In the last head-to-head matchup between these two teams, Seattle came back to win 24-23 against New England on Oct. 14, 2012, and Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman had a now-famous conversation with Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady.

Here is what to expect when the teams finally take the field on Super Bowl Sunday.

When the Patriots have the ball

This offense flows through Brady, who has more career postseason games (28), wins (20) and touchdown passes (49) than any quarterback in NFL history. But he will have his hands full with Seattle’s secondary.

According to Pro Football Reference’s expected points, which represent the estimated point value at the start of a given play, based on down, distance, and field position, the Patriots’s passing game has been worth almost 11 points per game (10.8). The Seahawks pass defense, which includes the pass rush, has saved the team less than four points all season.

The key for New England will be to keep the pressure off Brady and for him to complete the short passes while getting the ball to their best playmaker, tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Gronkowski made 82 catches this season for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. Plus, he was a favorite of Brady’s when the Patriots were in the red zone.

What happens in the running game, on the other hand, is anyone’s guess. The Patriots will likely lean heavily on LaGarrette Blount, who rushed for 148 yards on 30 carries in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. But they could also feature the versatile Shane Vereen, who has been targeted nine times in the playoffs and is averaging 1.4 yards per route run while catching passes in the backfield.

Keep an eye on Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett whether the Patriots run or pass the ball. He led all 4-3 defensive ends playing at least half of their team’s snaps in pressure on the quarterback (72 sacks, hits and hurries) and was sixth among that same group for stops against the run (24).

When the Seahawks have the ball

The Seahawks were the league’s best rushing team during the regular season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and feature two of the most dangerous runners in the NFL: quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch broke a league-leading 88 tackles on the run and averaged 2.96 yards after contact. Almost half of those broken tackles were towards the outside (40) and he racked up even more yardage on those runs after contact (3.4).

For a quarterback, Wilson is almost as dangerous. The 26-year-old ran for 849 yards and scored six rushing touchdowns, which creates matchup problems all over the field.

The Seahawks run their zone attack with the threat of Russell Wilson to keep the edge honest and create space for Lynch to build a head of steam and, though the blocking is far from top draw, execute on the strength of their runners.
As the league’s most prolific running quarterback this season, it is to some extent stating the obvious that Wilson’s ability to impact the game with his legs will be a telling factor in this game. Late in the NFC title game, the Seahawks were able to get him loose and exhibit his threat not only on scrambles (529 yards on 56 carries this season) but also on designed runs (46 carries for 398 yards) and this threat just opens up the rest of the Seattle offense to be that much more dangerous.

But don’t give the edge to Seattle just yet. The Patriots were in the top 10 for yards allowed per carry (4.0) and did a good job of keeping runners contained to the middle of the field.

The Patriots surrendered less than 4 yards per carry on runs aimed outside the tackles this season, re-directing better than one in seven of those carries and limiting those re-directed runs to less than 2.5 yards per carry.

In fact, the game charters at Pro Football Focus have this rated as a push.


New England Patriots 23, Seattle Seahawks 20