It's finally time. The final Football Friday of the 2013-14 NFL season is upon us. It's time for the Super Bowl preview that you demand. The Stack is here with plenty to cover regarding Super Bowl XLVIII. Matchups to watch, X-factors and of course a prediction. So let's get right to the Seattle Seahawks-Denver Broncos Super Bowl preview in "the stack" for today, Friday, January 31:
Super Bowl XLVIII
Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos 6:25 PM ET FOX
Thirty-two teams began the year believing they could win the Super Bowl (realistically only twelve or so actual could make it here and win it). We are now down to two. The Seattle Seahawks out of the National Football Conference (NFC) against the Denver Broncos out of the American Football Conference (AFC). Some may forget, but these two are old rivals dating back to their days in the AFC West together. When the NFL realigned divisions back in 2002, they moved the Seahawks to the NFC West. Now the two teams will square off for it all. Who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy and have bragging rights going into next year? (Coincidentally, the two teams will play each next year in Seattle).
For the Denver Broncos, it's all about quarterback Peyton Manning. This will be his third Super Bowl. He is 1-1. Last week, I talked about how Manning's legacy could be affected by the outcome of this game. If he wins, he will be among the, if not thee greatest quarterback of all-time, at least when it comes to the regular season. Should the Broncos would the Super Bowl, it would be Manning's second Super Bowl title. He would have a career 12-11 postseason record. Perhaps people would stop holding Tom Brady's three Super Bowl wins argument over Peyton supporters. Three versus two definitely does not give much room for argument and given how Manning has played in the regular season and how he would have won the last two Super Bowls in the rivalry, I think Brady fans would shut up. But I digress.
Manning has his work cut out for him in this one. The Seattle Seahawks have the number one defense in the league and it is led by one of the best secondaries we have ever seen, at least in recent memory. We all know about Richard Sherman, in my mind the most polarizing figure in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks tandom at safety (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) is the best duo in the game without question. Sherman's partner opposite him, Byron Maxwell, has turned into a really outstanding corner. Their linebackers are studs. Remember when everyone questioned the Seahawks for drafting Bruce Irvin out of West Virginia in the first round of the draft in 2012? Yeah, they're not talking anymore. Irvin has been great. His four game PED suspension is a little alarming, but it got the Seahawks to really focus and look at the big picture. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is one of the best defensive tackles in the game according to Pro Football Focus. The Seahawks defense is tough and physical. They attack at almost all times and are relentless. The Broncos are in for a dogfight and will have to play a full 60 minutes.
The Broncos have plenty of weapons of their own. Their wide receiving corp is the best in the game. Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker? Going to be very difficult for Seattle's secondary to stop them every play. Here's a hint: it won't happen. These one-on-one matchups will be scrutinized the entire game. At some point, you would think that the Seahawks would have to double team one of the guys if he starts making a few consecutive catches. Tight end Julius Thomas turned into a star the first game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens. He is a big time weapon. Will the Seahawks put linebacker Bobby Wagner on him or will they strictly rely on Chancellor or Thomas to stop him? And if you focus too much on the wide receivers, you'll get burned by the Broncos sneaky good running game. Knowshon Moreno is a very good running back and for some reason (maybe it's because Manning is really good at throwing the football), teams forget about him. If Mebane can get some pressure on clog the middle, Moreno's effectiveness will be limited. Remember that 3rd and 10 against the Patriots that Manning audibled to a run and Moreno ran for 28 yards and a first down? That's what the Broncos can do at will. They put so much pressure on you to do the little things, to win the one-on-one matchups, it can be very overwhelming. The Seahawks wont stop the Broncos. They can only hope to contain them.
One way the Seahawks can slow down the Broncos is the same way the San Diego Chargers beat the Broncos in their home staduim back in week 15. That is running the football and they have one of the best running backs in the game in Marshawn Lynch. He may not talk to the media, but he darn good at what he does. You can contain him, limit him to negative yards for a while, but just wait until he breaks one. He's made earthquakes happen in Seattle. If he gets a couple of big ones ripped off, Beastmode will be in full swing and Skittles will be flying in Metlife Stadium and across the northwest. He may even set off another earthquake several thousand miles away with a long touchdown run. Lynch can pick up those tough yards when needed and he is the focal point of the Seahawks offense. Quarterback Russell Wilson has played just fine this year, better than most second year quarterbacks, but when you have a defense like he has and a running back like Lynch, it makes your life so much easier.
Lynch and the Seahawks will have to go against a Broncos defense that has played much better since that week 15 loss to the Chargers. Led by "Pot Roast" (defensive tackle Terrance Knighton), the Broncos have really stepped it up the last month of the season and stopped teams in their tracks. Apart from a frantic fourth quarter comeback, the Chargers couldn't get anything going against the Broncos defense in the divionsal round. The Patriots? What a terrible offensive performance. They didn't do squat. That's in large part to the turnaround of the Broncos defense. Sure they won't have linebacker Von Miller, but they should do pretty well against the Seahawks if they can slow down Lynch and keep him from making those big runs. Force Wilson to beat you with his arm. We know Wilson can run. It will be important for the Broncos to contain him and not allow him to leave the pocket. Get pressure on him when you can. Just don't let him get outside. If he does, watch out.
The biggest X-factor in this game to me is pretty obvious. It's Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin. Harvin's speed already makes him an explosive and feared weapon if you're a Broncos fan. His durability is a major concern for Seahawks fans. However, Harvin can do it all on Sunday. He can return kicks, line up in the backfield, take a reverse be a deep threat, take a slant route and go the distance. All of these things and more, that's what Harvin can do. He's only played 38 snaps this season. 38!! He came back against the Minnesota Vikings (his former team) following offseason hip surgery and made one really nice catch and had a big kickoff return. Then he suffered a setback to that hip, missed the rest of the regular season and came back for the divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints where he promptly got hit in the head twice and suffered a concussion, forcing him to miss the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Broncos do not have a lot to look at in terms of tape on him in a Seahawks uniform. They can only go based off the things he did in Minnesota. Advantage Seahawks. If Harvin has over 100 yards combined receiving and rushing, the Seahawks are looking good. If he has over 150 combined yard rushing/receiving/kickoff returns, the Seahawks win the game. I just don't know who the Broncos have that can guard him. Champ Bailey? He was one of the best lockdown cornerbacks in the league, but he is certainly getting up there in age and injuries have hampered him. If Harvin can go the whole game, I like the Seahawks chances. If he doesn't, I don't like their chances at all.
In terms of the coaches, Broncos head coach John Fox has the only prior Super Bowl head coaching experience. He made it when he coached the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. They lost to the New England Patriots 32-29 in one of the more entertaining Super Bowls in recent memory. The experience will help some, but Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is such a diferent type of coach that I don't think it is a major issue that he hasn't previously been to a Super Bowl. He's like a little kid on the sidelines at times. He's sought out advice from previous Super Bowl head coaches and while it isn't exactly the same thing, it helps. Wilson has talked to quarterbacks who have played in the Super Bowl. He talked to Terry Bradshaw on the field right after they won the NFC Championship. Both Wilson and Carroll are good guys who are trying to help their team and win the Super Bowl.
As for the weather, it appears we're in luck. While I wish it would be bad just so the NFL would look stupid for putting a Super Bowl in a cold weather city with an open air stadium, it appears that the New York/New Jersey area will be experiencing some mild temperatures come Super Sunday. Around 40 degrees at kickoff and winds under 10 mph. No disadvantage for either team. Poor weather would have greatly impacted the Broncos. So it appears as though the playing field is even...for now.
Who has the edge?
Special Teams: Leaning Denver (Seattle's punt yards allowed pushes them close to winning this one).
Who will win? Honestly, I can see either team winning this Super Bowl. You would expect that since these are the two best teams remaining. Denver is the number one offensive team in the NFL. Seattle is the number one defensive team in the NFL. I like Seattle to frustrated Denver early, but I think Denver can settle down and avoid being shutdown. They struggle in the red zone so expect to see some Matt Prater field goals. They'll need him to be clutch later on. 70 percent of me saying "Pick Seattle." The other 30 percent of me thinks that fate is on Denver's side and they have been on a mission since losing to Baltimore last year at home in the divisional round of the playoffs. Manning knows he may not get another chance at the Super Bowl. Don't be shocked if this is the first ever Super Bowl that goes to overtime. We are in for a real treat. I'm going to go with my pick at the beginning of the season (look back in the archives to the first few days of September and you'll see who I picked).
Prediction: Broncos 26 Seahawks 20
Super Bowl XLVIII champions: Denver Broncos
Enjoy the Super Bowl everyone.
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Coming up Monday: Reaction to the Super Bowl plus commercial thoughts