The New England Patriots are favored by a mere two points, or less than a field goal, as they prepare to face the defending champion Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX Sunday night in Glendale, Arizona.
Las Vegas book makers and NFL fans around the country believe the game will be close, and it likely will be, given Seattle’s consistently stingy defense and the Patriots’ rich playoff history of finding ways to pull out a victory.
But there are plenty of reasons to believe the Patriots can not only win, but win handily against the Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium for the fourth Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Here are five reasons why the Patriots will prove victorious.
All Gronk All The Time
Healthy and one of the biggest targets in the league, New England tight end Rob Gronkowski is a force the Seahawks haven’t faced all season. Better known as “Gronk,” the 25-year-old has come up with 10 receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs this year, building off his incredible 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season.
Only twice this season did Seattle face a tight end like Gronkowski. In Week 2 of the regular season against San Diego, former All Pro Antonio Gates burned the Seahawks for three touchdowns. In the NFC Divisional round Carolina’s Greg Olsen was limited to four catches for 58 yards, but his presence alone sprung receiver Kelvin Benjamin for two touchdowns.
And standing at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, Gronkowski also serves as a massive blocker for the Patriots running game, and he can throw blocks in the open field to make room for speedy receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
Running Backs Galore
Seattle has two solid rushers in running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson, but after those two, production is slim. The Patriots bench runs deep with capable rushers. There’s late-season addition LeGarrette Blount. who torched the Indianapolis Colts for 148 yards and three touchdowns in the AFC title game, regular season-leading rusher Jonas Gray who burst onto the scene with 201 yards and four scores in Week 11, as well as Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.
The Patriots can throw a number of formations and rushers at Seattle’s defense to keep them guessing all game.
Superior QB Play
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has lost his last two appearances in the Super Bowl, but he’s played very well in his five previous title games. Brady’s tossed nine touchdowns to two interceptions and posted a passer rating of 94.1 on average. He’s also completed better than 60 percent of his passes in four out of five Super Bowls.
Brady’s played very well during this postseason as well, totaling a 62.4 completion percentage for six touchdowns to two interceptions, and he just decimated an astounding Colts secondary in the AFC title game.
There’s also plenty of reason to believe Brady can lead the Patriots down field for a score if they are down to their last possession of the game. In 28 career postseason starts, Brady’s led five fourth-quarter comebacks and eight game-winning drives, including two 14-point comebacks against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional round.
Underrated Offensive Line
Many thought the Patriots were crazy for trading guard Logan Mankins before the regular season began, but the current offensive line has been one of the best in the NFL. Starting with rookie center Bryan Stork, with guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell and tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, the Patriots offensive line gave up 26 sacks during the regular season, tied for the fourth-best in the NFL, and in the postseason they’ve let up a measly three sacks in two games.
Seattle’s pass rush got hot towards the end of the regular season, racking 24 sacks in the last six games, but they’ve only notched three in the postseason. New England should be able to keep Brady upright and relatively clean for most of the game.
“Us Against Them”
Whether fans want to label them as “cheaters” for both the old Spygate and current Deflategate scandals, the Patriots will likely play with an underdog’s edge. It’s them against the world, and the Patriots will have a ton of fuel and anger to burn off against Seattle, much of which will be directed at whoever keeps pulling the fire alarm at their hotel in the middle of the night.
New England are odds-on favorites this year, but Seattle seems to be entering the matchup with the confidence of a favorite, and playing with that underdog’s ferocity has served lots of Super Bowl champions in the past. It worked wonders for Seattle last year, the New York Giants both times they faced the Patriots, the New Orleans Saints against the Colts in 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals the year before that, and of course the Patriots back in 2002 when they were 14-point underdogs to the St. Louis Rams.
In fact, since 2002 the underdog has prevailed in the Super Bowl nine out of the last 13 times.
Perhaps most importantly, the Patriots will want to dispell the notion that they are perennially an elite team, but not good enough to win a Super Bowl in a decade.