob of butter, Super Bowl 49 is balanced finely on a knife edge as two teams so closely matched that you’d struggle to get a mosquito’s dinkle in between them, look set to face off in what could well be one of the best games in recent memory.

The old adage that the bookmaker rarely gets it wrong has been thrown out the window as most bookies have the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots on identical odds around the 1.91 mark – which means the Lombardi trophy will be shared with the match called a draw. Well, not quite. So, if the bookies can’t call a winner – can we?

Let’s start with the defending champions, the Seattle Seahawks, who are looking to be the first team to repeat their previous year’s success since the Patriots accomplished that feat in 2005.

As always we start with the quarterback and Russell Wilson is the signal caller for the Washington franchise. Conventionally I would talk about the strong play of the signal caller in the Championship game as NFL teams can’t get deep into the playoffs with a sub-par performer at the game’s most important position. The truth is that Wilson was abysmal against Green Bay – throwing four interceptions in what might be the worst performance by a winning QB in Championship game history.

Wilson is not the bell cow in this offense and is merely a compliment to the physical running style of Marshawn Lynch who regularly forces opposing defences to stack eight men in the box, opening up throwing lanes for Wilson. Lynch will get in excess of 22 carries in the game and could get close to 30 if the scores remain tight heading into the fourth quarter. New England were solid against the run in the regular season with a 4.0 yard per carry average so Seattle could struggle to make long gains until late into the second half where Lynch comes into his own.

The biggest problem for the Pats when committing an extra man into the box, which will likely be Patrick Chung, takes a man out of primarily defending the pass. This is not as much of an issue since the Seahawks elected not to retain one of their heroes from last year’s Super Bowl in New Jersey, as Golden Tate signed for Detroit and had an excellent season. Fellow receiver Percy Harvin was jettisoned during the season due to rumours of attitude issues behind the scenes - meaning Pete Carroll’s men are down two dynamic playmakers on offense. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are solid pros but they are not game breakers which could commit Bill Belichick to playing a lot of man coverage with a single high safety. The lack of receiving talent, including tight ends, means that Wilson will not put up big numbers and with the over/under set around 220 yards, I would probably edge away from a tough marker set.

Where the Seahawks excel is on defense. They have a solid defensive line that can generate pressure as well as stop the run. Bobby Wagner is an all-pro a linebacker whilst KJ wright will be tasked with disrupting Rob Gronkowski’s release from the line of scrimmage in a bid to throw off the tight end’s rhythm with his quarterback.

Their secondary is the best in the league with some pundits touting them as the best of all time. Loudmouth Richard Sherman backs up his brashness by performing as the best cover man in the game. Free safety Earl Thomas may have the best range in the league as a centre fielder whilst strong safety Kam Chancellor sets the tone on defense with some punishing hits over the middle. The unsung member of the “Legion of Boom” is Byron Maxwell who is a good player in his own right but does not receive much of the limelight thanks to his three all-pro colleagues.

New England are blessed with one of the finest marriages between head coach and quarterback in the history of the league. Tom Brady has installed himself as a first ballot hall of famer after supplanting an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 to lead the Pats to five Super Bowls in total with three rings to call his own. Brady is very accurate, can read defences and is tougher than people give him credit for. He is also a vocal leader on a team that craves a hard work ethic in its players. You want to put the ball in the hand of your best player when the game is on the line and you would struggle to find anyone better than Brady to lead his team to victory.

Seattle aren’t the only team with a power running game as New England boast the road grading Le Garrette Blount who joined the Patriots for his second spell of his career after being jettisoned by the Steelers for trudging back to the locker room with the game still on the line. Blount isn’t as dynamic as Lynch but he can move the pile and at 250lbs is a terrifying prospect to tackle once up to full speed. That said he probably won’t get over 80 yards as the Seahawks defense is that mean.

The main weapon in the New England passing attack is The Gronk, otherwise known as Rob Gronkowski. This 6’6” monster of a man is built like a tree trunk and has bounced back from a couple of injury plagued seasons to be the only player this year to receive unanimous votes to the all-pro team. It’s rare to find a tight end with his level of speed and power but with Wright, Thomas and Chancellor, Seattle are poised to subdue the tight end over the middle.

The focus on Gronkowski will leave the Seattle corners on a lot of man coverage and with the aggressive bumping of the receivers on the line of scrimmage, undersized wide outs Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola might struggle to get a clean release. One of the best ways to beat press coverage is to run crossing routes where the cornerbacks get lost in the wash. Another possible solution for New England is to stack Edelman or Amendola behind a bigger receiver like Brandon LaFell or move them in motion before the snap. One thing is for certain, Brady will throw few passes in the direction of Sherman, especially downfield as the cornerback looks set to lock down one half of the field. It will likely be a dink and dunk approach from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as big plays will be very hard to come by. An over/under of 2.5 catches for Amendola is very tempting. Gronk is around 5.5 with 77.5 the over/under in terms of yardage. They both seem about right for the big guy so I would not bet with confidence.

So, how to the Pats move the ball on offense? I think the answer is Shane Vereen. The running back is a good pass catcher out of the backfield and I expect the Pats to move him around either to get a good look in coverage, possibly lined up outside on a linebacker in a no-back set, or as a diversion into the flat, causing a rub as two Seattle players bump into each other, freeing up Vereen or a wide receiver on a crossing route. If Seattle commit to man-on-man coverage, which they mostly will, then I think Vereen could be due for a big game.

The advantage that the defense has in the Super Bowl cannot be understated as coaches have an extra week to pour over film and counteract some talented offenses. A case on point would be the Broncos being humbled last year by the Seahawks as one of the most potent offenses in the NFL struggled to move the ball.

Seattle have the better talent on defense but New England have the best X-factor in the league – Bill Belichick. The former Browns and Jets head coach has already befuddled the Ravens earlier in the playoffs with an offset line that allowed tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to make a crucial gain down the seam. Whatever wrinkle the legendary coach can employ then he will make full use of it. There is already a lot of controversy around the franchise in the most hyped week in American sports as it was alleged that a Patriots official deflated the balls used by Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game which allowed the quarterback to grip the balls better. Belichick has already had his knuckles rapped for taping teams’ defensive signals. Basically, whatever it takes to win then he’ll get it done.

The one hallmark of a Belichick-coached team is flexibility. His players can perform a number of roles so you are never sure what you are going to face. Mammoth defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and cornerback Darelle Revis are the two corner stones on D and you can rest assured that Seattle will run away from Wilfork and pass away from Revis. Expect the former Jets cornerback to mostly play at left corner back as Seattle loves to move their right-handed quarterback out of the pocket and Wilson favours rolling to his right (although he is also very dangerous moving to his left).

The fact that we have two very well-coached teams with hard hitting defences should keep the score line down in the match. Teams will be able to move the ball into enemy territory but will misfire close to the redzone with two veteran and assured kickers in Stephen Gostkowski and Steven Hauschka for the Pats and Seahawks respectively, there will be more comfort in trying their luck from long range rather than going for it on fourth and short. There will probably be around 3-4 fields goals for each side and less than three points could determine the difference between the two franchises by the end of the game.

Choosing a winner is tough. Both sides are coached very well, have smart players who can execute their roles proficiently. It may come down to a simple mistake – possibly on special teams. A fumble by a return man or a poor punt giving up field position may be it all it takes to eventually separate the two sides. If pressed I would estimate that New England has the advantage due to the combination of Brady and Belichick but I am nowhere near confident enough to place money on the outcome. Will we go to overtime to separate the two sides? Possibly. It may not be a pretty game to watch but this will be a game for the connoisseurs who like their defences hard hitting and their half backs running downhill.


Bets

2 points on Marshawn Lynch getting over 19.5 carries @ 1.75 with Bet Victor

1 point on a field goal being the first scoring play @ 2.5 with Bet365

4 points on over 3.5 field goals scored @ 2.25 with Bet Victor

4 points on Shane Vereen getting over 3.5 catches with Paddy Power/Ladbrokes @ 2.2

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