This weekly column highlights news from around the league, developing stories, and what you can expect in the upcoming week for the Packers and the rest of the NFL.
As Packer fans I know it’s hard to get excited for this Super Bowl, given the way we were eliminated. But hopefully time has begun to heal those wounds and you’re ready to enjoy what should be a great Super Bowl matchup. The Seahawks are looking to be the first time since the Patriots in 2004-05 to successfully defend their Super Bowl title. Standing in their way are those very Patriots. New England was definitely the best team in the AFC this season and Tom Brady looks determined as ever to win his fourth Lombardi trophy. So, on the Super Bowl edition of Around the League, we’ll take an good, hard look at each team and what they need to do to win the big one on Sunday.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are clouded in controversy once again after being accused of using deflated game balls, but it doesn’t matter in the end. They destroyed the Colts in the AFC Championship game, so here they are. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are one of the best head coach/quarterback combos in NFL history and they have a chance to cement their legacy. Here are three things they must do in order to beat the Seahawks on Sunday.
Stop the run – Russell Wilson leaving the pocket and Marshawn Lynch leaving a trail of bodies in his wake are what make this team go. The two of them led the best rushing attack in the NFL this year, and it wasn’t close. Vince Wilfork and company have a huge task ahead of them this week, and they must have some success if they expect to win.
Establish the run – The Patriots’ strength is in Tom Brady and their passing game, as everyone knows. But the Seahawks strength is in their ability to stop opposing quarterbacks and receivers. They have the best secondary in the NFL and a solid pass-rush up front. In order to counteract, the Patriots have to find their hot hand at running back and beat the Seahawks defense to death with him.
Control the middle of the field – The soft underbelly of the Seahawks defense is in the middle. Belichick and Brady have to use Gronkowski and Edleman to control that area of the field to keep Seattle’s safeties from cheating back to shut down the deep ball. Brady loves to throw the ball over the top, but will not be given that opportunity if Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are able to sit back and play center field.
X-Factor – Rob Gronkowski has a humongous role to play in this game. Brandon Lafell and Julian Edleman have tough tasks lining up against Byron Maxwell and Richard Sherman. The soft spot in this Seattle defense is the middle of the field, which is exactly where Gronkowski operates. Gronkowski might be the only player that the Seahawks just don’t have an answer for. We’ll see if the Legion of Boom can tackle a runaway locomotive.
The Seahawks deserve a ton of credit for the manner in which they beat the Packers last week. With just over two minutes left to play, they trailed 19-7 and their offense had done absolutely nothing against the Packers defense, but they made the plays necessary to erase the deficit and win in overtime. That shows perseverance and determination necessary to win big games, even when you’ve been dominated for 57 minutes.
Establish the run – As mentioned above, the Seahawks strength on offense is in their rushing attack. Once the Seahawks finally got Lynch going in the fourth quarter, the Packers were doomed. Lynch has to get into a rhythm earlier in this game for this offense to stand a chance against the Patriots.
Pressure the quarterback – Tom Brady cannot be given time in the pocket, or he will pick that defense apart. The pass-rush has to be better than it was against the Packers, better than they’ve been all season, really. If Tom Brady is comfortable in the pocket, there’s no stopping him.
Protect the ball – Last week, the Seahawks turned the ball over five times. They still won the game because the Packers failed at converting the turnovers into touchdowns. The Patriots will not fail at that. If Wilson throws four interceptions again, the Patriots will win. They’re much better at converting touchdowns in the red zone. They have to clean up the mistakes and giveaways in order to win this game.
X-Factor – Kam Chancellor could be the most important player in this game. If there is an answer to Rob Gronkowski, Chancellor is it. He hits as hard as anyone in the NFL, and might be the only one with a chance at stopping the Patriots from ruling the middle of the field. He’ll also have to keep an eye out for Julian Edleman on short routes, so he’ll have his plate full. He’s one of the best safeties in the game and always seems to answer the call in big situations. He’ll be called upon regularly against New England, we’ll see if he’s up to it once again.
The Seahawks played one of their worst games last week and still won. They can’t come out flat like that again and expect to beat the Patriots. Brady and Belichick have been there too many times, and they know how to make you pay for your mistakes. Brady has more weapons at his disposal and a defense that can contain the Seahawks offense. Brady is going to win his fourth ring. The Patriots are just the better team right now.
Patriots 24 – Seahawks 17