The Super Bowl is the most hyped sporting event in America, and the confluence of circumstances surrounding the game this year has created a potential for Super Bowl 48 to be the most hyped event in the league's history.
The game features the two best teams in football, with the best offense in forever going up against the best defense in some time.
The game has a Manning brother, and not just any Manning brother, but the one that moves the needle the most. The game has a villain; Richard Sherman made certain of that after his NFC Championship outburst.
The game is in the media capital of the world, if you haven't heard, and on top of that, there is a good chance it's going to be "football" weather outside.
We are officially less than two weeks from a game that cannot come soon enough. Here are 10 early storylines that will dominate the upcoming NFL fortnight, legalized weed consumption in Washington and Colorado notwithstanding.
I'm a sucker for good old-fashioned football storylines, and nothing is as good or as old-fashioned as the best offense playing against the best defense to win a championship.
There are so many positional matchups that can come out of the wider story of Peyton Manning's record-setting offense against Pete Carroll's historic defense, it could fill a month.
Seattle's defense led the NFL in yards per game, surrendering just 273.6 per game during the regular season. (Note: The next-closest team, Carolina, gave up more than 301 yards per game.) The Seahawks led the league in takeaways as well, snaring 28 interceptions while recovering 11 fumbles on defense.
Most importantly, Seattle led the league in points allowed per game, giving up a paltry 14.4 during the regular season. If there was ever an immovable force, the Seattle defense seems to be it.
Yet the Broncos offense is so irresistible.
Denver led the league in yards per game with 457.3, 40 yards more per game than the second-most prolific offense. The Broncos had 606 points, which was not only the most in the NFL this season by 161 points—that's 10 points per game better than the next-best offense—but the most in any NFL season in history.
And then there are Manning's records, which will all amount to a hill of sand if he doesn't win another Super Bowl (more on that in a bit).
The matchups are great as well, with the vaunted Seattle secondary going up against one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the NFL the last 25 years. Will the Seahawks' defensive front be able to get through the makeshift offensive line with which Manning has been saddled all season?
I'm literally rolling up my sleeves as I type this, excited to read every breakdown of every matchup in the game. Two weeks is certainly not enough.
I love Russell Wilson. I love how he plays and how he talks and how he carries himself with a maturity and reverence for the game at such a young age. I love how he didn't panic after turning the ball over on the first play of the NFC Championship Game, and I love how he refuses to take a sack if he thinks there is even a minute chance of keeping a play alive.
Wilson is fun to watch and enjoyable to listen to, but man alive, is he going to be insufferable answering the same questions about Peyton Manning all week.
Already Wilson has talked about how much he respects Manning and wants to be like him and wishes he could change his last name to Manning so he could be the third quarterbacking brother in the first family of the NFL. OK, maybe he didn't go that far, but give it two weeks. He's going to run out of compliments before the teams even get on a plane.
As for Manning, everything about the guy is calculated, so his comments about Wilson and what the young quarterback has done in Seattle will be praising without becoming excessively effusive.
"You know, like I've said already this week, I think Russell is a great young quarterback in the league and I enjoy watching him work," or something like that will come out of Manning's mouth 5,000 times by, on and—if he's asked to do any league-mandated interviews—after Super Bowl media day.
Once the game starts, the difference in Manning's short drop, quick release wobbler style of passing and Wilson's 45-step drop before looping spirals downfield brand of quarterbacking will be amazing to watch.
Leading up to the Super Bowl, their similarities in never saying anything unscripted will be unfortunately boring.
Could we be in store for two weeks of a Ray Lewis-like Super Bowl run for Champ Bailey? Bailey does not have the national cachet Lewis had in his final year in the league, but his retirement would certainly be a big Super Bowl storyline.
That said, as reported in December, Bailey stated that retirement was not in his mind as he fought to get back on the field this season. From the Associated Press:
I do feel like I do still have my speed and quickness — I have to in order to be able to play out there. I feel good about what I can do. I think now it's just being smart about how I go about doing it and making sure I don't have any setbacks and I don't wear myself down or anything like that. The good thing is I'm fresh, I'm ready to go. I've had some time off.
Bailey played just five games during the regular season, starting three, before being thrust back into the postseason spotlight due to injuries in Denver's secondary.
Now, after starting in the AFC title game, Bailey is more than just a veteran sideshow who earned his first trip to the Super Bowl in 15 years in the league. He's a big part of the team and a key component of a banged-up defense that needs to hold a relatively dynamic receiving corps for Seattle in check.
If the Broncos win, much of the talk may be about Peyton Manning pulling a John Elway and riding off into the sunset with a title. Bailey might just be the player to do that.
Bailey is not like Ray Lewis, so I do not expect him to announce his impending retirement before the Super Bowl to distract everyone from the task at hand. That's never been how Bailey has operated. But if Denver wins, given that he's now a contributor again on defense, it seems Bailey will deserve the same kind of sendoff that Lewis got last year.
The NFL needs more honesty and passion and players who don't care about being politically correct. In so many ways, Sherman is the antithesis of Russell Wilson or Peyton Manning.
Of course he should have been a better sport and a gracious champion. We all agree on that. The rest—the anger, vitriol and blatant racism being sent his way—we all can live without.
The things people think they can say in public because they signed up for Twitter is appalling. Just because you can hit send does not mean you should, and it's amazing how many people who seem so angry at what Sherman did to Crabtree are doing much, much worse to him.
Sherman, for what it's worth, is not playing any sort of victim card. He sat down after the NFC Championship and wrote an article for The MMQB:
It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person. ...
To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.
That quote is everything I love and hate about this story. Sherman said what he said and then felt the need to throw in the last line about judging a person's character. This was hours after he earned a trip to the Super Bowl, and the lights shining down from the sports section of the Internet got so hot he felt the need to explain his actions like that.
Monday's discourse online has been utterly dominated by Sherman talk. I don't know if the story will disappear by next week or be even bigger once Sherman is in front of thousands of media members.
One thing is for certain: No matter what you think of a guy—brash, classless or refreshingly honest—keep your racism to yourself. For the next two weeks, and forever after that.
Here's what the Super Bowl hype machine is great for: Pot Roast.
Terrance Knighton was a vital part of the Denver Broncos defense this season, but on a team breaking every offensive record known to man, interior defensive linemen have a tendency to be overlooked.
Not anymore. Nobody gets overlooked leading up to the Super Bowl, which means that not only should the man they call Pot Roast have his story told over and over again—he's certain to get a personal booth on media day after the Pot Roast trend took over social media during the AFC Championship—but he's just one of dozens of players who will get the spotlight over the next few weeks.
What other meat-related nicknames are there on these teams? Is there a Ham Hock or a Goat Brain on one of these teams? We will definitely find out, and it will be amazing.
(Note: Seriously, if there isn't an NFL player with the nickname Goat Brain, someone isn't doing his job as locker room nickname guy. Every team has a locker room nickname guy, right? Who is that guy in Denver or Seattle? We'll find out!)
Hey, guess what, America. It's going to snow between three and seven inches in New Jersey tomorrow. And then there's a chance for more snow on Thursday. I'd write more, but I have to go make sure my shovels and salt are ready to go.
The weather is going to be an issue at the Super Bowl. Last week there was a random and unexpected sheet of black ice across the area that caused more accidents and traffic problems than half a foot of snow could have created.
Even if we don't get snow or sleet or freezing rain, it's going to be cold at the Super Bowl. According to the 10-day forecast, which goes up to Jan. 29 at the time of this post, the high will be 30 degrees with a low around 20.
But guess what? We've known about this for a really long time. It's super cold in New Jersey in early February, and it snows a ton. The NFL picked the location because it wanted to bring the game to the New York area. It's tried to figure out as many nightmare weather scenarios as possible, not the least of which includes the security issues presented with tens of thousands of fans entering the stadium with heavy coats and hats that make hiding illegal items and weapons very easy.
So here's the thing about the weather: It probably won't impact the game, at least not any more than the downpour did in Peyton's first Super Bowl appearance in Miami. It's football, and the most important games are often played in the elements. Don’t let the fans (and media) going to the game distract us on Super Bowl Sunday from what should be an amazing game.
The Super Bowl venue is usually devoid of any personality. There's no hostile crowd; there's no home-field advantage. This year we get a chance for something unique.
At least we can hope for one thing: Maybe it will be too cold for everyone at the game to tweet and text about how cold it is.
I love a good referee story. I've got a hunch we're in for one at the Super Bowl.
The referees in the NFL playoffs have been less than stellar, with issues springing up in almost every game.
Most notably, the otherwise stellar crew led by Gene Steratore utterly bungled a call in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game when a turnover at the goal line was not only missed, but deemed unable to be reviewed because of some antiquated NFL rule that won't let referees look at "judgment calls" or plays deemed dead after a guy is down. Something like that. I have no idea, and neither does the NFL.
The whole rulebook should be thrown out and rewritten. Every time a player gets tackled, the world has to hold its collective breath to see if it was an illegal hit. Nobody has any idea anymore—not the coaches, the referees or the fans.
Certainly not the league.
But you know what? The issue is important, and it's something we need to keep talking about so the league makes the necessary steps to fix the problems.
First, the rules need to be clearly defined. Second, the referees need to be more properly trained, and if that means making them full-time, then find the damn money to do that.
Third, the league needs to be able to review every play and fix whatever mistakes the assigned crew has made.
Terry McAulay has been assigned the Super Bowl this year, working with an all-star crew around him. McAulay worked the Seattle victory over New Orleans in the divisional playoff round, and his crew—albeit some different officials than will be with him at the Super Bowl—called 14 enforced penalties for a combined 121 yards between the teams. (Note: There was just one declined penalty in the entire game.)
That number doesn't seem abnormally high, but sometimes in big games it's the lack of a flag that creates a bigger story than too many flags.
I certainly don't want an issue with a bad call to impact the outcome of the game, but I just have a feeling we'll be talking about the referees more than we should this year, which will go a long way toward fixing many of the league's issues with officials in the future.
I live in New Jersey. People who live in New Jersey have a weird inferiority complex when it comes to New York. We are not New York. We do not want to be New York.
Yet the New York Giants and the New York Jets play in the stadium that's hosting what most people are calling "the New York Super Bowl."
Even the official host committee website—which, yes, is a thing—calls it the NY/NJ Super Bowl, dubbing it "A Super Bowl So Historic It Takes Two States To Host It."
Right, sure, Indianapolis can host a Super Bowl by itself. Jacksonville can host a Super Bowl by itself, but this one is so epic we need two entire states to get involved.
It's enough already.
On top of that, don't think for a second that the next two weeks aren't going to be a political maelstrom. New Jersey Governor and noted attention seeker Chris Christie is going to be front and center over the next two weeks amid countless scandals—well, at least two—as big boss of the Garden State. And don't think for a minute the attention seekers and eating-pizza-with-a-fork politicians from across the river won't try to own this Super Bowl as theirs.
As much as I'm looking forward to a cold-weather Super Bowl, as a resident of the state in which the game is being played, I wish it were somewhere else. I live here and I'm already sick of here. I can't imagine how the rest of the country is going to feel.
Next time you want an outdoor game, put it in Baltimore or Washington, D.C. The tug of war between New York and New Jersey is already too much to handle.
(Note: Do not put it in D.C. That stadium is an abomination. I'd rather have it here.)
I don't know whether to love Pete Carroll or hate him. On the one hand, he's an extremely positive guy who seems to genuinely love his players and the game of football.
On the other hand, he's got this fist-pumping, gum-snapping, sandal-wearing, too-cool-for-school vibe that turns people off almost immediately.
So while I personally don't know which way to turn when it comes to Carroll, I love that so many fans have such a polarizing opinion of the guy.
Plus, Carroll brings with him the added caveat of being one of a handful of Super Bowl coaches to have won a college national title as a coach as well.
In the Super Bowl era, only two coaches—Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer—have won at least one college national title and a Super Bowl. Carroll could make history, and his rah-rah style that people swore wouldn't work when he came back to the NFL after his time at USC would prove definitively fruitful.
Love him or hate him, it's a story worth talking about.
I do not hate Peyton Manning, and if I had to lay my journalistic bias out on the table, I would say that heading into the Super Bowl I am "rooting" for Manning to win another Super Bowl.
I like great players to be remembered for being great. I don't want to remember Peyton as the best regular-season quarterback who couldn't win as many Super Bowls as his brother. I'm a sentimentalist that way.
Or maybe it's this: Maybe I'm already sick of people talking about what this means to Manning's legacy. Oh lord, am I sick of the legacy talk.
The guy is a first-ballot Hall of Famer in waiting. He will be a unanimous choice for Canton whether he wins the Super Bowl or not. Yes, we love to debate the "best ever" scenario, and winning another Super Bowl begins to qualify him for that conversation, so in that regard I don't mind it, I suppose. I just don't want to hear 13 days of questions about Manning in big games.
Even leading into the AFC title game, I read people picking against Manning more than for Tom Brady and the Patriots. "Oh, Peyton is going to blow it" seemed to be an actual prevailing sentiment.
Did those people watch this season and see how he played? Did they watch the playoff game last week?
We'll get it this week too, even more with how great Seattle's defense has been all year. I'm all for analysis of how Manning matches up against the best defense in the league, and I understand that he has had a few bad playoff performances in his career, but I'm not on board with assuming he's going to blow it because Tee Martin won a national championship and Peyton didn’t.
Yep, I heard that one on my local radio station on Sunday. If that's not analysis, I don't know what is.
And that's not all we have to begrudgingly look forward to in terms of legacy talk. Manning is going for his second Super Bowl in the House That Eli Rents. Eli won the Super Bowl in Peyton's old place, and undoubtedly Archie Manning will find a way onto every media outlet that will talk to him. It's a Manningpalooza.
Plus there's the talk that if Peyton wins, he'll pull a John Elway and retire. (Note: Elway retired after winning his second Super Bowl in a row, so if Peyton wins, double down on that talk this time next year.)
The connection to Elway is actually pretty interesting, but given how much we'll likely read and hear about that over the next two weeks, I'm not entirely looking forward to any of it.
Oh, and don't get me wrong—I'll be writing about some of this. That's what we do. We over-cover everything, especially the quarterbacks. It's the Super Bowl, so it's worth it.
I guess if I get too sick of being spoon-fed Manning talk, I can always get a second helping of Pot Roast. Or Ham Hock. (I need to figure out who that is. Good thing I have two weeks to find out.)