Romilly Evans takes the Hawks for back-to-back Lombardis at Super Bowl XLIX, where their more balanced roster should tip the scales in their favour against the Patriots...
"You must've heard how great Richard Sherman is. In fact, it was probably him from whom you heard it"
New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks
Kick-off: Sunday, 23:30
TV: Live on Sky Sports 1
After a fortnight of fluctuating indecision, the Vegas line appears to have settled with the Seattle Seahawks as its favourite for the greatest show on turf at the University of Phoenix' Stadium.
And, on balance, it's hard to argue with that conclusion. DeflateGate defamation has given the New England Patriots a torrid time in the media scrum and while off-field concerns seldom to contribute to on-field execution in the way that most expect, it has provided a most unwelcome distraction for Pats playmaker, Tom Brady.
Brady arrives in town at the head of the NFL's highest-winning team of the past decade to face the reigning champions. However, while his play-off record (20-8) is enviable, his Super Bowl performances have dropped off considerably, losing his past two end-game outings to the underdog Giants of New York.
Sure, Brady still holds three rings but he earnt them all when he was little more than a game-manager. Since the team has rested squarely on his shoulders, Brady has wilted in the spotlight as he seeks to match his hero Joe Montana's record haul of four Vince Lombardi trophies. In short, that milestone is becoming a millstone.
Hawks QB Russell Wilson, though, carries no such scar tissue. His team savaged the favoured Denver Broncos during last year's Bowl and he is now riding an eight-game streak to Brady's two. While the comedy of errors that allowed Seattle to overcome Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game owed more to good fortune than Wilson's expert arm (his first-half QB-rating hit lows somewhere south of dismal) he kept on trusting in his team, making the throws that counted when the match was on the line.
The match-sealing touchdown eloquently demonstrated how this 26-year-old rolls. Having misfired to wideout Jermaine Kearse for four earlier picks, Wilson still had to confidence the throw the perfect ball to him for a triumphant 35-yard connection. Wilson's playbook invariably discovers a silver lining.
Elsewhere on the field, and either side of the scrimmage line, these teams are well-matched, as befits an ostensibly "pick 'em" decider. Each receiving crew is solid of superstar-less. Reliable rushers Marshawn Lynch (Hawks) and LeGarrette Blount (Pats) cancel one another out.
The Patriots' secondary is probably the most improved outfit in the league this term, while the Legion of Boom needs no introduction. You must've heard how great cornerback Richard Sherman is. In fact, it was probably him from whom you heard it. And while he and Earl Thomas are a little banged-up (nursing left-side knocks), they both made midweek practice and are raring to go for one final assault on perhaps the premier pocket-passer of this era.
Brady's poise in the pocket is in part due to his relative immobility. The Colossus of Rhodes made more impromptu excursions out of safe harbour than TB, yet this static signal-caller has certainly made a virtue out of a necessity. That said, in a tussle of neutralising strengths, Brady's one-dimensional demeanour may give Seattle the edge.
For, speaking of edges, the Seahawks have another running back who can find it in the shape of Wilson. He's run for over 100 yards three times over the current campaign and his dual-threat versatility provides an unpredictability to the dependable advances of Lynch's trademark Beast Mode.
Lynch put on a similarly signature display to confound the press on Media Day, repeating "I'm just here so I won't get fined" a nauseating 29 times. However, come gameday, he's all about confounding his footballing inquisitors. Lynch leads the NFL in rushing TDs (13) and has averaged a whopping 18.5 carries-per-start since Week Seven. He is the heart and soul of this offense and excels at making more inroads after contact.
If Lynch continues to bear the load, forget Katy Perry and the Half-time Show, we could be in for enough crotch-grabbing celebrations to eclipse even Michael Jackson. This maverick will happily pay the ensuing fines, too.
Brady's efforts aside, if New England are to prevail, talismanic tight end Rob Gronkowski must come to the pouching party to compliment Blount's ground gains. Gronk is healthy in the postseason for the first time since 2010, but even this six-six behemoth faces intimidation from physical Kam Chancellor, a man who puts the strong before safety.
The Patriots D will certainly need to step up to match Chancellor, Sherman and Co. Indeed, they haven't landed a sack in the play-offs. Wilson's regular scrambling will give them multiple chances to open their account, although his ability to adjust and make the corrections (both as a runner and passer) means that Seattle are the side with all the aces here.
The Hawks retain 34 players from last season's winning team. New England have just 17 left on the roster from their latest 2012 outing. The continuity and adaptability of that Seattle personnel should prove the kicker. As for Brady, having caught a cold earlier in the week, he could be left out in it for a third straight Super Bowl.
Back Seattle Seahawks to win on the Match Moneyline @ 1.9520/21 or better
Back Seattle Seahawks to win on the First Half Moneyline @ 2.186/5 or better
Back Under 23.5 New England Patriots Total Points @ 1.9420/21 or better
Back Seattle Seahawks Field Goal to be First Scoring Play 5.04/1 or better
Back M. Lynch to be First / Anytime TD Scorer 7.06/1 or better