Super Bowl XLVIII will feature a classic bout between the NFL’s top-scoring offense against its top-scoring defense, and a rare clash between the No. 1 seeds from each respective conference, the first of its kind since the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants squared off in the 1990 season*.
Peyton Manning will be appearing in his third Super Bowl, entering the game with a 1-1 mark. It’s no surprise that yet again he’ll be bringing in the record-setting Denver Broncos offense with him. But perhaps this year Manning has had its best collection of weapons, with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker split wide, Wes Welker in the slot, Julius Weapon at tight end and the tandem of Knownshon Moreno and Montee Ball lined up in the backfield.
The Broncos scored 606 points in 2013. Manning threw for 55 passing touchdown and four different received caught 10 or more touchdowns. Those are Madden-like numbers. And they haven’t teetered a bit in the playoffs, as the future Hall of Famer threw for 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the New England Patriots to make it to the big game.
The thing about Denver is their versatility. The team ranked second in the league in pass plays of 20 yards or more, trailing only the Philadelphia Eagles. The team attempted the second-most passing attempts per game (42.2), but also ranked 11th in rushing attempts (28.8), which resulted in a 117.1 yards-per-game average, good for 15th in the league.
But perhaps Manning and Co. are finally going to meet their match in the form of the Seattle defense, the Legion of Boom. Manning owned an NFL-best 87.0 QBR against four of fewer pass rushers, which is Seattle’s style, while the Hawks held opposing signal-callers to a 31.8 QBR, the best mark in the league.
Captaining that unit is Richard Sherman, who besides getting Miley Cyrus-like attention for his post-game comments following the NFC Championship game actually led the NFL in interceptions. He’s flanked by All-Pro safety Earl Thomas III and a host of pass rushers, including Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons.
Seattle held opponents to a league-low 272.6 yards per game and forced a league-high 28 interceptions. It tied for eighth with 44 sacks on the season. and forced 17 fumbles.
Defense has won the No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense showdown in the four previous meetings, with the lone exception being the San Francisco 49ers’ triumph past … the Broncos, of course … back in 1989. But while the Broncos offense and Seahawks defense will grab the majority headlines, how will the other units play a factor?
The Denver defense doesn’t get too much credit, and it was all but forgotten about as soon as Von Miller was lost for the season. But since the Broncos fell to the San Diego Chargers Week 15, the team has allowed 15 points per game and 269 total yards per game. However, the team did allow 320 yards to New England and forced three turnovers in its past four games, none in the previous two.
On the opposite end, Russell Wilson will be sixth quarterback to reach the Super Bowl in his first or second season. The previous five went 3-2, with the wins coming from Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner.
Wilson began his sophomore campaign red hot, but the Seattle offense has dwindled down the stretch. Wilson enters the game averaging 159 passing yards per game, the fourth-fewest over the past two decades. Perhaps an encouraging note, though, is the ‘Hawks churned out their highest yardage total in four games against a stingy Niners defense, and their totals have increased each of the past four weeks.
In addition, the offense will get a boost from Percy Harvin, who returned to practice this week. Harvin has not had a major impact in either of the two games he has appeared in this season, but he’s touched the ball a total of four times and has 30 yards to show for it. Not too shabby.
And with a game like this, how could special teams not play a role. Perhaps Harvin adds a newfound element for Seattle, or perhaps its Trinton Holliday on the Broncos side. One key stat to remember: Seattle has allowed all of 82 punt return yards on the season (that’s overall).
Prediction: Defense tends to outshine offense in these types of games, and with the elements that may be involved playing outdoors at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., perhaps the strong rushing attack of Marshawn Lynch and a few third-down conversions by Wilson is enough for Seattle to get ahead, allowing its defense to hold off Manning.
*Editor’s Note: Super Bowl XLVI was a matchup of two number one seeds.