Super Bowl XLIX predictions: Staff picks for Patriots vs. Seahawks
Seahawks or Patriots? SI football experts are divided on Super Bowl XLIX (Feb. 1, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
Find all their predictions for the NFL's biggest game below.
Why do I get the feeling this outcome was meant to be? As the controversy again swirls around this lightning rod of a club, the Patriots are back on the same University of Phoenix field where their perfect season dreams died such a cruel and improbable death seven years ago, with a chance for redemption against the defending Super Bowl champions, who are trying to match New England’s back-to-back feat of 10 years ago. A Seattle win would clearly bump New England to the status of last decade's dynasty, but this time it'll be the Patriots with the late fourth-quarter magic, as a Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski touchdown pass earns the Men of Belichick that long-awaited fourth ring, and a dose of vindication, at least in the eyes of some.
Rob Gronkowski gives Tom Brady enough options to be effective, but the reason the Patriots win this Super Bowl after losing two close ones in recent seasons is their improved defense. That starts with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback. Browner proves to be the offseason departure that most stings the Seahawks.
The Patriots' offense can overwhelm opposing defenses with its varied looks, but those that have had success against it A) have been able to generate pressure without needing to blitz much; and B) have thrown off the Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski timing by physically testing Gronk. Seattle can do both of those things. New England will move the ball and its own defense is far better than many people think. The defending champs will pull it off, though.
These two teams couldn’t be more evenly matched. In a close game, I give the edge to the team with the legendary coach (Belichick) and the unstoppable weapon (Gronk) even against one of the NFL’s all-time great defenses.
As much as I think the Patriots will annoy and befuddle the Seahawks with an array of gameplans on both sides of the ball, and as much as I was on the fence most of this week, when I found out that Earl Thomas was basically healthy (or at least practicing without obvious effect from the shoulder injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game), my pick went Seattle's way. New England's offense is complex, multifaceted and impressive, but the Seahawks won't really change their Cover-3 scheme that much (they've got all the players to do it with Thomas healthy), and the Patriots have not faced anything like the Seattle zone-read scheme. In the end, I think Seattle has just enough to eke out a win, becoming the first repeat Super Bowl champion in a decade.
The Seahawks won't crumble the way they did against the Packers in the NFC championship, but that performance has convinced me that they can be exploited. New England is the more complete team right now, and Seattle won't be able to keep up with Tom Brady and his offense. The Patriots will hold off a scrambling Russell Wilson and a barreling Marshawn Lynch to hoist the Lombardi trophy for the first time in a decade.
Like Eddie Lacy in the NFC Championship Game, LeGarrette Blount has a big first half, setting up play action for Gronk and Julian Edelman. But the Seahawks clamp down in second half. For the second straight year, a 'Hawks defender is Super Bowl MVP. This time it's strong safety Kam Chancellor.
I think the Seahawks’ defense has enough to stop the Patriots’ offense -- or at least make it one-dimensional -- and anyone who says Seattle still won't be able to put up enough points should just take a glance at last year's box score. What Russell Wilson did in the NFC Championship Game was an anomaly, and I can't see him having another game like he did against the Packers; that said, another game like that looks to me like the Patriots' best shot at a win.
Everyone will talk about Tom Brady’s quest for his fourth ring, but it’s the intimidating presence of Darrelle Revis in the secondary, the always reliable Vince Wilfork up front and the young, superb Jamie Collins/Dont’a Hightower linebacker tandem that will secure it for him, limiting Russell Wilson’s options enough to force him into making a critical mistake that Brady, in his sixth Super Bowl, won’t make on the other end. All of the Patriots’ Super Bowl appearances have come down to a couple of plays, and this time, for the first time in 10 years, thanks in large part to their defense, they’ll be on the right side of those plays once again.
It's hard to put Russell Wilson's horrible first 55 minutes of the NFC Championship Game completely out of mind here, but these two offenses will score points, and the Seahawks' running game should be able to limit the number of possessions Tom Brady gets to throw New England back into the game down the stretch. From its depth of defensive playmakers to standout punter Jon Ryan, Seattle has too many advantages on the margins.