We know the New England Patriots have the quarterback edge at Super Bowl XLIX. In what other aspects of the game do the Patriots hold sway, and will it be enough to make New England the right NFL pick?
Jason’s 2014-15 postseason record: 3-3 ATS, 3-2-1 Totals
Tom Brady this, Tom Brady that, blah blah blah. Actually, we haven’t heard too much yet about the poster boy for the New England Patriots in the run-up to Super Bowl XLIX – that’s because everyone’s talking about Deflategate instead. But don’t worry: Brady was scheduled to talk to the media Thursday afternoon, and we’ll no doubt see his GQ-approved face a lot over the next week.
As far as the Big Game itself (Feb. 1, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBC) is concerned, Brady certainly gives the Patriots an edge in the quarterbacking department. But what other advantages does New England carry into Glendale? And will it be enough to warrant adding Patriots –1 or –2 to our NFL picks for Super Bowl XLIX? Let’s dig deep, peel back the layers, and get to know the real story.
Under the Hoodie
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s profile has been on the rise since he re-joined the NFL in 2010. People are even willing to revisit Carroll’s so-so run at the helm of the 1997-99 Patriots. But the man who replaced him in Foxborough is the consensus No. 1 coach in the league. Bill Belichick is a three-time Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year (2003, 2007, 2010) and one of the few coaches who has successfully overseen his team’s football operations, as well.
Both Carroll and Belichick have excellent support. Seahawks defensive co-ordinator Dan Quinn is expected to be named head coach of the Atlanta Falcons once the Super Bowl is over. Patriots offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels is in his second-go around with Belichick after a two-year stint as the Denver Broncos head coach. But the spotlight in New England is on Belichick, and rightly so.
Given the offense vs. defense narrative for Super Bowl XLIX, you’d expect the Patriots to have the offensive edge in the Big Game. And you’d be partly right. According to the advanced metrics at Football Outsiders, Seattle’s offense ranked No. 5 overall during the regular season, one spot above New England’s.
The advantages for the Patriots are specific to their air attack. In addition to Brady at quarterback, New England has the No. 1 tight end in the league in Rob Gronkowski (82 catches, 12 TDs), along with a pair of high-volume receivers in Julian Edelman (92 catches, four TDs) and Brandon LaFell (74 catches, seven TDs). Seattle doesn’t get nearly the same pop from Doug Baldwin (66 catches, three TDs) and Jermaine Kearse (38 catches, one TD).
Credit the Patriots offensive line for keeping this engine in fine form. They allowed just 26 sacks during the regular season, compared to 42 for Seattle. And reports have center Bryan Stork returning to practice on Thursday after missing the AFC title game with a sprained knee. New England’s fortunes turned around this year when Stork was promoted to the starting lineup in Week 5.
Defensively, nearly all the advantages are on Seattle’s side – although Football Outsiders have New England ranked No. 3 at limiting the opposition’s open-field rushing yards, ahead of the Seahawks at No. 8. That’s one of the by-products of all the nickel packages the Patriots are running this year.
The Patriots also have a decided advantage on special teams, particularly in the return game, where Edelman (on punts) and Danny Amendola (kickoffs) have given New England’s offense solid field position all year. This is where the Seahawks could have used Percy Harvin, especially with Paul Richardson (knee) out for the season. On top of that, Patriots PK Stephen Gostkowski was 35-for-37 on field goals this year, out-kicking Seattle’s Steven Hauschka at 31-for-37. In what looks like a close game on paper, New England’s special teams could be the difference-maker, perhaps enough to make the Patriots a sharp NFL pick on Super Bowl Sunday.