The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will square off for just the 18th time on Sunday night in what’s certain to be one of the best games of the season. Of course, the last time they met, they were playing for all the marbles.
The Patriots escaped Super Bowl 49 with a dramatic win thanks to Malcolm Butler’s game-sealing interception of Russell Wilson. It was one of the best games in recent memory, and it’s one that will never be forgotten by either fan base.
Yet, for as great as it was, many things have changed since then for both teams. Adjustments have been made, players have come and gone, and there are new faces on both sides of the ball. Despite all the turnover, however, the Patriots and Seahawks remain powerhouses in their respective conferences.
No Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins
The Seahawks traded away their two best offensive linemen, but the Patriots also traded away two of their best defenders. Chandler Jones, the team’s top pass rusher from Super Bowl 49, is now in Arizona, while Jamie Collins was traded to the Browns last month. That leaves two gaping holes on New England’s defense, the former of which hasn’t exactly been filled just yet. Not having these two players will make life easier for Wilson and the Seahawks’ running game.
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Much-changed secondaries for both teams
The Patriots went into the Super Bowl with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner as their top two cornerbacks. The Seahawks? Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell. The Patriots enter Sunday’s game with Malcolm Butler as the No. 1 and Logan Ryan playing opposite him, while Seattle still has Sherman in their secondary. Behind him, however, there isn’t nearly as much talent. DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane will play much larger roles than they did last time around, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
The Seahawks still have one of the best pass defenses in the league, but it was certainly better in 2014 when they had Maxwell in the fold. Kam Chancellor has been battling an injury, but he’s expected to play against the Patriots. The secondaries look much different, but both are still outstanding.
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The addition of Jimmy Graham
The Patriots had two tight ends catch a pass in the Super Bowl two years ago. The Seahawks had none. While the Patriots are likely to have two with receptions on Sunday, the Seahawks almost certainly will not have their tight ends go reception-less. Jimmy Graham was acquired last offseason in a trade for Max Unger, and his impact on the Seahawks this season has been profound.
New England’s safeties are outstanding and can match up with Graham, but he brings an added element as a big-play tight end that they were missing in the Super Bowl. It was a steep price to pay – one that significantly hurt Seattle’s offensive line, but Graham has a chance to be Wilson’s favorite target.
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A new-look offensive line for Seattle
The Seahawks had a decent offensive line during the 2014 season, but it can no longer be categorized as such. Now, it’s just downright terrible. Only one starter remains, Justin Britt, who has since moved from right tackle to center. He’s played well there, but his fellow linemen have not. The offensive line is now filled with no-name players failing to fit the bill after trading away Russell Okung and Max Unger.
The Patriots don’t have a relentless pass rush by any means, but Russell Wilson will probably still be running for his life more often than not on Sunday night – mainly because his linemen can’t block anyone.
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Malcolm Butler is a Pro Bowler
On Feb. 1, 2015, Malcolm Butler became a hero in New England. He single-handedly saved the Patriots from a crushing defeat, intercepting Wilson’s pass on the goal line. Fast-forward a year and a half, and he’s a Pro Bowl cornerback with an unmatched swagger. He’s cemented his place as the team’s top corner and isn’t a player many quarterbacks test fairly often. He’s no longer an out-of-nowhere Super Bowl hero. He’s an every-down defensive back who’s sure to have a big impact on Sunday’s game.
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Marshawn Lynch is gone
The biggest difference entering Sunday night’s game is the absence of Beast Mode, or Marshawn Lynch. He’s since retired from the NFL, sailing off into the sunset as one of the most physically imposing running backs the league has ever seen. The Seahawks likely would have been back-to-back Super Bowl champions had Russell Wilson handed Lynch the ball on the goal line, but that’s already been discussed.
Now, the Seahawks have Christine Michael at running back, a much different runner of the football. He’s shiftier but not nearly as effective as Lynch was in 2014. Michael has rushed for 447 yards and six touchdowns this season, filling in for the injured Thomas Rawls.