SUPER BOWL XLIX STORYLINES
1. Deflate-gate: Whether one views it as a burgeoning scandal or merely a lot of hot air, the saga of underinflated footballs has dwarfed what looms as a classic showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots in in Sunday's Super Bowl XLIX at Glendale, Ariz. The Patriots have staunchly denied any wrongdoing in the controversy stemming from the AFC title game as they attempt to win their fourth Super Bowl in 14 seasons - and first in 10 years - while preventing Seattle from becoming the first repeat champion since New England won back-to-back crowns in 2003-04. The Seahawks embarrassed one future Hall of Fame quarterback by manhandling Peyton Manning and Denver 43-8 a year ago and look for an encore against Tom Brady and Co. in another matchup of top-seeded teams.
2. The Ties That Bind: Brady already owns a number of postseason records and can join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories, but counterpart Russell Wilson will become the youngest QB to start two Super Bowls and the first to appear in two in his first three seasons after leading a stunning comeback in the NFC Championship Game. “Russell and Tom Brady are both great winners,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Tom has had a long time to prove that. Russell is at the early stages of proving that to the world. But he’s got a chance to be similar.” Carroll was head coach of New England for three seasons before he was replaced in 2000 by Bill Belichick, who has won a record 21 postseason games and joins Don Shula as the only head coaches to reach six Super Bowls.
3. Beast Mode(s): Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch is a man of few words, accumulating fines for his refusal to speak to the media at nearly that same rate as he finds the end zone, but he is the centerpiece of Seattle's offense - to the point where teammate Doug Baldwin said the Seahawks' goal "is to make Marshawn Lynch the MVP of the Super Bowl and if we do that, obviously we're going to win." Serving a similar role for the Patriots is tight end Rob Gronkowski, a matchup nightmare at 6-6, 265 pounds who will be pitted against Seattle's Legion of Boom secondary, Gronkowski was hobbled by a high-ankle sprain in New England's loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI but came back from a serious knee injury at the end of 2013 to catch 12 touchdown passes this season, including one in each his the past five games.
TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Patriots -1. O/U: 47.5
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (14-4): New England has rolled up 80 points in its two postseason victories and prevailed in contrasting styles, erasing a pair of 14-point deficits behind 367 yards and three touchdowns from Brady to outlast Baltimore 35-31 despite a postseason record-low 14 yards rushing. Running back LeGarrette Blount, signed in November after he was cut loose by Pittsburgh, did the heavy lifting in the 45-7 drubbing of Indianapolis by rumbling for 148 yards and three touchdowns and the 250-pounder could be primed for a heavy workload against Seattle. Two-time Super Bowl MVP Brady has reliable weapons at his disposal with Julian Edelman (92 receptions) and Brandon LaFell (74 catches) complementing Gronkowski, who has 54 TD receptions in 65 career regular-season games. The Patriots' secondary doesn't receive the notoriety of that of Seattle, but it also features a pair of stellar cornerbacks in All-Pro Darrelle Revis and ex-Seahawk Brandon Browner.
ABOUT THE SEAHAWKS (14-4): Seattle surrendered a total of 39 points in winning its final six regular-season contests, but Wilson showed poise beyond his years in the overtime victory against Green Bay, overcoming four interceptions to lead a pair of touchdown drives in the final four minutes to erase a 16-point halftime deficit. Wilson also is dangerous on the run, rushing for 849 yards and six scores to keep teams from becoming too preoccupied with Lynch, who amassed 157 yards and a score versus the Packers and has 48 rushing TDs in his four seasons with the Seahawks. Wilson's top targets are Doug Baldwin (66 receptions) and Jermaine Kearse, who has one TD reception in each of the two postseason wins - including the overtime game-winner in the NFC title game. Seattle has key concerns in the secondary with All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman nursing an elbow injury and hard-hitting safety Earl Thomas dealing with an ailing shoulder.
1. Brady has thrown a record 49 scoring passes in the postseason and is two shy of tying Montana (11) for the most Super Bowl TD passes.
2. Seattle has won five straight postseason games and is seeking to become the ninth team to repeat as Super Bowl champion.
3. The Patriots had their bid for a perfect 19-0 season dashed by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII at University of Phoenix Stadium.
PREDICTION: Seahawks 24, Patriots 23