Super Bowl XLIX Predictions: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks
The big game is finally here.
After training camps, a month of the preseason, 17 weeks of regular-season games and three rounds of postseason football, one game remains in the 2014 season.
Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona.
Thirty-two teams began the quest to reach the desert for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy, but only two teams remain.
For the New England Patriots, it's a chance to join the "four rings" club and a shot at rarefied air for quarterback Tom Brady.
For the Seattle Seahawks, it's a chance for a second straight world championship, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since the Pats went back-to-back in 2004 and 2005.
As the Patriots and Seahawks prepare to face off in the biggest game in all of sports, the Division Lead and National Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report have gathered one last time.
The crystal ball has been consulted (don't worry, the air pressure was fine). The tea leaves have been read. The tarot cards have been examined.
Here's how they see Super Bowl XLIX playing out.
A handful of Bleacher Report scribes, from NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen to NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller and NFC West Lead Writer Sean Tomlinson, have predicted eight of 10 postseason games correctly. So, depending on their Super Bowl picks, we appear headed for a tie where the playoffs are concerned.
The overall leader among Bleacher Report writers from Week 1 through the conference championship games, according to PickWatch?
That would be yours truly, at 182-83, good for 11th among the 133 pundits tracked by the site.
Matt Bowen: NFL National Lead Writer 2-0 (8-2)
Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 2-0 (8-2)
Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 2-0 (7-3)
Erik Frenz: AFC East Lead Writer 2-0 (6-4)
Brad Gagnon: NFC East Lead Writer 2-0 (7-3)
Andrea Hangst: AFC North Lead Writer 2-0 (7-3)
Christopher Hansen: AFC West Lead Writer 2-0 (7-3)
Zach Kruse: NFC North Lead Writer 1-1 (7-3)
Rivers McCown: AFC South Lead Writer 2-0 (6-4)
Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 2-0 (8-2)
Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 1-1 (7-3)
Michael Schottey: NFL National Lead Writer 1-1 (7-3)
Chris Simms: Former NFL Quarterback, NFL Analyst 2-0 (7-3)
Brent Sobleski: NFC South Lead Writer 2-0 (7-3)
Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 2-0 (7-3)
Sean Tomlinson: NFC West Lead Writer 2-0 (8-2)
Aggregate: 2-0 (8-2)
The AFC Champions: New England Patriots
AFC Champions: New England Patriots (14-4)
Back in Week 4, after the Kansas City Chiefs blew out New England, many pundits called time of death on the Patriots' decade-long dominance in the AFC East.
Among those scribes was Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter:
Their failure was so complete, so embarrassing, that it's hard to see any way they'll win more games than they lose—let alone collect their usual division title or represent the AFC in the Super Bowl again.
Mind you, Schalter was far from alone in feeling this way. The problem is someone apparently forgot to tell the Patriots.
After that loss, the Patriots went 10-2 the rest of the way, dispatching four teams that would go on to make the playoffs in the process. That includes a Week 17 loss to Buffalo by the Patriots' JV team.
After securing the AFC's top seed, the Patriots then outlasted the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round before blasting the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game.
Of course, years from now that game won't be remembered for the score.
It will be remembered for Deflategate.
The scandal that may not be a scandal has been the topic du jour in the NFL over the past week. For the Pats, it has to bring up unpleasant memories of Super Bowl XLII, when an unbeaten Patriots team lost to the New York Giants amid the brouhaha from Spygate.
However, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said, per Terry Blount of ESPN, that if anything, Deflategate may only serve to rally the AFC champions:
I think it's common when you feel like you're under attack it draws you closer. I would suspect those guys will rally together. We understand it's a distraction they don't want, but I'm sure they're handling it in the best way possible. That's all you can do right now.
If there's one thing that Pats head man Bill Belichick and New England quarterback Tom Brady aren't strangers to, it's the circus that surrounds football's biggest game. Super Bowl XLIX marks the sixth time the pair will vie for the Lombardi Trophy, a record for a coach-quarterback combo.
Why the Patriots Will Win Super Bowl XLIX
This year's Super Bowl is as close a call as we've seen in many years. According to Odds Shark, bets on the game have been split nearly down the middle. The spread for the game is a single point, in favor of the Patriots.
Vegas oddsmakers may be having trouble predicting a Super Bowl winner, but the folks at Madden have already crowned a champion.
As Nick Schwartz of USA Today reports, a simulation of the iconic video game predicted that a late Tom Brady drive will give New England a 28-24 win.
Stop rolling your eyes. The simulations are 8-3 over the last 11 Super Bowls, which is at least as good as most prognosticators have fared over that span.
Whether he was speaking out of confidence or ignorance, Seahawks nickel cornerback Jeremy Lane provided the Patriots some bulletin-board material last week when offering an unflattering assessment of New England's star tight end.
'I actually don't think he's that good,' Lane said. 'He's OK. He does have a big body. But from what I've seen on tape, he doesn't like you putting your hands on him. So if we put our hands on him and shake him up a little bit, he won't catch that many balls.'
Good luck with that. A healthy Rob Gronkowski is the frontrunner for 2014 NFL Comeback Player of the Year -- and for good reason. He is the key target in New England's passing offense. Gronkowski is tied with Randy Moss as the second-fastest players in league history to reach 50 touchdown catches, doing so in just 59 games.
For this writer (who's been back and forth on this game more than a spatula at IHOP), it's a matter of the New England defense.
I like the ability of defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich and linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins to diagnose and react to Seattle's zone-read. I especially like the ability of the Patriots to pressure Russell Wilson with their front four.
Remember, for three-plus quarters of the NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks were stymied by the Green Bay Packers defense, and it's not hard to make the argument that New England's is better.
PSI or no PSI, the Patriots were surgical in their dismantling of the Colts. If a weakness emerges, they'll exploit it—over and over and over.
And the Patriots aren't going to make the incredible chain of mistakes that let the Seahawks back in the game against the Packers.
Turn over the rock like that against Brady and his ball boys, and there won't be any miracle comeback.
The NFC Champions: Seattle Seahawks
NFC Champions: Seattle Seahawks (14-4)
You know, I'm really starting to think that occasionally, just occasionally, the media is prone to overreact just a tad.
After all, the Patriots aren't the only participants in this year's Super Bowl who were all but written off earlier this season.
As recently as October, when Seattle fell to 3-3 after a loss to the St. Louis Rams, Adam Schein of NFL.com wrote that the Seahawks were in danger of missing the postseason altogether:
Back in April, when everyone was talking about an emerging dynasty in Seattle, I wrote a column explaining why the Seahawks would not repeat. And in August, I picked San Francisco to win the NFC West.
Well, I still like the Niners to make the playoffs. And the Cardinals, too.
Beyond the season-opening dismantling of Green Bay, Seattle just hasn't looked dominant -- not even against the lowly Redskins. The previously stout defense has been pushed around. The offensive line has issues. The bullies have been out-bullied.
That nonsense about the Percy Harvin trade factoring into Seattle's latest setback is a loser's lament. The Seahawks didn't stumble in St. Louis because a malcontent was traded.
The 49ers may not have been listening, but the Seahawks took Schein's words to heart.
The Seahawks won nine of their last 10 regular-season games, including six in a row to close out the year. Over that six-game span, the Seahawks' NFL-best defense allowed all of 39 points.
Unless you've been living in seclusion over the past month (was it tranquil?) you know how the Seahawks' playoffs went. An easy win over the Carolina Panthers followed by the most improbable of comebacks over the Packers.
Despite Russell Wilson's four-interception game (the first of his career) against the Packers, head coach Pete Carroll told Blount that he didn't doubt for a moment that the quarterback would lead the team to victory:
I think he’s very, very special. I don’t know how he could play at the level that he plays, in the most challenging of times, without a tremendous mind. He’s got a tremendous competitive mindset and it stems from the confidence that he feels based on the preparation that he puts in, knowing that he’s ready for whatever comes up.
You saw a tremendous illustration of that [against Green Bay]. I don’t think you could hope an athlete at this level could have a more clear mindset of what it takes to come through and get it done more so than what Russell has.
The same Russell Wilson, mind you, who could be set to sign one knee-knocker of a contract extension.
Tapping two Super Bowl rings on the desk wouldn't hurt in negotiations, that's for sure.
Why the Seahawks Will Win Super Bowl XLIX
Granted, Russell Wilson is a great young quarterback, but a shootout between Wilson and Brady isn't a recipe for Super Bowl success for the Seahawks.
The first ingredient in that is a healthy dose of Beast Mode.
Lynch may be grabbing headlines for grabbing, on top of his usual penchant for zipped lips around the press, but as Marvez wrote, Seattle's ability to bang away between the tackles is a key matchup in Super Bowl XLIX:
Lynch is known for wearing down defenses and then busting long gains in the second half like his 24-yard touchdown run against the Packers. The Patriots will probably be willing to leave their cornerbacks in press coverage against Seattle's no-name receiving corps to free safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty for run support.
Mind you, this isn't to say Wilson's not a big factor himself. Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen certainly thinks so, especially where Wilson's ability to hurt teams with his legs is concerned:
The Seahawks and (offensive coordinator Darrell) Bevell will put together a call sheet that utilizes Wilson's skill set, while testing the discipline of the Patriots defense. Think assignment, eye placement and tackling from the perspective of New England.
That's why Wilson is a true X-factor in this matchup. He can force the Patriots to adjust their game plan with his ability to run the football and produce in multiple schemes.
Then there's the matter of a Seattle defense that led the NFL in total defense, passing defense and scoring defense. A Seattle defense virtually identical to the one that pounded the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
In fact, Bowen believes the Seahawks may be equipped to do something that most NFL teams can only dream about: stop Rob Gronkowski:
It takes rare talent at the safety position to limit Gronkowski because of his size and skill set, but it still comes down to technique. It always does. Challenge the release, slide the feet and play with the proper technique to finish.
That’s not easy to do every rep versus Gronkowski, and he will make some plays versus the Seattle defense. But when I watch tape on (Kam) Chancellor and study the physical approach he brings to the stadium, the strong safety gives the Seahawks the opportunity to use multiple schemes to neutralize Gronkowski.
Simply put, it really isn't hard to imagine how the Seahawks can win Super Bowl XLIX.
Just watch this. The rest is pretty self-explanatory.
Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
I'm on the record as stating that the Deflatriots (that won't get old for a while) will emerge victorious in Super Bowl XLIX. With that said, the fact that I predicted the game to be decided by a single point (24-23) should give some idea of how difficult the decision was.
NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier went the opposite direction (calling for a 19-17 win by the Seahawks), but he agrees it's going to be a nail-biter:
One thing to keep in mind while trying to predict the outcome of this game is that the scores of the two Giants-Patriots Super Bowls were 17-14 and 21-17. The Patriots had better offenses in those two games than they have this year, and while they were facing defense-oriented opponents, neither the 2007 nor 2011 Giants defense can come close to the 2014 Seahawks in terms of quality. It doesn't make much sense to predict a very high score.
Still, while the Patriots may be a slight favorite among bettors, the Seahawks are the clear choice of our panel.
Yes, the Patriots have their supporters (beside me), including Bleacher Report AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz:
The Patriots offense has been one of the most adaptable in the league this season, alternating freely and seamlessly between a pass-happy and a smashmouth attack. We've already seen them fare well against good pass defenses by spreading them out, neutralizing the pass rush with a quick-hitting pass attack and allowing Tom Brady to find the favorable matchups. That will probably be the plan of attack this week, with a spread attack to give Brady as many options as possible and allow him to throw away from Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. The Patriots have come out guns blazing after big controversies like Deflategate (38-14 win versus San Diego Chargers post-Spygate), and it wouldn't be surprising if Bill Belichick's team is ready to run through a wall for him after his weekend press conference where he went to bat for the allegations. A close Patriots win, 27-24, to bring a fourth Lombardi Trophy to Foxborough.
However, more than two-thirds of our voters, including NFC West Lead Writer Sean Tomlinson, picked the Seahawks to win for a second straight season:
For the Seahawks this game will be all about power on both sides of the ball. That's how they've won eight straight games, and it's how they'll make it nine.
We've seen what happens to Tom Brady when he's pressured repeatedly. During the now infamous blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs when Brady's career ended (or something), the Patriots' passing game lacked any sense of timing and rhythm.
Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett can duplicate the crumbling pocket Brady faced that game, and offensively the blend of brute force from Marshawn Lynch and deception from Russell Wilson will keep the Patriots off balance. It'll also lead to open spaces for yards after the catch, which are critical for a group of receivers who often struggle to create separation.
Regardless of who was picked, though, there was a theme that ran throughout. Only three voters picked either team to win by double digits (although all three picked Seattle). Only five voters forecast a margin of over four points.
In other words, the same number of voters who picked the Seahawks also think this game will be decided in the fourth quarter.
And a close game in Super Bowl XLIX is a win for everybody.
Patriots: Davenport (24-23), Freeman (20-17), Frenz (28-24), Gagnon (24-23), Miller (27-21)
Seahawks: Bowen (24-20), Hangst (31-10), Hansen (24-21), Kruse (27-17), McCown (26-19), Schalter (33-20), Schottey (28-24), Simms (24-20), Sobleski (27-24), Tanier (19-17), Tomlinson (16-14)