The Seattle Seahawks boast the best defense in the NFL, but heading into the Super Bowl it's the New England Patriots on the defensive.
The Pats have had just about the worst week of Super Bowl preparation possible. Dogged by the bizarre 'Deflate-gate' controversy, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and even owner Robert Kraft have been forced to defend the integrity of their organisation.
Super Bowl Media Day, more of a circus than anything else, actually was a welcome respite. Belichick will no doubt mould the media narrative into a 'us against the world' pre-game spiel for his team, but it's clear their preparations have been far from ideal.
In contrast, the Seahawks look relaxed. On Day One of Media Week, Richard Sherman did the salsa and Michael Bennett talked about his wife's 'booty'.
Ricardo Lockette had a haircut, Marshawn Lynch did his thing and Earl Thomas III wore a cowboy hat.
It's fair to say, the Seahawks are enjoying their second trip to the Super Bowl in as many years.
Why the Seahawks can win
The mood in the two camps just feels so different. The Pats are understandably tightly strung, the Seahawks couldn't be looser.
And in a Super Bowl match-up as close as this one - the Patriots are one point favourites with bookmakers - that could make all the difference.
A quick scan of the GiveMeSport office confirms support for the New England franchise heading into the Super Bowl, but why so much love for the Pats?
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Legion of Boom
This time last year the Denver Broncos were favoured heavily, led by a historic Peyton Manning offense. That offense was decimated in the Super Bowl.
The Legion of Boom started slowly this season, but since Week 12 it's been arguably better than last season. It's allowed a combined 78 points through eight games. That's less than 10 points-per-matchup.
Per Football Outsiders looking at the team's Defensive DVOA and Weighted Defense, the Seahawks have the best defense in the league.
Here's what they did to an electric Eagles offense in Philadelphia...
Rob Gronkowski is the Patriots' only headache-inducing threat. LeGarrette Blount can be contained. When the Seahawks have been gashed on the ground, they've come up against the league's best backs - DeMarco Murray, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles and Frank Gore.
The Pats running game is good, but this is how the Seahawks D deals with players like Blount…
Poor Mike Tolbert. #KeepingPounding Mike.
So what about Gronk?
Over the course of the regular season, teams average a measly 185.6 yards per game through the air against the Seahawks. Against tight ends specifically, the Seahawks defence is slightly better than average (-1.1% DVOA vs tight ends).
Of course, Gronk is not a normal tight end. But Kam Chancellor is not a normal safety, and he'll have help. Kam will probably get the gig on Gronkowski, but he won't be isolated.
Pete Carroll will scheme up all kinds of help for the Seahawks safety, probably within their core Cover 3 defense. Carroll is a defensive guru, basically the Chip Kelly of defense, so if there's one man to shut down Gronk, it's him.
Expect Chancellor and co to get in Gronk's grill and pressure him from the line of scrimmage - there's no way he's getting a free release, especially against a Seahawks secondary that regularly skirts the line between illegal and legal contact.
Sky Sports NFL expert Neil Reynolds, speaking to GiveMeSport this afternoon, agrees.
"The fascinating battle is the middle of the field; how does Rob Gronkowski match up with Kam Chancellor, KJ Wright, Bruce Irvin, or Bobby Wagner?
"Seattle won the Super Bowl last year by jumping all over the Broncos’ short passing routes, punishing their receivers and intimidating them," continued Reynolds.
"I’m not sure they can intimidate Gronkowksi. So the key battle is what Gronk can do against that secondary and the linebackers, I think it will be fascinating."
Sherman and Thomas III are nursing injuries from a bruising comeback against the Packers, and their health will be absolutely crucial.
If they're healthy, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell will be shut down - sorry guys, Sherman, Thomas III and Byron Maxwell are too good and Irvin, Wright, Thomas, Kam and Wagner will hammer them on their favoured short routes. Jeremy Lane will be roaming too.
Sherman will be limited in the Super Bowl, but he's one of the best cover corners in the league and that alone should make Brady think twice about testing him. Witness Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game, even as Sherman was clearly struggling, avoided him at all cost.
Shane Veeren could be the wildcard, running routes from the backfield, but the Seahawks linebacker corp is so big, so powerful and so quick they're built perfectly to cover sideline to sideline.
Ultimately, it will be the Legion of Boom that will decide the game.
Even if the Seahawks D-Line makes Brady's day hellish, which Bennett and Cliff Avril are more than capable of doing, it will be the velcro tight coverage on Pats receivers that forces Brady to hold the ball that microsecond too long.
The Seahawks have the third best rushing defence, the best passing defense and the best overall defense. A historically good defense plus a functional offense has been the driving force behind Super Bowls wins since the beginning of time.
There's a reason 'defense wins championships', however much of a cliche it may be.
Seahawks on offense
On the other side of the ball, the league's TD machine Marshawn Lynch goes up against a league average Patriots run defense.
Belichick's team gave up more than 120 yards to Justin Forsett earlier this month, the eighth 100-yard rusher this year and the fourth time in the last seven games. The Seahawks should look to batter them and open up the field for Russell Wilson and the play-action.
Pats run defense
They've actually tightened up over the second half of the season - in the first nine games they allowed 1,080 yards and five TDs, in the second nine they've given up 808 yards and just two touchdowns.
But they didn't face anybody on Lynch's level over those games - Eddie Lacy and Forsett were the only backs in the top eight rushers in that period and Lacy went for 4.7-yards-per-carry and Forsett went for 5.4.
Looking further back, when up against teams committed to the run - like the Seahawks will be - the Pats have been bad.
They gave up more than 100 yards twice to the Jets (one game went for more than 200), more than 150 yards to the Bears, more than 190 to the Dolphins, and more than 200 yards to the Chiefs.
The Patriots remain favourites this weekend, but in a game as tight as this one, defense will be key - and Seattle have the best.
I just hope they brought the bikes to Arizona...
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