Deflate-gate: will the Pats fumble in Super Bowl XLIX?

seahawks-russell-wilson

by Paul West

Super Bowl XVLV is a historic matchup in a few ways. First, it’s one of the rare instances in which both top seeds actually make it all the way to the final game. It’s also Tom Brady‘s sixth Super Bowl appearance, and it gives the New England Patriots a chance to join five other teams with four Super Bowl wins. The Seattle Seahawks are trying to become the first repeat champions since the Patriots themselves, at the beginning of the Brady-Belichick era. And Russell Wilson would be the first African-American quarterback to win two Super Bowls (he’s already the first to appear in two, though repeat appearances are mostly the province of all-time greats). People are referring to this as possibly the closest matchup in Super Bowl history, which might be an exaggeration but certainly shows the high esteem in which both teams are held.

Patriots Keys To Victory

Tom Brady will have a healthy Rob Gronkowski to throw to, which reconfigures everything Seattle’s defense has to account for. Checkdowns to Legarrette Blount, and slant hits to Julian Edelman and others, will be much more available when Gronk is on the field. The Seahawks’ highly touted cornerback tandem will have to be careful about freelancing, because Gronk force-multiplies all the other Pats’ receivers–and if the secondary overcommits, great route runners like Brandon LaFell can maximize Brady’s signature accuracy. The running game will be important for the Patriots to establish somewhat–they don’t want to throw it over 50 times again–but really, their backfield might do its worst damage on the aforementioned checkdowns.

Quick releases, as always, will also be paramount; if the pocket closes quickly and Brady has to throw before the routes necessitate, he might get into trouble with ‘guess’ throws or wind up swallowed by linemen. Brady’s main deficiency is the same it’s always been: he doesn’t extend plays like other elite contemporaries.

Seahawks Keys To Victory

Marshawn Lynch is one of the biggest game-changers in the NFL. It’s nearly impossible for the first tackler to bring him down by himself, and Lynch takes as many defenders to bring down as any other back. As a result, containing him requires an allocation of defenders that puts more strain on the secondary. Russell Wilson and the Seattle passing game aren’t prolific, but they exploit mistakes by way of Wilson’s beyond-his-years pre-snap reads–and his ability to extend the play with his legs, giving his receivers time to find a lane downfield. The Marshawn Lynch factor will make the Patriots feel more compelled to keep the proverbial eight in the box–which means that when Wilson stretches the pocket, there will be immense pressure on the linebackers to both contain Wilson and account for freelancing receivers. Luke Willson is one of the faster tight ends in the league on a dead run, and he’s emerging as one of the Seahawks’ key downfield threats. Wilson is akin to Aaron Rodgers in this dangerous key aspect: while he’s a huge running threat, he still looks to throw even while he’s on the move. The second level of the Patriots’ defense will have to choose between cutting down his running lanes and accounting for streakers like Willson and Jermaine Kearse, who are home-run threats if Wilson hits them in stride.

X-Factor: Will The Patriots Funble?

One thing the Deflate-gate conversation drew some folks; attention to: since 2006, when Brady and Peyton Manning lobbied for teams to be able to provide their own game balls (which  don’t disagree with in principle), the Patriots lead the NFL in ball security to an improbable degree. They almost never fumble, and their fumble rate is a relative statistical outlier related to the rest of the NFL. Obvious correlation-causation arguments notwithstanding, one thing is almost certain: the Patriots won’t have control over the game balls in the Super Bowl. And while the fact that people debate the idea that a deflated ball affects throwing and catching seems absurd to anyone who’s tried to accurately throw an overinflated ball, another thing seems sure: an under-inflated ball is way easier to avoid fumbling. Based on this logic, it stands to reason that the Seahawks will do a lot of hacking and whacking at the football–and it might be reasonably inferred that the Patriots will be more likely to fumble in a game in which they have no, pardon the expression, ball control.

Who Wins?

The game is so evenly matched that betting has been relatively quiet over the course of the week. a lot of factors could tun this game either way, and whomever has the ball last, with a chance for a walkoff, will be likely to make it happen. As such, this will come down to who has the ball last. Wilson’s mobility and Lynch’s impossibility to control might boil down to what should be a minute difference.

27-24, Seahawks

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