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This year’s edition will see the New England Patriots, AFC Champions, face up against the NFC and reigning Superbowl champions, Seattle Seahawks. Both teams were ranked as the #1 seed going into playoffs following the regular season.
Though they both were indeed the best seeds, they both got off to shaky starts with records of 2-2. Seattle were challenged by injuries and the basic fact that it is really difficult to return to the Superbowl following a victory in it. While New England were having to suppress worries that their quarterback Tom Brady might have reached a point in his career where his performances are beginning to wane, and fast.
The Seahawks traded away talented, but troubled, wide-receiver (and all-round danger) Percy Harvin to the New York Jets. This move sparked doubts in the quality of the receiving corp of the team, whether it was good enough for them to get into the playoffs, never mind the Superbowl.
It was the rushing attack rather than the passing of Seattle, the best in the league statistically, which drove them into the playoffs and this game on Sunday. This is the first of the keys to the game. The Patriots have to find a way to stop Seattle running with the ball successfully. But stopping Seattle’s running back and ‘Beastmode’ Marshawn Lynch is easier said than done. Remember to look out for Robert Turbin, the backup running back for Seattle, he is a very capable player and the team occasionally subs him on to give Lynch a short break. It does not mean they would stop running the ball, Turbin has the ability to create big plays.
However, it is not just Lynch, New England have to think about and prepare to stop, but also Seattle’s quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson is the team’s leader both on and off the pitch and should be seen as the exemplar sportsperson. During the course of the regular season Wilson had the 16th highest rushing yards total. In fact, he ran for more yards than the starting running back for 18 of the other 32 teams in the league. He is the personification of a dual-threat quarterback. Keep your eyes on No.3, he has the ability to create positive plays out of seemingly disastrous situations. What you can also guarantee is that he will make sure that the Seahawks will fight to the very end; this spirit was epitomised in the team’s miraculous comeback victory against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship match.
Defensively for the Seattle Seahawks, the return from injury of strong safety Kam Chancellor and linebacker Bobby Wagner during the regular season saw the defence return to its devastating best. The commentary team on Sunday will likely first speak about cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, and defensive end Michael Bennett, when picking out the most important players for the defence. Which they are perfectly in their rights to do, Sherman and Thomas are arguably the best players in the league in their particular position. But one will see that it is in fact Bobby Wagner who is the most important player. He will be quarterbacking the defence to try and stop Tom Brady, which is an exciting prospect.
Kam Chancellor is going to be an important piece in Seattle’s gameplan, and the next of the keys to the game. Seattle has to find a way to stop Rob Gronkowski, New England’s superstar tight end, possibly the best tight end to have ever played the game. Chancellor is known, and feared, for his big hitting plays. He will need to bring all the power he can to take on Gronk’s thick 6’6” frame. One needs to keep up with this matchup.
Yes, Gronkowski is the Patriots’ most lethal weapon on offence, outside of Brady, but he is not the only potential game breaker on the team. Since signing as a free agent in November, running back LeGarrette Blount has provided a real running threat for New England. Both the Seahawks and the viewers need to remember now that the Patriots are not just a one-dimensional offence.
Two names to note down, because they may only make one or two plays in the game, but they may be critical ones. Luke Willson, tight end of the Seahawks, and Julian Edelman the diminutive but dangerous wide-receiver for the Patriots. It is in the Superbowl where previously unknown names in the sport can make themselves known, so don’t worry if you do not recognise some names. Just sit back and enjoy the game.
I have given you two keys to the game, and yes they will be important in the outcome of the match. However what is going to dictate how this match on Sunday plays out is how the game starts for both teams. If the Patriots get out to a big lead early, we will see if the Seahawks can pass their way to victory, which is no easy task given the quality of the cornerbacks for the Patriots. If, on the other hand, Seattle gets out into the lead early, viewers will see if Tom Brady has the ability to dissect an almost legendary defence, nicknamed the ‘Legion of Boom’.
In short, this game is not one to be missed. Not just because it is the Superbowl, but because it will be a great contest between the two best teams in the NFL right now.