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January 30, 2015 at 10:01 AM

Super Bowl XLIX scouting report

AP photo

AP photo

Here is the scouting report for Super Bowl XLIX that ran in Friday’s special section:

Quarterback

Tom Brady is vying to become the third quarterback ever to win four Super Bowls. Russell Wilson is attempting to supplant Brady as the youngest quarterback ever to win two Super Bowls. The two get it done in different styles, Brady the textbook clinical passer and Wilson the new-age dual-threat. After an early-season slump that had some wondering if he was nearing the end, the 37-year-old Brady has played as well as ever down the stretch. Wilson is coming off one of his worst statistical games, but also one of his greatest finishes.

Edge: Patriots

Running back

Marshawn Lynch is at the top of his game, coming off a career playoff-high 157 yards on 25 carries against the Packers — 120 in the second half. He has rushed for 100 or more yards in five of nine playoff games with Seattle (he got injured against the Bears in 2010 when he had just two yards on four carries). Using a by-committee approach, New England had no one rush for more than 412 yards this season (Jonas Gray). Former Oregon standout LeGarrette Blount, picked up in November, was the star of the AFC Championship game with 148 yards and three touchdowns, and the Patriots figure to ride his hot hand in the Super Bowl.

Edge: Seahawks.

Offensive Line

Seattle should be at full strength after right tackle Justin Britt sat out the NFC Championship with a sore knee — the first game he missed all season. Most critically, Seattle will again have Max Unger at center. The Seahawks rushed for at least 100 yards in all eight games Unger started this year, averaging 189. It took awhile for the Patriots to settle on a good line combination, one reason for the team’s struggles early. But the grouping of Nate Solder at left tackle, Dan Connolly at left guard, rookie Bryan Stork at center, Ryan Wendell at right guard, and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle has allowed Brady to be sacked just six times in nine games. Stork missed the AFC Championship game with a knee injury, and his status is something to watch. For the season, Brady was sacked 21 times, the second-lowest total of his career.

Edge: Patriots

Receivers

For all the debate about Seattle’s receiving corps, what can’t be denied is that it comes up with a way to make big plays at key times to win games. Still, the Seattle receivers had their struggles against Green Bay’s man coverage for much of the NFC championship game and now face a better secondary in New England’s. The Patriots don’t have quite the same star-studded crew as some of the Brady era, but have put up some decent numbers. Julian Edelman, the team’s leading receiver the last two years (92 catches, 972 yards this year) may be most dangerous out of the slot but lines up all over. Brandon LaFell (74-953) is New England’s primary deep threat. Injuries helped limit Danny Amendola to just 27 catches this season but he’s been good in the playoffs (two TDs against Baltimore). But New England’s most dangerous receiver is tight end Rob Gronkowski, a unanimous pick with 1,124 yards this season.

Edge: Patriots

Defensive Line

Seattle’s defensive line will be challenged to get to Brady, who is adept at getting rid of the ball quickly. Getting consistent pressure on Peyton Manning with just four rushers was a key to the Super Bowl win over Denver a year ago when Cliff Avril had one of his best games as a Seahawks, something the team will need again. Seahawks will again likely need some key snaps from depth players such as Demarcus Dobbs and Landon Cohen. End Rob Ninkovich had eight sacks to lead the Patriots this season and Chandler Jones added six while tackle Vince Wilfork is the key to New England’s run defense. Wilfork, at 33, may not be quite to the level that got him to five Pro Bowls, but he’s still tough to move.

Edge: Seahawks

Linebackers

This is a matchup of two linebacking corps that despite the success of their teams, may still each be a little underrated. Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has gotten lots of deserved accolades but now has a chance to bust out on the biggest stage possible. K.J. Wright will be a key in the team’s defense of Gronkowski. One of the most underrated players in this game may be New England middle linebacker Jamie Collins, a second-year player some think has been as good as any defender the last month or so. Outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower added six sacks for the Patriots.

Edge: Seahawks

Defensive Backs

Seattle’s Legion of Boom remains unmatched among secondaries. But when it comes strictly to cornerbacks, New England is pretty close with former Seahawk Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis. Browner couldn’t play early in the year while still under suspension but his addition coincided with the Patriots’ mid-season resurgence. New England has also gotten better play out of safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, two key reasons the Patriots didn’t allow a touchdown in the second half in the last six regular season games. There will be a lot of wondering how Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas will play with their injuries. The guess here is it won’t matter.

Edge: Seahawks

Special teams

Seattle’s were dynamite late in the win over Green Bay, but have been spotty spottier than a year ago much of the season, especially the returners, making this one area where the Patriots — on paper — have an edge. The returner are solid with Edelman handling punts (19.3-yard average in the post-season) and Amendola kickoffs (24.1 for the season). Patriots PK Stephen Gostkowski led the NFL with 156 points. And New England blocked three field goals and one punt in 2014, the team’s highest total since 2002.

Edge: Patriots

Coaching

It’s the coach of the 2000s — Bill Belichick — against the man who could be the coach of the 2010s — Pete Carroll. The two have vastly differing personalities but play a style that’s more similar than may often be portrayed. Each has shown an ability to get their teams ready for big games, and each has also shown no reluctance to pull out some tricks in pressure situations.

Edge: Even.

Intangibles

It’s Inflate-gate versus a team trying to repeat — something no team has done since these same Patriots in 2005. Will the Patriots be galvanized feeling the NFL is against them? Will the Seahawks’ new-found togetherness propel them to NFL history? Here’s thinking the Patriots get pretty darn tired of questions about footballs by week’s end.

Edge: Seahawks.

Final pick

These two were picked by many at the beginning of the season to arrive at this spot, and here they are. New England has Brady and pedigree, but the Seahawks are simply the more-balanced team. The defense and running game that got the Seahawks here will carry them to another Super Bowl title.

Seattle 31, New England 24

 

 

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