Super Bowl XLVIII is upon us. The Denver Broncos are the top rated offense in the NFL, averaging a ridiculous 37.9 points per game. The polar opposite to the Broncos are the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, who boast the league’s best defense by allowing a measly 14.4 points per game. The last time a No. 1 offense squared off against the No. 1 defense in a Super Bowl was after the 1990 season. That contest featured the New York Giants against my hometown Buffalo Bills which to this day remains the most dramatic finish in Super Bowl history (cue “Wide Right” nightmare). We examine the most intriguing match-ups and x-factors that will shape the outcome of this Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning vs. “Legion of Boom”
Manning is a master of determining what the defense is trying to accomplish on a pre-snap read. This is predicated on the efficiency of the no-huddle hurry up offense that has blazed the rest of the competition thus far. Manning will typically mix in a mirage of dummy calls, hard counts and line shifts to confuse the opposition. The majority of these are aimed to draw the defense offside or bait them to audible into a different coverage. The Seahawks will be the first team this season that will not be coaxed into playing Mannings cat and mouse games. Their defensive schemes are not complex nor are they a mystery. They will employ a press man-to-man coverage on the outside while switching between a Cover 1 and Cover 3 scheme to cover the middle of the field. The problem for Manning will be whether or not he dares to throw against All-World CB Richard Sherman, who is the only true shutdown cornerback left in the NFL. Manning’s offense is based upon timing and precision. The Seahawks’ secondary will look to jam the Broncos receivers at the line of scrimmage in order to disrupt the timing of the passing patterns and make Manning uneasy in the pocket.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Broncos’ Front Seven
It’s no secret that the Seahawks will rely heavily on Marshawn Lynch to transform into “Beast Mode” one final time to help propel them to victory. Seattle’s game plan on offense begins and ends with Lynch. They will utilize a ball control scheme which, if successful, will limit Manning’s possessions on offense to seven or eight ideally. The best way to beat Manning is to keep him watching on the sideline. The Broncos ranked seventh against the run during the regular season, and they are the top ranked defense against the run during this postseason.
X-Factor: Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin hasn’t finished one game this season. The last time we saw him was against the New Orleans Saints where he suffered an untimely concussion. When healthy, Harvin is arguably the most dynamic receiver in the NFL. The advantage for the Seahawks is that the Broncos do not have much film on how he will be utilized in the offense. Expect Harvin to line up in multiple positions on the field and create mismatches against the injury-riddled Denver secondary. Wilson will look to get the ball in his hands early and often.
Much to my dismay, the officiating in this game will be crucial in determining the outcome. During the 2014 postseason there have only been seven pass interference penalties called. If this trend continues, Seattle has a decisive advantage with the physical play of their secondary. However, Manning is the poster boy of the NFL. Don’t be surprised if the calls sway in his favor as the game progresses.
Super Bowl XLVIII will boil down to one simple question: Can Manning beat the Seahawks’ defense with his head? I wouldn’t count on it. As Sherman pointed out in a column he published a month ago: “His arm, however, is another story. His passes will be accurate and on time, but he throws ducks.” Manning’s arm strength has been an issue all year. Most of his completions, passing yards and touchdown passes have come off of short passes that have transformed into long gains. I don’t see this formula being successful against this talented Seattle secondary. Expect Manning to be forced into at least two turnovers. Expect Lynch to transform into beast mode and total over 100 yards from scrimmage mixed in with a couple Skittle showers in the end zone. Rise up 12th Man!
Seattle 27, Denver 23
Sandeep Rajpal is an NFL writer for RantSports.com