Super Bowl Matchups: Breaking Down Offense, Defense, and Special Teams

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The oddsmakers in Las Vegas, Nev., have yet to move the point spread far enough in either direction to determine a favorite in Super Bowl XLIX. In fact, for most of the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, the point spread has sat at even. If Vegas is right — and they usually are — this could be the best Super Bowl matchup in recent history.

For the majority of the 2014 NFL season, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks were the top two teams in the league, with neither team having a real glaring weakness. With that being said, each team will have their own matchup advantages in the various phases of the game. With a little help from the advanced analytics of Pro Football Focus (PFF), we have broken down which team holds the advantage in every phase of the game in Super Bowl XLIX.

Here is a look at which team holds the advantage on offense, defense, and special teams according to PFF.

A detailed description on Pro Football Focus’s grading process can be found here.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jim Rogash/Getty Images


New England Patriots

  • PFF Pass Offense Grade:  34.6
  • PFF Pass Offense Ranking:  4
  • PFF Pass Blocking Grade:  -59.5
  • PFF Pass Blocking Ranking:  28
  • PFF Rush Offense Grade:  8.4
  • PFF Rush Offense Ranking:  9
  • PFF Run Blocking Grade:  4.1
  • PFF Run Blocking Ranking:  10
  • Overall PFF Grade:  -16.2
  • Overall PFF Unit Ranking:  11

Seattle Seahawks

  • PFF Pass Offense Grade:  -0.4
  • PFF Pass Offense Ranking:  13
  • PFF Pass Blocking Grade:  -31.1
  • PFF Pass Blocking Ranking:  17
  • PFF Rush Offense Grade:  35.0
  • PFF Rush Offense Ranking:  1
  • PFF Run Blocking Grade:  -18.5
  • PFF Run Blocking Ranking:  18
  • Overall PFF Grade:  -33.5
  • Overall PFF Unit Ranking:  13

PFF ranks these two offensive units fairly similarly despite their drastically different approaches. The Seahawk rely heavily on their top-ranked rushing attack, while the Patriots rely more heavily on quarterback Tom Brady and their passing attack. To nitpick, the weakest offensive aspect for both squads is in their offensive line play. The Patriots, according to PFF, have one of the worst pass-blocking units in the league, but have survived their poor play due to Brady’s quick release and their short passing game. The Seahawks’ offensive line has been a “middle of the pack” type of unit all year in both the run game and pass game. They will, however, need to play well on Sunday night and limit the Patriots’ pressure of quarterback Russell Wilson as the Pats are likely to do everything they can to keep Wilson within the pocket.

Expect to see a solid performance out of Brady and the Patriots’ offense, with the game possibly being decided by the effectiveness of the Seahawks’ passing attack.

Offensive advantage:  Patriots 

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images


New England Patriots

  • PFF Pass Rush Grade:  11.2
  • PFF Pass Rush Ranking:  17
  • PFF Pass Coverage Grade:  31.2
  • PFF Pass Coverage Ranking:  4
  • PFF Rush Defense Grade:  39.0
  • PFF Rush Defense Ranking:  6
  • Overall PFF Grade:  85.2
  • PFF Unit Ranking:  4


Seattle Seahawks

  • PFF Pass Rush Grade:  33.7
  • PFF Pass Rush Ranking:  7
  • PFF Pass Coverage Grade:  31.7
  • PFF Pass Coverage Ranking:  3
  • PFF Rush Defense Grade:  25.1
  • PFF Rush Defense Ranking:  10
  • Overall PFF Grade:  74.4
  • Overall PFF Unit Ranking:  6

Since Pete Carroll took over as the head coach of the Seahawks, they have built and relied heavily on one of the best defenses in league history. The 2014 season was no different. The “Legion of Boom” dominated, and their front seven shut down nearly every running back they faced. The Seahawks are also talented enough to be able to play in their base defense in nearly every situation that gets thrown at them. For reference, the Seahawks defense is so capable and deep that Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith barely sees the field.

For as much publicity as the Seattle defense gets, the New England defense has actually been better according to PFF. Behind outstanding linebacker and secondary play, the Patriots finished the 2014 season as the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL. It may come as a surprise to most people, but the Patriots actually hold the defensive advantage in Super Bowl XLIX.

Defensive advantage:  Patriots

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Special Teams

New England Patriots

  • PFF Grade:  10.2
  • PFF Unit Ranking:  14

Seattle Seahawks

  • PFF Grade:  21.7
  • PFF Unit Ranking:  10

The Seahawks and Patriots are practically even across the board at kicker, punt returner, and kick returner. Seattle does hold a significant advantage at punter where Jon Ryan is substantially better than Ryan Allen of New England.

Seattle’s overall speed and depth will come into play here. The back-end of their roster – the guys who play mostly on special teams – is better than that of New England. Advantage Seattle.

Special Teams advantage:  Seahawks