Patriots vs. Seahawks: A Super Bowl showdown for the ages
By PAT RALPH
College Contributor Network
Whether it is the New England Patriots (12-4) or the Seattle Seahawks (12-4) who hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy on Sunday night, their postgame championship ceremonies should each start in the same manner. No, not just with thanking their fans a million times or reiterating the cliche "We just kept doing our thing when everyone else told us we couldn't."
Both teams need to start the celebrations with "Thank you to the Kansas City Chiefs for helping us turn around our seasons!!" The Kansas City Chiefs, really? A team that didn't even make the playoffs?
Flashback to Week 4 on Monday, September 29: the Patriots get shellacked by the Chiefs 41-14 on national TV and dropped to 2-2 through the first month of the season. As a result, critics began to question if the Patriots' glory days were truly over and if quarterback Tom Brady was just about done. The Patriots responded the same way New England has during the entire Brady-Bill Belichick era -- by winning.
New England would go on to win 10 of their last 12 games to clinch the AFC East for the 12th time in 14 seasons and the top seed in the AFC playoffs. The only losses would come on the road against the Green Bay Packers and at home against the Buffalo Bills in the final game of the regular season, which doesn't really count since the Patriots rested several of their best players and had nothing to play for. So pretty much New England had one real loss after the debacle at Kansas City.
In the case of the Seahawks, take a step back to Week 11 on Sunday, November 16: the Seahawks dropped to 6-4 after a 24-20 road loss against the Kansas City Chiefs. Seattle was not playing like the team that won Super Bowl XLVIII the previous season and the playoffs were becoming more of a stretch as the Seahawks were caught in the logjam of the NFC playoff race. The defense was not playing up to its potential and the locker room seemed divided. Like New England, Seattle responded with a six-game winning streak to close out the regular season, came from behind to win the NFC West for a second straight season, and claimed the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
So the moral of the story, the Kansas City Chiefs are the ones to thank for getting both of these teams' respective seasons back on track. However, there's a lot more to this matchup than just the Chiefs.
Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday in Arizona will be the culmination of what has been an outstanding NFL season. More importantly, it will bring together the clear-cut two best teams in the league this season on the biggest stage in American professional sports. Needless to say, the storylines and similarities between these two fantastic teams cannot be emphasized enough heading into Sunday night's showdown in the desert on NBC.
Let's start with the AFC champion Patriots, who got to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011 with home wins over the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts. During the Brady-Belichick era which began in 2001, the Patriots have been to five Super Bowls and captured three. Sunday's game will make it six Super Bowl appearances for arguably the greatest QB-head coach combo in NFL history. The first and most impressive championship came in Super Bowl XXXVI against "The Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams and their explosive offense led by the likes of quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, and wide receivers Issac Bruce and Torry Holt. The second championship came two years later against an upstart Carolina Panthers' team in Super Bowl XXXVIII, succeeded by the third championship in the following season over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Patriots arrival to Glendale for Sunday's game is very bittersweet. The last time New England played in Arizona, it was Super Bowl XLII against the underdog New York Giants. The Patriots were 18-0 and going for an undefeated season with one of the best offenses the league has ever seen. However, Giants wideout David Tyree made one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history, the Giants' outstanding pass rush kept Brady in check all night, and the Patriots' dreams of a perfect season were crushed in the desert. Just the Patriots' luck, the Giants would foil their Super Bowl ambitions once again four years later in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. I think it's safe to say Brady is thrilled to not see Big Blue on the other sideline in this Super Bowl.
A win on Sunday will only enhance the Hall of Fame-resumes of Brady and Belichick. A fourth Super Bowl title will put Brady with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only four-time Super Bowl champion quarterbacks in NFL history. A fourth Super Bowl title for Belichick will put him in the company of Chuck Noll, who coached Bradshaw with the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the only head coaches with four championships. Even with a loss on Sunday, Brady and Belichick are still among the greats but a win would vault both into a league of their own.
As for the defending champion Seahawks, Seattle is looking to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champion since, yes you know it, the Patriots a decade ago. The NFC champions return to the Super Bowl after home wins over Carolina and Green Bay in the playoffs. A win on Sunday night would make Seattle the eighth franchise to win back-to-back titles, which is one of the hardest things to accomplish in all of sports. Last year, the Seahawks faced off against future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and the high-octane offense of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. However, the Seahawks' incredible defense destroyed Denver and led Seattle to a blowout 43-8 win to capture the franchise's first-ever championship. Unless you hate the Patriots and love the Seahawks, no one wants to see a lopsided Seattle win on Sunday.
Like Brady in his first few years in the league, Seahawks' quarterback Russell Wilson is having a ton of success for a young QB that could put him on the path to greatness. A win on Sunday night would give Wilson a second title in his first three years in the league. Wilson would join a group of only seven other quarterbacks right now who have won two Super Bowl titles. Another interesting storyline is that head coach Pete Carroll, who was head coach of the Patriots from 1997-1999, was replaced by Belichick the following season. Furthermore, Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner will be going up against the team he played for the previous three seasons, the Seahawks.
Sunday's showdown at University of Phoenix Stadium, a place where the Seahawks have won already this season, is highlighted by the classic "great offense vs. great defense" matchup. With Brady leading a high-octane Patriots passing attack against the league-best defense of the Seahawks, this could be quite the matchup. The matchup within the matchup could be Brady's top target and tight end Rob Gronkowski going up against Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, two physical specimens. Along with Chancellor, Brady will have to worry about the rest of the Legion of Boom including cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas.
The Seahawks defense's primary goal of the game will be to put pressure on Brady to force him into turnovers, which is much easier said than done. The Patriots do not have the strongest rushing attack, so that should play well into the hands of Seattle's defense which does an exceptional job at stopping the run.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots' primary task on defense will be to stop Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch who ranked in the top five of the NFL in total rushing yards this season. Along with stopping Lynch, New England will need to keep Wilson from using his legs and roaming out of the pocket to make big plays. Keeping Wilson in the pocket is of top priority as well for the Patriots' defense. In addition, the Seahawks are one of the most-penalized teams offensively in the league this season and New England will need to use that to their advantage by disrupting Seattle's flow on offense.
The most important key of the game may be turnovers, which is something both teams rarely do but both do a great job at forcing opponents into turnovers. Along with winning the turnover battle, the team which can control the line of scrimmage in the game should come out on top. If Brady and the Patriots' offense can get going early against Seattle's defense and force Wilson into turnovers on the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots stand a good chance at capturing their fourth title. On the other hand, if Seattle can establish Lynch early while pressuring Brady into bad throws, the Seahawks will be looking at a second straight championship.
As said here earlier, these two teams were by far the two best teams this season in the league. Other than the 2001 Rams, this is arguably the best team New England has faced in a Super Bowl. Despite the fact that Denver had a good defense last season, I believe New England will be a more significant challenge for the Seahawks because of their experience in big games.
Legacies will be further defined on Sunday night. Will Brady and Belichick go down as the greatest QB-head coach combo in NFL history? Will the Seahawks' defense be considered one of the most dominant ever? Katy Perry's legacy will probably be defined as well during the halftime show.
Hopefully for the NFL and its fans, the matchup will live up to its bidding to be one for the ages. The last thing the NFL would want is for its fans' spirits to be "deflated" by a blowout.
Pat Ralph is a junior at Villanova University. He has a passion for Philadelphia sports, especially the Phillies and Eagles, as well as Villanova Basketball and the New York Knicks. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Ralph