Duke Debates: New England Patriots

Pat Higgins | Sports Editor

The New England Patriots are appearing in their sixth Super Bowl in the last 13 years. Though controversy surrounding deflated balls used in the first half of the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts dominated headlines in the last week, head coach Bill Bellichick and quarterback Tom Brady return to the Super Bowl Sunday spotlight in hopes of adding to their trophy collection.

I say this reluctantly, but I think the Patriots will make enough plays on both sides of the ball to beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. I just don’t think Brady will stand to lose after losing in his last two appearances in the NFL’s biggest game.

The problem with selling the Patriots here is that it requires picking against the Seahawks’ defense. As we saw in Super Bowl XLVII, a superior Seattle defense dominated the Broncos from the start, and Peyton Manning never really had a chance. Defense does indeed win championships. The Patriots learned that against the Giants in their two most recent Super Bowl appearances in 2008 and 2012.

The mere fact that Bellichick has led the Patriots to six Super Bowl appearances over 14 different rosters is impressive. What makes the Patriots’ chances interesting this time around is what they did to bolster their defense before the season. They added elite corners Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis, which helped them to the fifth best defense in the regular season (19 points per game) and held Andrew Luck and the Colts to just seven points with regularly inflated balls in rainy Foxborough last weekend.

With strong running games and capable quarterbacks on both sides, this game is almost guaranteed to be a battle until the final whistle. The Seahawks carry a boatload of confidence into their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance, but LeGarrette Blount is coming off a game in which he ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has a somewhat badly sprained left elbow, and safety Earl Thomas III has an ailing shoulder. If New England can establish a presence in the running game early in the game, it will certainly open things up for Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski to find some openings in Seattle’s zone defense.

If there’s no openings, they’ll probably still try. If not, receivers Julian Edelman, Brandon Lafell and Danny Amendola are clever route runners that are tasked with deceiving a Seattle secondary that claimed it knew exactly what the Broncos were running in the Meadowlands a year ago.

If the Patriots’ defense can somehow contain running back Marshawn Lynch and keep Russell Wilson in the pocket, they will be the favorite to win. But the margin that separates these two teams is so small that the team that has the ball last will find a way to pull it out.

Brady admitted earlier this week that the questions of his character in the midst of the Deflate Gate “scandal” got to him personally. The outspoken Sherman questioned his character last week once the matchup was set, claiming Brady isn’t as clean cut on the field as the public perceives him to be away from it.

But with the chance to claim his fourth ring and cement himself as the best postseason quarterback of this generation on the line, Brady will be ready. He’ll find tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Gronk will spike the ball in the end zone hard at least once.

Against an imposing Seattle defense, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots are planning any forms of trickery. Bellichick has used deception on the offensive line to help the Patriots pick up some crucial first downs this postseason, and will likely continue to do so.

If New England has the ball with less than two minutes to go in a tie game, I like Brady to win in grand fashion. But that requires an effective game plan that the Broncos could not formulate last year.

Pick: Patriots win 27-24.