What happened to the New England Patriots having the easiest schedule in the league? Despite the moaning from fans of other teams, it appears the Patriots have a very difficult schedule (outside of the AFC East), and the Seattle Seahawks are perhaps the toughest team they’ve had to face all year. More than 90% of analysts are taking the Patriots, but do they match up well? Let’s find out.
1. The New England wide receivers vs the Seattle defensive backs
It’s time for the league to recognize the Seattle defensive backfield as perhaps the best in football. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are an elite safety duo, able to cover well in zone and defend against the run. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are two humongous cornerbacks who play very physical press coverage, and it’s something the Patriots will have to contend with. The Seahawks still employ the talents of Marcus Trufant, but he’ll be covering the slot as the team’s nickel corner.
Somehow, it seems like this will be a bit much for the Patriots to handle. Brandon Lloyd struggled with tight coverage from a rookie; how will he deal with Sherman or Browner? The Patriots may try to challenge the large corners by lining up their tight ends wide, but it should be noted that Aaron Hernandez is coming off an injury and the Patriots will almost certainly limit his involvement. Wes Welker will beat Trufant in the slot, but I have a feeling Tom Brady is going to throw a pass or two that he will regret.
2. The New England offensive line vs the Seattle defensive line
The Seattle defensive line doesn’t just have exceptional talent, it also has depth. Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin are extremely speedy defensive ends, Red Bryant is an adept run stuffer, and Alan Branch, Jason Jones and especially Brandon Mebane are stellar against the run as defensive tackles. You counted right, I named six defensive linemen, even though Seattle runs its base out of the 4-3 Under. They’ll all get playing time, trust me.
I’m not confident about the way New England matches up here. Sebastian Vollmer is recovering from an injury, and his snaps may be limited. That could mean Irvin will be matched up on Marcus Cannon, which would be an unmitigated disaster. Nate Solder has been decent against pass rushers for this season, but Chris Clemons is a pass rusher of a different breed. Ryan Wendell had an atrocious game last week, and he’ll need all the help he can get from the guards.
3. The New England runningbacks vs the Seattle linebackers
The Seahawks have a lot of length and height on their defense, which serves them not only to knock down passers but to get penetration and wrap up the ball carrier. K.J. Wright flows to the ball well, and Bobby Wagner would be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate if not for the dominance of Bruce Irvin.
Luckily, I trust Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden. They run through arm tackles and explode through the hole well. Having Rob Gronkowski in to block will be a major boon as well.
Edge: New England
4. The Seattle wide receivers vs the New England defensive backs
Sidney Rice is somewhat removed from his previous years of elite status, but he’s a tall, fast receiver, and New England traditionally struggles with that breed of receiver. Golden Tate’s having a decent year, and Doug Baldwin and Benjamin Obomanu are talented. Braylon Edwards has had success against the Patriots in the past, so keep an eye on him.
Although New England has had trouble defending the pass so far this year, this receiving corps isn’t all that bothersome. McCourty will obviously be on Rice, hopefully with safety help over top. Steve Gregory is out, but Tavon Wilson impressed me. Pat Chung needs to take better angles on the ball, but as long as he’s in zone coverage he should be fine. Kyle Arrington will get some snaps in the slot against Baldwin, and hopefully Alfonzo Dennard will play nickel over Sterling Moore. Additionally, Russell Wilson has not impressed me this season.
Edge: New England
5. The Seattle offensive line vs the New England defensive line
This is the best Seattle offensive line has looked in half a decade. Max Unger can’t handle Vince Wilfork one-on-one, but he won’t need to: he has two guards to help him out. Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini have very poor technique, but they don’t allow much pressure.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have been great so far this year, but they need to be able to defend the run this time around. Kyle Love will have a decent game, but Vince Wilfork will likely be tied up. I’m going with the hot hand on this one.
6. The Seattle runningbacks vs the New England linebackers
Marshawn Lynch is by far the focus of this offense; Seattle is one of the few remaining run first teams in the league. He runs through arm tackles, has a masterful line in front of him, and he has a strong rookie in Robert Turbin backing him up.
Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are extremely adept against the run, but the absence of Dont’a Hightower really hurts this team. Either he’ll be replaced by an inferior talent in Bobby Carpenter or the Patriots will utilize a subpackage, which is easy to run against.
I hate games like this. I absolutely despise games in which the Patriots are overwhelmingly favored despite the odds. The noise in CenturyLink Field could drown out the no huddle, Marshawn Lynch and this bruising offensive line could go hard, this punishing defense could stuff Stevan Ridley and create turnovers, and worst of all Russell Wilson might pass all over Kyle Arrington. This game gives me nightmares. The number one offense versus the number one defense is going to end with the number one defense on top. I’m picking against the Patriots for the first time this season, with the Seahawks winning 16-13. A last second field goal wouldn’t be out of the question.
Final Score: Seattle 16, New England 13
You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.