Super Bowl 49. Super Bowl XLIX. Super Bowl X-licks. What does the road to the Super Bowl look like for the New England Patriots?
vs. IND or CIN or BAL
vs. DEN or PIT
The Patriots would have an edge against either team. The Pats are tougher than the Broncos, they have pass-rushers who can get to Manning, they have DBs who can pick him off. Denver's only hope would be for Ward to injure Gronk and Welker to take out Revis.
Pittsburgh would be a more difficult matchup. However, the Pats offense should be good enough to take advantage of Pittsburgh's DBs. Unless Josh McDaniels gets too cute. The Steelers were 27th in passing defense, so Josh "that's just what they'll be expecting us to do" McDaniels, might try to pound the ball on the ground (Pittsburgh was 6th in rushing defense).
The Patriots should beat Denver unless there are injuries, and should beat Pittsburgh unless they get too clever.
vs. SEA or GB or DAL or CAR or ARI or DET
The Seahawks would also be the toughest matchup for the Patriots. They're red hot, they have playmakers on both sides of the ball, they don't make massive mistakes, they play with extremely high confidence but don't play outside of themselves. They also have the best passing defense in the NFL and the 3rd best rushing defense.
For the Patriots to beat Seattle, they'll have to win it on defense against Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. Seattle was 27th in passing, averaging only 203 yards per game in the air. They were #1 in the NFL in rushing with over 172 yards per game. If the Pats can contain the run, manage a few field goals, make a play on special teams, make a big play downfield (which the Pats have struggled to do all season), then they're Super Bowl champions. Just a handful of big plays would decide a Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl. It would be an epic game.
There are more ways to beat the Cowboys and Packers. The Patriots almost beat Green Bay in Green Bay despite a poor first half and despite some cheese-friendly officiating in the second half. Don't get me wrong I respect the Packers, there are just more ways to beat them than there are ways to beat the Seahawks.
The Cowboys are also beatable. Give them credit for going 8-0 on the road, in a year where some of the best teams in the NFL went 4-4 away from home. But until Romo and the Cowboys can win when there's pressure, I don't fear them. Maybe if they win a couple of playoff games and get to the Super Bowl, they will have garnered my respect. Until then, I will continue to see Tony Romo as a nervous holder bumbling a long-snap.
So there's the road. The Patriots beat the Bengals or Colts in the Divisional round. Then beat the Broncos or Steelers to win the AFC, so long as they don't get hurt or get smart. Then it's probably a tough, too-close-to-call battle against the Seahawks.
That Super Bowl will either be the confirmation of the beginning of the Seahawks dynasty, or an exclamation point on the Patriots' dynasty. If Super Bowl 49 is Seahawks vs. Patriots, we will hear the word "dynasty" at least 300,000 times in the 2 weeks leading up to the game.