The Super Bowl XLVIII is set to take place this coming Sunday, Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m., with the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos facing off against the dominant defence of the Seattle Seahawks. In a preview of the championship game, a current sports editor writes against a past sports editor in defence of their respective picks for the Super Bowl.
Offence —Greatest of all time. When future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning steps onto the field in the Meadowlands he will be leading the highest-scoring offensive unit to ever play in the NFL. Manning has a plethora of receivers that will pose a myriad of problems for the Seahawks’ vaunted secondary. The “legion of boom” will have to pick their poison as Demaryius Thomas and crew can win with speed deep or in the short passing game. The passing attack may get all the headlines, but the Broncos have had success running the ball behind an offensive line doing yeoman’s work as a unit. Running back Knowshon Moreno had 10 touchdowns and upwards of 1000 yards during the regular season, and rookie Montee Ball offers a change of pace and has played well in limited action so far. One statistic sums up just how unstoppable this offence is: the Broncos have punted just once in the playoffs so far.
Defence —The less hyped matchup is when the Broncos defence comes into the game to face quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. The key to stopping Seattle’s offence will be to shut down its running game. Defensive tackle Terrence ‘Pot Roast’ Knighton has been a revelation in the post-season for a patchwork defensive line and completely neutralized the Patriots’ run game in their matchup. If Knighton is able to anchor the defence and mitigate Marshawn Lynch’s impact, Seattle’s ability to use the play-action pass will be severely diminished. The linebacking corps will miss Von Miller’s ability to generate pressure, but Shaun Phillips has had a renaissance this season. On the back end, Denver’s corners will have no trouble shutting down Seattle’s mediocre receivers. No pass-catcher projects as a game-changer—with the exception of recently medically cleared Percy Harvin, but he has only caught four passes in the regular season and post-season combined.
Coaching —John Fox mans the helm for the Broncos’ coaching staff and has helped guide the team to 26 regular season wins in the past two seasons. Fox has played a crucial role in creating a culture of winning, and has guided the team with a steady hand. On the offensive side, Coordinator Adam Gase has taken the league by storm in his first season on the job. Gase’s ability to cultivate a strong relationship with Manning and his creative play-calling have played a key role in the record breaking success. On the other side of the ball, Jack Del Rio has taken a roster riddled with injuries and created a lineup that ranks second in both scoring defence and defence by total yards in the post-season.
X-Factor — The environment will have an enormous impact on the outcome of this game for two reasons: cold weather and the absence of a 12th man. Forecasts are projecting near freezing temperatures with a chance of precipitation, two factors that have hampered Manning’s ability to be successful in the past. However, in his past eight games played in similar conditions, he had a 72.8 per cent completion rating, 2129 yards, and 17 touchdowns—not in line with his career averages but still very good, and likely enough to make the difference. As for the crowd: the team is no longer in Seattle, so the Seahawks won’t be able to recreate the tremendous home field advantage that they have enjoyed in the friendly confines of Century Link Stadium. With this much at stake, all the small factors that result from a raucous crowd could be the difference for which team hoists the Lombardi Trophy.
Score — Denver 31, Seattle 24
Offence — The Seahawks’ offence is often overlooked because of their dominant defensive unit—but it shouldn’t be. Second-year quarterback Russell Wilson has proven to be one of the most dynamic talents in football in just two short seasons. He is incredibly proficient outside of the pocket, making use of his speed to evade the rush and extend plays to find receivers down the field. Though the Seahawks don’t possess many game-breakers on the outside, Wilson undoubtedly elevates their level of play. However, Seattle’s offensive success starts and ends with running back Marshawn Lynch. Expect ‘the Beast’ to receive close to 25 carries to wear down the Denver front line and help set up the play-action passing game.
Defence — Where do you want to start? The defensive line does a great job stopping the run and has a wealth of speed rushers on the edge like Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Chris Clemons that pressure opposing quarterbacks. The linebacker core—led by Bobby Wagner—is a bit more unheralded, but they are all solid tacklers and can close quickly on ball carriers. But the backbone of the Seahawks’ top-ranked defence is their secondary or self-nicknamed “legion of boom.” Richard Sherman is one of the league’s top shutdown corners—a fact he will make sure to let you know—and all-pro safety Earl Thomas is a top-flight ball-hawk. For all they have accomplished this season, however, they have yet to face a passing attack like the one the Broncos boast. There is no doubt that Peyton Manning and his wealth of talented wideouts pose a difficult task, but if there’s one team that can stop them, it’s this Seattle defence.
Coaching — There were a few question marks surrounding the Seattle Seahawks when they named Pete Carroll their new head coach three years ago. Could Carroll—who led the University of Southern California to two national championships—translate his coaching strategy and style back to the NFL? Well, he’s been pretty successful so far. Carroll has reinvigorated a Seattle franchise that was battling mediocrity after reaching the Super Bowl in 2006. The Seahawks have adopted the mantra of their energetic and cocky head coach, and it seems to translate well to the field. Carroll might be the best in the league at getting the most out his players and elevating their play. His staff—led by Offensive Coordinator Darrell bevel and Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn—also did a great job this season devising game plans to exploit mismatches. Expect them to carry that momentum into the Super Bowl.
X-Factor — We couldn’t have asked for a better matchup. The best offence against the best defence. Most pundits will point to the battle between Denver’s wide receivers and Seattle’s secondary as the key to the game. But the Seahawks’ defensive success will depend on their play up-front, and whether they can generate a pass rush against Manning. We’ve seen the future Hall-of-Famer struggle when his line collapses and is forced to move outside the pocket. If Seattle can frustrate Manning’s timing, they will hoist the Lombardi Trophy when the clock runs out.
Score — Seattle 23, Denver 20
Editors’ pick: Denver Broncos
Most football pundits predicted this matchup before the season began: one of the best offences in the NFL against an unparalleled defensive lineup. While the Seahawks’ “legion of boom” will no doubt push the Broncos to the brink, this is Denver’s game to lose. Manning is quarterbacking the best offence in the league, and with the talented coaching staff behind the Broncos orchestrating plays on both sides of the ball, this will be the year Manning wins his second Super Bowl ring.