Super Bowl XLIX -- Three Key Matchups

With all of the pre-game hype focusing on obvious matchups such as Rob Gronkowski vs. Kam Chancellor (and K.J. Wright) and Pro Bowl veteran interior linemen Max Unger vs. Vince Wilfork, we thought it best to illuminate some of the "other" one-on-one battles that could very well determine the 2015 NFL champion. (Don't worry, we break down the high profile matchups too.)

So much of the build-up to Super Bowl XLIX has focused on the Seahawks efforts to stop Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. The 6-6, 265 pound monster is the NFL's preeminent mismatch and he's proven to be as critical to the Patriots' success offensively as Marshawn Lynch is to the Seahawks' game plan.

Strong safety Kam Chancellor and outside linebacker K.J. Wright give Seattle a dynamic duo capable of slowing down New England's Superman, however. Their combination of length and physicality is something that Gronkowski hasn't seen since Seattle held him to eight catches for a relatively meaningless 61 yards and most importantly zero touchdowns in a 24-23 Seahawks win back in 2012.

As such, has prepared a closer look at some of the other critical one-on-one matchups that could very well determine this year's Super Bowl champion.


WRs Julian Edelman vs. CB Jeremy Lane

Because the Seahawks are uniquely capable of slowing down Gronkowski, Tom Brady will likely shift his attention to his "other" primary pass-catcher, Edelman, an ultra-quick slot receiver dynamo who has led the Patriots with an average of 99 receptions the past two seasons. He's as hot as ever, coming into the Super Bowl having been targeted at least 11 times in the Patriots' last six games.

Edelman is a lot like the man he replaced in New England, Wes Welker. Like Welker, Edelman has a relatively short build at 5-10, 200 pounds and features terrific body control to get open and vacuum hands that suck in the football easily. He's especially effective on quick outs, leading the NFL with 26 grabs for 235 on these routes. The average per reception isn't eye-popping (9.03 yards) but stopping these routes is very difficult due to the precise timing between Brady and Edelman.

It isn't just that Edelman is talented, however. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels does a great job of freeing him up, alternately hiding him behind Gronkowski, putting Edelman in motion or lining him up outside with Danny Amendola in the slot. If the Patriots do attempt tricky personnel plays against Seattle, Edelman is likely to be heavily involved due to his elusiveness and football intelligence.

While Richard Sherman is going to get most of the television time prior to the game, it would be surprising to see Brady challenge him often on the perimeter. That likely means that Seattle's primary nickel corner, Lane, will be the most important cornerback in this game.

Lane is Seattle's quickest corner but at a legitimate 6-0, 190 pounds, he also possesses enough length to limit the route tree in which receivers can attack him. He's highly aggressive, which has earned him a few penalty flags, but his physicality and competitiveness help him disrupt the timing of receivers and make him one of the NFL's elite in terms of limiting yards after the catch. Brady has other dynamic pass-catchers that could take advantage of Seattle's focus on Gronkowski and Edelman, so even if the Seahawks are able to slow down New England's top two receivers, the Patriots have a chance. Amendola and running back Shane Vereen are particularly worrisome from a Seahawks' perspective.

If Seattle is able to keep Gronkowski and Edelman contained, however, they very likely will be again hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

RT Justin Britt vs. DE Rob Ninkovich

So much of the pre-game hype has focused on Brady and the Patriots' multi-tiered offense but the other side of the game also presents some fascinating matchups. Seattle center Max Unger will have his hands full (literally) with the Patriots' massive nose tackle Vince Wilfork, whose listed size of 6-2, 325 pounds is comical. Every bit as important to Seattle's success could be on the perimeter where the rookie Britt returns to right tackle after missing the NFC Championship with a knee injury.

Britt has been a favorite whipping boy of some fans in Seattle but in reality he's proven a quality replacement for departed right tackle Breno Giacomini (who signed with the New York Jets as a free agent). Frankly, as the 64th overall pick last year, Britt played better than virtually all of the eight tackles selected ahead of him, with All-Pro Zack Martin (the No. 16 overall pick who moved to guard for the Dallas Cowboys) being an obvious exception.

At 6-6, 325 pounds, Britt offers the length and strength that Tom Cable prefers on the perimeter and is also surprisingly agile. Perhaps most important, he's mentally tough. While he's surrendered a few sacks this season, it rarely has been the same move from the same player. That kind of learning-on-the-fly for a first-year offensive lineman is rare and is a testament to Britt, Cable and OL assistant coach Pat Ruel. And while Russell Wilson has shown a knack for running out of trouble, his frenetic style of play puts extraordinary pressure on his blockers.

Because he doesn't boast eye-popping size or speed, the 6-2, 260 pound Ninkovich doesn't get the national attention of top-notch pass rushers. He's quietly one of the league's most effective, posting eight sacks each of the past three seasons. In many ways, he's the Patriots' version of Doug Baldwin - remarkably effective because he is so savvy despite less-than-ideal physical tools. He isn't just a pass rusher. Ninkovich has terrific awareness, helping him blow up screens and potentially stay at home against Seattle's read option as effectively as any perimeter player Seattle has faced this season. Ninkovich isn't the only reason why New England hasn't allowed a single touchdown this season on read-option runs, but he plays a significant role.

As noted previously, Britt is rarely fooled by the same move twice. The problem with Ninkovich (from a Seahawks perspective) is that he varies his attack so well. If the Patriots' defensive line makes a big play in the Super Bowl, Ninkovich is likely to be the catalyst.

RB Marshawn Lynch vs. LBs Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins

It goes without saying that the Seahawks are going to try to control the tempo of this game with their running attack. If Seattle has any success running the ball early, they are likely to feed the "Beast" 25+ times in this contest - something they did only once this year - when Lynch toted the rock 26 times in a 26-20 overtime win over the Denver Broncos in Week Three.

Wilfork is the headliner of New England's imposing defensive line that also boasts run-stuffing specialists Sealver Siliga and former Seahawk Alan Branch. When Belichick and Co. elect to go heavy up front, the Patriots are as stout at the line of scrimmage as any defensive line in the NFL and that doesn't include massive linebackers Hightower and Collins, who measure in at 6-3, 270 and 6-3, 250, respectively.

With linebackers built like that, one can expect some thunderous collisions when the Seahawks attempt to run the ball up the middle. Collins is the more athletic of the two and is very effective in stopping runs to the outside, as well. They'll be reinforced by strong safety Patrick Chung, who is at his best flying towards the line of scrimmage in run support.

As such, don't be surprised if the Seahawks elect to use Lynch (and others) on short passes rather than simply running the ball. Lynch is a much better receiver out of the backfield than most give him credit and the Seahawks have shown an increasing willingness to throw screens, quick flats and even wheel routes to him. Play-action passes to tight end Luke Willson have also been very effective in slowing defenses that attempt to load up the box to slow down Seattle's No. 1 ranked rushing offense. Top Stories