According to online oddsmakers, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks are overwhelming favorites to clash in Super Bowl 51. Unfortunately, injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Earl Thomas may have derailed those chances.
Gronkowski is out for the season due to a herniated disk in his back, and Thomas is out because of a broken leg. Despite both teams being led by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, their success centers around the dynamic duo. In the case of the Patriots, playing without Gronk is, to some extent, a norm. This season, they are 5-0 without him and have a 17-4 tally in games he's missed since 2012. This time around, there are bigger concerns going forward.
Over the past six years, no team has thrown more to the tight end position than the Pats. Without their dependable double tight end sets (Marcellus Bennett is the team's secondary TE), the Patriots will have to rely on three-receiver and two running back formations. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, LeGarrette Blount, James White, and Dion Lewis will have to shoulder the load in Gronk’s absence. The do-it-all by committee has been the 'Patriot Way' in the past, but it’ll could be a little difficult this time around.
Gronk’s ability to stretch defenses will be missed. His combination of size and speed is a nightmare for defenses to contend with and the Pats use those attributes as an advantage. The threat of him going deep opens the field up in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Without New England taking the top off of the defense, it will allow defenses to play aggressively against Tom Brady.
Like New England, Seattle is in familiar territory. The Seahawks will try to supplant arguably one of the better safeties in the NFL in Thomas. Gronkowski’s popularity is rock star-like. While that isn’t the case for Thomas, he’s just as valuable to his team.
As a single-high safety, Thomas' uses his range in the passing and running game to stifle offenses. His versatility allows Seattle to have one of the better defenses in the NFL. His knack for manipulating quarterbacks and hawking down receivers gives the secondary a lot of flexibility. Richard Sherman who is a man of many words, won’t be the same player without the five-time Pro Bowl safety nearby.
The All-Pro’s big-play ability is irreplaceable and he can turn around a game at any given moment. As seen in earlier years, Thomas saves his best moments for the playoffs. In lieu of his injury, Seattle’s trek to Houston will be a lot tougher. With no clear-cut favorite to win the NFC, Seattle was in line to make a run. While that's still conceivable, it’ll be tough to do without No. 29.
In a perfect world, Seattle could overcome the injury and win another Super Bowl, but that’s easy to propose, but difficult to carry out. Despite the loss of Thomas, Seattle is still good, but they're not quite an elite team.
To be frank, Seattle and New England aren’t going to be able to replace Thomas and Gronk. They are too important to the team’s overall success. Without Gronkowski, the degree of difficulty goes way up for Brady. Minus Thomas, the “Legion of Boom” is just a legion with no boom. While it's tough to bet against Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll given their coaching history, yet, the odds are stacked against them without two of their most important players.