With the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks facing off Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV, we gathered National Review Online’s sports fans to offer their takes on the battle to come.
The surest bet this year is that the pall of the Deflate-gate scandal is, to much of America’s delight, going to lie as heavy as a Figawi fog. The league has already let the investigation go on too long, leaking circumstantial evidence that can only convict in the court of public opinion. The moral of the epic of Belichick and Brady has been that what salary caps will not level, scorn and scandal might still — in future public esteem, at least. The science is settled, but I get it: Not everyone shares the New Englander’s traditional appreciation and respect for truth and inquiry.
In any case, it won’t stop the Patriots on the field. Belichick should have at least one more trick up his sleeve that doesn’t involve a video camera or an airpump (it would be nice if it involves an actual offensive line), but I don’t think they’ll even need it. Marshawn Lynch is going to be one deflated Skee-Ball aficionado, and the Lombardi trophy returns to Romney country, 35–14.
— Patrick Brennan is opinion editor of National Review Online. He joined the Patriots bandwagon in middle school.
Shannen W. Coffin
Does anybody south of Hartford (excluding transplants) want to see a Patriot win on Sunday? The most overblown cheating “scandal” in professional sports history — one, too, with the most double entendres — ensures that there won’t be any tears shed if Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are deprived of rings for their index fingers. (Would that half of the media covering “Deflate-gate” were actually aware of allegations of irregularities at the IRS.) And anyway, they caught the guys who did it.
This is one transplant who’s hoping that Brady and Belichick do get the ring. I could write that the key to the game will be New England’s offensive line’s protection for No. 12, but who really cares what a D.C. lawyer who never played the game beyond Sunday afternoon pickup games has to say about game planning? Here’s to raining on the parade of all the haters out there (including my wife). Go Pats.
— Shannen W. Coffin is a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP and a New England native who grew up a Raiders fan but jumped on the Patriots bandwagon sometime in the last decade.
Edward John Craig
Deflate-gate was a blessing for New England. Whoever that assistant to the assistant equipment manager at Foxboro was who let a little air out of the balls then tossed them into the clothes drier for a spin before delivering them to the refs, he is a genius. The Patriots were thrust into circled-wagons mode for the two long weeks when team unity and focus are most important and difficult to maintain. Everyone is talking about the Cheatriots weaseling a win against the Colts (in a game they won 45–7?!), when what everyone should be talking about is how the Patriots (perfectly legally!) hoodwinked the Broncos on formations and receiver eligibility. Presumably, Pete Carroll is ready for it. But I suspect Bill Belichick has a few new wrinkles for the big game. I’m looking forward to see if Seattle at any point covers an ineligible receiver.
Who’s going to move the ball on Sunday? The Seattle defense is the best unit on the field when healthy. But the Legion of Boom has wounds: Safety Earl Thomas dislocated his shoulder in the NFC Championship game, while Richard Sherman, the best cornerback in the NFL (sorry, Darrelle Revis), suffered ligament damage in his elbow, courtesy of a blow from his fellow Boomster Kam Chancellor. Whomever the Pats line up on Sherman’s side of the field — Brandon LaFell to be physical with him (and his arm) at the line, or the smaller, quicker Julian Edelman to make him run around in circles — I don’t see Brady throwing that way very often, nor very far down the field at all. The Patriots will work to their tight ends. All-worlder Rob Gronkowski is hardly a secret weapon, so we’ll see a little of Tim Wright doing what jailbird Aaron Hernandez used to do, and we might even catch a whiff of Michael Hoomanawanui (Michael who? Exactly). As every Giant fan can tell you, the way to beat the Patriots is to hit Tom Brady over and over. So Belichick will look to get the ball out of Dreamboat’s hands quickly on short passes and screens to the TEs and running back Shane Vereen, lest the Seahawks nasty front seven do something unseemly. (While Steelers cast-off LaGarrette Blount is a perfectly serviceable power back — sort of a poor man’s Marshawn Lynch, without the Skittles — I don’t see much production coming from him against Seattle’s big uglies.) Belichick’s formation hijinks will need to pay off once more to free up receivers within Brady’s limited range.
Needless to say, the Seahawks will feed the ball to Marshawn Lynch, and Beast Mode will have success between the 20s, but the New England defense will stiffen in the red zone, and sixes will be hard to come by. I love Russell Wilson — and can easily see him doing some damage of his own on the ground — but I don’t see consistent passing production coming for the Hawks against Revis and the Pats’ secondary. Wilson won’t be as bad as he was for three quarters against the Pack, but I don’t see him repeating that fairytale ending, either.
So: Assuming Tom Brady stays in one piece, and Brandon Browner doesn’t keep Seattle on the field with bad penalties, it’ll be the Patriots winning, 24–16 (yes, you read that right:16).
— Edward John Craig is managing editor of National Review Online.
Jets fans are used to being depressed around the Super Bowl, but I can’t ever recall being more so. In the Seahawks–Pats matchup we have a man who coached the Jets for a single year squaring off against a man who coached the Jets for a single day, both of whom went on to achieve greatness. If the two-headed monster of Belichick and Brady win again, not even the lingering stinks of Spygate and Ballghazi will be enough to forestall the conclusion that they are respectively the greatest of all time. But if Pete Carroll wins back-to-back Bowls the dynasty of the mumbler will be succeeded by the dynasty of the gum-smacker. For a fan whose postseason is largely defined by schadenfreude, it’s a lose–lose.
What do I think will actually happen? I think Seattle will find a way to win. This is a smart, incredibly athletic team in its prime, and New England, while brilliantly coached and formidable on the field, is increasingly doing it with smoke and mirrors. Belichick breaking out gadget formations in the playoffs might have been ingenious, but it is also a warning sign. Tom Brady no longer has the deep ball to consistently challenge a secondary like Seattle’s in the vertical game, and the Hawks are going to punish whmoever Brady sends out over the middle. (Seriously, has it ever occurred to any coach facing Brady over the last ten years to say, “Hey, watch out for the three-yard crossing route from the white guy on third down!”) Meanwhile, Russell Wilson has played big in big games, and I expect a bounce-back after a decidedly uneven performance in Green Bay. He’ll do just enough to help Beast Mode help him. Seahawks in a close one, 23–20.
— Dan Foster is former news editor of National Review Online.
Seahawks, 21–17, provided the football’s PSI remains within league specifications.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot for National Review Online.
If you wanted, you could find myriad reasons to hate both of the teams competing in Super Bowl XLIX. But in the spirit of leaving our hatreds behind us, let’s focus on the positives.
Marshawn Lynch is a weirdo. Vince Wilfork is an unheralded bulldozer. Rob Gronkowski makes us remember when we played sports for the fun and the lulz. Russell Wilson is an underdog cliché personified. (That last one is a good thing, not a backhanded compliment.)
Prediction: Patriots. The Seahawks’ defense doesn’t have many holes, but the Pats excel at the Hawks’ relative weakness — using the tight end. And maybe this is just a trust/fear of Bill Belichick, but I think the Pats will be able to shut down Seattle’s run game, leaving the Seahawks limited on offense.
Pats 27, Seahawks 17.
— Kevin Glass is managing editor of Townhall.com.
The Super Bowl? That’s easy: Seahawks 27, Patriots 24, probably in OT.
The tougher question is: How will the Mongrels do in the Puppy Bowl? After all, that’s where all the serious money is made.
— Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor of National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Who will win the Super Bowl? Playground logic says the Patriots will.
My sons (well, two of them, aged twelve and ten) have a deflated football and played “Patriots” with their friends last weekend, which consisted of making certain players “eligible” or “ineligible” at random. I joked with a Twitter follower that if they had played Seahawks they would have had to fake a field goal in order to score and pick on a one-legged man in order to defend. To apply playground logic: Wily competitors tend to beat lucky ones.
Yes, I know that the Seahawks are more than just lucky. They have the Legion of Boom and Marshawn Lynch and all the rest of it. But the Patriots have Vince Wilfork, who needs no Legion, and the Lynch-like LeGarrette Blount. So, the next time the kids play Patriots, they will have to add a trophy ceremony to the end of the game.
— Tom Hoopes is vice president for public relations at Benedictine College.
Andrew C. McCarthy
It is understandable but probably ironic that the pregame coverage has focused on the battle between Tom Brady’s high-octane (but low-inflation) offense and Seattle’s formidable “Legion of Boom” defense. The Super Bowl will be determined by whether the Seahawks’ offense can get much done against a New England defense that may be just a shade less capable than Seattle’s. I don’t think it can.
The Seahawks win a lot but usually not by much. Their offense is geared to manage games without turnovers, capitalize on the opportunities their amazing defense creates, and shorten the game with the bruising running of Marshawn Lynch, complemented by Russell Wilson, an impressive young quarterback but one who is a better runner than passer. Seattle has lost a couple of its few big playmakers (Percy Harvin and Golden Tate) from last year’s championship team.
Bottom line: the ’Hawks are not built to come from behind. They are very fortunate to be in this Super Bowl, having played two lackluster playoff games at home. They survived the NFC championship game thanks only to a shocking series of gaffes by the Packers, particularly in the last five minutes.
The Patriots are a lot like the Packers . . . except, as their second-half destruction of the Colts in the AFC championship demonstrated, they have a killer instinct. If they get ahead, they will not let up and try to play “kill the clock.”
And if they fall behind, they won’t panic. Brady has brought them back countless times, they know they have offensive firepower, and they know Seattle’s offense is not going to get very far ahead. Also, we can’t overlook a huge but for now unknowable element of the game – the serious injuries to two pillars of the Boom Legion: Richard Sherman (elbow) and Earl Thomas (separated shoulder) would not be playing if this were not a playoff or championship contest. It’s a big question whether they can be effective or even get through the game, and expect Brady to go right after them even though teams ordinarily shy away.
A Jet fan can take a little pride (along with the familiar anguish) in seeing that the difference-maker in the Patriots’ season has been Darrelle Revis — the league’s best cornerback (sorry, Richard Sherman) whose shutdown talent makes it as if the rest of the Pats only have to defend two-thirds of the field — and enables them to devote more linebacker and safety attention to the run.
The Pats will move the ball and score — and unlike the Packers, they won’t settle for field goals. Unless Lynch has a phenomenal game (against a Bill Belichick defense that has had two weeks to get ready for him), the ’Hawks offense will sputter.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Seahawks 13.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.
To be feared: A game that lives down to the buildup. Will Marshawn speak or let his legs and other body parts do the talking for him? Will Belichick lighten up? Will Sherman shut up? May we have a football game, please?
Who will win? Who knows? But it would be nice if Seattle came out on top so that we could have a few years of Russell Wilson as the celebrity face of the NFL. With his talent and personality, he makes up for a lot.
So far the only quarterback capable of beating Brady and Belichick in one of these things has been Eli Manning. That has to be some kind of cosmic joke. Russell Wilson is no Eli Manning. Which cuts two ways.
Can the Patriots keep Wilson from running? Probably.
Can the Seahawks contain the Gronk? Doubtful.
Be nice for the NFL, though, if Seattle could win and do it convincingly. Then Goodell could make the Patriots stand in the corner for a while and write, “I will not deflate the football” on the blackboard a couple of hundred times.
If the Patriots win, his job will be much harder and he will have to earn that $44 million.
— Geoffrey Norman is a veteran sportswriter.
Poor officiating and controversy defined the NFL playoffs. Detroit fans believe they’d still be in it if not for a call — or two — not made against Dallas. And Cowboy fans (myself included) believe we’d be playing on Sunday if not for the ruling fiasco that Dez Bryant’s catch was not a catch. Indianapolis fans may think their fate would have been different if not for Deflate-gate, but unlike the other playoff games that literally came down to the final minutes (and calls), the Patriots soundly beat the Colts.
When it comes to political elections, my mantra is “You gotta win by enough they can’t steal it.”
And in an imperfect world, the same goes for football. While watching a blowout is not particularly entertaining (unless it’s your team racking up the points), my hope for this year’s game is that the winning team is the clear winner, and that on Monday we’re all talking about “the play” that won the game, not “the call” that decided the Super Bowl.
— Genevieve Wood is senior contributor for the Daily Signal.