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PHUKET: The defending Super Bowl champs and NFC champs the Seattle Seahawks (12-4 regular season) will square off against the New England Patriots (12-4) in Super Bowl XLIX (Super Bowl 49 for those of you whose knowledge of Roman numerals is rusty) at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. [Monday, Feb 2, 6:30am Phuket time on NBC].

The showdown, touted as ‘The Duel in the Desert’, will be New England’s eighth Super Bowl appearance, while the Seahawks are in their third title game. The Pats have won three Super Bowls, all with Tom Brady at the helm, while the Seahawks (1-1) are looking to be the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the Pats did in 2003 and 2004.

There are many interesting story lines to explore, but let us start with the very different ways both team reached the big show in the conference championships.

The Seahawks pulled off one of the most incredible come-from-behind wins in the Conference Championships with an unbelievable 28-22 win in overtime against the injured Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at home in Seattle in the NFC Final, the first of the two championship games last Sunday (Monday, local time).

It is hard not to feel sorry for Green Bay fans (aka ‘Cheeseheads’) who had to witness this debacle, which saw the Packers dominate the first half and go into halftime with a 16-0 lead. They were still leading 19-7 with just four minutes left in the fourth quarter, and should have amassed a much bigger lead, before the proverbial wheels began to fall off very late in the game.

An incredible turnaround, including a successful onside kick in the final minutes of play to tie the game, ended with a touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse in overtime. Wilson, who was overcome with at how his teammates helped him rally back, was in tears after the game and attributed the win to the never-say-die attitude of his teammates as well as some divine intervention.

In reference to his four picks, Wilson said, “That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special. I’ve been through a lot in life, and had some ups and downs. It’s what’s led me to this day,” said the NFL’s newest poster boy for Christianity since Tim Tebow left the Jets.

The Twittersphere blew up with comments by stunned Packers fans damning the conservative play calling of coach Mike McCarthy, who repeatedly opted for field goals – even when his team was on the one-yard line and in a position to drive a stake through the Seahawks’ collective heart.

As it turned out, deplorable special teams play by the Packers late in the game saw the Seahawks score a touchdown on a fake field goal attempt and then send the game into OT on a desperation onside kick to send the game into overtime. The lesson here: aggressiveness is the key to success in the NFL.

Despite McCarthy’s success in his years with the Packers, fans are calling for his head and local pundits think it will likely happen. Criticism waned a few days after the game, when it was announced that McCarthy’s brother Joseph, an attorney, died at the age of 47 while working out in a gym. When it rains, it pours.

The AFC Championship game was a horse of a different color, with the home team Pats cruising to a 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in unseasonably warm [10 degrees Celsius] but rainy conditions in front of a well-lubricated and raucous crowd at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

The game was really never in doubt, with the Pats dominating on both sides of the ball from start to finish to earn their record-tying eight Super Bowl berth. They will also try to become the sixth franchise to win four Lombardi trophies.

The two-week delay between the conference championships and Super Bowl is the ultimate pile-on media frenzy in the US, and it got off to a good start with revelations that the Patriots – probably the most hated (and locally beloved) franchise in US sports history – intentionally deflated game balls to give quarterback Tom Brady an advantage by making it easier to grip the ball.

The Patriots under coach Bill Belichick have a history of pushing the envelope – and sometimes pushing it too far – and the early talk is that they could lose a draft pick next year over this latest tactic. Few pundits think the pressure of the ball made any real difference in the outcome of the lopsided game, but it has helped solidify the Yankee reputation for “win-at-all-costs” mendacity often associated with New Englanders.

More on this in the next installment, which will be a more Xs & Os Super Bowl preview.

— Somchai Huasaikul