Warwick, RI — Whether you’re a regular football fan or just the casual observer who knows there’s a Big Game coming up, Feb. 1 marks a chance to sound off on the Super Bowl and its participants.
In fact, Super Bowl Sunday represents the pinnacle of sports conversation — far more, arguably, than the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, NASCAR Sprint Cup, or NBA Championship, since in no other major sport is the ultimate prize settled with one game.
Here’s a quick guide to the game and the major story lines that will no doubt be discussed on Sunday, letting you give your two cents without sounding clueless.
First, here are the basics:
What: Super Bowl XLIX , the final game of the 2014-15 NFL season.
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale. Televised on NBC (WJAR-10).
When: Sunday, Feb. 1. Pre-game begins at noon, with kickoff set for 6:20 p.m.
Heading to a local spot for Super Bowl Sunday? Find locations and contact info for Warwick bars on the Warwick Post Directory.
Depending on your level of interest in football — and in having a protracted, boisterous football debate — here are a few areas where you can have something to say. There are even suggested talking points for each side of the debate and links where you can do your own research.
Beginner’s Level — Let’s talk about balls:
Patriots story line: For the past week, there’s hardly been an article written that doesn’t include the term “Deflategate” or “Ballghazi” along with the term “New England Patriots.”
The basic story is this: The NFL is looking into rumors that the Patriots used footballs that were not inflated to the required pressure during the AFC Championship game against Indianapolis.
Every day since Jan. 18 has seemingly brought another disclosure or rumor, to the point that no one really knows what happened.
For Patriots fans, this is a chance to defiantly accuse the rest of the teams in the league [and the NFL itself] of conspiring to smear the Patriots out of jealousy over their 15-year run of winning records and postseason appearances [including five trips to the Super Bowl, where their record is 3-2].”They hate us ‘cuz they ain’t us” is the new rallying cry.
Non-Patriots fans are using the controversy to rehash Spygate, a 2007 scandal where the Patriots were found to be illegally taping opponents’ practices and defensive signals, which ended with the NFL fining the team, taking away draft picks — and destroying all evidence of the league’s investigation. In this line of thought, the Patriots never really escaped the shadow of scandal, and are still finding every way they can to cheat.
Fun trivia note: There will be 120 footballs available for use in the Super Bowl.
Seahawks story line: Two of Seattle’s marquee players — Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch — have garnered lots of attention for what could be generously called “antics,” each focused on balls, too, in a manner of speaking.
Lynch has been getting in trouble for some non-verbal expressions, including the infamous crotch-grab against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game. That wasn’t the first time Lynch pulled that move, so the warning of a penalty if he does it in the Super Bowl wasn’t out of the blue.
Sherman has gotten lots of attention for his outspoken [some might say “ballsy”] interviews, including last year’s verbal ejaculation after Seattle won the Super Bowl — and he’s apparently continuing it by taking a shot at the Patriots over Deflategate.
Seahawks fans see Lynch and Sherman a colorful characters who bring some spirit to the team, following the lead of head coach Pete Carroll, in contrast to the dour and business-like Patriots and Belichick. Plus, these two athletes back up their actions on the field, leading Seattle to a second straight Super Bowl appearance.
To Non-Seahawks fans, these two are attention-seeking buffoons who have gotten away with their behavior under Carroll’s player-friendly system of management. If it weren’t for the rest of the team performing as well as they do, Lynch and Sherman would be just another couple of loudmouths in the NFL.
Intermediate Level — Who’s going to win?
Patriots story line: The Patriots are coming off a year where they started 2-2 and the media were basically writing them off — Was veteran quarterback Tom Brady too old? Could head coach Bill Belichick motivate his team to finish with a winning record? After finishing the year 10-2, including seven straight wins midseason, the Pats secured the top spot in their division, the AFC. Following two playoff wins, including a close shave against Baltimore, arguably their toughest opponent, the Pats look to be on track for their fourth Super Bowl Win since 2001.
Pats fans: This season answered all the questions that were raised after the first four games. Brady showed his resilience, further proving he’s one of the best to ever play the game, and both the offense and defense gelled as the season went on, culminating with the 45-7 stomping of the Colts.
Non-Pats fans: New England only took the top spot in the AFC because Peyton Manning in Denver is getting too old to compete. With a season that ended with games against Miami, the Jets, and Buffalo, the Pats didn’t have as difficult a schedule as everyone thinks.
Seahawks story line: After a similarly rocky start to the season [3-3 after six games], the Seahawks rattled off nine wins and one loss on their way to the number-1 seed in the NFC. With their unorthodox offense led by scrambling quarterback Russell Wilson and a stifling defense, Seattle could repeat at Super Bowl champs for the first time since the Patriots did it in 2003 and 2004.
Seahawks fans: Seattle kept most of its Super Bowl winning team together from 2014 [a notable exception being Brandon Browner, who’s now playing corner back for New England], and Wilson has had another year to mature against some of the toughest opponents in football in the NFC. The Seahawks offense also benefits from the strong run game led by Lynch.
Non-Seahawks fans: Wilson’s mobility is actually his Achilles heel, since once he gets out of the pocket, he’s prone to force throws and give up interceptions — look at the four INTs against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game, which Seattle would not have won without the Packers’ errors, including the botched onside kick recovery late in the fourth quarter.
Expert Level — Stats and fantasy breakdown
This is where the debate over the Super Bowl can reach absurd levels, because each side has their set of statistics to use as evidence for their arguments. For newbies to this kind of conversation, it can appear hostile, too, as participants try to one-up each other on how obscure their statistics can be.
Warning: If you haven’t been watching the NFL every week since age 4 or have never played fantasy football, you probably don’t want to venture into this territory.
Patriots offense vs. Seahawks defense:
The Patriots enter the Super Bowl averaging 369 yards per game [ypg], good for 10th in the league. Seattle held opponents to a league-lowest 273 yards per game. New England scored an average of 30 points per game [third place in the NFL], while the Seahawks held their opponents to an average of 16 ppg, also lowest in the league.
Seattle’s defense was also stingy in rushing yards  and passing yards  allowed, with both of those stats in the top 5 of the league. The Patriots offense was 19th overall in rushing with an average of 102 ypg and 9th in passing with 266 ypg.
New England and Seattle are nearly identical in their red zone numbers — the Pats have scored on 59 percent of their trips inside the 20, while the Seahawks have allowed opponents to score on 61 percent of their visits to the red zone — but Seattle’s defense is a +27 on turnovers, while the Patriots offense is -14.
Seahawks offense vs. Patriots defense:
The Wilson-led offense averaged 374 ypg and 25 ppg during the regular season, while the New England D yielded 349 ypg and 20 points per game — but the big difference is in the running game, where Seattle chalked up 168 ypg rushing behind Lynch, good for first in the league.
New England allowed 106 rush yards per game, 10th in the NFL.
On the passing side, Seattle finished the year 26th in the league with a 206 ypg average while New England allowed 243 ypg passing, in 19th place overall.
Each side has an identical percentage in the red zone — 51 percent success rate for Seattle and failure rate for New England — and, coincidentally, have exactly the same +/- ratio, +27 for the Patriots defense and -14 for the Seahawks offense, as the opposite matchup.
Fun trivia note: The overall record for the team that scores first in the Super Bowl is 32-16, including wins in the last four straight Super Bowls.
For the gamblers — er, players of skill:
There’s another entire dimension to the Super Bowl that’s just as fun as arguing over whether Tom Brady’s record against top-5 defenses or Seattle’s defense holding opposing QBs to a 36 rating in the 11- to 20-yard zone will make the difference in the game — and that’s making predictions accompanied with money or other reward for correct guesses.
Las Vegas sets a huge number of what are called prop bets for the Super Bowl, so you can pick and choose which exotic prediction to make.
But beyond the bets on who will win the coin flip, how many points will be scored, and what color Katy Perry’s hair will be for the halftime show, there’s a virtually limitless potential to the scenarios that can be the basis for friendly wagers.
They’re also useful for adding some extra suspense to the game, if you’re into that sort of thing — and the best thing is, you can make up your own, like:
- Which will be higher: Punt return yardage by the Patriots, or interception return yardage by the Seahawks?
- Which will be lower: Penalty yards against Marshawn Lynch for grabbing his crotch, or penalty yards against Brandon Browner for pass interference?
- Which will be higher: Number of times Tom Brady calls out “[So-and-so] is the Mike” or total yardage of Patriots field goals?
You’ve got a few more days to do your homework, so study up and hone your hot sports takes for Super Bowl Sunday.
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