Super Bowl XLIX  

 

Marshawn Lynch, Bill Belichick among keys to Super Bowl XLIX

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PHOENIX -- What a week it's been!

After spending an amazing five days hosting "Schein on Sports" on SiriusXM from radio row and interviewing the biggest NFL names in the run-up to Super Bowl XLIX, I'm buzzing for what should be a classic.

Based on the interviews, the gossip and the chatter, I've compiled my annual collection of final thoughts ahead of the big game, Schein Nine-style.

1) Marshawn Lynch must show up in a major way on the field ...

Former outstanding running back and current NFL Media analyst LaDainian Tomlinson loves Marshawn Lynch's style of play; his face lights up when he talks about Lynch's ability to break tackles. And Tomlinson thinks Lynch will be the most important player on Super Sunday. Fellow NFL Media analyst Michael Robinson -- Lynch's former teammate with the Seahawks -- meanwhile, believes Lynch will be a huge factor.

I don't think Seattle's weapons in the passing attack match up well with New England's defense. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is a great player and a true winner. But I'm not convinced he has the sizzle outside to win the Super Bowl. If Wilson is to have a chance, Lynch needs to come through with one of his classic games.

2) ... unlike what he did this week off the field

I found Lynch's act -- refusing to engage with the media at his appearances -- to be deplorable, tiresome, cringe-inducing and flat-out rude. The media acts as a liaison between players and fans, and the fans deserve better.

Lynch, as Cris Carter explained to me, is building a Hall of Fame résumé -- and Carter wondered why he would compromise it by expressing apparent disdain for the press.

I would be sympathetic to Lynch if I thought he was merely just a shy person, but he has done one-on-one interviews with reporters he's comfortable with. He's appeared on Conan O'Brien's show and "The League" on FX. I suspect his mistrust of the media stems from the way some of his past troubles -- including a DUI charge from 2012, for which he ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving, and a misdemeanor gun charge from 2009 -- were covered. However, the fact that those events took place is not the fault of reporters.

This story engulfed radio row and Super Bowl week. It's sad, really. Lynch is a great player who does superb things for kids in his hometown of Oakland. Robinson shared with us some great anecdotes about Lynch spending countless hours talking to kids at his camp.

But because of his pathetic game with the media -- and don't forget about his crude and juvenile touchdown celebrations -- none of the good stuff on the field or in the community comes into focus. It's all rather shameful, and it has embarrassed the league, the Seahawks and Lynch.

3) Belichick will bring it

I loved getting the chance to talk strategy with former NFL head coach Dave Wannstedt, who has gone head-to-head with Patriots coach Bill Belichick many times. Wannstedt explained that the challenge in opposing Belichick is prepping for everything.

"One game, it is the 3-4, then it's the 4-3 on defense ... and now with their different formations on offense we've seen in the playoffs. You have to spend valuable practice time on them. And film study. Will they run them once, five times, 10 times, never? That's coaching against Bill."

Earlier this week, I explained why I consider Belichick to be the best coach in NFL history. Wannstedt illustrated exactly what Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is faced with.

4) Can Brady be pressured?

Tom Brady is arguably the best big-game quarterback in NFL history. He's set to start a record sixth career Super Bowl, and possesses a 3-2 mark when the Lombardi Trophy is at stake. Of course, he has been beaten on this stage twice -- by a Giants squad that brought plenty of pressure, sacking him twice in Super Bowl XLVI and five times in Super Bowl XLII.

Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Justin Tuck, who was on both of those Giants teams, told me that the Seahawks' ability to pressure Brady will be the key to Super Bowl XLIX. And he thinks Seattle is very capable in this area.

As for me, I respect the Seahawks for having the best defense in the NFL, but I don't think the Pats' offensive line is getting enough credit for jelling after the first quarter of the season -- and I think Brady's protectors are up for the challenge.

5) Devin sent

The beauty of doing interviews on radio row is that you always learn something. During my talks with receivers Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens and A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu of the Cincinnati Bengals, all three separately raved about New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty.

Smith stressed McCourty's "range, corner instincts and ball skills." Green gushed about his "playmaking ability." Sanu chalked up McCourty's success to a great combination of "athleticism, smarts and preparation."

The Patriots' defensive backs have flown under the radar, because the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" is special. And McCourty in particular seems to have been lost in the shuffle, overshadowed by cornerbacks Darrelle Revis -- a true shutdown corner -- and Brandon Browner -- a former Seahawk who brings a great physical presence to the proceedings.

But McCourty's been brilliant in making the transition from corner to safety. Here's an educated guess that he contributes a difference-making play on Sunday.

6) The Pats must test Sherman and Thomas

There is no question in my mind that Richard Sherman is the best corner in the NFL and Earl Thomas is the elite safety. But both are coming off legit injuries. And while Sherman and Thomas have been able to fully participate in practice this week, we haven't seen yet how they'll hold up in live game action.

NFL Media analyst LaVar Arrington made a sensational point when he told me it was important to "make them tackle early in the game," to see where they're at physically. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said the same thing, mentioning the usage of bubble screens.

There is no doubt that Thomas and Sherman are megastars. But lost in all the pre-Super Bowl noise is the fact that the players who are arguably Seattle's two best might not be 100 percent healthy. And that's on top of a knee injury suffered by hard-hitting safety Kam Chancellor at Friday's practice.

7) Bobby bows to no one

When Hall of Famers speak, you listen.

Carter told me Friday that he thinks Seattle's Bobby Wagner is, bar none, the best inside linebacker in the game. And I totally agree.

The sentiment was backed up by fellow Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, who stressed that the Seahawks' defense resumed playing at its incredible 2013 level when Wagner returned to the starting lineup in late November after missing five games with a toe injury.

Both Carter and Brooks expect Wagner to have a major impact Sunday. I'll join that chorus.

8) You can count on Blount

Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin is one of the most thoughtful players I've interviewed through the years. And he certainly isn't one to indulge in hyperbole.

So when Martin compares LeGarrette Blount's power, speed and impact to that of Jerome Bettis, you sit up and take notice. After all, Blount has posted two of the three highest postseason single-game rushing totals in Patriots history -- with the other performance belonging to Martin.

I'm picking Blount for my game MVP.

9) And the winner will be ...

Minnesota Vikings receiver Greg Jennings echoed what I wrote after the Seahawks' improbable victory over the Packers in the NFC title game: Green Bay blew it more than Seattle won it.

The Seahawks' general manager, the great John Schneider, has put together a fantastic team, but I think New England is better and motivated to flip the nonsensical script from DeflateGate.

The Patriots will win an epic Super Bowl by the score of 31-27, with Belichick taking his place as the best coach in NFL history.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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