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A Big Game breakdown

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Previewing Super Bowl XLIII Previewing Super Bowl XLIII

Previewing Super Bowl XLIII

Months ago, 32 NFL teams set out on a season-long journey toward their game's ultimate reward, the Lombardi Trophy. After a grueling regular season and a hard-fought playoff slate, only two teams remain standing.

It's time for the Super Bowl.


For the 48th time, the biggest of Big Games is set to take place. The AFC champion Denver Broncos will take on the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium, the home of the New York Giants and New York Jets. Truth be told, the game's location may never have been as big a story as it has been leading up to this game.

Traditionally, the Super Bowl has been hosted in either a) a warm-weather city, or b) a dome. MetLife is neither; this means that the game is subject to the whims of the weather gods. Subzero temperatures, howling winds, heavy snowfall for the first time in years, any or all of these factors could potentially play a part in the Super Bowl.

Weather aside, these teams make for a particularly intriguing matchup the Broncos have put up one of the best offensive performances in league history this season, while the Seahawks have the number-one ranked defense in the NFL. While that's probably the matchup to watch, the converse Seattle's offense versus Denver's defense will be an impressive battle as well.

In terms of team on team action, there's a lot to like here.

And there are the individual storylines to watch for as well. You've got no-doubt Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning looking to finish off his record-breaking season (and cement his legacy) with another ring. Postseason success has proved the only thing lacking on his resume, but a second championship will likely quiet those few remaining doubters.

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has also proved to be a polarizing figure in recent days, with his explosive postgame interview following Seattle's victory over the 49ers prompting a sports media ouroboros of handwringing. Sherman has plenty of detractors and defenders alike; he's a central figure in the narrative leading up to the game.

And on and on it goes. But eventually these two teams are going to have to settle matters on the field. Each squad has its particular strengths; let's have a look at some comparisons.


Seattle's Russell Wilson is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. In his two years as a starter, he has led the Seahawks to an impressive record. His stat lines aren't always the gaudiest, but he finds ways to win. He's got a good arm and great athleticism; he constantly finds ways to make plays with his feet. He is inexperienced, but thus far he has shown no indications of being cowed by the big stage. 

Peyton Manning is one of the most prolific quarterbacks of all time. You can count the number of QBs in NFL history who might be better on one hand. He is coming off a season in which he set records for most passing yards and passing touchdowns. Manning is a phenomenal leader on the field with one of the most impressive football minds currently playing. Not only is he a fantastic talent, he's essentially a coach on the field.

Wilson's a good player, but this one isn't even close.

Advantage: Broncos

Running Back

Running the ball is a staple of the Seahawks offensive attack. Luckily, they have one of the most powerful and durable backs in the league in Marshawn Lynch. The workhorse back rushed for nearly 1,300 yards during the regular season and has put up almost 250 in two postseason games, scoring three touchdowns and moving the ball at five yards per carry. Expect to see him get the ball 25 times or more.

Denver's Knowshon Moreno experienced a bit of a career renaissance this year with over a thousand yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. In two postseason games, he has totaled 141 yards and a touchdown. But he's not the same type of feature back as Lynch. Moreno has gotten spelled periodically by rookie Montee Ball, who has 95 yards of his own. Together, the two backs produce at a high level.

The Denver running game is good, but Lynch is a linchpin.

Advantage: Seahawks


Seattle's wide receivers haven't been the most impressive group this season. The best of the bunch is probably Golden Tate, who caught 64 balls for 898 yards and five TDs in the regular season, although Doug Baldwin has seemed to be the go-to guy thus far in the playoffs with eight catches and 136 yards. Jermaine Kearse has also been an active target in the passing game for Seattle. Still, this group isn't particularly scary, though Percy Harvin could still be an X-factor.

Denver, on the other hand, has an embarrassment of riches. Demaryius Thomas leads the way he's caught 15 passes for almost 200 yards and two TDs in the postseason. But tight end Julius Thomas is right behind him with 14 catches, while Wes Welker and Eric Decker also have impressive numbers. It's an elite group of receiving talent from top to bottom; every single one of them has the potential to break a catch for a big gain. 

Let's put it this way: Seattle's best receiver would likely be no better than the fourth option in Denver's rotation.

Advantage: Broncos

Offensive Line

The Seahawks offensive line hasn't necessarily been a top-shelf unit this season, but they've managed to do decent work. Tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger are hands-down the best of the bunch; Okung is elite and Unger is better than average. Of course, with a mobile QB like Wilson and a bruising runner like Lynch, Seattle's line has a little less to do than most units. They aren't great, but they don't need to be; they just need to be good enough.

Denver's offensive line has been one of the steadiest, most cohesive units in the league this season. While Manning is certainly better than most at getting rid of the ball quickly, that doesn't mean his line can go on cruise control. The clean pocket they have maintained for him was a major factor in his record-setting season. While they have dealt with injuries, guys like center Manny Ramirez, guard Louis Vasquez and tackle Orlando Franklin have stepped up their games.

There's no doubt that Denver's is the more impressive unit.

Advantage: Broncos

Defensive Line

Seattle's work on the defensive line has been solid if unspectacular. The pass rush has been led by end Cliff Avril, who put up eight sacks in the regular season. He's got 1.5 sacks in the postseason, a number matched by fellow end Michael Bennett. The Seahawks work out of a 4-3 scheme as a base; while the line is probably the weakest part of Seattle's defense, the overall strength of the unit is such that even a relatively weak unit is still quite strong.

The Broncos defensive line is another good-not-great unit. The pass rush is led by end Shaun Phillips; he had 10 sacks in the regular season and another two in the playoffs. Ends Malik Jackson and Robert Ayers have also performed strongly. Phillips is the closest thing this group has to a star, but the entire bunch does good work. Of course, Wilson's elusiveness might prove difficult to contain by a group without much in the way of top-tier athleticism.

This fight boils down to who will have better luck stopping the run; my guess is Seattle.

Advantage: Seahawks


The Seattle defense gets better the farther away from the line of scrimmage you get. This middle group is led by Bobby Wagner; he put up 120 tackles in the regular season to go with five sacks. He's got 24 tackles thus far in the postseason. Fellow linebacker Malcolm Smith has also been making plays all over the field in the postseason. It's a strong, heady group that has consistently executed coach Pete Carroll's defensive game plan.

Denver's linebacking corps has been struck particularly hard by the injury bug. Losing Von Miller one of the best players the Broncos have on the defensive side of the ball has been understandably difficult to overcome. However, they aren't completely devoid of talent here; outside linebacker Danny Trevathan has probably been the best of the bunch. Still, Denver has been lucky to cobble together a serviceable group, but not much more than that.

Advantage: Seahawks


This is the best unit on the best defense in the NFL. Cornerback Richard Sherman is one of the true elites at the position, proving capable of consistently shutting down some of the best receivers in the game. Fellow corners Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell have also been strong. Meanwhile, free safety Earl Thomas might just be the best player at his position in the entire league. This group was number one against the pass for a reason; even the best passing offenses struggle against them.

The players in Denver's secondary might have been able to match Seattle's a few years ago, but once-dominant corners like Champ Bailey, Quentin Jammer and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie aren't the forces they once were; they have definitely lost a step (or more than one). They're still smart players, but they lack the pure physical skill that Seattle carries at just about every position in the defensive backfield; compound that with the loss of mainstay Chris Harris and Denver just doesn't measure up.

Advantage: Seattle

Special Teams

Steven Hauschka had an excellent season for the Seahawks, missing only two of his 35 field goal attempts with a long of 53 yards. He has also gone six-for-six in the playoffs. He doesn't have the biggest leg, but he's consistent. Meanwhile, punter Jon Ryan has allowed an average of less than four yards per return and put nearly 40 percent of his punts inside the opponent's 20-yard-line. Jermaine Kearse and Robert Turbin have been okay returning kicks, while Tate has been great on punt returns.

Denver's Matt Prater might not have had a lot of field goals no surprise when you're on a team that scores 75 touchdowns but he made his attempts count. He went 25 for 26 on the season, including an NFL-record 64 yard kick. He's five for six in the playoffs thus far. Punter Britton Colquitt hasn't had too much work this season, but he has netted around 40 yards a punt with an average return of less than 10 yards. Return man Trindon Holliday is one of the most electric in the game, with two return TDs.

Advantage: Broncos


So there you have it. Judging by the tale of the tape, it looks like it's going to be strength against strength in Super Bowl XLVIII. It's all going to come down to which team best executes that strength. One would imagine that any adverse weather conditions would favor the team more oriented toward defense and the ground game. As such, it's hard to pick against Seattle. Then again, the reinvigorated Peyton Manning looks ready to carry his team to the win. Frankly, it feels like a coin flip. The folks in Las Vegas have Denver favored, but only by a field goal. 

Looks like I'm going to buck the odds.

Final prediction: Seattle 24 Denver 21 

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 01:05


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