This might be the last game I pick on this site. As I noted at the outset of the postseason, I’m planning on retiring the weekly picks after tonight’s big game. It was fun picking winners the past two years, but I didn’t have the success doing it that I wanted, nor did the posts receive the number of clicks and views I wanted.
So hopefully I can ride off into the sunset with the correct pick.
* All lines come from ESPN.
New England Patriots (14-4) vs. Seattle Seahawks (14-4)
Sunday, February 1 at 6:30 pm ET on NBC
*Line: Patriots (-1.0)
This game has all the makings of being similar to the Patriots-Giants Super Bowls of yesteryear. And for that reason, I’m shocked out how the Patriots are favored in this game. I’ve heard the reasons is basically because people are putting way too much stock in Seattle’s underwhelming performance against the Green Bay Packers last week as well as New England’s overwhelming rout of the Indianapolis Colts.
I’ve always wondered what would have happened had they had a healthy Rob Gronkowski in their last Super Bowl appearance against the Giants, as it likely would have swung the game in their favor. Gronk really is the one offensive weapon that the Patriots have in their favor, and they’ll need a big game from him in order to win. But the Seahawks have done a pretty good job against quality tight ends over the years, notably their ability to shut down Jimmy Graham in last year’s playoffs.
This game is setting up to be a relatively dull, defensive battle. The Seahawks have the league’s best defense, although it’s not quite on par with their 2013 defense thanks largely to a lack of interceptions and a slightly diminished pass rush. They’ve had a few key injuries up front, particularly at defensive tackle which has hurt things in the latter area, and probably has trickled back to less opportunities for guys on the back end to make plays.
But the positive for the Seahawks is that the Patriots offensive line is still susceptible to a good pass rush. There was a big concern two weeks ago about whether they could stand up to the Baltimore Ravens’ pass rush, and they did for the most part. They will have to do so again this week. The positive thing for the Pats is that all the injuries to players like Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill have diminished the Seahawks’ ability to get interior pressure which is where the Pats are weakest. It will really be on Michael Bennett, who kicks inside in nickel situations and will match up against right guard Ryan Wendell, who is the weakest link among the Pats’ offensive line.
Patriots left tackle Nate Solder has been up and down this season and likely will be facing Bruce Irvin for much of the night. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer won’t have an easier go against Cliff Avril.
This is why I pointed out the similarity earlier about the Pats-Giants Super Bowls because if the Seahawks manage to overwhelm the Patriots’ offensive line, it’ll be a wrap. The formula for beating the Patriots is putting pressure on Tom Brady, and they usually crumble.
However, the positive for the Patriots is that they are a much more physical football team than they were in those previous Super Bowls against the Giants. The Patriots also have a formidable secondary and the league’s best schemer at head coach. My suspicion is that Bill Belichick will try his best to keep Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson confined to the pocket. Wilson has a habit of going “off structure” by breaking out of the pocket and heaving up a pass or two for a big play every game. And if this game does become a defensive struggle, one or two of those passes could certainly swing things in the Seahawks’ favor.
You want Wilson confined inside the pocket, but you also don’t want to give him or his receivers all day to get open. So it will be important that Patriots get pressure from players like Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones on the edge. Linebacker Jamie Collins likely will be used to spy Wilson as another wrinkle.
But of course, the Patriots gameplan starts with stopping Marshawn Lynch. If you can slow him on early downs and force the Seahawks in 3rd-and-longs, you’ve put yourself in good position to get off the field assuming you can keep Wilson from going off structure. The Seahawks’ sustaining offense is built around their running game, and they sprinkle in a couple of big plays via Wilson’s ability to improvise off structure.
That formula works extremely well because the Seahawks defense prevents opposing offenses from scoring a lot of points. Seattle doesn’t need to be highly efficient on offense because of their defense. They can consistently win ugly and I think ultimately that’s why I have to pick Seattle to win. In recent years, Seattle has consistently been a team that thrives when things break down. I can’t say the same thing for the Patriots, and in a relatively close matchup like this game, that sort of unpredictability is a decided advantage.
It also wouldn’t shock me if this is a blowout. If Seattle’s defense comes to play and the Patriots defense doesn’t, then things could get out of hand fairly quickly. But that may be me giving too much credit to last year’s Super Bowl, where I thought it would be a close game and the Seahawks blew the doors off the Broncos. More than likely, this year’s Super Bowl will be the close game that everyone was expecting last year.
This game could easily become another footnote in the argument of talent versus defense. It’s not to suggest that the Patriots are untalented, but they are a team that will rely more on coaching and scheming to win with quality players, while the Seahawks will rely on their playmakers just simply making plays with relatively vanilla schemes.
I’ve always been of the opinion, that talent usually prevails.
Spread Pick: Seahawks
Straight Pick: Seahawks