A year ago, wise football followers knew Seattle was going to beat Denver in the Super Bowl. After all, defense wins championships, and Seattle had the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
Of course, the way it happened was astonishing — with the Seahawks’ defense shutting out the most prolific offense in NFL history for most of the game and Seattle running away with the win, 43-8.
It is hard to imagine the Hawks doing the same thing to the Patriots in this Super Bowl. But, Seattle again has the No. 1 defense in the league and — despite the Legion of Boom being banged up — that unit largely has played even better than the 2013 version.
Wise football followers once again know the Seahawks are going to win. The only question is: How will it happen?
A lot of national analysts appear to be picking the Patriots to win a close one, but — ignoring the obvious fact that the Seahawks are a team of destiny (the win over the Packers proved that, didn’t it?) — most of the matchups and historical trends favor the Seahawks.
This is the second straight year the No. 1 seed in each conference has reached the Super Bowl — the NFC has won four straight meetings between No. 1 seeds.
The No. 1 scoring defense — as the Hawks are again this year — is 13-3 in the Super Bowl since 1970. The No. 1 defense is 6-1 against the No. 1 offense — so if you want to consider the Patriots’ red-hot crew (80 points in two playoff games this year) like a No. 1, go ahead: It doesn’t do anything for them.
Russell Wilson is 10-0 vs. quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls. The Super Bowl seems the perfect time to make that 11-0. Tom Brady is 15-8 vs. Super Bowl-winning QBs.
The Patriots became the first team to rally from 14 down twice in the same playoff game and win when they did it against Baltimore, winning 35-31.
The Seahawks, of course, trumped that with their 15 points in 44 seconds against the Packers.
The Hawks also have a history of rallying to beat the Patriots: In 2012, Wilson rallied them from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to win 24-23. He was just a rookie then.
The Patriots know the Seahawks never give up.
On top of all of that, the Seahawks are the kind of team that gives the Patriots trouble — one that can run and stop the run.
In Week 13, the Packers ran for 130 yards, dominated possession 37-23 minutes and converted 10 of 17 third downs. The Patriots ran for just 84 yards and converted 4 of 10 third downs. The Packers won, 26-21. When the Seahawks aren’t beating themselves, we found out, they are better than the Packers.
In Week 16, the Jets — the No. 3 rushing offense and No. 5 rushing defense in the NFL — ran for 116 yards, held the Patriots to 85 and sacked Brady four times. The Patriots won 17-16, but any team with a quarterback that had done that would have beaten them.
In the divisional playoff game, Justin Forsett ran for 129 yards for Baltimore (the No. 8 rushing offense and No. 4 rush defense), which held the Patriots to just 14 yards on the ground. The Ravens twice blew a 14-point lead because Joe Flacco threw two interceptions, offsetting his four TD passes.
Those three games offer a great illustration: A team that can run and stop the run and does not turn the ball over is very dangerous for the Patriots. That’s also a historic trend in the Super Bowl: The top rushing team is 38-10.
Yeah, we know what you are thinking at this point: The Seahawks just turned the ball over five times against Green Bay. Uh-huh. And who won?
Now, after that miserable performance, do you think the Hawks are going to turn the ball over even once in the Super Bowl?
Wilson has not thrown interceptions in consecutive games all season. And until that Packers game he had not thrown a pick in four straight playoff games. In other words, expect to see the Wilson who had been lights out in the playoffs before the NFC title game.
Oh, and let’s not forget Wilson’s numbers on the road this season: 64.9 percent, 14 touchdowns, one interception, 107.6 rating. Last time he played at Arizona’s stadium, he threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 88 yards and a score.
It will help Wilson if the Hawks set up with better field position than they had vs. Green Bay, when their average start was their 26-yard line. The only other games they had it as bad were the loss in San Diego (23), the loss in St. Louis (21) and the win in Arizona (26).
Like the Packers, the Patriots don’t turn the ball over much. In fact, they tied for the fewest turnovers in the league (13) — and Seattle was right behind them (14). So, field position probably will be determined purely through third-down performance and the kicking game.
The Seattle defense has been stellar on third downs over the past three months. They held the Packers to 3 of 14 and are 33 of 92 (35.9 percent) over the last eight games.
The Patriots didn’t have great position vs. Baltimore, starting at their 28 on average, and still put up 35 points — with TD drives of 78, 67, 80, 70 and 74 yards. Of course, they did almost all of that through the air against a raggedy Ravens secondary. They won’t have that kind of success against the Seahawks’ No. 1 pass defense.
The Patriots surely will have some tricks up their sleeves though. For the comeback vs. Baltimore, they used a controversial tackle-eligible pass and also scored off a lateral/pass. The Patriots also scored off a tackle-eligible play (which turned out to be illegal) against the Colts, and Pete Carroll has focused his team on that tactic all week.
Of course, the Patriots will have to beware the Seahawks’ stunts, too. The Packers can tell them all about fake field goals and onside kicks.
The Seahawks’ offense will not put the defense in the dire circumstances it faced two weeks ago. The defense gave up just six points off four first-half turnovers and the Seahawks ended up outgaining the Packers in that 28-22 overtime win.
Last year, the Seahawks sacked Peyton Manning just one time, but they got in his face a lot and forced errors. If the Patriots want to run the same under routes with Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen, those guys surely will pay the same price — and the Patriots won’t go very far.
The Pats do not have nearly the same caliber of skill players as the Broncos had, but they are a smarter, more flexible team overall. Belichick will tear out pages from the Chargers and Cowboys, especially, and hope the Hawks fall for some of the same stuff.
Seattle’s average winning margin in those games is 14.9. On home/neutral fields, the margin is 20.8.
Add that to the fact that the No. 1 defense typically wins by almost 16 points, and we’re taking the Seahawks in another blowout: 38-20.
Now let’s enjoy it.