Football

Super Bowl XLIX: Who has the edge?

The last time the Patriots and Seahawks met, in 2012, Tom Brady and Co. left Seattle with a 24-23 loss and an earful from Richard Sherman.
The last time the Patriots and Seahawks met, in 2012, Tom Brady and Co. left Seattle with a 24-23 loss and an earful from Richard Sherman. AP

Quarterback

Patriots: Tom Brady, 37, arguably ranks as the greatest postseason quarterback of all time. His NFL-record 20 playoff victories are more than 21 current franchises. In the postseason, Brady has completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 7,017 yards with 49 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in going 20-8. He has won six AFC championships — no other quarterback has started six Super Bowls — and he can tie Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl rings.

Seahawks: Russell Wilson, 26, has gone 42-13 in his career, including a 6-1 postseason record. He entered the NFC Championship Game with the highest passer rating in NFL postseason history at 105.6 before completing only 14 of 29 passes for 209 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions against the Green Bay Packers for a 44.3 rating. It would have been worse if he hadn’t completed 7 of 8 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown with four rushes for 19 yards and a touchdown on the Seahawks’ final three possessions.

Edge: Patriots

Running back

Patriots: LeGarrette Blount walked out on the Steelers after 11 games, earning his release. He returned to the Patriots, signing with New England two days later. Blount had 266 yards in 11 games in Pittsburgh and 281 in five regular-season games with New England. He set a Patriots postseason record by rushing for 148 yards and scoring three touchdowns on 30 carries against the Colts in the AFC title game.

Seahawks: The Seahawks are averaging 147 rushing yards in the postseason after leading the NFL with a 172.6 yards-per-game average in the regular season. Wilson led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing with 849 yards and averaged 7.2 yards per carry. But the Seattle’s running game gets its identity from Marshawn Lynch. He ran for 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns in the regular season and has 216 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries in the postseason, including a franchise postseason record 157 yards in the NFC title game.

Edge: Seahawks

Wide receiver

Patriots: The Patriots are minus a star receiver, which isn’t unusual in Brady’s career. He has made do with less. Julian Edelman caught 92 passes for 972 yards and four touchdowns, and Brandon LaFell had career highs in catches (74), yards (953) and touchdowns (seven). Edelman has 17 catches for 172 yards in two postseason games, and LaFell caught the game-winning pass in the divisional round.

Seahawks: The Seahawks were last in the NFL in pass attempts in 2014. They traded Percy Harvin after five games, though he was their leading receiver with 22 catches. Doug Baldwin ended up leading the team with 66 receptions for 825 yards and three touchdowns. He and Jermaine Kearse combined for 674 yards after the catch. Wilson’s four interceptions in the NFC title game were directed toward Kearse, with two of them bouncing off Kearse’s hands, but Kearse caught the 35-yard, game-winning pass in overtime.

Edge: Patriots

Tight end

Patriots: Seahawks nickel cornerback Jeremy Lane might find out he’s wrong when he sees Rob Gronkowski up close and personal. Lane told reporters he doesn’t think Gronkowski is that good. Gronkowski made All-Pro for the third time in his career this season when he caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has become as valuable to the Patriots as Brady.

Seahawks: The Seahawks began the season without backup Anthony McCoy, who tore his Achilles’ in training camp, and they lost starter Zach Miller in Week 3 when he required ankle surgery. Luke Willson, a fifth-round pick in 2013, caught only nine passes in his college career at Rice. But he has become a big part of the Seahawks’ offense the past four games, catching 11 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

Edge: Patriots

Offensive line

Patriots: The Patriots tried several different line combinations before finding one that works in left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Dan Connolly, center Bryan Stork, right guard Ryan Wendell and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. They are 8-1 with that offensive line combination. Stork missed the AFC Championship Game with a knee injury, but his return this week has the Patriots back at full strength.

Seahawks: Offensive line coach Tom Cable has earned his pay this season. Injuries have forced several different line combinations, including playing four centers. Starting center Max Unger finally is back to full strength, though the Packers still sacked Wilson five times in the NFC title game. Rookie right tackle Justin Britt, who missed the game against the Packers, has been a weak link. He allowed 7.5 sacks and was called for two holds. Left tackle Russell Okung was solid, allowing 3.5 sacks with three holding penalties.

Edge: Patriots

Defensive line

Patriots: The Patriots likely will use some 5-2 fronts to try to stop the Seahawks’ running game with defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones and defensive tackles Vince Wilfork, Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga. In two playoff games, they have struggled against the run, allowing 219 rushing yards.

Seahawks: The Seahawks had some early-season problems getting to the quarterback, but they finished with 37 sacks. Michael Bennett led the team with seven sacks, and Cliff Avril had five. Together, they have 136 quarterback pressures during the regular season, which was the most by any pair of 4-3 defensive ends. Pass rusher Bruce Irvin and O’Brien Schofield combined for 8.5 sacks. Seattle has allowed 267 rushing yards in the postseason and 4.5 yards per rush.

Edge: Seahawks

Linebacker

Patriots: Second-year veteran Jamie Collins came into his own after Jerod Mayo was lost for the season to a knee injury in October. Collins has turned into one of the top inside linebackers in the league. Dont’a Hightower brings a physical presence and is the team’s best blitzer. Collins led the Patriots with 116 tackles, and Hightower was second with 89.

Seahawks: Bobby Wagner earned All-Pro honors despite missing five games with a foot injury. He had 104 tackles and was a difference-maker in the final six regular-season games when the Seahawks didn’t allow any fourth-quarter points. K.J. Wright, a fourth-round pick in 2011, is coming into his own. At 6-4, 246 pounds, Wright brings a physical presence.

Edge: Seahawks

Defensive back

Patriots: The Patriots would have the edge in the secondary against almost any team except the Seahawks. Cornerback Darrelle Revis earned All-Pro honors, and safety Devin McCourty has 17 interceptions in five seasons in becoming one of the best at his position. Former Seahawk Brandon Browner has brought a physical presence, but he drew 15 penalties in only nine games. New England did allow 24 touchdown passes.

Seahawks: The Legion of Boom has two All-Pro players in cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, arguably the best players in the league at their respective positions. Safety Kam Chancellor was a second-team All-Pro selection, though he faces his toughest matchup of the season in Gronkowski. The Seahawks allowed a league-low 185.6 passing yards a game. Their secondary has five pass breakups and four interceptions in the playoffs.

Edge: Seahawks

Special teams

Patriots: The Patriots arguably had the league’s best unit this season. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski earned second-team All-Pro honors, going 35 for 37 for a career-high 94.6 conversion percentage. Julian Edelman ranks as one of the league’s top punt returners, with a 12.0 yards per return average in the regular season, though Seahawks punter Jon Ryan had the fewest punts returned this season (17).

Seahawks: The Seahawks have had an up-and-down season on special teams. In the NFC title game, they made the difference in the end with a touchdown on a fake field goal — a 19-yard throw by punter/holder Ryan — and a recovered onside kick. Special teams made a difference in last year’s Super Bowl, too, when Harvin returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown.

Edge: Patriots

Coaching

Patriots: Bill Belichick will leave as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. He earned his 21st postseason victory in the AFC title game, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Tom Landry. Belichick’s six Super Bowl appearances tie him with Don Shula for the most in history.

Seahawks: The Patriots fired Pete Carroll in 1999 and hired Belichick. The Seahawks have given Carroll a second chance at the NFL, and he now sports a 7-4 postseason record and a Super Bowl ring. He is the first coach with back-to-back Super Bowl appearances since Belichick in 2004 and ’05.

Edge: Patriots

  Comments