Two former winners will contest Superbowl XLIX. But will it be reigning champions Seattle or three times holders New England who lift the trophy this year? Our NFL analyst Neil Harvey takes a look at the finalists and how they got there...
"Both these teams ooze class and pedigree and that's left the odds-makers in quite a quandary."
What a contest we're in for in sunny Arizona on February 1 with the top two seeds, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, through to contest Superbowl XLIX. Both these teams ooze class and pedigree and that's left the odds-makers in quite a quandary.
The early markets on Betfair have reigning champions and number two seeds Seattle just shading favouritism, available at a price of 1.9310/11. Seahawks fans will probably be snapping that up. Indeed, they must be thinking their name is on the trophy again this year, after their team somehow escaped from a gigantic hole to win their NFC Championship game against Green Bay.
Down by 12 points with less than five minutes remaining, Seattle fans could be seen leaving the stadium, having assumed their season was over - only to miss one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Touchdowns from Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch sparked an unlikely revival. Let's not forget the small matter of a recovered onside kick, coughed up by Green Bay's Brandon Bostick in a moment that will likely haunt him for the rest of his life. And the magic-act was completed when Jermaine Kearse hauled in a 35 yard touchdown pass in overtime, to seal a most unlikely 28-22 win.
This was Jekyll and Hyde stuff from Seattle, who trailed 16-0 at the break. But in the second half, we saw the kind of form that had propelled Pete Carroll's side to the NFC West title with a 12-4 record. Smothering defense and a punishing running game are the Seattle's trademarks and both were on display here. Marshawn Lynch, who piled up 157 yards rushing and a touchdown, will be of particular concern to their next opponents New England. Can Seattle defend their Superbowl crown? Well it's extremely hard to do, but not impossible. Only seven times has a defending NFL champion retained their title. The last of those being the New England Patriots back in 2004.
As for New England, well they are are the marginal outsiders, available at 2.0621/20 on Betfair. The Pats booked their Superbowl berth courtesy of a 45-7 cakewalk over the Indianapolis Colts, with Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick again proving that he's the chameleon of pro-football management.
In the previous round against Baltimore, New England had been pass-heavy, producing just 13 yards of rushing offense. But on Sunday, Belichick produced another example of what's now known as Beli-tricks, as he this time made the running game the focal point of New England's offense. The result - a comprehensive win, led by 148 yards and three touchdowns from running back LeGarrette Blount.
New England are three-times Superbowl winners. All three trophies came under the guidance of the same Head Coach-Quarterback pairing, with the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era now widely recognised as a footballing dynasty within NFL history.
The Patriots are this season's number one seeds, having won the AFC East with a 12-4 record. And the one-sided nature of their win over the Colts will have left many thinking this is their year. It's worth recalling though that Belichick and Brady have experienced their share of Superbowl failure, losing in 2008 and 2012, on both occasions to the New York Giants. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the 2004/2005 season for New England's last Superbowl win. Is their 10-year wait for title number four finally over? We'll find out on February 1st.