Through my early adulthood, this was an ugly word in the world of pro football. While the vision of former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, it often seemed like code for "mediocrity." A bunch of teams, evenly matched, not too bad, not too good, vying for the Lombardi Trophy -- with the hottest team (not the best team) taking home the silver lady all too often.
The 2012 Ravens come to mind. So do the 2011 Giants. The 2010 Packers were a wild-card team. And why don't we throw in the 2007 Giants while we're at it? We can keep going. Those 2006 Colts, who blasted the Bears in the Super Bowl, weren't as good as that year's Chargers. The 2005 Steelers were a sixth seed. Obviously these clubs deserved to win. They played who was in front of them and handled their business. It's not the Ravens' fault that both Denver and New England didn't play their best in the postseason -- or that Rahim Moore forgot how to play a deep ball. Much like it wasn't the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers' fault that the top-seeded Patriots got knocked off by the upstart Jets in the 2010 playoffs.
Of course, parity means that it's unlikely we'll see the Buccaneers -- or any other team -- suffer through 12 straight years of double-digit losses. Thank goodness. Every team has a chance in this day and age, and that's a good thing.
Yet, forgive me if I am excited that the NFC's best is facing the AFC's best on the big stage for the second year in a row. I'm all for quality.
Quick question for you:
Dude, free agency is over a month away. (Offseason? There is no "off"-season in the NFL.)
You'll see my pick for MVP below. (Yeah, it's a little off the grid, too.) Would love to hear your take (about that, and the long-held prognostication): @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Now, let's get to it!
**a)** The New England front seven's ability to slow [Marshawn Lynch](/player/marshawnlynch/2495663/profile) enough (i.e., fewer than 85 yards) to force [Russell Wilson](/player/russellwilson/2532975/profile) to move the ball with his legs and receivers.
**b)** How often [Tom Brady](/player/tombrady/2504211/profile) is forced by the [Seahawks](/teams/seattleseahawks/profile?team=SEA)' pass rush/coverage to throw short -- and inherently, face third down after third down.
**c)** Who spies Wilson on passing downs? [Jamie Collins](/player/jamiecollins/2539311/profile), who is a heckuva an athlete, seems like a prime candidate. And if he can fulfill this duty, we might be looking at an evening where Wilson must win by throwing from the pocket.
**d)** The [Seahawks](/teams/seattleseahawks/profile?team=SEA)' interior defensive line vs. fatigue, a better opponent and [LeGarrette Blount](/player/legarretteblount/497149/profile). [Bobby Wagner](/player/bobbywagner/2532966/profile)'s return to good health in late November was a huge boon for Seattle's defense, but the losses of [Brandon Mebane](/player/brandonmebane/2495677/profile) and [Jordan Hill](/player/jordanhill/2539292/profile) up front have affected the run D. Now the 'Hawks must rely on [Tony McDaniel](/player/tonymcdaniel/2506816/profile) (age 30) and [Kevin Williams](/player/kevinwilliams/2505576/profile) (34) with seriously limited depth behind them.
**e)** How much separation [Doug Baldwin](/player/dougbaldwin/2530747/profile) and [Jermaine Kearse](/player/jermainekearse/2532887/profile) manage to get on the [Patriots](/teams/newenglandpatriots/profile?team=NE)' secondary. At some point, much like in the [NFC Championship Game](http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2015011800/2014/POST20/packers@seahawks), they are going to have to make plays. [Darrelle Revis](/player/darrellerevis/2495717/profile) can remove one of them from the game. Kearse won't be able to push off on [Brandon Browner](/player/brandonbrowner/2506155/profile) like he has against smaller corners (SEE: [Carolina playoff game](http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2015011001/2014/POST19/panthers@seahawks)). And [Kyle Arrington](/player/kylearrington/2507430/profile) actually had himself a day in [the AFC title game](http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2015011801/2014/POST20/colts@patriots).
Yep, those are the matchups I'm watching. Usually, you will hear much rhetoric about how turnovers are the key factor. This is football: Obviously TOs loom larger than Pizza the Hutt locking down Lone Starr. Well, forget that. OK, what I mean to say is merely that, while turnover diff influences many a title game, these two clubs don't produce many takeaways, and they don't give the ball away, either (whether it's deflated or inflated). New England was middle-of-the-pack in takeaways, the Seahawks 21st. And both were in the top three in the league in terms of fewest giveaways.
Brady has thrown two picks over the middle this postseason while trying to force the ball to Gronk. I fully expect the Seahawks to bracket the mismatch nightmare with a linebacker underneath and safety over the top -- yes, sometimes Chancellor. But if Gronk starts going off, why wouldn't the Seahawks put Byron Maxwell on him, leave Richard Sherman on the left side and make the Pats' wideouts beat them? Whatever the case, I just don't see Gronkowski being the star of this game. Put me down for Collins, who will pick Wilson on a play when the QB doesn't see him dropping into the lane, add a sack and make several stops in ground support. Another year, another linebacker nabbing Super Bowl MVP honors ...