The New England Patriots had the makings of a dynasty as QB Tom Brady led them to Super Bowl victories in 2001, 2003, and 2004. For as many postseason and even Super Bowl appearances that the Patriots have made since then, though, they have been shut out of another Super Bowl for over a decade now.
Last year might have been the final shot for QB Peyton Manning to capture another Super Bowl, and things didn't pan out for he and the Denver Broncos. The window could very well be closing on Brady as well. The Patriots can't take this opportunity for granted, because it might be their last in a very long time.
Why the Patriots Will Win Super Bowl XLIX
Putting on a Clinic in Keeping Opponents Off-Balance Defensively: When the Patriots were torn apart by the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4 by a score of 41-14, their record fell to 2-2. After the game, a reporter asked Patriots head coach Bill Belichick if the team would be evaluating the quarterback position, presumably to determine whether rookie quarterback Jimmy Garrapolo could replace Brady. Belichick answered it in the best way possible -- with a smirk and a brief chuckle of disbelief.
Leading up to the team's Week 5 game against the Bengals, Belichick continuously responded to questions about Brady with, "We're on to Cincinnati." The media had almost begun to write off the Patriots, believing that either the Buffalo Bills or Miami Dolphins could finally overtake the AFC East. Instead, the Patriots blew out the Bengals 43-17 and won 10 of their next 11 games to improve to 12-3 on the season. They rested their starters in a Week 17 loss, finishing the year at 12-4.
Although the Patriots have a lot of talent on defense too, the key ingredient to their resurgence was Brady and the offense getting into a groove again. During their streak in which they won 10 of 11 games, the offense averaged 34.5 points per game, an incredible amount compared to the rest of the NFL. Points weren't a problem in their two postseason wins over the Ravens and Colts, when they scored 35 and 41 points, respectively.
For as much as a guy like Chip Kelly tried to re-invent the NFL offensively in Philadelphia, the Patriots are able to teach a master class in it every year. They know how to utilize and motivate their personnel at the right time. Their three staples on offense include tight end Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Brandon LaFell.
Anyone after them on the depth chart is a threat to contribute when their number is called. Danny Amendola, once a top commodity wide receiver, hardly saw the field in 2014, yet was given a substantial amount of reps in the divisional playoff game against the Patriots. The result? Two touchdown catches. The Patriots didn't run the ball once in the second half of that game, and they introduced the unbalanced line/ineligible-receiver-split-wide caveat that John Harbaugh's unit couldn't figure out on the fly.
Tom Brady began his career with three Super Bowl rings in four years, but he's gone over a decade without capturing another ring. This could be his last opportunity, and come game time, "deflated footballs" will be the last thing on his mind. Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Against the Colts, those formations didn't work out for too many big plays. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, those were pretty much the only plays they could stop as Brady and company made it a route from the get-go. Just like no-name hero Jonas Gray shredded the Colts during the regular season for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns, LeGarrette Blount did the same in the postseason, plunging for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns. Offensive lineman Nate Solder also caught a 16-yard touchdown pass.
People have talked about the Seahawks' defense bring back to the elite unit that they are, but haven't they had an awfully easy schedule? After starting 3-3, they were 9-1 in their final 10 games, a stretch that included two wins over offensively-challenged Arizona, two wins over the "out of the door Jim Harbaugh 49ers," and wins over the offensively-challenged Raiders, Giants, Panthers, and Rams. Even when they beat the Eagles, it came with Mark Sanchez at quarterback.
Seattle opened the postseason with a gift of a game versus a below-500 Panthers team. Against the Packers, the first "legitimate" offensive team they faced in ages, they held tough but only really won the game because of a miracle, once-in-a-lifetime comeback. Plus, two of their top defensive players in the secondary suffered what look to be painful injuries that will linger on Sunday.
For as good as the Patriots' offense is, their defense is pretty darn good too, led by CB Darrelle Revis, who intercepted QB Andrew Luck last week in what was probably the young quarterback's most disappointing game as a pro. Photo Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The Seahawks come limping into this game defensively and are facing a Patriots team that is motivated to prove to everyone that DeflateGate is just a media-blown-up excuse to be upset about why New England is consistently at the top of the food chain. Pats Pulpit, our Patriots affiliate, did an extensive scouting report leading up this game, and here were their primary takeaways:
1) The Patriots offense is the most balanced we've seen this year when comparing to opponents. Others might have more dangerous facets (the Packers deep ball, the Ravens rushing scheme, literally any other offensive line), but no unit is more complete than New England's.
2) The Patriots defense is fantastic, but they could benefit to improve with greater pass rush inside (fingers crossed for Dominique Easley). Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in football, although watching Richard Sherman for this week gives some great respect for his ability- he's more than just a player who can cover his side of the field, even though that's all his coaches asked of him. He's just doing his job and Patriots fans can appreciate that.
3) The Seahawks offense is really good at what it does, with the power rushing and the deep throws, but if either of those are taken away their team really struggles and leans upon its defense to pick up the slack, and provide a drive or two of great field position for the offense to capitalize on.
4) The Seahawks defense is really good. Yes, they played a very soft schedule at the end of their regular season, but they also took care of business against the Packers. They're methodical and they limit their mental errors, which makes it difficult for offenses to exploit through defensive mistakes. They make offenses earn every single yard and the Patriots are hopefully up to the task.
The Patriots have already shown they are willing to pull out all the stops to win (and I don't mean deflating footballs). Brady commented about Seattle's comeback last week and how they did something similar against New England, with QB Russell Wilson leading the charge, a couple of years ago:
"It's a 60 minute game. You can be up 16-0. I'm not sure how many we were up at one point when we were there in 2012 in the fourth quarter. Up 10 or 11 and they came back on us, so we've got to be prepared to go for 60 minutes. They're a tough test because I think they have guys that are playmakers on defense. Obviously on offense, they make a lot of great plays. Special teams are very solid. So you can't relax on any element of the game.
The pressure is on right from the start. However long it takes in 60 minutes. If it goes into overtime, we've got to be prepared to go down to the wire. We know that they have the ability to do that. They've done that. They've shown that. That is part of the makeup of that team. We've had some tough challenges where we've been down and found ways to come back and win. So whatever it is, if you're ahead or if you're behind, you've got to play until there is no time left on the clock."
The Patriots are going to jump out to a quick lead, and with the defense set to zone in on RB Marshawn Lynch, the question will be whether Seattle's receivers can win one-on-one matchups. With a talent like CB Darrelle Revis in New England's back pocket, they won't be able to -- Brady will get his fourth and final Super Bowl.
To see the companion piece of why the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl, click here.