Special teams will be the key to the game. Without a doubt, the Patriots need to be ready for some trickery from the Seahawks. On kickoffs Stephen Gostkowski needs to keep it simple and kick it through the endzone. Gostkowski shouldn't have any trouble getting the max distance out of his kickoffs with a combination of adrenalin and good kicking conditions. While I hope the Seahawks are limited to one kickoff for the game, they will probably have a couple of them. Massachusetts native, Steven Hauschka, will be in charge of kicking for the Seahawks. This season Hauschka had about half of his kickoffs returned. Given more than one return opportunity, I expect Danny Amendola to get the Patriots into enemy territory. Hopefully a good return by Amendola will not be negated by a penalty.
Unlike previous Patriot Super Bowl victories, I don't think this one will need any heroics from the kicker. However, if I am wrong, I do have faith in Gostkowski. While the Patriots will need to be ready for a fake field goal attempt, don't be shocked if they get a hand on one. Although blocked field goals are a rarity in the NFL, the teams have had a part in 6 of them this season alone. The fact that the Patriots blocked 4 field goal attempts while the Seahawks had 2 of their attempts blocked is a pleasant thought if you are a Patriots fan.
Since punts only happen when a team fails to score on a possession, I hope Ryan Allen has a relaxing day in Arizona. While I have tons of faith in his ability to pin the Seahawks back in their territory, I'd prefer to see the Patriots score early and often. Looking at the Seahawks' punting splits, their statistics are significantly different in their losses. During their losses, the Seahawks have pinned their opponent inside the 20 29% of the time. In their victories that percentage skyrockets to 51%. In their losses there is also a huge difference in both the percentage of punts returned and the yardage gained. During their losses opponents have returned the ball 43% of the time for an average of 17.3 yards. Conversely, when Seattle wins their opponents only return 23% of the punts for an average of just 8.3 yards. While I do not want to see Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola try to be a hero when they should signal for a fair catch, the both have career averages in the double digits.
Friday I took a statistical look at the Seattle defense which you can read here. While their defense is good, I don't think it compares to the unit they fielded last season. Even if they were 100% healthy, I don't believe they would be able to stop the Patriots' offense. With guys like Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor banged up, that just opens up the Patriots' playbook another chapter or two. While I do think the Patriots should make the Seahawks stop the run, Brady should be able to keep them honest while getting some big chunks of yards. My biggest concern with the offense is that Brady insists on getting Rob Gronkowski going when he's triple teamed. As usual the Patriots need to avoid the dreaded 3 and out.
With all the hype about the Seahawks' defense, everyone seems to be forgetting that the Patriots have a pretty good defense themselves. With my all-time favorite player Tedy Bruschi in the house as an honorary captain, I expect a phenomenal exhibition by Matt Patricia's group. In my opinion the three keys to the defense being successful is:
- keep the play in front of you
- make the tackle
- no dumb penalties (Brandon Browner)
With the game now just hours away, I think the coaches have done their job and it's time for the players to do theirs. While I want the Patriots to win and think they will win by no less than ten points, I hope the game is not decided by a fluke play or controversial call.