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Super Bowl playbook: Seahawks ‘D’ sets the standard but don’t discount Pats

By Milt Northrop

NEWS SPORTS REPORTER

Defense wins championships.

That’s an old football saw that often proves true – but not always.

That wisdom will get tested Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. Seattle led the National Football League in scoring defense, total defense and passing defense in the 2014 regular season. The Patriots ranked fourth in total offense and were ever efficient, scoring on 45.3 percent of their possessions. That ranked second in the league.

Seattle led the NFL in scoring defense for the third season in a row. Seahawks opponents scored on only 26.9 percent of their drives, the second-most efficient defense in the league.

The past is no guarantee of future results, as they say, but history is on the side of the Seahawks. Since 1970, the NFL leader in scoring defense is 13-2 in the Super Bowl. The last leader to lose was Pittsburgh in 2010.

However, teams that led the league in both scoring defense and total defense (yardage) are 6-0 in the Super Bowl, which weighs even more heavily in Seattle’s behalf.

Here are some other statistical tidbits about Sunday’s opponents:

• New England allowed only six rushing touchdowns in the regular season. The longest? Only 4 yards. The longest scoring pass against the Patriots was 45 yards by Jordy Nelson of the Packers.

• Tom Brady of the Patriots threw 33 touchdown passes. Almost half of them (16) were to tight ends. Rob Gronkowski had 10 and Tim Wright had the other six.

• Seattle allowed 17 passing touchdowns in the regular season. Interestingly, 11 were by tight ends. That would seem to play into the hands of Gronkowski and the Patriots. On the other hand, only five went to wide receivers, an indication of the effectiveness of Seahawks cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell.

A capsule look at Super Bowl XLIX:

Seahawks (14-4) vs. Patriots (14-4)

TV: Ch. 2, 6:30 p.m.

The line: Pick.

The scoop on the Seahawks: This is Seattle’s third Super Bowl appearance and the Seahawks are attempting to become the first repeat champion since the 2003 and ’04 Patriots. ... Seahawks began the season impressively with a 36-16 romp over Green Bay at home. A week later, though, they lost at San Diego, 30-21. And when Dallas ripped them for 401 total yards in a 30-23 win in Seattle in Week Six, doubts began to creep into the conversation about coach Pete Carroll’s team. They were 3-3 after a loss the next week in St. Louis. Since then, though, the Seahawks have been a defensive juggernaut, going 11-1 and holding six opponents to single-digit points. ... Beside an obviously strong defense, the Seahawks led the league in rushing yards, yards per rushing attempt and rushing touchdowns, mainly because of former Bills first-round pick Marshawn Lynch, who ran for 13 touchdowns and caught passes for four more. ... Doug Baldwin (66 receptions) and Jermaine Kearse (38) are the Seahawks’ leading receivers. Neither was drafted coming out of college. ... There always seems to be an injury question before a Super Bowl. Although both practiced for the game, Sherman (elbow) and safety Earl Thomas (shoulder) were injured in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay. Whether the injuries will limit their effectiveness will be something to watch.

The scoop on the Patriots: A big question with New England is: What effect, if any, the Deflategate controversy will have on the team’s performance. There aren’t many coaches who can get a team prepared for any eventuality like Bill Belichick can. This will be another test of his coaching acumen. ... Despite the perception they are perennial champions, the Patriots have not won the title since 2004 and were upset twice in the big game by the New York Giants since then. Only two Patriots, Tom Brady and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, are left from the last New England Super Bowl champion. ... New England’s rule in the AFC was being questioned after it started the season 2-2 with losses at Miami and Kansas City. The Patriots soon found their way, starting with a 43-17 rout of a supposedly strong Cincinnati team, and lost only one game that mattered the rest of the way – a 26-21 loss at Green Bay. The other loss was to the Bills with several Patriots regulars sitting it out. ... New England went 4-1 against teams that made the NFL playoffs, winning those games by an average score of 40-17.

Matchups to watch: The Seattle safeties and linebackers against Gronkowski, who usually controls the middle of the field against most opponents, and because Brady is such an effective passer hitting Julian Edelman in short crossing patterns underneath the linebackers. When Shane Vereen is in the game at running back he must be regarded as a receiving threat. Vereen had 52 receptions in the regular season. Beside Edelman, Brandon LaFell is the only other New England wide receiver with more catches (74) than Vereen. Belichick’s strategy against the Seattle running game should prove interesting. Will he try to take Lynch’s effectiveness away and force Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to try and beat them with his arm? Or will they concentrate on challenging Wilson and gamble that Seattle won’t drive the length of the field with Lynch without faltering?

Outlook: Conventional wisdom says: Go with the defense. New England’s that is. Belichick’s strategizing and a secondary (Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty) that compares favorably with Seattle’s can’t be overlooked. Best Super Bowl matchup in years goes to Patriots, 27-24.

Championship weekend record: 2-0 outright, 1-1 versus spread.

Season’s record: 161-84-1 outright, 111-132-3 versus spread.

email: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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