Why the Patriots will win Super Bowl XLIX

Print


Football players aren't the only ones that deal with distractions. The news cycle can be a distraction. All that comes with Super Bowl week can be a distraction.

In the aftermath of New England's deflated ball scandal, I've been too distracted to fully appreciate the best Super Bowl matchup in ages. It's a game between two absolute powerhouses with contrasting styles. It's a game with almost too much historical weight for one game to bear.

The game also looks impossibly close to call. Football Outsiders' numbers said this could be the closest Super Bowl matchup ever. In 50,000 game simulations, the Patriots won 50.5 percent of the time. The Seahawks won 49.5 percent. In conversations all week, the biggest football heads all feel like they have no feel of who will win this game.

All of the hype and nonsense of the last two weeks eventually ends with a game worthy of all those millions of eyeballs. Bill Belichick admitted he was "embarrassed" by the time he spent last week learning about ball deflation. I'm embarrassed by how much I'm looking forward to this game.

Why the Patriots will win


We've established that both teams could come out on top Sunday. In an annual exercise of mine that started the last time the Patriots played in Phoenix, let's look at a few reasons why each team will pull it off.

The Wilson stoppers


Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins are the athletic trio of defenders that Bill Belichick has been searching for since Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, and Willie McGinest left town. This Patriots defense is not nearly as stout as their early title times, but they are more athletic and fit perfectly into this pass-happy era.

Jones, Hightower, and Collins can move around their formations. Hightower and Collins can cover or blitz. They love to line up in the "A gaps" and they will force Wilson to identify every snap where pressure is coming from. Along with Rob Ninkovich, they are the right group to slow down Wilson's athleticism. This is in part because they know they are covered on the back end.

A deeper secondary


Julian Edelman was playing cornerback the last time the Patriots were in in the Super Bowl. Now he's a top-15 NFL receiver. The offseason acquisitions of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Patrick Chung have transformed the team's back end. Perhaps it's just the combination of Revis and eraser safety Devin McCourty, two players that make those around them better.

Belichick said this week that he's learned plenty from watching Pete Carroll. The Patriots secondary certainly owes a thing or two in style to the Legion of Boom or the old physical Patriots groups led by Ty Law. Their effectiveness on the back end allows Belichick to get more creative because he has the players to pull it off.

A balanced backfield


LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen do not add up to Marshawn Lynch, but they are good enough to win a title. Blount is coming off the most inspired performance of his career. His AFC Championship game was not simply about blocking or a soft opponent; Blount repeatedly made defenders miss or dragged them for extra yardage. He has more yards after contact than Lynch in the playoffs. Vereen has 99 catches over the last two seasons, a worthy heir to the Kevin Faulk role in the Patriots offense.

The Cowboys, Chiefs, Panthers, and Packers all had success running on Seattle following Brandon Mebane's injury. The Seahawks aren't quite as stout when Michael Bennett plays inside, with Bruce Irvin and Cliff Avril flying up the field on the outside.

A nimbler Brady


Looking over my notes from the season, the most surprising repeat scribbling concerned Tom Brady's footwork and movement. There's just no denying he made more plays this season after avoiding pressure and extending plays. He is a far cry from Russell Wilson, but Brady's combination of getting rid of the ball quickly with improved evasiveness led to an excellent season.

Brady used to be the best when it comes to pocket presence. Andrew Luck has taken that crown, but Brady delivered more completions this year while being hit than in recent seasons.

A patient offense


The Seahawks are not going to give up big plays, and the Patriots are not a big play offense. Brady has struggled throwing the ball deep, but New England has proven excellent at marching down the field for long scoring drives. Only the Packers had more scoring drives over ten plays. While the Patriots can still mix up their tempo, this is not the fast-break offense of a few years ago. They aren't going for the quick kill. Against a defense like Seattle's, patience will be a virtue.

Gronk


Rob Gronkowski is an all-time great player at his peak. His injury history hurts some of his early "best ever" arguments, but he's not injured now. He's the biggest matchup nightmare in the league and he gives the Patriots so many options on every play. He is what makes this offense go, and his health this late in the season makes this Patriots team far different than the squads that have come up short lately.

Game management


The Patriots scored six points just before halftime in Week 6 against Buffalo, and then seven points out of halftime. That's a 13-point run to blow open a tie game. The Patriots ran out the clock for five minutes at the end of the first half in the AFC Championship, scoring a field goal, before taking the opening drive of the second half for a touchdown. They scored 28 points in under five minutes sandwiched around halftime against Chicago.

This pattern kept repeating over the course of the season, and it reminded me of the early Belichick teams. As great a coach as Pete Carroll is, Belichick still gets the edge for in-game adjustments and situational football.

A final chance


When I walked past the Patriots post-game party in 2012 at Victory Field in Indianapolis, I assumed that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would not get another chance at a fourth ring. Brady was in his mid-thirties and it felt like his decline showed up during an uneven performance against an uneven Giants team.

This 2014 Patriots team is much better. Julian Edelman is a star receiver instead of filling in at cornerback for one of the worst secondaries in the league. Rob Gronkowski is healthy. Chad Ochocinco is not involved. The Patriots' opponent is vastly superior too, the most consistently dominant defense over a three-year period that we've seen in decades.

This will be a brutal test for the Patriots and a win over such a worthy opponent will only enhance their legacy. But this feels different than 2007 when the team felt joyless, burdened by their undefeated season. It feels different than 2011 because they are playing far more complete and balanced overall, with no quietly awful defense to hide.

Winning a fourth Super Bowl after the deflated ball mess would feel somehow appropriate for a team that started its run in controversy. Belichick is a man obsessed with football history. He knows exactly what this game means.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast reacts to Super Bowl Media Day and breaks down the storylines nobody is talking about. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

Print