By Steve Silverman
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There will come a time in the next few days when the focus will leave “Deflate-gate” and it will actually center on the Patriots and Seahawks as they prepare for Super Bowl XLIX.
(Next year’s game will be referred to as Super Bowl 50, and not Super Bowl L, but the NFL says its use of Roman Numerals will return the following year.)
If the Patriots can put the hangover of this scandal behind them, this could actually be one of the most memorable Super Bowls of them all. The matchup appears to be two heavyweights who are at the peak of their powers, and they should be able to test each other with their best efforts.
This could be the Ali-Frazier of Super Bowls.
We rarely get that. Last year’s matchup in New Jersey was supposed to be memorable, but the Broncos just didn’t match up physically with the Seahawks and as a result got overwhelmed.
The Broncos were intimidated by the Seahawks. The Patriots likely won’t be.
The Seahawks’ memorable comeback against Green Bay may have opened the door for the Patriots to win their fourth Super Bowl championship. While the Seahawks have plenty of grit and guile on offense to go along with a brilliant defense, they don’t have the kind of talent or explosiveness that the Patriots possess.
Actually, a rematch between Green Bay and New England might have been the best the NFL had to offer. Those two teams met in in Wisconsin in late November, and the Packers came away with a 26-21 victory in what may have been the best-played game of the season.
An Aaron Rodgers-Tom Brady Super Bowl would have been a 60-minute game of “can you top this?”
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson doesn’t have to apologize for what he has done during his short NFL career. The 24-year-old is one game away from completing his third season, and he has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the best clutch signal-callers in the league.
But for 50-plus minutes last Sunday he was playing the worst game of his career. His four interceptions helped put the Packers on the cusp of a trip to Glendale, Arizona. Then, inexplicably, Green Bay got timid and failed to close out the game, thus giving Seattle’s inspiring quarterback one more chance.
It proved to be a huge mistake by the Packers, because Wilson overcame his problems and led the Seahawks on two late touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. He completed the miracle finish by throwing the winning 35-yard TD pass early in overtime.
Wilson is not going to be cowed by going on the big stage for a second straight year. While the Seahawks don’t have the kind of playmakers on offense that the Patriots do, they do enough with wideouts Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin and tight end Luke Willson to keep opponents honest.
Both the Seahawks and Patriots are going to try to establish their power running games. Marshawn Lynch may be the most impactful running back in the league. While Lynch (1,246 rushing yards) finished nearly 500 yards behind DeMarco Murray for the league’s rushing crown, he is a relentless punisher who is often at his best in the third and fourth quarters.
Lynch makes the running game viable for the Seahawks. While he is not going to do much talking on media day, you know what he is thinking by the way he dishes out punishment as he runs.
Lynch would appear to have the advantage over New England’s LeGarrette Blount, but don’t be so quick to assume that the Seattle defense will simply shut Blount down.
New England’s offensive line has been opening big holes for Blount since he rejoined the team after walking out on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while the Seattle front four is quite talented and aggressive with Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams, that defensive line is not huge.
The Patriots’ offensive line is significantly bigger and heavier. They are going to have a good chance of establishing the run even though the Seahawks ranked third against the run this season. If Blount runs for 80 yards or more, life is going to be a lot easier for Brady.
The teams will arrive in Arizona over the weekend and the traditional Super Bowl hype will immediately begin. Deflate-gate may start to fade away, and these two powerhouses will get around to the true business of preparing for what appears to be an epic confrontation.
The countdown will begin in earnest.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy