For the eight or nine days after the AFC Title Game, the prevailing story that none of us could escape was "Deflate-Gate." Hours upon hours of coverage of the pressure of footballs, the effects of deflation and Bill Belichick's cheating history. Honestly, the only good thing about Deflate-Gate was the green light to use the word "balls" on the radio in every sophomoric way possible.
Finally, that topic died around Tuesday of this week and was replaced by Marshawn Lynch press conferences and endless handwringing by certain media members that Lynch was clowning the interview process with repetitive one-sentence answers (HOW DARE HE!!). There was really nothing great that came out of that.
So needless to say, I'm ready for the game to get here.
Patriots versus Seahawks. Old lion versus young lion. Like Rocky Balboa versus Tommy Gunn! (Only Rocky wears Uggs and fancy scarves.)
It should be a fascinating matchup with the two teams quasi-mirror images of each other in terms of positions of strength and "less strength" (not a lot of weaknesses, really, with either team). Here are a few keys to the game, some handicapping trends and my prediction:
Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson's legs versus the Patriots' front seven With the Seahawks' wide receiving corps lacking the star power of last season against a secondary that is one of the best in the league, it'll be incumbent upon Seattle to move the ball on the ground. The good news for them is that just two games ago, the Ravens carved up the Patriots in a zone-blocking scheme to the tune of 129 yards for Justin Forsett. And that was Justin Forsett! This is Marshawn Lynch! Seattle uses a similar scheme, and oh by the way, can mix in some zone read stuff with Russell Wilson. Of the two teams, Seattle has the much better chance to control tempo in the game.
Rob Gronkowski in a gauntlet match versus the entire Seattle defense Tom Brady may be the greatest quarterback in the history of the game, especially when you take into account the weapons he's had available to him compared to those of some of his contemporaries through the years. This season is no different. Of all the targets Brady has, the only one that strikes fear into a defense is Gronk. He will be the focus of Seattle's defensive game plan. My guess is that Gronk will catch every Seahawk forearm and elbow possible getting out of his breaks, he will get every elbow, forearm and knee slightly after the whistle, and they will run multiple linebackers and safeties at him. Gronk's WWE mirror image for this game is a dude having to win the Royal Rumble from position number one and beat all 29 other guys. It's a gauntlet for Gronk on Sunday.
Richard Sherman versus pain in his arm It's tough to shake the image of Sherman at the end of the NFC Title Game cupping his arm to his torso like he'd had his rib cage caved in. It's equally tough to shake the thought of how inept Mike McCarthy was (on every level, really) in not attacking a weakened Sherman to try to put the game away. Bill Belichick won't be so kind. Expect LeGarrette Blount's first few runs to skew toward Sherman's side to see how he handles tackling with the banged-up wing.
GAMBLING TRENDS (courtesy of OddsShark.com)
Right now the game is a PICK EM, so who the trends below apply to is completely fluid until the line moves off of a coin flip.
· Favorites have lost three straight SBs and 5 of 7 overall, but are 25-21-2 ATS historically. However, the trend has not been the favorites' friend:
Favorites by decade:
o 60's: 2-1 ATS
o 70's: 8-2 ATS
o 80's: 5-5 ATS
o 90's: 6-3-1 ATS
o 00's: 3-6-1 ATS
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o 10's: 1-4 ATS
· If line stays under 3 points, it's just the fourth time since 1980 the SB spread was this small (last year -2 for Denver, three years ago Pats -2.5 vs Giants, PK in Super Bowl 19 Bengals vs Niners).
PREDICTION: I'm torn on who to pick, although I lean Seahawks, considering that they played as poorly as they will ever play and still found a way to beat the Packers in the NFC Title Game. They won't be turning the ball over five times again. The one thing I am confident about is the defense that will be played in this game. Barring defensive touchdowns or special teams plays, I think this will be a game that goes under the total of 47. Seahawks 23, Patriots 20