What do football players earn from winning the Super Bowl?

Dear Sports Fan,

What do football players earn from winning the Super Bowl? From the looks of abject despair on the faces of the losers and joy on the faces of the winners, it’s hard for me to imagine that they’re playing just for love of the game.

Thanks,
Devin


Dear Devin,

You sound awfully cynical about the motives of professional football players! You’re right that the players in the Super Bowl were not just playing for love of the game but my guess is that the joy and excitement or despair and anger you saw in the final moments of the Super Bowl were more purely motivated by a desire to win than you expect. There’s a long argument to be had there but instead, let’s focus on the other aspect of your question: what do football players earn from winning the Super Bowl? As with many questions of money, the truth is surprisingly elusive. There are lots of hard-to-know or define details about the potential financial benefit of winning a Super Bowl. There are also some very well known parts of the equation. We’ll start with those.

The National Football League (NFL) itself has a set group of financial rewards that go to players who play in each round of the playoffs, including the Super Bowl. Here are those figures:

  • Wild Card round – $22,000 for members of wild card teams and $24,000 for members of division winning teams.
  • Divisional round – $24,000
  • Championship round – $44,000
  • Super Bowl – $49,000 for members of the losing team and $97,000 for members of the winning team.

There are a complicated set of rules about which players are eligible to receive playoff money. Although the National Football Post has a detailed explanation of how it works here, probably all we need to know is that some amount is given to players who were injured during the season. Even a player who was traded away from a playoff team during the season, like former member of the Seahawks, Percy Harvin, might collect some money. In addition to the amounts above, the NFL sets aside $5,000 per player for a Super Bowl ring. This may not seem like a lot, but the rings are not an insubstantial financial reward, although most players probably regard theirs as mementos rather than an investment. According to Brad Tuttle in his Time article on the topic:

Then we must add in the fact that each of the 150 or so players and coaches on the winning team gets a blingy Super Bowl ring. The NFL allocates $5,000 per ring, but the winning teams are known to spend much more on them. Given how rare and collectible they are, a Super Bowl ring is easily valued at $50,000 to $75,000 and sometimes is worth in the hundreds of thousands if it’s owned by a notable player or coach.

Players do not generally earn salary during the playoffs. At first, it seems awful to ask players to risk their bodies and minds in playoff games without being paid for it, but if you look at it another way, it seems reasonable. Only 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. If I were an NFL player, I would be far more angry if my salary was only paid to me in full if my team made the playoffs. Whether it’s literally paid during the 17-week regular season or over the 22-week season with the playoffs, or even in even chunks across the entire year would not matter as much. Still, this split between regular season salaries and playoff  payouts from the NFL does lead to some curious differences. Bloomberg has a beautifully illustrated article by David Ingold and Adam Pearce that points out the absurdity of the Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who is still on his relatively limited rookie contract, being able to make up to 20% extra during the playoffs while New England Quarterback Tom Brady capping out at only an additional 1.1% because his normal salary is so big. If it were really all about the NFL payouts, Brady wouldn’t care nearly as much as Wilson about winning the Super Bowl.

There are many other financial factors though. Players can negotiate for performance-based incentives in their contract. Some of these may be playoff or even Super Bowl incentives. It’s hard to know what all of these are for the players on the Patriots and Seahawks, but you can get a hint by looking into each player’s contract history in a tool like Spotrac. Take a look at Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski. The last time the team made the Super Bowl, in 2011, he got a $800,000 incentive bonus. I don’t know specifically what that was for, but he didn’t get anything like that much in any other year. Spotrac lists out the performance incentives for Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork for 2014 and they included a $2.5 million bonus for playing 70% of the team’s snaps and making the divisional playoffs. We don’t know the particulars of every player contract but it’s safe to say that some have significant playoff or Super Bowl bonuses worked into them.

The last piece of financial reward is the hardest to quantify. Winning a Super Bowl makes you more famous and well-regarded. Fame can easily transform into endorsement or advertising deals, at least for players in visible positions or who made extraordinary plays. Being regarded helps players get more money during their next contract negotiations. Teams value players who have had the experience of going to and winning a Super Bowl and are sometimes willing to pay extra for a player who has done that.

Put all together, the NFL playoff payouts, the Super Bowl rings, the various possible performance incentives, and the hard to quantify but significant benefit that being a Super Bowl lends a player in future football or business contracts, there is a large amount of money riding on the outcome of the Super Bowl. I still don’t think that’s what players are thinking about in the weeks leading up to the game or even the weeks following it, but it is possible.

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer

Super Bowl XLIX: What was going on after the Patriots' interception?

In my daily podcasts where I give a forecast of the next day’s sports happenings, I always start out with the refrain, “Sports is no fun if you don’t know what’s going on!” That might never have been more true than last night at the end of the Super Bowl. A lot of dramatic things happened very quickly at the end of the game and if you weren’t well versed in football’s rules, tactics, and language, it was probably difficult to understand what was happening. Lord knows, the football fans in the room were too busy screaming and hollering to explain it rationally to you. This morning I ran through the biggest play of the game, the interception that Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler made to win the game. The truth of the matter is that the game wasn’t completely over after that play. There were still  20 seconds on the clock. This was enough time for a few confusing things, including a scuffle between players that almost turned into a brawl, and an important penalty. Here’s what happened after the interception and why.

After Malcolm Butler’s interception, there were 20 seconds left and the Patriots had possession of the ball. With that little time, and with the Seahawks only having one timeout, the rest of the game would normally be a formality. There’s a funny little end-game trick about the NFL. It goes back to the rules we talked about in this morning’s post that dictate when the clock runs and when it stops at the end of a play. The clock keeps running if a player is tackled within the field. Because of a loophole in the NFL rule book, a quarterback can simulate being tackled in this manner by simply kneeling with the football. I wrote a whole post about how the kneeling thing works if you want more details. By kneeling with the ball, a team can run up to 40 seconds off the clock on a single play. With only one timeout, Seattle could only stop the clock once — therefore the Patriots needed to kneel twice to win the game.

The problem for the Patriots was where they had the ball. They were so close to their own goal line that there wasn’t enough room to kneel without kneeling in their own end-zone. Remember that the kneel-down is a simulation of being tackled. If a player is tackled with the ball in his own end-zone, the other team has scored a safety. A safety, (covered in more detail in our post about how scoring works in football) is worth two points. Giving up two points wouldn’t have been the end of the world for the Patriots because they were up by four points, but after a safety, the Patriots would have had to kick the ball to the Seahawks. Given even as few as 15 seconds, the Seahawks could possibly have completed a pass or two and kicked a game winning field goal. No way did the Patriots want to risk that!

The Patriots had two options. They had to either call a play that moved the ball forward and then execute it without mistakenly turning the ball over to the Seahawks — a dangerous proposition — or they could try the sneaky way out. As is their M.O., the Patriots went sneaky. They lined up for the play and then just sat there while Tom Brady hollered and screamed to make the Seahawks think he was about to snap the ball and start the play. Movement on both sides of the ball before the play begins is heavily regulated. If members of the offense flinch, their team gets a false start penalty. If members of the defense come across the line of scrimmage where the ball is and touch the offense or force the offense to move in response, they have committed an encroachment penalty. The Patriots knew that Seattle’s defense was furious at the change of fortune from the interception and that they understood the only chance they had left was to tackle whoever had the ball in the end-zone. The Patriots used Seattle’s aggression against them and tricked them into taking a penalty.

The penalty moved the ball five yards up the field and with that much room, the Patriots could easily kneel the ball twice (kneel, Seahawks use their last timeout, kneel again and the clock would run out) and win the Super Bowl. The Seahawks knew that too and the Patriots knew they knew that. It’s customary in these situations for the defense to allow the kneeling to happen. It’s virtually impossible for a defender to get to the quarterback after the ball is snapped but before he can kneel. All that can reasonably happen is an injury. Whether it was because of the unique situation before the penalty where attacking the kneel-down was a reasonable thing to do or just because the Seahawks were angry, they attacked. When this happened, the Patriots got a little angry back at them, more for breaking with convention than anything else, and there was a little bit of a brawl. Once the brawl ended, the Patriots kneeled one last time and then began the celebration in earnest.

Hopefully that made some sense out of what was legitimately a confusing situation, even for football fans. Thanks for reading!

 

Super Bowl XLIX: What happened when the Seahawks lost the ball at the end?

In my daily podcasts where I give a forecast of the next day’s sports happenings, I always start out with the refrain, “Sports is no fun if you don’t know what’s going on!” That might never have been more true than last night at the end of the Super Bowl. A lot of dramatic things happened very quickly at the end of the game and if you weren’t well versed in football’s rules, tactics, and language, it was probably difficult to understand what was happening. Lord knows, the football fans in the room were too busy screaming and hollering to explain it rationally to you. We’ll start with the biggest play of the game, the interception that Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler made to win the game. This play is being called one of the stupidest in Super Bowl history. It was definitely one of the most dramatic.

Let’s pick up the action right after Jermaine Kearse’s insane bobbling catch. This left the Seahawks with a first down on the Patriots five yard line with 1:06 left in the game. First down and five means that the Seahawks have four more chances to get a touchdown by moving the ball into the end zone which is only five yards away. For a review of how down and distance work, read our post on the topic here. Situations at the end of football games are all about down, distance, score, and time. How many more chances do you have to run a play, how far do you need to move the ball to earn more chances or to score, how many points do you need to tie or win the game, and how much time do you have remaining. In this case, the answers were: four more chances, five yards, four points to tie (which means the Seahawks needed to score a touchdown because a field goal would only have given them three points), and 1:06 with two timeouts. At the end of football games, the clock stops at the end of some plays and keeps running at the end of others. The quick run-down is that the clock keeps running if a player with the ball is tackled on the field and stops if a player with the ball runs out of the field or if the quarterback throws a pass that hits the ground without anyone catching it (that’s called an incompletion). At the end of every play, both teams have a chance to call a timeout, which stops the clock, if they have one left. Each team gets three timeouts to use per half.

From this moment on, the teams trading making mistakes (or at least questionable decisions) until Seattle made the final mistake that would cost them the Super Bowl. First — in the confusion following Kearse’s catch, the Seahawks took the second of their three timeouts. This was a relatively minor mistake. A team never wants to use a timeout when the clock is already stopped, as it was in this case because Kearse went out-of-bounds after he caught the ball, but the Seahawks were still in a very good position. 1:06 is plenty of time and four downs is plenty of chances for a team to score a touchdown.

On the next play, the Seahawks handed the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch who ran it four yards, almost scoring a touchdown before he was tackled on the one yard line.

This sets up a second down with one yard to go to score a touchdown and about one minute left on the clock. The Seahawks have one timeout. The Patriots have two. The clock continues to count down because Lynch was tacked on the field.

At this point, you might think that Seattle’s coaches are single-mindedly obsessed with scoring a touchdown and New England’s coaches are thinking of nothing other than stopping them. That’s not quite true. The other thing that each set of coaches is thinking about is timing. If Seattle had scored a touchdown and kicked the extra point, that would have given them seven points to put them up by three. Three is the number of points a team can get for kicking a field goal. New England has a great quarterback, a set of clever wide receivers, and an excellent field goal kicker. Seattle had to have been afraid of scoring too fast and leaving New England time to storm down the field and kick a field goal to force the game into overtime. This is the essentially what had happened to them against Green Bay in their last game when quarterback Aaron Rodgers drove the Packers 48 yards in 1:12 with no timeouts before kicking a field goal to send the game to overtime. Seattle’s ideal scenario is to score a touchdown with as little time left as possible, so that New England cannot do anything on offense. That is why, after Lynch’s run to the one yard line, they chose to let the clock run down, all the way to 26 seconds before running their next play.

And here’s where things went horribly, horribly wrong for Seattle. They decided to throw the ball. You’ve seen the result, but let’s watch it again. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson throws to his right, towards the bottom of the screen, and, instead of his teammate catching it, Patriots defender, Malcolm Butler catches it. When a defender catches the ball, it’s called an interception,(Inter- because the defender has come between the quarterback and his teammate, and -ception because the defender has caught the ball which in football language is often called making a reception.), and his team gets to switch to offense on the next play. By taking the ball away from the Seahawks offense, this single play took the Patriots’ chance of winning from a very, very slim chance to a near certainty.

It’s being widely called one of the stupidest calls in football history. Why? To understand this, the first thing you need to know is that football players are usually a little like mannikins. Before each play, an offensive coach decides what he wants his players to do and he radios the call into the helmet of the quarterback. The quarterback tells the rest of his teammates and then they execute the play as it was designed. Seattle’s players didn’t decide to throw the ball, their coaches did. Running the ball is safer than throwing it. It varies by situation and by player, but this year 2.6% of all the passes that were thrown in the NFL led to interceptions. Compare this to the percent of running plays that ended with a fumble, which was only 1.6%. When you consider that close to half of all fumbles are recovered by the team that fumbled the ball (which means they get to stay on offense) the percentage drops to .7%. By this metric, passing the ball is almost exactly four times more dangerous than running it. Running, especially for the Seahawks, was also very likely to have been successful. Their running back, Marshawn Lynch is almost the perfect player for this situation. He’s powerful, determined, and good at holding on to the ball. In 2014, he fumbled four out of the 280 times he ran with the ball. That’s only 1.4% of the time. In his career, he’s run the ball 2,033 times and fumbled only 27 times or 1.3% of the time. Both are better than average. He also only needed to go one yard. During the Super Bowl against the Patriots, Lynch had run the ball 26 times. Here was how far he got each time: 3, 5, 0, 4, 3, 5, 5, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 3, 3, 3, 15, 7, 0, 3, 14, 1, 2, 2, 1, 5, 4. If his 27th rushing attempt had been anything like his first 26, he would have scored between 85-92% of the time.

There are all sorts of more detailed arguments for why the Seattle coaches did what they did, but hopefully this gives you enough background to understand why people are so down on the play they called. This afternoon we’ll investigate what happened after the interception, when the Patriots had the ball on their own one yard line and then there was a penalty and then there was a fight and then the game was over… until then, thanks for reading.

Who should you root for in Super Bowl XLIX?

Dear Sports Fan,

After weeks of annoying football coverage, it’s time to actually sit down and watch the game. But I have one question left: who should you root for in Super Bowl XLIX? The Seattle Seahawks or the New England Patriots?

Thanks,
Percy


Dear Percy,

I am assuming you don’t live in New England or near Seattle. If you do, then the choice is easy. Unless you are a hater of historic proportions, it’s way more fun to root for your local team than against it. So, if you live anywhere Northeast of the Yankees/Red Sox divide (different sport but the principle is the same) root for the Patriots. If you live in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, or the Western side of Montana, root for Seattle. If you live in any other part of the country or the world, you’re a rooting free agent. You can choose a team to root for based on a thousand different things: you like one team’s uniform color, you had a player from one team on your fantasy team this season, you have a crush on a player on one team, you think one team is going to win and you like rooting for the winning team. All of these are perfectly legitimate reasons. If you’re a completely blank slate and need help choosing a team to root for, I do think the two teams have a clear philosophical difference that may be interesting to you.

One of the reasons why football is so popular is that it’s an intriguing mix of brain and brawn. All sports rely on brain and brawn but football balances the intellectual with the physical more delicately than most. Football derives this quality from the fact that the game restarts all the time. A football game consists of around 164 plays that each take an average of between four and five seconds. There is a tremendous amount of athleticism packed into those four or five seconds. Players do amazing things with their bodies: make diving catches while controlling their bodies so just the tips of their toes stay on the ground; leaping over someone to tackle someone else; continuing to run forward with four opponents draped all over them. Between those plays, there’s an immense amount of communication from coaches to players and between players. This is where the intellectual side of the game comes in. Each play is choreographed in incredible detail and practiced meticulously beforehand. Football coaches design how their players are going to move and then choose which play they want the players to execute. In every football game, the best athletes in the world compete to be faster, stronger, and better than their opponents. At the same time, the two opposing sets of coaches are competing to outsmart each other.

Which is more important: a great coach or great players? It’s an open question in football. The two Super Bowl teams this year represent opposing sides in this argument. The New England Patriots franchise is built around their coach, Bill Belichick. It’s often said of him that he could beat your team with his players and then switch sides and beat his team with your players. The Patriots are a living testament to this idea. They regularly cut or trade good, veteran players and trade down in the draft to pick more, less regarded players. They are known for designing a new game plan for each of their opponents. They study their opponents, figure out what their weaknesses are, and then design plays to beat them. The Seattle Seahawks are the opposite. They do what they do best regardless of who their opponent is. On offense, that’s mostly running the ball with their powerful running back, Marshawn Lynch. On defense, they play tight man-to-man coverage on their opponents wide receivers with their two great cornerbacks and play a zone defense against everyone else.

The Seahawks players have nicknames like “Beast Mode,” “Bam Bam Kam,” and “The Legion of Boom.” The Patriots players don’t have nicknames that we know of. They’re too busy cramming for the impromptu pop quizzes their coach gives them about world history. Admittedly, this is both a generalization and a gross simplification but it’s also a good way to choose a team to root for. If you want to root for the team that wants to win by playing harder and better than the other team, then root for the Seahawks. If you want to root for the team that’s going to try to win by outstudying, outpreparing, and outsmarting the other team, then root for the Patriots.

Enjoy the game,
Ezra Fischer

Test your knowledge of the characters in Super Bowl XLIX

Happy Friday sports fans and sports agnostics alike! If you’ve been following along this week with our series of posts about the most compelling characters from the two Super Bowl teams, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, then you should have no problem solving this crossword puzzle. Do it in ink! If you get stumped or would just like to review the characters in detail our posts are still available.

Learn about the New England Patriots

Learn about the Seattle Seahawks

Puzzle away

A couple notes about the puzzle. You know you’ve gotten an answer right when the words (confusingly) are highlighted in a light red. If your answer remains black text on a white background, it’s wrong. To get the answers, click on the little key icon on the top left.

Ten things to watch if you're going to watch Super Bowl XLIX

One third of the people in the United States will sit down on Sunday and watch the Super Bowl. Sure, there’s lots to enjoy beyond the game. The commercials are sometimes fun, the food should be great, and the half-time show has mostly recovered from its post-Timberlake/Jackson malaise. Still, if you want to have a really great time on Sunday, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself to enjoy the football game itself. I invited my friend Brendan to record a podcast with me about ten things to watch for if you’re going to watch the Super Bowl.

This podcast should be informative for football fans and casual viewers alike. I hope you enjoy it! You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Joint Health

Seahawks defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were both injured in the last Seahawks game. Sherman hyperextended his elbow and Thomas separated his shoulder. Both players stayed in the game despite being in fairly obvious and serious pain. Both also say that their injuries have healed completely and will not be an issue in this game but are they telling the truth?

Vince Wilfork

Vince Wilfork’s job as the Patriots defensive tackle is to use his enormous body and unlikely athleticism to push offensive linemen back towards the quarterback and to plug gaps in the defense so running backs have no where to go. Watch for #75 when the Patriots are on defense. If he moves forwards, the Patriots are in good shape. If the Seahawks can push him backwards, they are in control.

Bill Belichick’s brain vs. Russell Wilson’s brain

Bill Belichick has made his name as a coach largely on his ability to confound quarterbacks by confronting them with exotic defensive formations and tactics that they don’t know how to deal with. Russell Wilson is highly accomplished but he’s still early on in his career. Can Belicheck fool him or will Wilson be able to decipher whatever the Patriots throw at him?

Marshawn Lynch

There’s no more divisive or important figure in this game than Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. He’s been constantly in the news lately for his strange behavior. He’s refused to say anything more than a single phrase to the media during recent press conferences and has been grabbing his crotch after scoring touchdowns. The NFL has fined him for both issues but is he being defiant or disturbed? What’s really going on with him? And what if he scores a touchdown in this game?

Which running back will we see from the Patriots?

More than other teams, the Patriots create a game plan specifically designed each week to attack the opposing team’s weaknesses. One way to tell whether they think they can overpower the other team or whether they think they need to outsmart them is which running back they choose to feature. If LeGarrette Blount is out there, that means they think they can bully and bludgeon the Seahawks to a victory. If Shane Vereen is featured, it means they’ll need to trick their way to a win.

Who is covering Rob Gronkowski?

Rob Gronkowski is the only truly remarkable athlete the Patriots have on offense. He’s big, fast, strong, good at catching the ball, and neigh unstoppable once he starts running towards the end-zone. The Seahawks don’t like to modify what they normally do on defense to accommodate an opponent but can they afford not to do plan something special for stopping the Gonk?

Freak on freak

Seattle’s quarterback, Russell Wilson, and running back Marshawn Lynch are both freakishly athletic. Can Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins have a break out performance and neutralize either or both of the Seahawks best athletes?

Who is spying Russell Wilson?

One way to neutralize a quarterback who is capable of running the ball in addition to throwing it is to assign a defender to “spy” him by mimicking his side-to-side movements and tackling him if he tries to run forward. Will the Patriots use this tactic? If so, who will they assign to do it?

Who else?

We’ve talked a lot about some of the biggest stars in this game but the Super Bowl often is decided by a big game from an unexpected source. If it’s not Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, or Rob Gronkowski, who will it be? Could Seattle get a big game from tight end Luke Willson or backup running back Robert Turbin? Might Brandon LaFell or Julian Edelman take the Patriots to the promised land?

The Arrogance Bowl

Both head coaches, Bill Belichick for New England and Pete Carroll for Seattle, are brilliant coaches for whom almost everything has gone right during this year’s playoffs. They both like to try to outsmart and out-coach the other team. If either are going to end up being tragic heroes, it’s pretty clear that their tragic flaw will be arrogance. Will one try something a little too smart for their own good in this game and will it backfire on them?

Super Bowl XLIX: Meet the Seattle Seahawks defense

In the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, we’re profiling the important characters of the game. We’ve already run posts on Seattle’s coach, Pete Carroll, quarterback, Russell Wilson, and the rest of the Seattle Seahawks offense. Now it’s time to learn a little about the Seattle Seahawks defense.

Michael Bennett, Defensive End

I’m a pretty big football fan and I write about sports close to full time but I didn’t know much about Michael Bennett before this year’s playoffs. Now, he’s one of my favorite characters in the league. Bennett was initially signed out of college as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks in 2009. He was released before ever playing a game and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him. He played there for four years and improved every year. During the offseason before last season, the Seahawks signed him to a one year contract and, after they won the Super Bowl, re-signed him for another four years. He grew up in Texas and has a brother who also plays in the NFL, Martellus Bennett. Martellus has been a well-known jokester for a while now, having given himself the nickname, “The Black Unicorn” in 2013. Michael Bennett has been letting his humorous side show this year too. After the Seahawks win over the Green Bay Packers, Bennett commandeered a police bicycle and rode around the field:

During media day this Tuesday, Bennett had a series of great lines, including comments about his wife’s booty and great beards of history as well as doing imitations of some of his more famous teammates.

Bobby Wagner, Linebacker

The Seahawks defense is full of brash characters who talk as brashly as they play. Wagner is the exception. He’s an undersized, soft-spoken middle linebacker who helps the rest of the defense when they gamble to make a spectacular play by using his speed to cover for them. He’s the defensive signal caller which means his helmet has a green dot on the back, the symbol for a helmet with a radio receiver in it. Wagner gets the defensive play calls from a coach and then relays them to his teammates. Wagner will have his hands full trying to counter Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s offensive creativity. Since Wagner came back from an early season injury, the Seahawks have not lost a game.

Richard Sherman, Cornerback

Richard Sherman is now more famous for being controversial than he is actually controversial. It all started a year ago when the Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers and Sherman was interviewed on the field after the game by reporter Erin Andrews. Sherman said that he was the best player at his position (an audacious claim, but he is certainly in the top handful of players and, like a surgeon, don’t you want him to think he’s the best?) and then, in answering a question about the last play of the game, when he cliched the win for the Seahawks with an interception, he said that was the result the other team should expect when they tried to throw the ball to a “sorry receiver” like the one he was covering. Nothing there seems all that controversial but it set off weeks of commentary on Sherman and who or what he represents. What he represents in this game, is an extraordinary defender who will probably be able to prevent whichever wide receiver he’s covering from catching the ball. If Tom Brady is brave enough to challenge him by throwing in Sherman’s direction, watch for Sherman to make a play on the ball and try to catch it himself.

Kam Chancellor, Safety

Let’s let our last character, Richard Sherman describe his teammate Kam Chancellor and his role in the Seahawks defense. This comes from Robert MaysGrantland profile of Chancellor: “He just brings that menacing force,” Sherman says. “We’re a bunch of wild dogs, and a pack of wild dogs is pretty dangerous. But a lion running with a pack of wild dogs … that’s something.” Chancellor’s athletic play has inspired a bunch of nicknames. He’s known as Bam Bam Kam, Kamtrak, and The Commissioner. Chancellor was the guy who kept leaping over the offensive line to try to block a field goal a few weeks ago. In this game, if the Seahawks choose to change their defensive strategy to focus on Patriots Tight End, Rob Gronkowski, Chancellor would likely be the one to get the assignment of taking him out of the game.

Earl Thomas, Safety

Earl Thomas rounds out the Seahawks group of wildly successful defensive misfits. At 5’10”, he’s way too short to be as good at his position as he is. But he is. He was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft by Seattle and has yet to miss a single game. As opposed to his safety partner, Kam Chancellor, Thomas is more likely to go after interceptions than knock-out hits. Off-the-field, Thomas is a conundrum. Seattle Times columnist, Larry Stone described Thomas as the most “paradoxical” of the Seahawks and commented that “after an interview, you don’t want to shake his hand so much as engage in a group hug.” Thomas separated his shoulder in the Seahawks last game but tweeted recently that his shoulder is completely recovered. In what could not have been a coincidence, the NFL blood tested him soon after the tweet.

Prepare for the Super Bowl with Dear Sports Fan. We will be running special features all week to help everyone from the die-hard football fan to the most casual observer enjoy the game. So far we’ve profiled Seattle Seahawks coach Pete CarrollNew England Patriots coach Bill BelichickNew England Patriots quarterback Tom BradySeattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilsonthe Seattle Seahawks secondary offensive characters, and the New England Patriots defenseIf you haven’t signed up for our newsletter or either of our Football 101 or 201 courses, do it today!

Super Bowl XLIX: Meet the New England Patriots defense

In the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, we’re profiling the important characters of the game. We’ve already run posts on New England’s coach, Bill Belichick, quarterback, Tom Brady, and the rest of the New England Patriots offense. Now it’s time to learn a little about the New England Patriots defense.

Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle

Vince Wilfork is the giant heart of the New England defense. He plays nose tackle, which means he uses his enormous weight (listed at 325 lbs but looks more like 365 lbs) and athletic ability (he claims he can still dunk a basketball) to fight against double-teams from opposing offensive linemen to get to the quarterback or running back. He’s an elder statesman of the Patriots, at the age of 33 and having been a part of the team since he was drafted in 2004. As much as you can tell from watching someone on television who is usually wearing a helmet, Wilfork seems like a really awesome guy. He’s often smiling and joking on the sidelines. He apparently had a practice of finding the Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, and his wife Myra, before games and kissing them each on the cheek. After Myra died of cancer in 2011, Wilfork took to kissing Robert Kraft on both cheeks to keep up the tradition. In the Super Bowl, Wilfork will be an important part of the Patriots defense against the Seahawks strength on offense — running the ball. Find the enormous man wearing #75 for the Patriots and watch him. If he’s driven backwards, it’s bad news for the Patriots and good news for the Seahawks.

Chandler Jones, Defensive End

One of the ways the Patriots have managed to continuously stock their team with great players despite almost never picking at the top of the draft is that they look for hidden gems. Chandler Jones was a gem, partially hidden in the 2012 NFL draft because of a hip injury that caused him to miss half of his last college season at Syracuse. No matter, the Patriots swooped him up with the 21st pick of the draft. 6’5″ and 265 lbs, Jones is an incredible athlete from an athletic family. Of his two brothers, one is also in the NFL and the other is a champion mixed martial artist. Jones is at his best when he is aggressively attacking the quarterback. The Seahawks might try to use that against him by either running the ball right at him or by running read-option plays towards his side. During a read-option play, the quarterback can punish an over-aggressive defensive end by suckering him into trying to tackle him and then handing the ball to a running back who runs around the defensive end. Jones will have to balance his aggressive play with needing to make sure no one with the ball gets around him by mistake.

Jamie Collins, Linebacker

In addition to looking for hidden gems, the Patriots favor versatility over almost everything. Jamie Collins is one of the most versatile defensive players in the NFL. He played at all three levels of defense (defensive line, linebacker, and defensive back) in college for the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. On the Patriots, he mostly plays linebacker, the position behind the big guys up front on the line of scrimmage but in front of the small guys in the defensive backfield. From this position he can use the full range of his wide skill set. On some plays he’s sent to attack the quarterback, on others he will cover a tight end or wide receiver. He’s one of the main candidates for players to “spy” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. This means he would be assigned the task of following Wilson around as he moves from side to side to make sure that if Wilson decides to run with the ball instead of throw it, he doesn’t get very far.

Brandon Browner, Cornerback

Brandon Browner is an interesting figure in this particular Super Bowl matchup. He was a member of Seattle’s so-called Legion of Boom defensive backfield for the previous three years before being signed this past Summer by the Patriots. In some ways, he still fits more with that group than with the tight-lipped Patriots. Browner is extremely tall for a cornerback, at 6’4″ and physical, sometimes to the point of taking unnecessary penalties. He has had a history of performance enhancing drug and substance abuse suspensions and actually missed playing in last year’s Super Bowl because of a suspension. He made a little bit of news this past week when he told the media that the Patriots should and would be targeting the injured joints of two of his ex-Seattle teammates.

Darrelle Revis, Cornerback

Darrelle Revis is one of the premier cornerbacks in the league. You may have heard the phrase, “Revis Island” and if you haven’t, you probably will this Sunday. That phrase, which Revis has apparently trademarked, expresses both the plight of the wide receiver that Revis is covering and his value to the Patriots. Revis is usually asked to cover the best wide receiver on the opposing team and unlike most other corners, he rarely has the safety net of another defensive player helping him with the assignment. Being assigned to cover someone one on one is a like being out on an island by yourself — you’re exposed, with no one to help you if you get into trouble. Revis is so good at it though, that the effect is often to make the wide receiver feel like he is on an island with no connection to the rest of his team and no way off. Quarterbacks often choose to ignore the receiver Revis is covering rather than challenge him by trying to throw to that receiver.

Prepare for the Super Bowl with Dear Sports Fan. We will be running special features all week to help everyone from the die-hard football fan to the most casual observer enjoy the game. So far we’ve profiled Seattle Seahawks coach Pete CarrollNew England Patriots coach Bill BelichickNew England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilsonthe New England Patriots secondary offensive characters, and the Seattle Seahawks secondary offensive characters. If you haven’t signed up for our newsletter or either of our Football 101 or 201 courses, do it today!

Super Bowl XLIX: Meet the rest of New England's offense

In the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, we’re profiling the important characters of the game. We’ve already run posts on New England’s coach, Bill Belichick and quarterback, Tom Brady. Now it’s time to learn a little about the rest of the New England Patriots offense.

LeGarrette Blount, Running Back

The Patriots are a little different from every other football team in the league. As a result, there are some players who just seem to play well for them but poorly for everyone else. LeGarrette Blount is one of those players. He’s had a long and checkered past with other teams, from college to professional, but he’s only ever truly thrived in New England. He’s a big, powerful runner who seems to get better as the game goes on, especially if he’s utilized by coach Bill Belichick as a hammer, punishing opposing defenders. If the Patriots start out giving him the ball 25-35% of the time, it’s a good sign that they think they can with the Super Bowl by beating up Seattle’s defense.

Shane Vereen, Running Back

If LeGarrette Blount is the Patriots hammer, Shane Vereen is their Swiss army knife. He catches the ball a lot for a running back and he is at least as good a receiver as a runner. This season, he ran the ball 96 times for 391 yards and caught the ball 52 times for 447 yards. The opponents know what he’s good at too, so when he’s on the field, they know to look out for a pass. For that reason, he’s another good canary in the coal mine to watch. If he’s on the field for more than 50% of the snaps that have a running back on the field, it’s a good sign the Patriots are going to try to win by passing the ball a lot.

Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver

No one on the Patriots epitomizes coach Bill Belichick’s love for versatile players more than Julian Edelman. Edelman played quarterback in college at the College of San Mateo and Kent State. The Patriots drafted him to play primarily as a wide receiver but in his six seasons with the team, he’s also returned kicks and punts, played sporadically as a defensive back, and has been used as a runner and even a couple of times to throw passes. He’s slightly under-sized for a wide receiver at six foot and 200 lbs (and it’s always good to be suspicious that round numbers like those are inflated) but he’s quick and tough and has more than proven himself as an NFL contributor.

Brandon LaFell, Wide Receiver

Brandon LaFell played for his first four years in the NFL on the Carolina Panthers. He improved every year, which is probably what the Patriots were counting on when they signed him during the last offseason. He’s has the most prototypical stature of all the Patriots pass catchers, he’s tall, lanky, and fast. He’s not quite enough of an athletic freak to be considered a true threat to catch deep passes but that is the role he plays on the Patriots. Two facts about him that might be of interest: apparently his nickname is “Jo Jo” and Tom Brady called him the “toughest guy” he’s ever played with.

Rob Gronkowski, Tight End

Ah, Rob Gronkowski. What can I write to describe him? In a league full of bros, he is the bro-iest. In a league full of dudes, he is the most dude-like. He’s a 6’6″, 265 lbs, 25 year-old millionaire who likes to party (almost? maybe more?) as much as he loves to play football. When he’s healthy, which he hasn’t been for the past three years but is now, he’s the most unstoppable force on a football field you’re likely to see. He can catch, he can block, he can run, and when he scores, he spikes the ball with more raw enthusiasm than anyone else. He’s often photographed dancing with his shirt off, in various states of undress with porn stars, or with clumps of college students surrounding him. During this year’s Super Bowl media day Gronkowski sang Katy Perry songs and read an excerpt from a pornographic novel written about him!

Nate Solder, Left Tackle

Nate Solder scored his first touchdown in the NFL during the Patriots last game. It was his first NFL touchdown. He’s an offensive lineman and they don’t often score touchdowns. So, clearly, he and his teammates were excited. This is how excited they were:

Prepare for the Super Bowl with Dear Sports Fan. We will be running special features all week to help everyone from the die-hard football fan to the most casual observer enjoy the game. So far we’ve profiled Seattle Seahawks coach Pete CarrollNew England Patriots coach Bill BelichickNew England Patriots quarterback Tom BradySeattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and the Seattle Seahawks secondary offensive characters. If you haven’t signed up for our newsletter or either of our Football 101 or 201 courses, do it today!

Super Bowl XLIX: Meet the rest of Seattle's offense

In the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, we’re profiling the important characters of the game. We’ve already run posts on Seattle’s coach, Pete Carroll and quarterback, Russell Wilson. Now it’s time to learn a little about the rest of the Seattle offense.

Marshawn Lynch, Running Back

Marshawn Lynch is a powerful running back whose specialty is bouncing off tacklers or hitting them before they hit him. His nickname is Beastmode. He has a penchant for skittles, not talking to the media, and grabbing his own crotch when he scores. Some view his behavior as fun antics, others as serious infringements, still others are concerned about his mental health.

Doug Baldwin, Wide Receiver

Doug Baldwin is the leader of Seattle’s mostly unknown receiving core. He played college football at Stanford, overlapping with Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman. Baldwin was an unheralded player, and was not even drafted after his college years. Seattle signed him as a free agent in 2011 and Baldwin went on to lead the team in receptions and receiving yardage that year. Perhaps because of his undrafted status, Baldwin loves to play the “No one believes in us” card. Just last week, after the Seahawks amazing comeback win over Green Bay, Baldwin went off on a rant against reporters who “didn’t believe in” the Seahawks. It’s amazing that a member of a defending Super Bowl champion team can twist himself into believing this motivational thought, but Baldwin does. During the Super Bowl, he expects to be covered by Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is known for shutting receivers out entirely.

Jermaine Kearse, Wide Receiver

Jermaine Kearse is a Washington man, through and through. He grew up in Lakewood Washington, played college football at the University of Washington, and was signed, like his teammate Doug Baldwin, as an undrafted free agent by the Seattle Seahawks, where he’s played his whole career. Kearse had perhaps the weirdest game ever for a wide receiver in the Seahawks win over the Packers. Four of the first five passes that were sent his way ended up as interceptions for the Packers. Two bounced off his hands before being caught by the other team. That’s a devastating day for anyone in any football game, much less a professional in the NFC Championship game. In overtime, Kearse got one more chance when quarterback Russell Wilson threw his way on a long pass down the middle. Kearse converted it into a 35 yard, game-winning touchdown. He’d surely like to be the hero again but I’m guessing he’d be happy with just a more consistent performance in the Super Bowl.

Luke Willson, Tight End

Other than sharing (almost) a last name with quarterback Russell Wilson, Luke Willson is a relatively unknown quantity. He took over as the starting tight end early this year when Zach Miller got knocked out for the season with an ankle injury. Willson is not a remarkable player but he’s certainly proved himself this year. In week 16 against Arizona, he had 139 yards and two touchdowns. That’s pretty good! He played an important role in the Seahawks win over the Packers when he caught the miraculous two-point conversion that put Seattle up by three points. Also, he’s Canadian.

Russell Okung, Left Tackle

With all the unheralded players on the Seattle offense that we’ve profiled so far, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Seahawks don’t have any top draft picks on offense. Not true! As is often the case these days in the NFL, their Left Tackle was drafted very, very high. Russell Okung, 6’5, 310 lbs, was drafted number six overall by Seattle in the 2010 NFL draft. A star in college, at Oklahoma State University, Okung has struggled with injuries in the NFL. He’s missed 21 games over his first five seasons but when he is healthy, he’s one of the best players at his position. He’s healthy now, and although the Patriots have some good pass rushers to go against Okung, I expect him to win most of those battles.

Prepare for the Super Bowl with Dear Sports Fan. We will be running special features all week to help everyone from the die-hard football fan to the most casual observer enjoy the game. So far we’ve profiled Seattle Seahawks coach Pete CarrollNew England Patriots coach Bill BelichickNew England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell WilsonIf you haven’t signed up for our newsletter or either of our Football 101 or 201 courses, do it today!