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New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks equipped for big 2015

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One thing that stood out about this Super Bowl: The difference between the Patriots/Seahawks and everybody else in the NFL was significant. Neither team played flawlessly on Sunday. Tom Brady's first interception is still unsightly, even when you know the game's final result, and Seattle's final sequence will haunt the Seahawks the rest of their lives. But you couldn't watch that game and think that any other teams would have given either the Pats or 'Hawks a better fight than the one they got -- including the Ravens and Packers, who provided the closest playoff competition in each conference.

Does that mean the Patriots and Seahawks are favorites to repeat as conference champs? After all the usual caveats -- we still have free agency and the draft, minicamps and dreaded training-camp injuries -- the answer is probably yes. The Seahawks have a very young, very gifted nucleus of players that has already won one title and came within a play of going back-to-back. The Patriots have ... Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

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It's easy to point to the past being prologue, especially in the AFC. In the 13 years Brady has played (not including the season he missed with a knee injury), the Patriots have made it to the AFC Championship Game nine times and to the Super Bowl six times. That is absurd consistency, especially considering the high rate of player turnover in the salary-cap era. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels might have given the best explanation for why the Patriots have been so good for so long: because even before the duck boats were put back in their garage after the victory parade, the Patriots' planning for next season was well underway. In the locker room after the AFC title bout, McDaniels said, someone was already talking about the upcoming trip to the Senior Bowl to assess players for this spring's draft. Likewise, the Seahawks' scouting staff spent Super Bowl week not reveling in their accomplishments. They were in draft meetings, which is exactly where they were during the Super Bowl run-up last year, too.

That sort of relentless focus on the future is what puts the Patriots and Seahawks on such solid ground for next season. Like the best quarterbacks, they always keep their eyes down the field.

"We understand this year's challenge is not our last game," McDaniels said a few days before the Super Bowl. "Then we're on to next year's challenge. If you sit there and look at what you've done and you're satisfied with that too long, you get complacent."

Both teams still face issues -- big ones -- this offseason. History suggests they are well-prepared to face them. Let's examine what's next for the Super Bowl XLIX participants:

Seattle Seahawks

General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have been masterful at finding and developing players -- if you weren't Googling "Chris Matthews" during the Super Bowl, then perhaps you are a member of the Matthews family -- now the key is to keep them. Seattle has already locked up its defensive core, giving Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett new contracts last year. Here comes the tricky stuff.

Russell Wilson, who is still under his rookie deal, is eligible to renegotiate this offseason and he could become the most highly compensated player in the league. This past season he led game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime five times -- and it was very nearly six. And he did so without an elite pass catcher. That earns you big bucks, which, invariably, will lead to difficult decisions for Seattle down the road, but that's a problem for another day. Wilson will get his deal.

But what of Marshawn Lynch? During the Super Bowl, Wilson, who was wearing a microphone for NFL Films, was heard saying to Lynch that they could take over the game because the Patriots couldn't stop either from running. He was right and that was what powered the Seahawks all season. Lynch is entering the final year of his deal and he already had a brief training-camp holdout last summer. There was a time when it appeared the Seahawks would part ways with Lynch. That's no longer the case. After scoring 17 touchdowns and rushing for more than 1,300 yards, the Seahawks want him back. Prior to the game on Super Bowl Sunday, colleague Ian Rapoport reported that the Seahawks had offered Lynch a huge, multi-year contract extension -- one that could be worth more than $10 million in 2015 alone. What does Lynch want? That's hard for anybody on the outside to say.

The other contract situation to watch is that of linebacker Bobby Wagner, who earned Tony Dungy's MVP vote this season in large part because his midseason return to good health transformed the defense. He, too, could be a free agent after the 2015 season. It's unlikely the Seahawks will let that happen.

A few other issues ... Will Seattle get Wilson a top-tier receiver after sending Percy Harvin packing this season, or did we see the emergence of one in Matthews? And then, of course, we'll need to keep taps on the medical status of nearly every member of the "Legion of Boom." Mr. Rapoport reported on Thursday that Thomas amazingly played through a separated shoulder and a torn labrum in the Super Bowl. The bad news: Now he's going under the knife and will miss the next six to eight months. Richard Sherman might or might not need Tommy John surgery -- he's not a pitcher, so it might not be an essential procedure -- but that's potentially a long recovery, too. Kam Chancellor just revealed he played on Sunday with a torn MCL. And lastly, Jeremy Lane suffered a gruesome arm fracture after picking off Brady in the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots

It's been a while since you could say the Patriots are a young team, but, by and large, they are just that. And assuming Brady remains upright, that means the championship window is wide open for at least a few more years. Remember how last offseason amounted to an arms race with the Broncos? The Patriots clearly won it with one huge move. And if you needed a reminder of the biggest offseason question facing the Patriots, the fans who packed Boston for Wednesday's victory parade offered it, chanting Darrelle Revis' name.

The best cornerback in football was the star acquisition last season, and his impact (along with Brandon Browner's) was obvious on a vastly improved defense. But Revis has historically been a contract mercenary and that makes this a must-watch negotiation. He chose the Patriots because he wanted to win a title. He did. Now what? Revis has to know he will have a shot at more rings every year if he remains with the Patriots and Brady. He is due $20 million in 2015 and it hasn't yet been officially ruled out that the Patriots would pay it. More likely is they try to work out a longer-term deal by the end of March. Failing that, Revis could be on the open market again, where approximately 31 franchises would be in pursuit, including, almost certainly, his old team (the Jets) and the team now coached by old friend Rex Ryan (the Bills).

The other big name to watch is safety Devin McCourty. A Belichick favorite because he is so smart, McCourty is on the verge of free agency. He could get the franchise tag. Other free agents: Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley at running back and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who is arguably the best in the business.

The Patriots thrived this year with a short passing game because they didn't have much outside speed. Maybe they'll look to add to that, but the most intriguing subplot is what becomes of Danny Amendola. He was initially signed to replace Wes Welker. And although he had a bigger role in the postseason, he has never become one of the offense's key cogs. Amendola is due to earn $4 million in base salary in 2015.

The other looming issue that can't be ignored: potential fallout from the NFL's investigation into the underinflated footballs the Patriots used in the AFC Championship Game. It's impossible to forecast what, if anything, will come of that, but the NFL is expected to interview players and coaches now that the season is over. The nightmare scenario for New England is that the NFL doles out punishment centered on Brady. There are those who believe the Patriots' newly won title will be tainted if the NFL finds proof they tampered with game balls. But with their ceaseless focus on the future, the bigger concern for the Pats could be if Brady's readiness for next season is imperiled.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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