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Game Capsules: Breaking Down Super Bowl XLIX

Brett Niemand

Brett Niemand helps cover fantasy football for Rotowire, focusing on weekly Game Capsules. Brett played [well, during blowouts] wide receiver at Division-III Whitworth University from 2005-2008. Lifelong fan of the reigning Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. Follow him on twitter @brettniems

Stat of the Week I: Favorites are 33-15 SU and 26-20-2 ATS all-time on Super Sunday. However, underdogs (10-3 ATS since 2001) have covered six of the last seven, winning five outright. No Super Bowl has ever closed as a pick 'em.

Stat of the Week II: Jerry Rice had a career line of 33-589-8 in four Super Bowl appearances. That's 8.25 receptions, 147.25 yards and 2.0 touchdowns per game.

New England Patriots (-1) vs. Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, 6:30 p.m. EST (O/U 48)

New England:
The Patriots annihilated Indianapolis, 45-7, in the AFC title game, third-largest blowout in conference championship history (1990 Bills, 2000 Giants). This is the eighth Super Bowl appearance for New England, tied with Dallas and Pittsburgh for most all-time. However, the Patriots lost four of their seven Super Bowl appearances, including the last two (2007, 2011). ... For the second straight year, we have both No. 1 seeds and top two teams in point differential (NE: 468-313, plus-9.7 PPG; SEA: 394-254, plus-8.7 PPG). Unfortunately, the game itself has been largely ignored with "Deflate-Gate" dominating media headlines for two weeks. Bill Belichick, just the third head coach to face his predecessor in the Big Game (Weeb Ewbank, SB III; Bill Callahan, SB XXXVII), was admittedly "embarrassed" by the amount of time and energy he's devoted to the matter. Belichick has been masterful with an extra week of preparation throughout his tenure in New England (since 2001: 11-3 regular season, 10-3 playoffs); but just how much did the situation detract from his bye-week prep? ...

New England has lost only twice in its last 14 games with one a meaningless rest-the-starters Week 17 against Buffalo. However, the Seahawks came out on top in the teams' last meeting, 24-23 in Seattle Week 6 of 2012, despite six trips into the red area by the Pats. In addition, New England hasn't fared well against read-option/mobile quarterbacks in recent years (0-3 since 2012); Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton averaged 241 YPG, 9.0 YPA, 5.6 YPC with a 10:1 TD:INT ratio in those three games. ... There are a few common themes to beating Seattle: in all four of the Seahawks' losses their opponent took no more than one sack, didn't throw an interception, rushed 27 times or more and scored on every RZ trip. ...

Tom Brady is now No. 1 all-time in playoff wins, touchdowns, completions and passing yards; his 20 postseason wins are actually more than 21 franchises. He already broke the tie with John Elway for most SB appearances by a starting quarterback (6) and would become only the third QB in NFL history with four rings with a victory Sunday (Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana). In five Super Bowls (3-2), he took home the MVP trophy twice with a 9:2 TD:INT ratio, but averaged a modest 6.5 YPA and 255.4 YPG. ... The Patriots' success in the passing game hinges on their ability to protect Tom Brady; they allowed just 26 sacks (fourth fewest) while Seattle only got to the opposition's QB 37 times (20th). New England is in trouble if the Seahawks get pressure with four, a la the Giants in 2007 and 2011. Fortunately for the Patriot faithful, those NYG pass rushers were more lethal than Michael Bennett (7.0 sacks) and Cliff Avril (5.0); New York averaged 50 sacks in its SB-winning seasons. Seattle surrendered merely 17 touchdowns (second), 6.3 YPA (second) and 185.6 YPG (first) through the air. Despite throwing for 395 yards, Brady struggled with Seattle in 2012, posting 6.8 YPA and a 2:2 TD:INT ratio. ...

Rob Gronkowski has touchdowns in five straight games and a 10-136-2 line in the playoffs. He was far from healthy last time around but held to two catches for 26 yards in his lone SB appearance (2011). Gronkowski posted 6-61-0 in his only encounter with the Seahawks, who allowed the fifth-fewest yards to the TE position in 2014. In four games against other elite tight ends (Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas) the last two years, Seattle surrendered just 11-94-2. ... Expect varied looks from SEA DC Dan Quinn to keep him off balance, with man coverage more often than not; given his size (wide range, easy to find), Gronk eats up zone - e.g. divisional round versus BAL. Seattle loves to play Cover-One Robber with Earl Thomas roaming center field and Kam Chancellor the robber underneath, a luxury the range of Thomas and lockdown ability of Richard Sherman affords. As physical as he is in-line blocking, Gronkowski can be bothered when defenders get their hands on him; Chancellor, the best SS in football, certainly has the size and athleticism to frustrate him. ... In four postseason games the last two years, Julian Edelman has 33 receptions for 345 yards, catching at least six passes for 74 yards. Brandon LaFell has been much less effective in the playoffs, totaling 13-124-1 in three career games. No slouches in their own right, but those two are no match for the Legion of Boom, which allowed by far the fewest receptions (159), yards (2,116), touchdowns (5) and fantasy points (12.6) to opposing WR this season. ...

LeGarrette Blount now has seven postseason rushing touchdowns for NE, most in franchise history (Brady and Curtis Martin, 5). However, 314 of his 321 yards and all seven TD in the playoffs have come in two games, both against Indy. In his other two postseason games against Baltimore and Denver, he carried eight times for seven yards combined. Blount broke plenty of tackles last week, but Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith are sure tacklers and significantly better than what the Colts offer at LB. ... Jonas Gray has just 24 rushes for 84 yards since his 37-carry, 201-yard Week 11 breakout performance. Shane Vereen has been minimally involved recently but received more touches than usual against elite run defenses, i.e. NYJ and DET. ... The Patriots are the best in the business at reinventing their offensive identity week to week and will exploit defensive weaknesses regardless of their own strengths. Seattle's run D ranked second in YPC (3.4), third in YPG (81.5) and fifth in touchdowns allowed (8), but DT is the team's glaring weakness. With Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams both on the wrong side of 30 and replacement-level players at this stage of their careers, Seattle often goes small with Michael Bennett lining up at three-technique.

Seattle:
The Seahawks overcame a 16-point deficit to beat Green Bay, 28-22, the third-largest comeback in conference championship history (2006 Colts, 18 points; 2012 49ers, 17 points). They've won eight straight and 11 of 12 games, going 34-15-1 in their last 50. The first defending champion to return to the Super Bowl in a decade (2003-2004 Patriots), Seattle is the first team to lead the league in scoring defense and make the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons since the 1972-1973 Dolphins. ... Seattle must start fast and protect the football to repeat. In two playoff games, the Hawks managed only 14 first-half points (45 after the break); fortunately for them, they finished strong, outscoring opponents 83-13 in the fourth quarter/OT the last eight games (130-26 in second half). They turned it over five times against the Packers -- most since 2010 -- but the defense, as great as it is, can't keep bailing them out of adverse situations. ...

The Patriots' top priority is containing Marshawn Lynch, coming off a franchise playoff-record 157 yards against Green Bay (120 in second half/OT). The Seahawks' plan isn't complex, they're 24 games over .500 when Lynch has 20-plus carries but just a game over when he doesn't. Lynch eclipsed the century mark in five of nine postseason games and reached the painted area in seven; he averaged 133.8 YPG in those 100-yard efforts but totaled just 146 in the other four (163-815-8 overall, 5.0 YPC). ... New England, ninth in both YPG (104.3) and YPC (4.0), surrendered just six rushing touchdowns all year (second). However, the Pats struggled with one-back zone runs against Baltimore (Forsett 24-129), something Seattle excels at. They also allowed 1.95 YPC after contact (19th) while Marshawn Lynch led the league with 771 YAC, 2.75 per carry. Easier said than done, but tackling him is crucial to New England's success: Beast Mode broke 109 tackles this season, 38 more than second-place DeMarco Murray despite 117 fewer attempts. As we've seen all year, the Seahawks tend to pull away in the second half (NFL-best 111 rushing YPG after halftime; Lynch 5.13 YPC), but New England allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards after the break (41.7 YPG). ... Despite being past his prime at 33, five-time All-Pro Vince Wilfork must deliver as the run-stuffing DT we've known him to be. Even if he never makes a tackle, inducing double-teams is of the utmost importance; the Patriots were 10-0 when allowing fewer than 40 yards up the middle (2-4 otherwise), and Lynch led the NFL in that category. ...

Despite throwing a career-high four interceptions, Russell Wilson posted a 92.2 Total QBR in the fourth quarter/OT (0.2 entering final period) against Green Bay to win his fifth consecutive playoff game (6-1 career). Wilson, soon to be the first QB to start two Super Bowls in his first three seasons, improved to 3-2 when facing a halftime deficit of 14 points or more (rest of league 15-169 since 2012). In his only encounter with the Pats, Wilson went for 293 yards and three touchdowns (10.9 YPA) to help the Hawks wipe out a 13-point fourth quarter deficit. Prior to last week's disastrous showing, his TD:INT ratio was 9:1 and passer rating 109.6 (No. 1 all-time) in postseason play. ... New England's 17th-rated pass defense (239.8 YPG) allowed 7.2 YPA (15th) and a 59.6 completion percent (eighth) this season. Expect Belichick to blitz Russell Wilson frequently to keep him either on the ground or in the pocket, he took 42 sacks this season (sixth most) while the Patriots had 40 (tied 13th). Wilson has been solid throughout his postseason career (224.7 YPG, 8.7 YPA), but the Seahawks will lose if OC Darrell Bevell waits until the fourth quarter to use the read-option as he did a week ago. ...

The reason being, Seattle simply isn't good enough at WR to consistently win outside, even against single coverage. Despite the late-game heroics, Seattle's receiving corps was nothing short of terrible against the Packers. Given the degree to which it was outplayed by Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, the group is completely overmatched by Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. ... Prior to the game-winning touchdown, four of the five passes intended for Jermaine Kearse were intercepted. The former UW Husky has now scored in four straight playoff games, but that 35-yard post saved it from being the worst game this writer has ever seen a receiver play. ... Since 2013, Doug Baldwin averages 69.2 YPG in the postseason but doesn't command shadow coverage from Revis. Fourth in the league at defending the WR position, New England boasts the NFL's top secondary outside Seattle, enabling it to bring extra men into the box to stop the run. If/when that happens, Wilson has to take a few deep shots with Ricardo Lockette, Seattle's only burner. ... Expect a lot of Devin McCourty at single-high safety, leaving frequent one-on-one opportunities for Luke Willson (11-250-3 last four games) against Patrick Chung-matchups he must win.

Predictions:
Tom Brady is reasonably well protected given the opponent (two sacks), allowing him to pass for 254 yards and two touchdowns. However, Brady throws two crucial interceptions, picked off once by Richard Sherman in the red area and later to end the game via Earl Thomas. Rob Gronkowski finds the end zone but is limited to 57 yards by Kam Chancellor and co. Julian Edelman works effectively underneath, gaining 63 yards, but manages little after the catch. Despite his build, Brandon LaFell struggles getting off the jam and will again Sunday, resulting in just 39 yards. LeGarrette Blount rushes 14 times for only 49 yards with Jonas Gray contributing 31 on nine carries. Shane Vereen adds 62 YFS and a touch, the majority of his production coming as a receiver. Russell Wilson accounts for 266 yards and two touchdowns (8-48-1 rushing). Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette all chip in at least 40 yards but no more than 55. Marshawn Lynch grinds out 109 yards on 23 attempts, scoring both on the ground and through the air on his way to MVP honors (first RB to win award since Terrell Davis in 1997). Football's newest dynasty begins at the hands of the last with Seattle becoming the first team to repeat since the Patriots a decade ago. Knocking off arguably the two greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game en route to back-to-back Lombardi Trophies vaults the Legion of Boom into the discussion for best defense in NFL history.
Seattle, 24-23.