With the Denver Broncos meeting the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, the majority of chatter will be devoted to record-setter Peyton Manning going up against the league's top-ranked pass defense, but other positional matchups will decide the NFL champion.
Manning will have four receivers who snagged at least 10 touchdowns this year—Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas—going up against a secondary that boasts three Pro Bowlers in Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and the loudest mouth in the NFL, Richard Sherman.
That's a great matchup all around, but Seattle will need a different defensive unit to disrupt Manning, while the mandate for Denver will be stopping the freight train known as Marshawn Lynch.
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Sunday, Feb. 2, 6:25 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Broncos -2.5, per Vegas Insider
Over/Under: 48, per CBS Sports
Seahawks Pass Rush vs. Denver's Offensive Line
Despite their All-Universe secondary, the Seahawks must generate a pass rush on Peyton Manning in order to slow down the highest scoring offense in league history.
In the Broncos' playoff wins over the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, Manning was sacked zero times. He completed 72 percent of his passes for 630 yards, four touchdowns and one interception; as a footnote, the interception was in Eric Decker's bread basket for a score but it bounced off his chest and became a pick.
In Denver's three losses this season, Manning was sacked a total of seven times. In the other 13 regular-season games, he was sacked 11 times.
The Seahawks ranked eighth in the league with 44 sacks, but they've tallied only three in two postseason wins. Going up against the quarterback who just broke the single-season records for passing TDs and yards, Seattle will have to get the 37-year-old moving his feet.
Defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are responsible for all three of Seattle's sacks in the playoffs, which is fitting since they led the team in that stat during the season. Both offer a dangerous blend of speed and size, measuring around 6'4" and 270 pounds.
Seattle has a slew of pass-rushers they can send, and the Broncos' strong offensive line will be tested. Right guard Louis Vasquez is a Pro Bowler for a reason, but the pressure will be on left tackle Chris Clark.
Clark signed a two-year extension with the Broncos prior to the season, and the undrafted backup stepped in nicely for starter Ryan Clady (foot) who landed on IR. Clark will face Bennett on certain downs and he had better not be stunned by the bright lights.
Even one hard hit on Manning could be devastating for a guy that recently had major neck surgery. The backup QB is Brock Osweiler, after all.
Seattle defenders should also look to jam Denver's receivers at the line to disrupt the offensive rhythm. They just have to watch out for Wes Welker's kamikaze routes over the middle.
Some disguised blitzes could help generate a pass rush on Manning, but he is an expert on exploiting single coverage. The Broncos also have a litany of plays with a three-step drop and quick throws to counteract aggressive defenses.
The four guys up front will have to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and generate a pass rush themselves. And if the Seahawks cannot put pressure on Peyton, not even the "Legion of Boom" secondary can stop him.
Denver's Front Seven vs. "Beast Mode"
This mandate is considerably simpler. Denver's key to victory is stopping Marshawn Lynch. Even though Seattle will not be playing at home, the entire offense feeds off Lynch's leg-churning rushes. Once he rumbles for a chunk of yardage, it helps open up many more options for their anemic passing game.
Lynch became the first person to rush for over 100 yards against the San Francisco 49ers this season in the NFC Championship Game. He went for 1,257 yards and 12 TDs on the ground this season as Seattle ranked fourth in rushing.
Lynch seems to thrive in the playoffs, and if it happens to be a particularly frigid Super Bowl on Feb. 2 in the swamps of Northern New Jersey, then keeping the ball on the ground would be a logical choice.
Denver ranked eighth in rushing yards allowed, and only Ryan Mathews in Week 15 eclipsed 100 yards against them. They held the Patriots to just 64 rushing yards one week after they had galloped for six touchdowns in beating the Indianapolis Colts.
Leading the charge against Lynch will be linebacker Danny Trevathan, who tallied 128 tackles and four forced fumbles during the season.
If the front seven can hold down Lynch, it will put pressure on Seattle's weak passing game. While Denver ranked 27th in passing yards allowed during the regular season, they did a solid job by holding Tom Brady to one touchdown.
Russell Wilson is an efficient young QB, but Seattle's passing game ranked 26th in passing yards. Wide receiver Sidney Rice was lost midseason to a torn ACL. Percy Harvin sat out the NFC title game with a concussion.
In the win over San Francisco, Doug Baldwin went for 106 yards, but Golden Tate was limited to just 31. Jermaine Kearse hauled in a huge TD, but that just goes to show what a crapshoot Seattle's receiving corps is.
Simply put, the Seahawks do not have a receiver who is better than any of Denver's four best pass-catchers. Wilson can extend plays with his feet, but he lacks a game-changing wideout who can be a go-to target. That is why the entire offense thrives off of Lynch, and stopping him will all but ground the Seahawks for good.
Prediction: Manning's jersey stays clean, Lynch scores one TD, Broncos win 27-17.
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