The wait is finally over! Super Bowl XLVIII is now upon us, time to put aside all of the press conferences, all of the distractions, and all of the discussion and finally play this game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
Much has been made this week about the match-up between the number 1 defense against the number 1 offense; Peyton Manning's legacy, as well as Richard Sherman's big mouth. Now it all comes to a head for 60 minutes with the Lombardi trophy lying in wait.
Let's do a quick breakdown first...
BRONCOS OFFENSE vs. SEAHAWKS DEFENSE
The match-up everyone is talking about. The Broncos have featured the NFL's top ranked offense all season with Peyton Manning setting records for touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477). At 37, and coming off of four neck surgeries, this has been Manning's best statistical season -- which says a lot, because he has had a tremendous career.
The Sehawks front seven, specifically, Michael Bennett, and Chris Avril will be targeting Manning all night long. If Manning withstands the pressure it will be a long night for Seattle.
Much has been made about the Seattle secondary, and why not? This unit is phenominal. From Richard Sherman to Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and the unsung Bryon Maxwell, the Seahawks pose the best secondary in the NFL. They have not faced a receiving corps like this one, however. The Seahawks did a great job shutting down Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham in respective weeks in the playoffs, but they will have more than Julius Thomas to cover. Peyton Manning could easily go to Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demarious Thomas. All those weapons could open a hole in space for Julius Thomas.
Speaking of Demarious Thomas, he will be covered by Sherman. This is a great match-up, but don't expect Manning to not throw in the direction of Thomas and Sherman. He will test Sherman, and Manning the type of quarterback who can fit the football into a tight window. If Manning's pass do float in the Meadowlands winds, then Sherman is going to make some big plays on the football.
SEAHAWKS OFFENSE vs. BRONCOS DEFENSE
The Seahawks offense comes into the Super Bowl with a lot of questions; most notably, can Russell Wilson put this team on his back? Two weeks ago against the 49ers, the Seahawks had to rely on a lot of crazy moments in order to win that game after trailing 10-3 at the half. The running of Marshawn Lynch, special teams, and turnovers were all keys for Seattle.
The Seahawks have to run the football to be successful. If Lynch has another big day, and rips off a couple of big runs, Seattle is golden. If the Broncos keep him in check, then Wilson will be forced to make plays -- which could be an issue. Wilson can create a lot of plays with his legs, but his blah postseason performance certainly raises eyebrows about whether he can go toe-to-toe with Manning for 60 minutes.
Percy Harvin's return from a concussion he suffered against the Saints will be a bonus, but I don't expect him to go nuts in the Super Bowl. His presence will create a lot more opportunities for the likes of Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin the receiving corps.
Defensively the Broncos have had their issues, especially in the secondary. They were ranked 27th in the NFL in pass defense, and allowed both the Chargers and Patriots to close the gap in their respective playoff match-ups. If Wilson is allowed to move around the pocket, the Seahawk receivers could have a good night against this leaky secondary.
Therefore the Broncos front seven, led by Terrance Knighton have to come up big. They did a great job against the run all year, and shut down Patriots running back LaGarrett Blount two weeks ago. While Blount is not as good as Lynch, slowing him down is the key to a Denver victory.
Both John Fox and Pete Carroll are great coaches. For Fox this is his second time in the Big Game; he took the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl back in 2003, when they lost to New England 32-29. While having Peyton Manning has been a plus the last two seasons, Fox is no dummy. He knows the pulse of this team, and his calm and confident demeanor pours through this team.
As for Carroll, he is the perfect coach for the Seahawks. A rah-rah "college coach" who knows how to get the most out of young players. He has created a fun atmosphere in Seattle, and this is arguably the best Seahawks' team ever -- win or lose on Sunday. If it's a question of motivational speaking, Carroll would have an edge, but who needs motivating at this point? It's the Super Bowl.
I would call this coaching match-up a wash.
The Seahawks may be the more athletic team, but the Broncos are the team that knows what is at stake here. There are a lot of veteran players still looking for their first ring, and a quarterback looking to silence the critics one last time. The Seahawks have lapped up the New York spotlight all week, while Denver has hunkered down and worked all week long. Usually the team that treats this like a business trip has a slight edge.
The Seahawks will put pressure on Manning, but the Hall of Famer is smart enough to adjust, and he will take what Seattle gives him, which will be the middle of the field. With so many weapons it is hard to imagine Seattle covering all of these guys. Marshawn Lynch will run for 100 yards, but his effectiveness will be limited in someway by a Denver defense ready to make a statement. If that is the case, Russell Wilson will have the football in his hand, and I expect him to turn it over a couple of times. A close three quarters will give way to runaway fourth for Denver.
BRONCOS 34, SEAHAWKS 17.