All right, people. It’s been a great season of strange prognostication with bonus geek culture references, and it all comes down to this Sunday in Phoenix — the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, with the One Ring to Rule Them All on the line.
No matter which side you choose, you gotta know this will be a close one. Of course, we said that last year and Seattle surprised everyone by making Denver look like an ineffective squad of Star Wars stormtroopers. (That may have been a redundant adjective.) So anything’s possible, I suppose. Still…gonna be close.
Let’s break it down.
When the Patriots have the ball: This is the premier part of the matchup. I think Tom Brady would love nothing more than to throw all day in an attempt to burn the Legion of Boom over and over again. This would, of course, would be monumentally stupid. Seattle will get its share of interceptions, so the trick will be to minimize that by leaning on the ground game and relying on short passes on the inside to Amendola, Edelman and Gronk. Problem is, of course, that the Seahawks defense was ranked third against the rush during the regular season (and first against the pass). Their front four can stuff the run nicely, and when they blitz a corner or safety, they’re incredibly dangerous. So how do you beat them?
New England is shifty as all get out, and they’re going to give Seattle formations and movement that nobody’s seen before. Brady does just enough in the pocket to find the open guy and he’s smart enough not to force it most of the time. The Patriots will try a mix of running game and play-action passing to grind out the yards, combined with a few deep to keep Seattle honest. Tough match-up for both sides, really. My gut tells me, though, that the Pats’ back of tricks will only last so long, and the ‘Hawks natural talent and football smarts will prevail. Edge: Seahawks (ever so slightly).
When the Seahawks have the ball: Beast Mode all day, with some Russell Wilson runs mixed in, seems to be what everyone’s calling for. The Patriots have a better run defense than anyone Seattle faced in the playoffs so far, but Marshawn Lynch is one of those once-in-a-generation rushers — decent speed, amazing strength, and lots of football smarts. He would beat the Millennium Falcon in the Kessel Run, and he’ll do damage here. That sets up Wilson nicely for the kind of short/medium passing he likes. And, of course, he can just take off and run, which he does quite nicely.
Passing against the Patriots secondary isn’t that easy — they’re above average in terms of interceptions and picks, so caution and precision will be necessary. If Wilson has a game like he had against Green Bay, the Patriots will make Seattle suffer greatly. I think that was an aberration, though. If he plays well, he’ll definitely have his moments, especially if New England loads up the box to stop the run. Seattle’s offense has a lot of flexibility, but the Patriots are used to practicing against their own, and it’s not like Brady & Co. are predictable. Edge: Even.
So basically, you have two of the very best teams in the NFL squaring off, and they’re very evenly matched. New England’s offense is better than Seattle’s, but the Seahawk’s defense is probably the best one fielded in the past decade, while the Patriots’ D is merely above average.
One final note in Seattle’s favor: Seattle’s a lot closer to Phoenix than New England, and the Seahawks are still the cool kids on the block. The 12th Man will be out in force.
Pick: Seattle Seahawks.
Playoff record: 8-2 (.800)
Regular season record: 171-83 (.673)