Every defensive game plan against the Patriots identifies slowing down Rob Gronkowski as priority No. 1. The tight end is the biggest mismatch player in the NFL, thanks to his combination of size (6-foot-6, 265 pounds), strength, quickness and ball skills. Fortunately for the Seahawks, Seattle might have the perfect defender to match up with him. Chancellor has both the size and athletic ability to maintain position against the talented pass catcher. Gronk is going to make some plays in the game, but if Chancellor can keep him out of the end zone, the Seahawks should be in good shape.
Russell Wilson thrives on broken plays, and Baldwin is often the beneficiary of the extra time bought by the Seahawks signal-caller. Baldwin excels at finding open space during the scramble drill and producing huge chunk plays. He doesn't need to catch eight balls; he can do his damage with one or two big gains. And such opportunities are likely to come, given the way he can improvise while Wilson eludes the pass rush.
Wagner is one of the most complete linebackers in the NFL. He has the strength, instincts and quickness to dominate as a run defender, and he's athletic enough to match up with running backs and tight ends in man coverage. He will be challenged by two very different New England running backs in this game. LeGarrette Blount is a big, physical downhill runner, while Shane Vereen is an elusive weapon in the passing game. Not many linebackers possess the skill set to handle these vastly different styles, but Wagner should be just fine.
New England Patriots
It seems like Edelman -- who has been incredibly productive over the last few years -- never gets the credit he deserves. He is one of the toughest covers in the slot, what with his short-area quickness and toughness. His ability to uncover quickly will be a huge asset when it comes to combatting Seattle's pass rush. The Seahawks are one of the best tackling teams in the league, but Edelman specializes in making defenders miss in space. His ability to flip field position as a punt returner should also be a huge key in this game.
I don't think the Patriots can capture the Lombardi Trophy with a pass-happy approach. They need to control the line of scrimmage, win field position and convert on third down -- and Blount can help accomplish all three goals. He is outstanding in short-yardage situations, and his physical running style could wear down the Seattle front late in the game. If Blount gets over 25 carries, New England will be sitting pretty.
Jones has two important tasks: set the edge against the run, and don't let Wilson control the game with his legs. The Seahawks will feed Marshawn Lynch the ball early and often, and Jones needs to use his length to keep blockers off his chest and hold the point of attack. He also will need to be disciplined with his assignment and technique when Seattle runs the zone-read. Finally, Jones cannot get caught upfield on passing plays, which would allow Wilson to pick up free yardage as a runner.