Super Bowl starts with battle of the best

Both of the No. 1 seeds made it to the Super Bowl with strong defenses and running games and very different but effective quarterbacks.

Perhaps Cris Collinsworth of NBC put Super Bowl XLIX into perspective best: “It’s Russell Wilson with memorable tears of joy against Tom Brady who has been making opponents cry for years.”

Wilson overcame a horrendous first half in the NFC Championship Game that included three interceptions to throw the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime, a 35-yard strike that tied for the longest pass of the game. Tom Brady was his usually efficient and effective self, completing 23 of 35 passes for 226 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in a blowout of the Indianapolis Colts.

That leaves the young and acclaimed Wilson against the old (by NFL standards) and accomplished Brady in the Super Bowl showdown in Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 1.

But, while Wilson for the Seattle Seahawks and Brady for the New England Patriots will be the focal points – quarterbacks always are – of the media and the public, there is so much more to these two Super Bowl entrants.

Both teams advanced to the NFL’s ultimate game relying more on their ground games than their quarterbacking stars. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch helped calm the Seattle storm while Wilson suffered through a jittery first half that found the Seahawks trailing 16-0 at halftime. Lynch ran 25 times for 157 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 1:25 to play in regulation. LeGarrette Blount carried the Patriots with 30 carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns, just as he did in last year’s playoff matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.

Both teams are known as much for their defensive acumen as the offensive attacks, although both units for each team were in the top half of the NFL’s final regular-season rankings.

The Seahawks live off a smothering, bold defense that ranked first overall – third against the run and first against the pass. The secondary is loaded with talent, led by trash-talking Richard Sherman, who fancies himself as the best cornerback in the NFL and he might be right. Earl Thomas provides the smart by powerful punch at safety.

The Patriots are built more off the scheming ways of head coach Bill Belichick, a lock for Hall of Fame induction if he can ever give up the hoodie for retirement. That’s not to say the Patriots don’t have their own set of playmakers, from jumbo-sized (even by NFL standards) nose tackle Vince Wilfork turning interior running lanes into detours to rising-star linebacker Jamie Collins to shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Patriots finished the season with the league’s 13th-ranked defense – ninth against the pass and 17th against the run.

Wilfork will provide the brawn against Lynch’s inside runs, but finding the matchup for Revis will be interesting. He can take on the game’s best receivers and render them ineffective, but the Seattle’s weakness on offense is the lack of a clear game-breaking receiver after the trade of Percy Harvin. Somehow, they get it done with a cast that includes Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, but it often requires the legs of Wilson to extend plays and buy time. Perhaps Collins’ athleticism will be assigned to contain Wilson’s bootlegs and scrambles.

The Patriots, on the other hand, will have enough offensive weapons to keep the Seattle’s big-talking defense occupied. The Patriots are able to keep defenses guessing with a trio of receiving options. Tight end Rob Gronkowski isn’t just the Patriots’ best tight end, catching 82 passes for 1,124 yards during the regular season, but he is the best in the booming business of receiving tight ends. Brandon LaFell (74 catches for 953 yards) and Julian Edelman (92 catches for 972 yards) provide the outside threats for Brady’s efficient targets.

The subplots to the Super Bowl will be many, but it’s hard not to think that the two best teams made it there this year. The Patriots were the top seed in the AFC, the Seahawks in the NFC, and they each proved it when it mattered most.

“This will be a legacy Super Bowl,” Collinsworth said. “Will it be Seattle winning back-to-back Super Bowls with a young team capable of many more, or Tom Brady and Bill Belichick winning their fourth?”

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