Back in August, 32 NFL teams began the 2014 NFL season with a dream. A dream that ended with a huge amount of confetti dropping from the sky. Where the players and coaches would exchange embraces and be bonded together for a lifetime. The team’s signal caller would add his name to a long list of those who won the greatest prize in the history of the National Football League. It answers the question of who the best team was in the league that season. In less than 24 hours that dream for the American Football Conference (AFC) champion New England Patriots and the National Football Conference champion (NFC) Seattle Seahawks will battle it out in Super Bowl XLIX to see who can make the dream of being champions a reality while also trying to make some other history.
When this season began, the Patriots were a major favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
That dream in the beginning started off as a nightmare as they split their first four games, with their four game of the season ended in humiliating fashion as they lost at the Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) 41-14 in front of a national audience on Monday night, Sept. 29, 2014.
The Pats turned the ball over three times in the contest. They went just 2 for 9 on third down. Pats quarterback Tom Brady was just 14 for 23 for 159 yards a touchdown and two interceptions. The combination of running backs Steven Ridley, Shane Vereen and James White had just 75 yards rushing.
The Chiefs rushed for 207 yards and signal caller Alex Smith went 20 for 26 passing for 248 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Many were signaling the end for head coach Bill Belichick and Brady after the loss.
Like they have so many times before though, the Patriots focused on the next opponents.
That was the Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1), who they took their frustrations from the week before out on as they gave their home audience at Gillette Stadium taking care of their AFC rivals 43-17.
Brady went 23 for 35 for 292 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Ridley and Vereen had a combined 36 rushes for 203 yards and a touchdown. Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski had six receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown.
The Pats held the Bengals to just 79 yards rushing. They went 0 for 7 on third down and Bengals Pro Bowl QB Andy Dalton was just 15 for 24 passing for 204 yards. He did throw two touchdowns, but it happened when the game was no longer in the balance.
The Patriots won 10 for their last 12 games to capture their sixth AFC East crown in a row and their 12th division title in the last 14 years. They also captured the No. 1 Seed in the AFC.
Brady had another great season as the future Hall of Famer completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
Brady’s main pass target Gronkowski caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Pats as a team finished fourth in scoring per contest at 29.3; 11th in net yards per game at 365.5 and ninth in passing yards per game at 257.6.
On the defensive end, this was one of the best the Patriots have had in quite a while surrendering just 19.6 points per contest ranking eighth in the NFL. They finished ninth in rushing yards allowed and finished second to the Green Bay Packers with a +12 in the give- away/take-away stat.
In the playoffs, the Patriots overcame a 14-point deficit on two occasions to win versus the Baltimore Ravens (10-6) 35-31 back on Jan. 10.
Brady was magnificent going 33 for 50 with 367 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception.
Gronkowski had seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Danny Amendola had five catches for 108 and two touchdowns. His 51-yard touchdown reception tied the contest at 28 late in the third quarter. Newcomer Brandon LaFell had five catches for 62 yards and 23-yard touchdown reception capped a 10-play 54 yard touchdown drive gave the Patriots the lead and eventually the win.
The met their arch rivals the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) for the second straight postseason, this time in the AFC Championship Game and the right to go to the Super Bowl.
Like last season’s Divisional Playoff game that ended in a blowout, so did this contest as New England won 45-7.
Brady was 23 for 35 passing for 226 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception.
Also like last season, running back LeGarrette Blount carried the offense with 30 carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns.
Colts QB Andrew Luck managed just 126 passing yards against the Pats and threw two interceptions. The Colts went just 3 for 11 on third down and managed to gain just 209 total yards on the evening as the Pats earned their eighth AFC title and their fifth in the last 11 seasons.
The game though was overshadowed by the accusation that the deflated footballs were used during the game and that gave the advantage to the Pats.
It has been nearly a decade since the NFL has had a back-to-back champion. That was a goal that the NFC Champion Seahawks (12-4) were trying to accomplish this season.
After back-to-back wins versus the AFC West champion Denver Broncos (12-4) 26-20 in overtime on Sept. 21, 2014, who they defeated in the Super Bowl a season ago and at the Washington Redskins (4-12) 27-17 on Monday night, Oct. 6, 2014, the Seahawks were 3-1.
A rare home loss to the eventual NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys (12-4) 30-23 the next week and a loss to division rival St. Louis Rams (6-10) 28-26 brought the Seahawks back to .500 at 3-3 and in search for answers.
They found those answers very quickly as they won nine of their final ten games to capture their second consecutive NFC West title and their third in the last five seasons in capturing the No. 1 Seed in the NFC.
In those victories, two came over bitter division rivals the San Francisco 49ers (8-8) 19-3 on Thanksgiving night and 17-7 on Dec. 14, 2014; two against Arizona Cardinals (11-5) 19-3 on Nov. 23, 2014 and 35-6 on the night of Dec. 21. They also won at the Philadelphia Eagles (24-14) on Dec. 7, 2014.
A big reason the Seahawks were able to get their act together the way they did is the play of their incredible signal caller in third-year man Russell Wilson who passed for 3,475 yards 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He also finished second on the team in rushing yards with 849 and six touchdowns.
The ground attack is led by Marshawn Lynch as he ran for 1,306 yards and scored a career-high 13 touchdowns. Lynch was a major reason the Seahawks finished No. 1 in rushing yards per contest at 172.6 per contest He also caught four touchdowns.
The heartbeat of the Seahawks is on the other side of the ball where they finished No. 1 in opponents passing yards per contest at 185.6; yards per game on the ground at 81.5 and in points allowed at 15.9.
At every level of the defense is someone to contend with from the defensive line who rush the quarterback in Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Brandon Mebane and Kevin Williams; the linebacker core of Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright who can stop the run, rush the quarterback and play in coverage and then there is the ball hawking hit you in the mouth secondary of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Tharold Simon, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Byron Maxwell and Marcus Burley.
In the Divisional Playoff contest versus the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers (7-8-1), the Seahawks won the contest 31-17 thanks to a huge fourth quarter on both sides.
Wilson, who went 15 for 22 for 268 yards and three touchdowns, hit tight end Luke Willson for a 25-yards touchdown catch that capped a 6-play, 58-yard drive that gave the Panthers a 24-10 lead.
In the late stages of the fourth as the Panthers were driving to cut into the lead, quarterback Cam Newton threw a pass to tight end Ed Dickson, but Chancellor anticipated the pass, picked it off and ran it back 90-yards for his third career postseason interception for a touchdown and the game clincher.
In the NFC Championship Game versus the NFC North champion Packers (12-4), the Seahawks dream of making it back to the Super Bowl for three quarters looked like it was going by the wayside.
The Seahawks trailed 19-7 with just about four minutes remaining in the fourth when the team finally put a 7-play 69-yard drive that ended in a Wilson one-yard touchdown run that cut the deficit to 19-14.
The Seahawks in desperate need to get the ball back tried an onside kick and Chris Matthews recovered the ball at midfield. Lynch, who had 157 rushing yards on the day, ran one in 24-yards to give the Seahawks the lead and Willson capped with a two-point conversion pass from Wilson for a 22-19 lead.
The Packers put a 7-play 48-yard drive in the closing moments and place kicker Mason Crosby hit a 48-yard field goal, his fifth of the contest to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, Wilson who had struggled the entire game with four interceptions, all targeting receiver Jermaine Kearse hit him for his only catch of the game, a 35-yard score in overtime that gave the Seahawks an unbelievable come from behind victory 28-22.
So it has come to this. When we reach the late hours of Sunday night into Monday morning, one team will achieve the ultimate goal of winning another Super Bowl while the other will see their dream moment taken from them.
For the Seahawks to capture their second straight title, they will need their ground game to be at the fore front and their receiving core must make plays when called upon.
The front seven must get consistent pressure on Brady and they must contain Blount, Ridley and Vereen on the ground and the secondary must make Gronkowski, Edelman, LaFell and others work for every catch.
For the Patriots if they can run the ball consistently, take Lynch and Wilson on the ground and make the Seahawks one dimensional, they should be victorious.
If the Patriots win, it will be their fourth Super Bowl victory, all under the guidance of Brady and Belichick.
If the Seahawks emerge victorious, they will be the first team since the Pats of 2003 and 2004 to win back-to-back Vince Lombardi trophies. Wilson, would become the first quarterback since Brady to lead his team to back-to-back Super Bowls and he would become the first African American QB to win consecutive titles.
One thing that is building is that this Super Bowl will be decided in the final seconds. In the Patriots five Super Bowl appearances with Brady and Belichick, they have all been decided by four points or less. Just seven of the prior 43 Super Bowls were decided by four points or less.
The odds right now favor the Seahawks because the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants, 2009 New Orleans Saints are the last NFC teams to win their title games in overtime and went on to win the Super Bowl.
All the action and unforgettable moments can be seen on Sunday afternoon at 6:30 p.m. on NBC.
Information and statistics are courtesy of espn.go.com/nfl/teams; en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_England_Patriots; en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Seahawks; Saturday’s ESPN Bottom Line newscrawl.