Super Bowl XLIX: Previewing the NFL's bombastic showpiece 7 years ago

Super Bowl XLIX: Previewing the NFL's bombastic showpiece

No matter how hard the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks compete to lose neutral support, this Sunday's the American viewing public will be glued to their screens for Super Bowl XLIX, or 49 to us non-Romans.

New England and golden boy quarterback Tom Brady would have been expecting a warm reception in Arizona, but the revelations that they may have tampered with the game balls during their AFC championship win over Indianapolis have dominated headlines and dragged back the old stains from past attempts to circumvent the rules.

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Seattle revel in their brash, bad-boy image, and have jumped unceremoniously into the ball deflation debate, but the Seahawks have backed up their cockiness by becoming the first team to return to the Super Bowl a year after lifting the Lombardi Trophy since the Patriots did it a decade ago.

Regardless of the ongoing race to the bottom in terms of public relations, these remain the two best teams in the NFL, so how exactly will this Super Bowl be won?

Keys for New England:

Rob Gronkowski versus the Legion of Boom
Gronkowski is New England's premier weapon, if not the most important non-quarterback in the NFL, and it's essential that the giant tight end has some success against Seattle's secondary, which is big enough to take on and bump Gronk at the line of scrimmage and upset the timing of his routes. Big-hitting safety Kam Chancellor is likely to run into Gronk on several occasions and their first meeting is eagerly awaited. Gronkowski won't have it any easier against Seattle's speedy linebackers, with Bobby Wagner able to match the Patriots' talisman for speed across the middle of the field.

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Can the offensive line hold up?
Centre Brian Stork missed the Colts game with a knee injury and is still just a rookie, but New England, and Tom Brady especially, needs all its offensive lineman fit and ready for duty against the relentless Seattle pass rush. Brady is vulnerable to interior pressure and the versatile Michael Bennett has the potential to cause major disruption to the New England passing game. The line will also be required to put the defence on its heels in the run game if the Patriots are to win the all-important time of possession battle.

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Keeping tabs on Russell Wilson
Seattle is at its most dangerous when its quarterback is scrambling to extend plays. Wilson can beat even the most organised defensive effort with his legs or by giving his receivers enough time to eventually get open. Overenthusiastic pass rushers or blitzing linebackers leave gaps that Wilson will be quick to exploit but Pats head coach Bill Belichick always focuses on taking away an opponent's biggest strength, so expect him to emphasise discipline from his defensive front and blitz infrequently, if at all.

Keys for Seattle:

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Secondary fitness
Seattle's two best defensive players, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, both ended the NFC title game win over Green Bay nursing injuries. Sherman was effectively playing with one arm after shipping a heavy knock but is expected to suit up in Phoenix, perhaps with the aid of an elbow brace, while Thomas hurt his shoulder. Both have been practising but it remains to be seen just how close to 100 per cent they will be. Anything less than that will prove a major issue for a defence that relies on individual physicality as much as any in the NFL.

The read option
The read option, or zone read, is seen by many as a fad imported from the college game, with many teams attempting to utilise it without much success. Seattle are the exception though, and have been consistency able to gain big chunks of yardage using the play. The quarterback moves to hand the ball off to the running back but decides whether to actually release the ball based on the movement of the defensive player whose job it is to set the edge on the play, usually the defensive end of outside linebacker. If the defender cheats inside, Wilson keeps the ball knowing there is space for a big gain on the outside, if he holds his position, the ball is given to Lynch in the knowledge Seattle have the advantage inside.

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks

Seattle stayed away from the read option for much of the game against Green Bay, but went back to it late when they needed to make something happen. It needs to be a bigger part of the gameplan this time.

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Getting open
Seattle's receivers are far from household names despite last year's Super Bowl ring, but Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin have done just enough to get back again this year. They struggled to get open against Green Bay a fortnight ago as Wilson threw four interceptions and are facing a pair of determined and physical corners this weekend in Darrelle Revis and former Seahawk Brandon Browner.

Verdict:

Seattle +1, Under 47.5 points
This has all the makings of a tight battle between a Seattle defence that is one big performance away from joining the '85 Chicago Bears in the NFL pantheon, and the extremely underrated New England unit and thus we really like the UNDER here. Regarding the destination of this year's Lombardi Trophy, Wilson played about as badly as a quarterback can through three and a half quarters against the Packers and was still able to lead the comeback and it's that unwavering belief instilled in the Seahawks by Pete Carroll, combined with the knowledge that Wilson cannot possibly be as bad again, that leads us to give the edge to the Seahawks.

Final Score: Seattle 23 New England 17

Click here for the full breakdown of our Super Bowl prop bets

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[Odds via Ladbrokes]