The last game of the 2014 National Football League season and it couldn’t be bigger.

Super Bowl XLIX.

For all the marbles.

A pair of top seeds in the NFL playoffs meet in Glendale in a “winner-take-all” situation. For the 49th time, someone will go home with a lot of hardware (the Lombardi Trophy), while the loser will go home empty handed.

The defending Super Bowl champs Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots.

Two teams with four Super Bowls between them (New England – 3, Seattle – 1).

Salmon and Starbucks vs. lobster and Dunkin Donuts.

Pete Carroll vs. Bill Belichick. Two coaches with a lot in common. They have four Super Bowls between them (Belichick with 3, Carroll with 1) and they both have coached the Patriots. Carroll’s tenure in Foxboro ran from 1997-99, where he was 28-23 before moving to Southern California and Belichick took over. Carroll then went to the Trojans in 2001 and remained in Los Angeles until 2009, when he made the move up I-5 to the land of grunge, salmon and Starbucks.

For the second consecutive season, the game will feature the No. 1 seed in each conference.

“There are 32 teams that started and now there are two remaining,” New England quarterback Tom Brady told the Boston Globe. “We’re trying to be the one that finishes off the season the way you want to, the way we wanted to from the start of the year.”

With the two championship games and the Pro Bowl, we were 2-1, which is not a bad thing. For the year, 162-93.

Super Bowl XLIX will pit the NFL’s top two teams in point differential during the regular season – New England (+155) and Seattle (+140).

CLOSE GAMES: The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Green Bay Packers 28-22 in overtime in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

It marked the eighth consecutive NFC Championship Game to be decided by seven points or fewer, extending the longest streak in conference championship game history.

The past eight NFC Championship Games:

SEASON – FINAL SCORE
2007 – New York Giants 23, Green Bay 20*
2008 – Arizona 32, Philadelphia 25
2009 – New Orleans 31, Minnesota 28*
2010 – Green Bay 21, Chicago 14
2011 – New York Giants 20, San Francisco 17*
2012 – San Francisco 28, Atlanta 24
2013 – Seattle 23, San Francisco 17
2014 – Seattle 28, Green Bay 22*
*Overtime

SUPER FOLLOW-UPS: The defending Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks defeated Green Bay 28-22 in overtime on Sunday and became the 12th team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl after winning it the previous season.

Eight Super Bowl winners won the title game the next year and three lost it.

The teams to reach the Super Bowl after winning it the previous season:

SEASON – SUPER BOWL/WINNER, NEXT SEASON
1966 – I/Green Bay, Won Super Bowl
1972 – VII/Miami, Won Super Bowl
1974 – IX/Pittsburgh, Won Super Bowl
1977 – XII/Dallas, Lost Super Bowl
1978 – XIII/Pittsburgh, Won Super Bowl
1982 – XVII/Washington, Lost Super Bowl
1988 – XXIII/San Francisco, Won Super Bowl
1992 – XXVII/Dallas, Won Super Bowl
1996 – XXXI/Green Bay, Lost Super Bowl
1997 – XXXII/Denver, Won Super Bowl
2003 – XXXVIII/New England, Won Super Bowl
2013 – XLVIII/Seattle, ???

SUPER CHAMPIONSHIP: New England
defeated Indianapolis 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl XLIX. This is the Patriots eighth Super Bowl appearance, tying Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most in NFL history.

The teams with the most Super Bowl appearances:

TEAM – SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES
New England – 8
Dallas – 8
Pittsburgh – 8
Denver – 7
San Francisco – 6

SUPER COMBINATION: New England head coach Bill Belichickand quarterback Tom Brady defeated Indianapolis 45-7 in the AFC Championship in Foxboro to advance to Super Bowl XLIX. Belichick and Brady extended their NFL record to six for the most Super Bowl appearances by any head coach-quarterback combination in NFL history.

The head coach-quarterback combinations with the most Super Bowl appearances in NFL history:

QUARTERBACK and HEAD COACH, TEAM – SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, New England – 6*
Roger Staubach and Tom Landry, Dallas – 4
Jim Kelly and Marv Levy, Buffalo – 4
Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh – 4
*Active

Belichick (six) joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula (six) as the only head coaches to lead their team(s) to six Super Bowls.

The head coaches to reach the most Super Bowls:
HEAD COACH – SUPER BOWL BERTHS
Bill Belichick – 6
Don Shula – 6
Tom Landry – 5
Five tied with 4

Brady (six) also surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway (five) for the most conference championship wins by a starting quarterback in NFL history. Brady will play in his sixth Super Bowl, the most ever by a starting quarterback.

The starting quarterbacks with the most Super Bowl appearances all-time:

PLAYER – SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES, SUPER BOWL RECORD
Tom Brady – 6, 3-2*
John Elway – 5, 2-3^
Terry Bradshaw – 4, 4-0^
Joe Montana – 4, 4-0^
Roger Staubach – 4, 2-2^
Jim Kelly – 4, 0-4^
*Will play in Super Bowl XLIX
^Pro Football Hall of Famer

AMAZING ADAM: Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri played his 30th career postseason game in his 19-year career on Sunday against New England. Vinatieri (30) surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (29) for the most postseason games played in NFL history.

New England quarterback Tom Brady (28) surpassed D.D. Lewis (27) for the third-most postseason games played all-time.

The players with the most postseason games played in NFL history:

PLAYER – TEAM(S) (POSTSEASON GAMES PLAYED)
Adam Vinatieri – Indianapolis and New England (30)
Jerry Rice – San Francisco, Oakland and Seattle (29)
Tom Brady – New England (28)
D.D. Lewis – Dallas (27)

“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play a great team in the Patriots with a great coach and a great quarterback,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson told the Seattle Post Intelligencer and KING-TV. “We have a lot of respect for them and what they do. We’re just grateful to have the opportunity.”

Both teams had their fans glued to the TV sets two weeks ago as the AFC and NFC Championship Games averaged 46.1 million viewers, topping the 45 million mark for the second consecutive year. The NFC Championship Game between Seattle and Green Bay averaged 49.8 million viewers – the most-watched program since Super Bowl XLVIII – and the AFC Championship Game between New England and Indianapolis averaged 42.1 million viewers.

“It’s the character of the men that we have on our football team,” says Wilson. “The relentless drive to be successful for each other and just be grateful for the opportunity that we have, the gratefulness that we have in our room and for each other is unbelievable. We really care about each other. We work for each other. We want to be the best for a reason.”

Seattle has won five consecutive playoff games and head coach Pete Carroll is 7-2 (.778) in the postseason with the Seahawks. Carroll, who guided the Patriots to two playoff berths (1997-98) in his three seasons in New England (1997-99), has led Seattle to the postseason in four of the past five years (2010, 2012-14).

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment for the club to be able to get a chance to go back to the Super Bowl,” Carroll told KIRO-TV. “It’s extraordinarily fun for us and I hope for everybody else, too. We’re going to do everything we can to go get it done.”

Wilson will be the youngest quarterback (26 years, 64 days) to start two Super Bowls and also the first QB to start two Super Bowls in his first three NFL seasons to begin a career. His 36 regular-season wins, six playoff victories and 42 overall wins are all the most by a starting quarterback in his first three NFL seasons to start a career.

“Russell and Tom Brady are both great winners,” says Carroll about the two starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl XLIX. “Tom has had a long time to prove that. Russell is at the early stages of proving that to the world. But he’s got a chance to be similar.”

Seattle struggled in the first half against Green Bay at Century Link Field, trailing 16-0 at half before outscoring the Packers in the second half and overtime 28-6 to win 28-22. The defending Super Bowl champions got as far as Green Bay’s 20 yard line before being stalled by a turnover toward the end of the first half stopped the drive. Seattle turned the ball over four times in the first half (three interceptions, two by rookie CB Clinton HaHa Dix) and had five defensive penalties. Marshawn Lynch ran for 157 of Seattle’s 194 with a TD in the contest, while the Packers ran for 135. Although Wilson did throw the four interceptions, he did manage to throw the winning pass to WR Jermaine Kearse with 11:41 left in the overtime. Green Bay trailed 22-19 in regulation after Lynch scored and Wilson and Luke Wilson connected on a two-point conversion and tied things up on a 48-yard field goal by Mason Crosby with 14 seconds left. Seattle’s first score of the contest came by way of trickery when rookie T Gary Gillam caught a pass from P Jon Ryan in the third quarter. Ryan became the first punter in NFL playoff history to throw a TD pass in a post-season contest. Despite Wilson’s struggles with turnovers, he did manage to outpass Aaron Rodgers 209-176 (Rodgers threw a pair of interceptions in the contest). Seattle on third and fourth down tries were 8-16 and 1-1 and held the ball for 31:04 (including the overtime), while the Packers did not have a fourth down try in the game, going 3-14 and kept the ball for 32:15.

New England proved to be a bit too much for Indianapolis at Foxboro two Sundays ago, as the Pats “deflated” the Colts 45-7. New England led 17-7 at half and then proceeded to outscore Indy and Andrew Luck 28-0 in the final 30 minutes of play. Pats RB LeGare Blount ran for 148 of his team’s 177 yards with three TDs, while his defense held the Colts to 83 yards and forced three turnovers in the rain and wind at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady out-threw Luck 226-126 in passing yardage (Brady had three TD passes, including a connection with his favorite target, TE Rod Gronkowski) and New England never trailed in the contest. The Pats on third and fourth down tries were 12-18 and 2-2 and held the ball for 37:49, while the Colts kept it for 22:11 and went 3-11 on third down tries (Indy did not have a fourth down conversion).

That is tied with Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl appearances in NFL history. Seattle can be the 9th team to win consecutive Super Bowls & 1st since 2004 Patriots won SB XXXIX and the Seahawks were the number one seed for the second  consecutive season & 3rd time (2005, 2013) since current 12-team format started in 1990.

Last year, Carroll became the third oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl and can be oldest head coach in NFL history to win back-to-back Lombardis.

“It’s awesome and an unbelievable feeling to be going back to the Super Bowl,” says Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. “I know this team has worked hard all year and we’ve stuck together as a team.”

Belichick and Brady will make their sixth Super Bowl appearance, the most by any head coach-quarterback tandem in NFL history. Belichick and Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula (six) are the only head coaches in NFL history to lead their teams to six Super Bowls. Brady will start his sixth Super Bowl, the most ever by a quarterback, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway (five).

Belichick’s 21 postseason victories are the most by a head coach in NFL history. Brady has won 20 career playoff games, the most ever by a starting quarterback.

“You have to have a good team,” says Belichick. “There are all the components of it. One guy can’t win in this league. All one guy can do is do his job. Tom does his job as well as anybody. I’m so thankful that he’s our quarterback. There’s nobody I would rather have. He does everything well. And with a lot of other people doing their jobs, well, then you have a good team.”

New England averaged 29.3 points per game in the regular season, the fourth-best mark in the NFL. The Patriots will face a Seattle defense that led the league in points allowed (15.9 per game), total defense (267.1 yards per game) and pass defense (185.6 yards per game). The Seahawks have led the NFL in points allowed in each of the past three regular seasons.

“It’s a great challenge,” says Brady about facing the Seahawks. “We’re going to play a great team. That’s why they’re in this game too.”

“To go back to my rookie season, that seems like forever ago,” recalls Wilson. “But back in my rookie season, playing against the Patriots, I truly think that was one of the biggest games for me personally, especially being able to come back against a great team. That was a huge comeback for us. I think that was kind of a momentum starter for us for the past three years. The Patriots are always on, they’re always ready to go, so we’re going to have to play our best football, that’s for sure.”

The Patriots had seven players selected to the Pro Bowl: quarterback Brady (10th), wide receiver Julian Edleman (first), kicker Stephen Gstkowski (third), tight end Gronkowski (third), safety McCourty (second), cornerback Revis (sixth) and special teamer Matthew Slater (fourth).

The defending Super Bowl champs had seven players selected to the Pro Bowl: safety Chancellor (third), running back Lynch (fifth), tackle Russell Okung (second), cornerback Sherman (second), safety Earl Thomas (fourth), linebacker Bobby Wagner (first) and quarterback Wilson (third).

The series is even at 8-8 and the Patriots have outscored Seattle 321-295. Seattle’s last win in the series came in 2012 in the land of grunge, salmon and Starbucks when they beat the Pats 24-23 back when their home field was known as Qwest Field before the name change. New England’s last win was in 2008, also in the Pacific Northwest, by a final of 24-21.  The Pats are favored by 1 with a 47 1/2 over/under. Since this is the LAST game of the 2014 season, this is the last time that we can tell you about “The Drill” until the 2015 season gets underway in September, so with that… (For those of you that know what The Drill is, you are excused. Everyone else, pay attention. We don’t want any rookie mistakes here, k?)

After you go to the 9:30 mass on Sunday (the 4:30 vigil mass on Saturday counts as a mass attended, people! Don’t make us send the nuns after you!), head to your favorite store (a trip to Wal Mart, Target, K-Mart or Costco counts) and get the vittles and the beverages (soda, beer, wine, coffee, et al… if you live in a state that allows the purchase of the items in question) and invite the co-workers, the neighbors (including that really cute pre-K teacher that knows what to do with a cover-2 defense) and your cousin Connie (remember her? She’s the one that’s been married twice that’s just turned 56 and dates a 40-year old ex-Marine, who’s now a football coach at the high school in your town. She’s also the one that ate an entire Oreo cheesecake, two bags of Cool Ranch Doritos, two bacon cheeseburgers with blue cheese and chugged two 2-liter Cokes at your Super Bowl party last year and didn’t gain a pound. You look at her and say to yourself, “what the hell?”

It’s the final act of the 2014 NFL season and the curtain will fall when things are over and done with in Glendale. 32 teams started a journey that saw them sweat through mini-camps, then pre-season camps, where they fought heat, bugs, injuries and at times each other. They played a 16-game schedule and no one went undefeated, much to the joy of the 1974 Miami Dolphins. When that 16-game schedule came to an end, there were 20 teams that made it to the post-season party. It’s all down to two teams. Two of the best meet in the desert and when the dust finally settles, one team will be holding the Lombardi, while the other will wonder what happened. This one’s going to be really close and could be the very first Super Bowl to go to overtime. New England makes it close but Seattle gets some more hardware and comes away with another Lombardi, covering the 7.

Broadcast Information
Seattle vs. New England, 6:30 p.m. on NBC: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (Field reporter). Westwood One: Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, James Lofton, Mark Malone (Field reporters).

Injury Report

New England
QUESTIONABLE: C Bryan Stork (knee)
PROBABLE: LB Akeem Ayers (knee), QB Tom Brady (ankle), LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), DT Chris Jones (elbow), CB Darrelle Revis (not injury related), DT Sealver Siliga (foot)

Seattle
PROBABLE: T Justin Britt (knee), S Kam Chancellor (knee), RB Marshawn Lynch (back), CB Richard Sherman (elbow), G J.R. Sweezy (ankle), S Earl Thomas (shoulder)

Weather: Game indoors; if roof is open, sunny and 67 degrees.

Broadcast information and injury report courtesy the National Football League, odds courtesy Don Best and USA Today, weather information courtesy The Weather Channel.

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