PHOENIX -- Super Bowls are sometimes random meetings.
Take the New York Giants' two Super Bowl victories over the New England Patriots. The Giants peaked late in the season, got into the playoffs as wild cards and beat the Patriots in close games. No one expected that. Super Bowl surprise teams such as the 2008 Arizona Cardinals and 2003 Carolina Panthers didn't figure into the preseason prognostications.
Super Bowl XLIX is different. From the beginning of the offseason, it was easy to predict the Seattle Seahawks could be back. According to Elias, they were the fifth-youngest team (averaging 26.9 years old) to win a Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos and New England were the preseason favorites from the AFC.
The Patriots are the most recent NFL dynasty. A victory over Seattle would give them their fourth championship and extend one of history's greatest stretches of Super Bowl excellence. For the Seahawks, who remain young, a win sets them up to be the next dynasty.
Here are five key trends for Super Bowl XLIX.
1. Let the head coach do the shopping: After the 1996 season, Bill Parcells pushed the idea of giving head coaches say over personnel decisions. "If they want you to cook the meal, they ought to let you buy the groceries," Parcells said. Super Bowl XLIX features head coaches who are shoppers. Could their success open the door for future coaches to get more say in personnel? Chip Kelly got more say in Philadelphia after two 10-6 seasons. Lovie Smith has the shopping card in Tampa Bay.
Pete Carroll, in fact, helped Bill Belichick become the most successful coach of this era by convincing owner Robert Kraft to give Belichick more authority in personnel. Carroll, the Patriots' coach before Belichick, told Kraft that Belichick was a unique hire and needed personnel control to be at his best. In 15 years in New England, Belichick has won 175 regular-season games, 20 playoff games and 13 division titles and made six trips to the Super Bowl. Carroll was given control in Seattle, and he's worked so well with general manager John Schneider in assembling a roster that he's created a young team that's set up for continued success.
2. Putting on a coaching clinic: Strategies used by Carroll and Belichick in the Super Bowl could give other teams ideas for how to stop some of the game's offensive stars. For the Seahawks, the biggest challenge is Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. When these teams last faced off, Gronkowski caught six passes for 61 yards in the Patriots' 24-23 loss in Seattle in 2012. Gronkowski remembers getting a steady dose of hits at the line of scrimmage from linebacker K.J. Wright and strong safety Kam Chancellor. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound Chancellor is probably the most physical safety in football and also is decent in coverage. Opponents completed only 23 passes on him this season, and he gave up only two touchdowns. The Seahawks play either Cover 1 or Cover 3, but Chancellor can match up with Gronk at the line of scrimmage. Gronk will win his battles. When the Seahawks go Cover 3, Chancellor can take away the curl and the flat routes. Wright gets Gronk on the other routes unless the Seahawks rotate in a cornerback.
It's difficult to know how Belichick will handle Russell Wilson's read-option plays. The Patriots haven't faced many read-option quarterbacks, but Belichick is a master at finding defensive solutions. If the Patriots can stop Wilson, other teams will copy what Belichick does.
3. Defense wins championships: That idea was lost for a few years. From the 1982 season through 2005, no team won a Super Bowl ring unless its defense ranked in the top 10 for fewest points allowed. Teams such as the 2006 Indianapolis Colts and 2009 New Orleans Saints had defenses that gave up yards and points, but they won Super Bowls because they had great quarterbacks. The Seahawks have ranked first in fewest points allowed the past three seasons. The Patriots ranked eighth this year, giving up 19.6 points.
The teams' defensive personnel is more similar than you might imagine. In fact, it could be said Belichick incorporated some of Carroll's theories into rebuilding the Patriots' defense this year. Watching the Seahawks dismantle the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, Belichick saw the value in great cornerback play. He picked up his Richard Sherman by signing Darrelle Revis and grabbed Brandon Browner from the Seahawks to provide a corner who can jam a receiver at the line of scrimmage. Devin McCourty is the Patriots' version of Earl Thomas. Pats outside linebacker Jamie Collins is a coverage linebacker in the mold of Wright. Dont'a Hightower is Belichick's Bobby Wagner, just not as fast. The main difference is the configuration of the defensive line. The Seahawks are a little lighter than they were last year along the line, but they have guys such as Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett who can shoot gaps. The Pats have a bigger defensive line. The question is whether it's good enough to stop the Seahawks' running game.
4. Running the football is important: It was interesting talking to Seahawks assistant head coach Tom Cable, who built the offensive line. He linked up with Carroll because he knew Carroll would commit to the run. "The hardest thing to do in football is run the ball," Cable said. His theory is that there are only six to eight really good quarterbacks in the league, and if your team doesn't have one, you better run the ball. "Too many teams only give running the ball lip service," Cable said. Marshawn Lynch might be the best runner Cable has had. Sherman Smith, Seattle's running back coach, shows video of Lynch to his other backs and says they are watching greatness.
There are times Belichick just pays lip service to the running game, but it won't happen in Super Bowl XLIX. He knows no team has beaten the Seahawks this season without running the ball at least 27 times. He was lucky in picking up LeGarrette Blount, who will try to plow through the Seahawks' defense.
5. The value of a fourth-quarter quarterback: A close game is inevitable. In the Patriots' five previous trips to the Super Bowl in the Belichick-Brady era, the margin of victory was four points or fewer. The Seahawks play close games in which they often don't take control until the fourth quarter. You can almost expect that a fourth-quarter comeback will win this game.
Brady and Wilson are masters of the fourth quarter. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson has thrown 21 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter in 48 games, completing 60.6 percent of this throws with a 7.71 yards-per-attempt average. Brady has 23 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter over the past three years and has completed 59.2 percent of his throws with an average of 7.22 yards an attempt. The Seahawks rallied from a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Patriots in their 2012 meeting. Expect a similar type of game, because neither team turns over the ball and the defenses don't give up many points.