In a truly unpredictable NFL season where the unexpected occurred on a weekly basis, the two teams competing in Super Bowl XLVIII are the squads that were favored to make the championship bout in August.
Upsets occupied our television sets so regularly in 2013 that football fans became immune to surprises. The New York Jets beat the New England Patriots? Sure, why not? The Indianapolis Colts defeated three of the remaining four squads during the regular season but could not handle the St. Louis Rams? Of course.
Yet the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, two preseason favorites that each entered the playoffs atop their respective conference, outlasted the pack to earn a trip to New Jersey. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, this marks the third Super Bowl featuring both No. 1 seeds in the past 21 years.
So it's No. 1-seed Seattle vs. No. 1-seed Denver. Last times SB featured two No. 1 seeds was Saints-Colts in 2009 and Cowboys-Bills in 1993.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 20, 2014
Since everyone else has spent the last year pontificating the weather for Sunday, Feb. 2, let's find something else to discuss. Besides, if the narratives are correct, Peyton Manning can't play in the cold and the Seahawks can't play on the road, so it's a wash.
Here are some other key storylines to consider before the big day comes.
When: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Early Spread: Broncos -2 (via Vegas Insider as of Monday, Jan. 20)
Does Offense or Defense Win Championships?
The Broncos sport an incredible offense. The Seahawks tout a sensational defense. Something has to give.
The matchup between Manning's record-setting passing offense and Richard Sherman's lockdown secondary will rightfully take prime billing during the Super Bowl. Whichever fierce unit can flex its muscles through that epic showdown will hold a sizable advantage.
Although the "defense wins championships" mantra feels outdated in this pass-happy NFL, ESPN Stats & Info shows that elite defenses fare well in the Super Bowl.
This is 16th time that the defense that allowed fewest pts in NFL has made the Super Bowl since the merger. The previous 15 went 12-3— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 20, 2014
Stopping Manning completely is not a feasible goal, but duplicating their postseason performance against Drew Brees should do the trick for the Seahawks. Brees needed 43 pass attempts, most of which came late while attempting to erase a deficit, to amass 309 passing yards and a touchdown on 24 completions.
For guys of Brees' or Manning's stature, that's an off day, especially considering Brees gained his only touchdown with 26 seconds left when the game had already grown out of hand.
After scoring a league-best 37.9 points per game during the season, the Broncos have tallied just 50 points in their two playoff matches. San Diego limited Manning to just 230 yards while Denver settled for field goals against New England, so it's certainly possible for a much better defense to keep them around the 20s.
Then again, Seattle has not faced such a juggernaut offense away from its boisterous home field. The best offense the Seahawks faced on the road this season featured Andrew Luck leading a late rally.
Can Seahawks Keep 'Beast Mode' Activated?
The Seahawks are in trouble if they're banking on winning a shootout. If they can keep Manning and Co. in check, they can stick to their guns and ride a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch has endured a heavy burden this postseason, gaining 249 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 50 carries through two games. Denver, however, could take Seattle out of its element.
Over/Under: 100 rushing yards for Marshawn Lynch?
A week after torching the Colts, LeGarrette Blount was stymied to a measly six rushing yards against the Broncos. Anticipating the run, Denver quickly clogged the lanes and forced Tom Brady to instead rely on his depleted wide receiver corps.
During the season, Denver ranked tied for seventh with 101.6 rushing yards allowed per game, yielding 3.9 yards per carry. Against Seattle, who trailed only the Buffalo Bills with 31.8 rushing attempts per game, the Broncos will aggressively play the run and dare Russell Wilson to beat them through the air.
While turning away from Lynch is a scary endeavor, the Seahawks may need to open up the vertical offense and dust off some designed Wilson runs.
Will John Fox Ever Trust His Offense on Fourth Down?
Sometimes it feels like John Fox forgets that Peyton Manning is his quarterback.
The head coach of the NFL's most potent offense insists on sticking to his conservative guns, even if it means leaving points on the board. While it would behoove him to loosen up and trust Manning to convert some fourth downs, he instead will often settle for a field-goal attempt.
Early in the fourth quarter of Denver's AFC Championship Game clash with New England, Denver faced a 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line during a 20-3 game. At that point, the benefit of enhancing the lead from 17 to 20 hardly offsets the risk of letting an all-time great find one of his incredible receivers for a one-yard strike.
Who will win Super Bowl XLVIII?
Either way, New England needs three scores to storm back. Worst-case scenario, the Broncos fail to reach the end zone, and the Patriots have to drive the entire field to lessen the disparity to 10.
When you have an offense that toys with defenses the way Denver does, one could fairly wonder why Fox wouldn't roll the dice on a majority of his team's fourth-down attempts. On the other side, Pete Carroll kept his offense on the field for a crucial 4th-and-7, which resulted in a game-winning, 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse.
Fox can sure use whatever turned the timid Ron Rivera into the gutsy Riverboat Ron, especially since he has the offensive arsenal to justify such aggression.