Breaking Down the Super Bowl & Who Will Decide Football’s Biggest Game

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Six months after posting my first NFL preview column for the 2014 season, I’m still worrying about the same exact thing as I was on that August day: the Seattle Seahawks.

During the preseason, the regular season and even the early part of the playoffs, I was praying someone else would knock the Seahawks off. As a sports fan, you’re always going to appreciate your team beating the toughest possible competition on its way to a Championship, but as a Patriots fan, I’ll take Super Bowl #4 any way I can get it. So if someone wanted to do New England a big favor and knock off the champs before a possible Super Bowl matchup, that was fine by me.

But it didn’t happen. It seems that in 2014, the Manning brothers ended their automatically-renewing deal with the devil and the Seahawks swooped in to take their place.

OK, everyone else in the country, your team couldn’t knock off Seattle so we’ll step up and do your dirty work. After all, I can’t imagine any impartial fans would be rooting for the Seahawks over the Patriots? That would be lunacy…unless the NFL fabricated a cheating scandal to purposely unite the nation in its hatred for a common enemy. But what league that claims any sort of legitimacy would get up to those types of shenanigans?

Oh.

For better or worse, we’re looking at one of the most anticipated Super Bowls in recent memory. We thought we had a similar game on tap last year only for the Broncos to no-show in the most important moment of their collective lives. Let’s hope Seattle doesn’t get scared of the Patriots and go down that same path.

At this point in the week it seems silly to go too deep into the matchups and analytics so let’s just tackle the pick for this game through a smorgasbord of random thoughts & stories.

A stupid cliche that won’t die

First thing’s first. Throughout this past week, I’ve heard a number of analysts and former players making their pick for Seattle based on that old cliche “defense wins championships.” I’ve heard it phrased a million different ways, but the bottom line is that people seem to think the better defense almost always wins out in the Super Bowl. As usual, I decided to do the research on my own. Here is the list of the past 13 Super Bowls with each team’s regular season defensive ranking (according to FootballOutsiders.com) in parentheses:

  • Super Bowl 48: Seattle (1st) over Denver (15th)
  • Super Bowl 47: Baltimore (19th) over San Francisco (3rd)
  • Super Bowl 46: Giants (19th) over New England (30th)
  • Super Bowl 45: Green Bay (2nd) over Pittsburgh (1st)
  • Super Bowl 44: New Orleans (17th) over Indianapolis (16th)
  • Super Bowl 43: Pittsburgh (1st) over Arizona (21st)
  • Super Bowl 42: Giants (13th) over New England (11th)
  • Super Bowl 41: Indianapolis (25th) over Chicago (2nd)
  • Super Bowl 40: Pittsburgh (3rd) over Seattle (16th)
  • Super Bowl 39: New England (7th) over Philadelphia (16th)
  • Super Bowl 38: New England (2nd) over Carolina (10th)
  • Super Bowl 37: Tampa Bay (1st) over Oakland (7th)
  • Super Bowl 36: New England (13th) over St. Louis (5th)

Out of these 13 Super Bowls, the better defense won the game seven times (54% of the time). And in five of those seven games where the better defense actually did win, it was by less than a touchdown. So there’s really no truth to this cliche, and Seattle’s #1 defense shouldn’t automatically intimidate the Patriots or the people who want to bet on the Patriots.

Two small items to consider before you pick

  • From a statistical standpoint, the number-crunchers at FootballOutsiders.com are calling this the closest Super Bowl matchup in history. While it’s fun to consider an alternate point spread prop bet that has one of these teams winning by 10+ and paying you off in a major way, it’s highly unlikely. Over & over this week I’ve wanted to make a case for why the Patriots will win in a blowout. I just don’t see it. Both teams are great at staying in games and making the right decisions and tweaks. Rarely do either of these teams suffer a true meltdown.
  • From an anecdotal standpoint, I’m assuming this is going to essentially be a home game for Seattle, right? It’s not that I don’t have faith in my fellow New Englanders..it’s just, well, no I don’t actually have any faith in them. That Seattle fan base seems much more likely to take a city over. They’re loud, proud & obnoxious in a way most cities could only dream of. They have a shorter & cheaper flight to Arizona. They didn’t suffer a blizzard earlier in the week that could have messed with their travel plans. They haven’t been to as many Super Bowls in the past 15 years and therefore probably have more fans clamoring to spend their kids’ college tuitions on a two-night trip to the Phoenix area. Let’s not fight it. The villain Patriots are playing in hostile territory on Sunday.

The head vs the heart

When thinking about this game on & off for the past 10 days, I kept coming back to one thing: Do I want to make this pick with my head or with my heart?

Picking from my heart obviously means I’m going with the Patriots. The heart says the Patriots are finally getting that jolt of Eff You motivation at the right time. In 2007, the SpyGate Eff You mode wore that team down by December. New England started playing angry in week 2 of that season and couldn’t sustain it for the next 20 weeks. But this year’s Patriots got screwed by the league at just the right time. They’ve had two weeks to get pissed off at all the irresponsible accusations. They’ve been thrown under the bus repeatedly and the drivers of those buses have made sure to back up and run the bodies over a second time. (We can refer to this as “pulling a Suge Knight” now, right?)

The heart also says that Tom Brady & Bill Belichick finally get Super Bowl win #4 and stand alone at the top of their respective quarterbacking and coaching mountains. The heart says they deserve this reward for continually building a championship contender the right way, for being the only team that you can consistently say year in & year out will almost definitely be one of the final four teams standing, and for handling more off-field adversity than any other team over the past two years (beginning with the Aaron Hernandez murder charge right before the start of 2013 training camp and extending through this past week with that goddamn football inflation garbage).

The heart says Brady has a game for the ages…perhaps something similar to his surgical dissection of the Jaguars in a 2008 playoff game where he went 26-of-28 for 262 yards and three touchdown passes.

The head doesn’t necessarily agree with all this. Ten days ago the head was telling me the Seahawks should be the pick. First of all, anyone with even a small amount of football & gambling knowledge should have predicted Seattle would be a two or three-point favorite over New England. But with the way the Patriots demolished Indy last Sunday night, coming on the heels of Russell Wilson’s worst game as a professional QB, the money immediately poured in for New England and we got this still-current line of New England favored by two points. So the head is definitely worried about the amount of money that came in on the Patriots early.

The head also knows that the current “Eff You motivation” could just as easily be a distraction. The entire team—especially the head coach and starting quarterback—have had to spend some time on the deflated footballs accusation since last Monday. Even if it’s not a lot of time, they still had to break from routine for a little bit. My guess is that there’s probably more examples in professional sports of a distracted team underperforming than of them banding together and overcoming the adversity.

But it’s not quite as simple as my head knowing the Seahawks should be the pick. My head also thinks the Patriots can win if they play a nearly perfect game.

It’s been pretty predictable for New England in the playoffs so far: Whatever aspect of their game seems like the obvious one that needs to be successful in order for them to win has indeed been the critical piece in advancing. Against Baltimore we knew they had to keep Brady upright and contain the pass rush. They did that exceptionally well compared to their last few games against the Ravens. And when facing the Colts, of course establishing the run is key to getting a win. They did that and then some.

So what’s the obvious key for the Patriots in the Super Bowl? I think it’s two-fold.

  1. No turnovers. Believe it or not, Brady has thrown at least one interception in eight of his last 11 playoff games. Turnovers are always a recipe for losing, but against this very fast and athletic Seattle defense, it’s even more crucial. You want to make the Seahawks’ offense earn every single yard & point, so a Pick-Six would be devastating (as would any turnover that leads to a short field for Seattle).
  2. Make Russell Wilson’s legs a non-factor. If Marshawn Lynch gains 150 rushing yards on 30 carries, so be it. The Patriots have allowed big days to many running backs over the years and have lived to talk about it because they almost never give up long runs. If a team wants to methodically chip away with four & five-yard runs all game, that’s fine by the Patriots. But if Wilson starts making plays by running, that’s going to open up the whole defense and the odds of Lynch ripping off those huge runs increase exponentially. The Patriots can handle one guy having a good running day, but not two.

Another thing I keep turning over in my head is that if one of these teams gets to 27 points, the game’s over. It sounds like a lot of predictions coming in from the experts have this being a particularly low-scoring game. I don’t see it being super low-scoring and I don’t see it being a battle of both teams reaching the 30’s. But I could see something like 28-24.

And this ties back to where New England has struggled in its past two Super Bowl appearances. This franchise has averaged 31 points per game in the regular season since the start of 2007. But in their two Super Bowls since then, they’ve combined for exactly 31 points. You can’t win many games when being held to 14 or 17 points.

Unfortunately none of this matters one bit

What we need to be doing is looking at this game from the standpoint of what the NFL most wants to see happen. Let’s face it, the NFL—and the NFL alone—is going to determine the outcome of the Super Bowl.

The league has done a fantastic job over the years of building the Patriots up as the ultimate villain, but is it as simple as creating a monster so a record-breaking audience tunes in and then the good guys vanquish the bad guys? If it’s that simple, then the NFL isn’t really milking this for all it’s worth. And we all know the NFL will milk something way past the point of that thing being dried up.

I think the best case for the NFL is for New England to win, but not in a tidy sort of “oh, turns out they can still win when they don’t cheat” way. It’ll be in an overtly controversial way. This allows the rest of the country to still be angry at the Patriots, and it provides a built-in villain for the 2015 season.

And what’s the NFL’s go-to blueprint for controversy? Letting the referees get involved and bungle an important call.

My head and my heart are telling me this game swings on a controversial play that will throw the refs into the spotlight and allow people to question yet another Patriots Super Bowl win. Gun to my head, I’d pick a phantom roughing the passer call against Seattle on a crucial 4th quarter New England drive.

For many different reasons, I’m picking the Patriots to win 27-24.

The Patriots get that elusive 4th ring. We all finally get to pop that bottle of champagne that’s been sitting in our fridge since February 2008. And hopefully the New England fans I’m with will be OK with an emotional embrace like this lasting image of Belichick and his coordinators from the Patriots’ last Super Bowl victory:

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A collective groan from the league’s other 30 fan bases

If we can look ahead to the 2015 season for just a second, I have some bad news for a lot of you football fans out there. The Patriots & Seahawks are going to be the odds-on favorites to be right back in this spot one year from now. And how can anyone try to argue against that? The Patriots are kind of a no-brainer considering their biggest rival, Denver, is on life support. The Colts, Bengals, Steelers and Chargers can’t be taken seriously. That leaves only the Ravens once again standing in New England’s way going into the 2015 season.

Over in the NFC, the Seahawks won’t have to worry about San Francisco for a little while, and Detroit/Dallas/Philly can’t be relied on for continued success. That leaves Green Bay. Having the best QB in football, the Packers are certainly a lot more threatening to Seattle than anyone in the AFC is to New England.

I’m already looking forward to the New England-Seattle rematch next year in San Francisco. And I’m sure there will be a fresh batch of controversies and off-the-field bullshit that the NFL will create just to keep itself in the news. Can’t wait!

Counterpoint from a Seattle fan

I promised to devote equal time in this column to both teams and that was clearly a lie. But here are the opinions of my buddy Brad, a Seattle fan whose sports expertise began and ended with the 1995 Mariners up until the Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year:

I think the Seahawks are going to win the game for the following reasons:

  1. The Seahawks have enough great athletes to pressure Brady with four and double Gronk.  Unless Edelman goes off from the slot, Brady will struggle.
  2. Bobby Wagner is a beast.  So is Kam Chancellor.  They will destroy whoever Belichick runs out there as running back of the week. 
  3. Marshawn Lynch is awesome.  The Seahawks’ line will be healthier than they were against Green Bay and the Pats aren’t very good against good running backs. 
  4. Wilson will come back from his worst game since Pop Warner and keep them in the game while the defense and Lynch wear the Pats down.
  5. Also, there is this: When the public is betting on your team in Vegas, you’d better run for the hills: “Vegas, fans favoring Patriots.” 
My pick: Seahawks 27, Pats 13
Enjoy Super Bowl 49, everyone!
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Prop Party (The Super Bowl Kind, Not the Kinky Kind)

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The best part about there being only three more days until the Super Bowl is that the media only has three more days of overblown and made-up stories to shove down our throats. It feels so good to type those words.

As predicted by anyone with a brain, the deflated footballs non-story finally died down, even with some last ditch efforts to reignite the outrage (he went into a bathroom before going out on the field! the NFL is naming people of interest!…which is almost as cute as when me and my brothers would play “lawyers” growing up. We liked pretending we were adults with important jobs and actual authority too!)

And the media tried so hard on Tuesday and Wednesday to get all the idiots in America to be outraged over Marshawn Lynch’s refusal to speak, but that was to no avail. It turns out if it’s not about Bill Belichick and the Patriots cheating outsmarting everyone else, it’s not juicy enough.

It feels like we’re finally entering the phase where the upcoming game is being talked about. But don’t bet against Roger Goodell saying something at his “State of the NFL” address on Friday that puts controversy right back into the spotlight.

I promise to stay controversy-free for the rest of this Props column, but I can’t promise the same for Friday’s column that’ll be dedicated to picking the winner of the game (with some brand new conspiracy theories as a side dish).

While many of my readers have bit the bullet and signed up for an online gambling account at this point, I realize there are some who would love to play along with prop bets but still don’t want to truly gamble. Well the Super Bowl party I attended last year had a fun way to make this happen for all of the fake bettors. Below is a picture of the prop bets game they had everyone play. Each person at the party would write down an answer for each bet on the list, and then the winner was simply the person who got the most correct. I think the creator of this forgot to include a legit prize last year, but you can make it anything. A $20 gift card to Amazon or something simple. If nothing more, it’s a nice complement to the traditional Super Bowl squares since it causes people to pay attention to other things going on in the game. And you can obviously create whatever questions you want.

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But if you need more than that $20 Amazon card, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve been on fire during the playoffs with my prop bets (where “fire” = “probably hovering just above 50% but I try to make it sound like I haven’t lost a singlet bet”).

So let’s ignore the point spread and the over/under game total for today and focus solely on the props. There are over 500 prop bets available, most of which you can see HERE on Bovada’s website. And let’s get a little wild here. Usually I stick to 5-7 prop bets per weekend, but what’s the point of the Super Bowl if it’s not for me to empty my entire Bovada account on these ludicrous bets? I’m giving you 19 picks for the Super Bowl!

Here they are:

How long will it take Idina Menzel to sing the US National Anthem?

  • This is the first of three bets I’m making that don’t really have anything to do with the actual game. For this prop, I’m going big on Under 2 minutes 1 second (-120 odds) for the National Anthem. I don’t know much about this woman who’s singing, but I know what the numbers say…
  • Menzel has only two prior National Anthem performances that are available on video. This past summer she performed at the MLB All-Star game and clocked in at 1 minute 58 seconds. And in December 2007, she sang in the Giants/Patriots week 17 game and finished in 1 minute 34 seconds. I went back and watched those performances (and clocked them myself), and let me tell ya, that 1:58 rendition felt like the slowest singing of the Anthem possible. I can’t imagine her singing anything more slowly than that.
  • The other piece of data is that apparently in the last nine Super Bowls, the average Anthem length was 1 minute 56 seconds. Put it all on the under!

Will Al Michaels refer to the point spread, total, odds on who wins the game or any prop bet during the game? 

  • I love Yes (+170) as the bet here. In a game this big, where everyone in the world has already heard who’s favored by how many, the announcer is almost always going to casually mention who that favorite is or something to that effect. But for the uninitiated, you should know that Al Michaels almost always finds a way to work in the spread or the point total into his broadcasts. This is like stealing.

What color will Bill Belichick’s hoodie be?

  • I like Blue (even money). The other options are Grey (-120) and Red (+750). If memory serves, Belichick wore red and grey in the Super Bowl losses to the Giants. I think he remembers that and has the same stupid superstitions that I do. Also, he’s been known to wear the track suit/warm-up suit in warm weather and domes. If he doesn’t wear a hoodie at all, the bet is off and you get your money back.

Player to score the first Patriots touchdown in the game

  • Rob Gronkowski (13/4), LeGarrette Blount (9/2), Shane Vereen (8/1)
  • I’m betting all three of those guys knowing my profit will be smaller on the winner because I have to lose the other two. Barring a rare long touchdown, the Patriots score almost exclusively by throwing to Gronk or running the ball (at least that’s the recent trend). Gronk & Blount are the odds-on favorites to win this prop, but I don’t think getting cute is the right move here. Just pick those guys and move on. And because the Pats might choose to go more with a pass-catching running back at times, I’m putting Vereen into the mix just in case.

Player to score the first Seahawks touchdown in the game

  • Jermaine Kearse (7/1), Luke Willson (8/1)
  • Here’s where we want to go down the longshot path. And these two guys aren’t even that big of longshots. While Lynch, Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin are the three favorites for Seattle’s first touchdown, the Patriots simply don’t give up touchdowns to running backs, quarterbacks or #1 wide receivers these days. It seems like the opponent’s second or third receiving options, or its tight end, are the ones putting up points on the Patriots. That’s why I like Kearse and Willson.

Player to score the first touchdown in the game

  • Rob Gronkowski (13/2). If you feel good about the Patriots, then it’s not a terrible thing to double down on Gronk in this case. Now we’re saying he’s scoring the first touchdown among either team, not just New England. You can probably guess that a few bets from now, I’m going to be promoting Gronk as a possible MVP candidate.

Total touchdown passes – Tom Brady

  • I’m taking Over 1.5 (-180) for two reasons. One is because the Seahawks don’t let up many rushing touchdowns (less than half a touchdown on the ground per game allowed). And two because Brady is only two touchdowns shy of tying Joe Montana’s career record of 11 total touchdowns in the Super Bowl. The Patriots aren’t going to game plan for this, but if it’s within reach and it’s a coin flip of a decision on running or throwing, he’s throwing.

Total rushing yards – Tom Brady

  • Let’s go Over 2.5 (even money) with this one. Yes, it does feel a little pathetic to be betting on a person to gain three total yards. But those of us who have been paying attention can take advantage. When I thought about Brady’s recent games, I immediately sensed that he’s been scrambling a bit more. And it turns out I was right. In five of the past six games, Brady has gone over the 2.5 line for rushing yards. In fact, in each of those five games, he finished with seven or more yards. So it’s not like he’s just barely breaking that mark. He’s obliterating it.

Total rushing yards – Russell Wilson

  • It seems counterintuitive to pick Brady for an “over” bet on rushing yards and Wilson for an “under” bet in the same category, but Wilson’s total is 42.5. I’m going Under 42.5 rushing yards for Wilson (-115). The Patriots under Belichick have never been the type of team that gives up a lot of yards on the ground to the quarterback. I also think New England has enough confidence in its secondary that it’ll put extra attention on stopping the run, from Lynch and Wilson.

 Total receptions – Jermaine Kearse

  • It’s probably clear from the bets above that I’m leaning towards New England having a good offensive game, but that doesn’t mean I’m expecting every Seattle player to suck. The yards have to be gained and the passes have to be caught by someone. I like the #2 receiver in a game against the Patriots. I say Kearse will have 5 or more receptions (7/1). It’s a great longshot.

How many successful field goals will be kicked in the game by the Seahawks?

  • The answer is Over 1.5 (-150). Even though Seattle has only made one field goal in its first two playoff games, I’m not worried. This is a pretty conservative offense, especially when it’s going up against a formidable defense. I don’t think Seattle expects to put up four touchdowns in this game, but rather chip away on offense while their defense does the rest. Pete Carroll tends to be a pretty conservative coach on 4th downs, and the Seahawks weren’t a great 3rd down team in 2014 either.

Will both teams have the lead during the 1st half?

  • Yes (+130). Mostly because I’m getting an extra 30% on my bet for a very typical scenario to play out: Team A goes up 3-0 on a field goal, Team B answers with a touchdown. Done and done.

Will there be a punt return for a touchdown in the game?

  • Did you know that there has been a safety in each of the past three Super Bowls and four of the last six. For whatever reason, this keeps happening. I was going to put some money on there being a safety this year too (+550), but that’s such an anomaly. There’s no way we’re going to keep seeing a safety scored in every Super Bowl.
  • So instead I’m taking that money and putting it on Yes (+750) for whether or not there will be a punt return touchdown. Julian Edelman happens to be a fantastic punt returner. Also, this Patriots season has mimicked the 2001-2004 Patriots teams pretty closely, and those teams could always be counted on for an incredible special teams play in the biggest moments.

Will a 2-point conversion be attempted in the game?

  • Yes (+195). You’re giving me nearly 2-to-1 odds on something that happens with regularity in the NFL. It’s also something that has happened in each of the last five Super Bowls.

Will the game go to overtime?

  • Yes (7/1). I get roped into this bet every year under the premise of “hey, it has to happen eventually.” I swore I wouldn’t bite on it this year, but then I noticed the odds are +700. This same bet last year was only +550 for “yes”. If they’re going to keep increasing the odds on this prop, then they have a customer for life.

MVP Bets

  • Rob Gronkowski (9/1): Because if any Patriots player would win it besides Brady, it would be Gronk. A great game by #87 could get voters to choose him with the reasoning of “Hey, Gronk, you had an awesome season. Sorry we couldn’t put you in the regular season MVP discussion, but just know that you’re the greatest.” But I still don’t love this because if the Patriots don’t win the game by running, then they’re probably spreading the ball around and then we’re back at Brady for MVP.
  • Jermaine Kearse (50/1): Something about that #2 wide receiver randomly going off for a huge game or making an iconic catch…Santonio Holmes was #2 behind Hines Wards when he won the MVP in Super Bowl XLIII, and Deion Branch was the #2 guy behind David Givens (in fact, Branch was kind of #3 behind David Patten too) when he won the MVP in Super Bowl XXXIX. Call it a hunch.
  • Marshawn Lynch (5/1): STAY AWAY. I may not know who is winning the MVP, but I know who isn’t. You know who gets to decide the MVP of this game for the most part? The media (they account for 80% of the vote). You know which group has collectively decided over the past few months—and especially the last few days—that they hate Marshawn Lynch? The media. Is there a bet somewhere that just says “Marshawn Lynch will NOT win the MVP?” Even if the odds are -3000, I’d make that bet.

There you have it. You can spread some money across all 19 of those bets, or put all your money on one or two that you love, or bet the opposite of everything I picked because you know my track record. There are limitless possibilities.

Whatever you do, just have fun with it and don’t be afraid to be that guy at the Super Bowl party who screams wildly after a 3-yard QB sneak by Tom Brady from his own 20 yard line in the 1st quarter. Everyone’s going to think you’re crazy, but crazy is OK if you’re also rich.

My pick for the winner of Super Bowl XLIX is coming up on Friday.

Super Bowl Notes, Prop Bets and The MasturDeflator

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A quick note before I dive into my column: If you really want to read my thoughts on the deflated football confusion going on with the Patriots, please scroll all the way to the bottom of this post. I’m not going to dignify the ridiculousness of that story by leading with it. I’ve never had more people reach out to me begging for a blog than over the last few days with this non-story, so that’s the only reason I’m even mentioning it at all. I suspect that when the dust settles around this and the Patriots aren’t punished even one penny, all of you fools will think to yourselves, “Wow, we just wasted a week of our lives FREAKING OUT over whether the Patriots purposely made some footballs just a tiny bit softer.” And you’ll all feel pretty stupid, but none of you will admit it. You’ll just fall back on your irrational hatred for New England’s continued success. The funniest part about all this is that almost the entire football world, past players and present, has voiced its opinions that A) This really isn’t a big deal because in no way does it give a team an unfair advantage, and B) They have all doctored the balls themselves or have been with other players who have done so. Like I said, scroll to the bottom if you want more on this.

 On To Seattle

There’s this game that’s going to be played in just 10 days. It’s called the Super Bowl. The two best teams in the NFL are facing off to decide the league’s champion. Do you guys wanna talk about that at all? Or should we switch gears from deflated footballs to Seattle’s illegal six-man formation on the game-changing onside kick from the NFC Championship?

OK, I’ll decide for you. The Super Bowl it is.

So the Patriots and Seahawks come into this game having split 16 games against one another in their history. Wow. So on top of it being the Super Bowl, we also have the rubber match in this long, storied rivalry? Too much!

While the current coaches and players had nothing to do with most of those games, there is a regular season matchup between these two teams from week six of the 2012 season that can teach us a few things. I went back and watched the highlights and read through the game story so you wouldn’t have to. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Russell Wilson was a rookie quarterback who was already putting together a nice little resume.
  • Seattle’s 24-23 win at home against New England would get them off to a 4-2 start while the Patriots would fall to 3-3.
  • The problem is that one of those wins for Seattle was the Fail Mary game where they “beat” Green Bay on a botched game-ending catch/interception call by the replacement referees in week 3 (the NFL Network person doing the highlights in that link above makes sure to tell us that Golden Tate’s 4th quarter catch against the Patriots was not a controversial catch).
  • Tom Brady threw the ball 58 times, the Patriots racked up 85 total plays and held the ball for 36 minutes. But Brady threw two back-breaking interceptions on Seattle’s side of the field to take sure-thing points off the board.
  • There was also some end-of-1st-half mismanagement by New England that cost them three points. They tried to throw one more time with six seconds left (setting up for a field goal if they didn’t get a touchdown), but Brady was flagged for intentional grounding and the 10-second runoff ended the half. So even 27 months ago, Brady was starting to throw stupid interceptions at the wrong time and the Patriots were becoming sketchy in clock management situations at the end of the 2nd quarter.
  • Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker were Brady’s top receivers in this game.
  • Sidney Rice and Braylon Edwards each caught a touchdown for Seattle.
  • The Patriots held Marshawn Lynch to 41 rushing yards somehow.
  • The legend of Wilson gained momentum when he led Seattle back from a 13-point 4th quarter deficit to knock off a Super Bowl contender.
  • Rice’s game-winning 46-yard touchdown catch came with Patriots defenders Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson giving chase. This is potentially the biggest change since these two teams last met. While Ebner and Wilson are still on New England’s roster, they play sparingly and will not be responsible for covering Seattle’s top receivers with the game on the line next Sunday.
  • Of all the changes that have happened to both teams since this game, New England’s improved secondary is the X factor.
  • What hasn’t changed much is that New England entered that 2012 game with the league’s top offense and Seattle came into it with the best defense in the NFL. We’re still going to see that exact matchup at the Super Bowl. One of the most efficient offenses versus the best defense.

I’m fully expecting the Super Bowl to be similarly close as that 2012 matchup. And what’s really encouraging is that both teams seem to be healthy. Brian Stork, the Patriots’ rookie center, returned to practice on Thursday, and the banged up guys in Seattle (Sherman, Thomas) are seemingly on track to play. That’s all we can ask for. All hands on deck.

I’m still a long ways off from making my official predictions and handing out prop bet winners, but if I was forced to pick right now, I’d be going with the Patriots. The line is New England -2.

Considering I’m a Patriots fan and will probably find a reason to pick them no matter what, I’ll try to get the one Seattle fan I know to chime in with his justification for picking his team, just so my readers have contrasting takes on this game.

This really is going to be an outstanding football game. It just sucks that we have to wait another 10 days.

For now I’ll leave you with just a few prop bet notes that caught my eye so far:

  1. If you want to see just how crazy betting websites get when it comes to Super Bowl props, check out Bovada’s special props page: HERE. We’re talking bets like “Which coach will be mentioned first by name on TV after kickoff” and “What color will Katy Perry’s hair be when she begins the halftime show”.
  2. Actually, here’s the craziest one I’ve ever seen, and it’s live right now: “What will be higher – Russell Wilson Passing Yards or the US National Average Gas Price (in cents) on Monday, February 2nd?” Seriously. You can bet on that.
  3. One piece of advice that a wise gambling friend of mine always adheres to is this: If a bet on Bovada has the fine print of “Book Manager’s decision is final,” DO NOT WAGER ON THAT PROP. This is because those particular bets are subjective. They aren’t things that the boxscore or play on the field will tell you. Some guy gets to decide. For example, a current prop bet out there on Bovada states, “Will Bill Belichick smile during the game on camera?” Are you really going to make that bet and put your money in the hands of someone whose best interest is having the Bovada site win more money? You’re going to be pissed when you think you’ve seen a smile but they determine it was “only a smirk.”
  4. And finally, here is something I’ve never EVER seen in all my years of online gambling. In every prop that involves either both coaches or just Belichick, there is fine print that says, “Belichick must be coaching in the game.” That means if Belichick isn’t coaching, the bet is off and you get your money back. I have never seen a casino have to hedge by saying “only if the coach is coaching.” I guess they’re waiting to see if he gets suspended?

And that’s a perfect segue for my final thoughts about the accidental under-inflation of the footballs in New England.

So I’ve already established that this air-in-the-football thing is a lot of panicking about nothing. Every quarterback and kicker wants the football to be a certain way. It sounds like the majority of quarterbacks, current and former, do what they need to do to feel comfortable gripping the ball without giving a single thought to the NFL’s exact rules.

I have plenty of friends who aren’t New England fans, and in fact, hate the Patriots. What’s most telling to me over the last few days is that not one of them has come out of the woodwork to throw jabs at me about the Patriots or their cheating ways. Interestingly enough, none of them are Colts fans, Ravens fans or Jets fans. This is very telling. It seems like the people making a huge stink over all this are the fans of teams that the Patriots have consistently beaten each and every year for the past 14 years.

I get it. I’d do the same thing. But unfortunately for a completely innocent man like Bill Belichick, this forces him to be a “defendant” in a case where he hasn’t been charged with anything.

It’s also complete and utter bullshit that 53 players who have worked their asses off all year to get to this point are being dismissed in favor of “the Patriots only won because they cheated.” Picture yourself in that situation. You work harder and compete better than every opponent you face for a full year and then some jealous assholes chalk up your success to a cheating scandal that isn’t even a cheating scandal.

But let’s take a look at this story from a different angle before I retire these thoughts for good:

For the 14th consecutive season, there is a two-week break in the NFL’s schedule between Conference Championship Sunday and Super Bowl Sunday. And for the 14th consecutive season, the lead-up to the big game will be excruciating. It’s especially bad in the Twitter era where all media types, TV personalities and bloggers need something to talk about 24 hours a day.

This also happens to be the time of year where the NBA, NHL, and most importantly, college basketball are all hitting their late-season strides and fans start to really care.

Do you think the NFL wants to be relegated to third or fourth priority in the news cycles for the next five or six days? No way. They are a machine. And they stop at nothing to lead the sporting news daily.

So tell me…knowing the integrity of the NFL’s decision-makers and that money makes every decision for them, would you really put it past them to use a harmless inquiry by a team on ball inflation rules as a lightning rod for a huge controversy?

I’ve heard anecdotally in the past about lots of different requests/petitions/inquiries every team sends to the league office after certain games. (“We don’t think [fill in the blank] should be allowed and would like to see it addressed by the rules committee.”)

This ball deflation issue probably started out the same way. But what does the NFL want? Headlines! Controversy! A better reason to watch the Super Bowl! A villain everyone can root against!

And, boy, was that ever easy. Just leak out enough information that Indy doesn’t think the Patriots’ win was on the up & up, and boom, you have your scandal.

The NFL has literally said nothing about this investigation for close to 100 hours. Don’t you think if they wanted it to go away they would have come out with more information, assigned blame to someone, or handed down their punishment for those responsible? You don’t accidentally let a topic like this sit out there unattended unless you want it to.

Remember the Ray Lewis Deer Antler Spray in the weeks leading up to Baltimore vs San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII? That’s what this is all over again. Some stupid nugget of information that shouldn’t be at all scandalous or newsworthy but suddenly is because the timing of when it first came up (and, let’s face it, because everyone wants to peg the Patriots as true cheaters because their teams almost never win against them).

And I think New England should do the same thing Ray Lewis did leading up to the Super Bowl (twice, actually. He also had the murder allegations swirling around him at the Super Bowl in 2001). Say nothing. Give it no attention. Don’t answer questions about it. You only know about the Seattle Seahawks because that’s all you’re focusing on/thinking about this week.

And when the NFL decides that the Super Bowl is close enough for people to be talking a lot about the actual game, they will quietly rule that no one in the Patriots organization was found of any wrongdoing, but they will be overhauling the procedures around how the footballs are handled in the hours leading up to each game going forward.

If you know the NFL at all, you know this is exactly what they wanted and what I just said is exactly how it’s going to play out.

This Patriots fan will not be dragged into another discussion about something as bogus as air pressure inside a fucking football.

End of story.