In my annual preseason prediction post, I predicted New England would play Seattle for all the marbles. I also predicted New England would win. Now, the first part of my prediction has come true, and I’ve been trying the last two weeks to come up with some way for the second part to come true.
It’s frankly hard for me to imagine how the old dynasty from the East can topple the budding dynasty of the West. In the preseason, I’d actually expected the New England defense to be better than they are. They’re good, don’t get me wrong–they’re the best one Belichick has had since 2004, the last time he won a title. But the Seattle defense is awesome; downright scary.
So, how about the offenses? New England has a nice, creative, balanced attack. Gronkowski is probably the best tight-end ever. Their running game is very strong, and they seem to have learned that the passing game alone won’t win championships. That’s a solid team.
But remember, this Seattle defense shut down one of the all time greatest passing offenses last year. Granted, New England is more balanced than Denver was. But still, the Legion of Boom can handle Gronkowski with their own physical freaks on defense, and give Julian Edelman the same kind of nightmare game they gave Wes Welker a year ago.
When Seattle has the ball, New England will probably be able to stack the line against Marshawn Lynch and stop him running the ball. Belichick is a master at taking away an opposing team’s number one weapon. And their talented defensive backs can no doubt handle Seattle’s decent but unspectacular receivers one-on-one.
So, that sounds like a stalemate, right? Seattle’s defense shuts down New England’s offense, and New England’s defense shuts down Seattle’s offense. We’re looking at a 3-2 affair, are we?
Not quite. There’s another factor here, which is Russell Wilson’s ability to run–and Tom Brady’s inability to do the same. New England may stop Lynch, and they may stop Wilson’s throwing, but they’ll be hard pressed to do all that and keep Wilson in the pocket. Advantage: Seattle.
The deck is clearly stacked against New England. The match-up favors Seattle. It’s too bad, because this is the most complete team they’ve had since ’04. They would crush either of the New York teams that broke their hearts their last two trips. But sadly for them, this Seattle team is way better than those teams.
But even so, there is a path to victory for New England, even though they are distinctly the underdog. As usual, I’m advising they go run-heavy. (As I did the last time they were in this game.) But not just hammering it between the tackles with Blount and Gray, though some of that is in order. No, they need to try something a bit more devious than that.
I’m thinking “wildcat” formation here–and various other trick plays. Stuff Seattle has not seen and hasn’t practiced against. Intersperse that with a few quick, short passes–ideally to Gronkowski, since he’ll hopefully be better able to with stand the hard-hitting style of the Seattle secondary.
Like I advised in my post-mortem on Denver last year: defenses have the advantage in these games, so if you want to have a chance, you’ve got to be bold, and empty the playbook. They’re going to be ready for your standard offense; so your only chance is to show them an offense they haven’t seen before.
Bottom line: Seattle is the better team, but Belichick is the better coach, and I’m thinking he’s learned from his mistakes in the last two championships games his teams have lost. He’s coaching for his legacy in this game, as he has been all this post-season, and as in the Baltimore game, he’s going to pull out all the stops. The pick here is that the sly old coach has a few more tricks up his sleeve–enough to make my preseason prediction hold up: