Showdown In Arizona: The Pre-Super Bowl State Of Play

Marc Sterne Producer, "The Tony Kornheiser Show"
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And so at last, we get to see this game between the Patriots and the Seahawks. As if playing for the championship itself wasn’t enough, this contest is brimming with subplots. For New England, they have to endure two weeks of accusations that they cheated to get past the Colts, only adding fuel to the fire that was the Spygate scandal in 2007. For a franchise that has become the gold standard for success in a league designed to promote parity, a loss would mean that their legacy stands to be maligned by those who would say they can’t win without cheating.

And it’s not just the legacy of the team – their quarterback and head coach are standing at the crossroads of immortality. Tom Brady has a chance to join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls. Bill Belichick has already tied Don Shula by taking his team to the title game for a sixth time, and another win would give him four – tying Chuck Noll for the most ever. Football is essentially a team sport, but coaches and head coaches are judged by how many wins they accrue. And the greatest of them are judged by how they perform in the Super Bowl. This is Brady and Belichick’s chance to place a definitive stamp on their careers, and forevermore silence the doubters.

On the other side stand the defending champion Seahawks. They are attempting to become the first team to win back to back titles since the Pats did it in 2003 and 2004. Their head coach, Pete Carroll, is trying to become the first man to win two college titles and two Super Bowls (yeah, I know the BCS title was “vacated,” but ask the guys who actually played in that game who won and who lost, and then tell the losers that they actually won).

Russell Wilson, for his part,  is poised to join an elite class of quarterbacks with more than one Super Bowl win. In fact, there are just eleven QB’s who’ve won more than one and seven who have won two. The group that has won two titles includes guys like Roger Staubach, John Elway, and Bart Starr. So for a kid who’s in just his third year, Wilson has the opportunity to join an elite group and set himself up to be one of the all time greats.

So with all of this one the line, what should we expect when these two team take the field today? The Seahawks have a punishing defense, and with Marshawn Lynch running the ball, one of the most effective ground games in the league. Those two things are usually the key ingredients for a win in the post season. Combine that with a QB like Wilson – who while not a tenth of the QB that Brady is – a mobile threat, who can burn you with a deep pass when the Seahawks need it most. Just ask the Packers, who held him in check for almost the entire game in the NFC Championship, before seeing him come alive to lead Seattle to an improbable win in overtime.

The Seahawks have played with a chip on their shoulder for most of this season, and when many folks counted them out after some early season struggles, they proved them all wrong by notching the best record in the NFC. Seattle’s best plan is to keep it a low scoring game, and rely on their world class defense to shut down New England and take advantage of any mistakes they might make, hoping to win a close game.

And that bring us back to the Patriots. While their defense isn’t as good as Seattle’s, it is very good. Other than Lynch, the Seahawks don’t have a strong arsenal of weapons, so it will be easier for New England to contain Seattle’s offense. When the Pats have the ball, they  have a lot of ways to attack the Seahawks. Between RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Rob Gronkowski, and WR Julian Edelman, Tom Brady has a lot of options for picking apart the vaunted Seattle defense.

The Patriots have the ability to put up a ton of points against anybody – they scored over 40 points five times this past season. That’s why if they get down early to the Seahawks, they have the confidence that they can generate enough offense to get back in the game. And with Tom Brady, they have the greatest QB in the game to give them even more confidence. Let’s face it, Brady is essentially John Wayne out there, and when John Wayne looks you in the eye and says calm down, we’re going to be fine, guess what: you calm down and do your job.

The Seahawks have won the Super Bowl, so they won’t be easily cowed if they fall behind (especially not after their comeback against Green Bay two weeks ago), but their offense isn‘t designed to play from behind, so they will find it much tougher sledding if they are playing catch up. Factor in that they’d be trying to do it against Brady and Belichick, who have won not just once, but three times, and the task becomes almost impossible.

I think the game will be close early on, but the Patriots will impose their will on the Seahawks and once they get a lead, they will pull away to secure their place in history. Brady and Belichick will hoist the Lombardi trophy one more time, ensuring their seat at the front table of the all time greats in the NFL. The final score will be 31-17, but it won’t even be that close. And while they are crying in their coffee in Seattle, a bunch of dudes named Kev and Sully will party like Cossacks in Southie. Fire up the duck boats for yet another championship in Boston!