After a season in which both the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks faced their fair share of adversity to become the No. 1 seeds, the two teams will bring their chase for the Lombardi Trophy to Super Bowl XLVIII.
As usual for the best teams in the NFL, neither team is devoid of stars. With several players who were elected for the Pro Bowl—which they can't play in due to playing in the Super Bowl, a slightly better prize—and All-Pro players, the Super Bowl is full of polarizing figures who could rise in the final game of the year.
Richard Sherman, one of the biggest defensive stars and a leader for the team, sums up the game in his most recent column for Sports Illustrated's MMQB:
It’s the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense. It’s a match made in heaven, and we couldn’t be more excited. If you’re any kind of competitor and you have any kind of dog about you, you want to play against the best. Finally, we get the opportunity.
That's exactly what star players do in the postseason and especially in the Super Bowl—play their best against the best competition. Before the game officially kicks off, here are the star players for both teams who will shine on the NFL's biggest stage.
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:25 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Broncos -2.5, per Vegas Insider
Denver Broncos: Champ Bailey (Cornerback)
Champ Bailey might not be in his prime anymore, but he knows how to step up in big-game situations. And with the 15-year veteran playing in his first-ever Super Bowl, he will be looking to make an impact after returning from injuries that hampered him earlier in the season.
After Chris Harris was lost for the season, Bailey needed to step up once again for the Broncos in the postseason. With a performance that was good enough to help his team hold the New England Patriots to just 320 total yards, Bailey believes he is playing his best football of the season heading into the Super Bowl, as Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post writes:
This is what it's all about, get yourself a chance to get in the big one. That's where we are now. I knew I would come back — you might not have known — but I knew I'd be back at some point. My coaches and teammates never gave up on me. And here I am, playing my best football of the year. I'm just looking forward to the next one, man.
Though the Seahawks don't have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, they could be with an extra weapon in the Super Bowl. Percy Harvin told Darin Gantt of NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk that he expects to be ready in two weeks, which means Seattle will have three potent receivers around Russell Wilson.
Bailey will need to be at his best in pass coverage whether he's given the responsibility of Harvin, Golden Tate or Doug Baldwin, who went off for 106 yards on six receptions in the NFC Championship Game.
Seattle Seahawks: Richard Sherman (Cornerback)
Love him or hate him, Sherman just so happens to be arguably the best cover corner in the NFL right now.
Putting it simply, the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl on the fingertips of Sherman and the pure talent that he brings to their secondary. His outspoken and brash nature will make even the most devout fans of the game upset, but his ability to back up his words is even better than one Steve Smith.
Though Sherman's attitude might ruffle some feathers, he is in fact making good on his words. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Sherman was statistically No. 1 in coverage snaps per reception, with his 18.3 average, better than Darrelle Revis, who was formerly seen as the best corner in the NFL.
Michael Crabtree, who was left upset in the end zone after Sherman tipped the pass out of his reach leading to an interception, spoke about Sherman's comments following the game, according to Sunday Night Football's official Twitter account:
Michael Crabtree responded to Richard Sherman's outburst, saying Sherman made "one play." http://t.co/Ba1hikRVM6— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) January 20, 2014
In Sherman's column, he responded to Crabtree's comments and also spoke about the Broncos and how difficult the task will be going up against them in the Super Bowl:
I spent most of the game on an island: I was targeted only twice during the entire NFC Championship. The first produced a BS holding call against me; the second ended the game. Michael Crabtree stutter-stepped out of his break on first down and sprinted toward the end zone. I was in good position for a pick until he pushed me in the back. My interception became a tip and an interception for Malcolm Smith in the end zone.
[..] [The Broncos] have got the smartest quarterback in football and receivers who are large (mostly), explosive with the football and run great routes. Wes Welker is quick and elusive, Eric Decker is a great receiver with hands and speed, and Demaryius Thomas is as strong as they come. And Peyton knows how to get each of them in spots.
With the skill and athletic ability on the field to back up his cockiness off of it, Sherman will certainly be a star to watch. But with several targets to throw to, Manning could very well avoid the corner for the majority of the contest.
Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning (Quarterback)
When writing down Peyton Manning's name, putting the word quarterback next to it almost doesn't seem necessary. In terms of the greatest of all time, Manning is prominently putting his name near the top of the list in the third Super Bowl appearance of his illustrious career.
In terms of his legacy, he has been the mark of what a great quarterback looks like in the NFL for more than a decade. In fact, Wilson actually told the Seahawks official website that he sees Manning as a role model:
With a plethora of receivers including four targets—Thomas, Welker, Decker and Julius Thomas—who finished with 10 or more touchdowns in the regular season, he actually makes it difficult to pick a receiver who will have a breakout game.
Manning didn't only get a monkey off his back in the AFC Championship Game against Tom Brady and the Patriots, but he did so in memorable fashion. His statistical performance was only matched by three previous quarterbacks, according to ESPN:
Only 3 QBs have thrown for 400 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT in postseason history. Peyton Manning yesterday, Drew Brees twice, and Kurt Warner.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 20, 2014
In his career, Manning has only won one Super Bowl, but has been somewhat underwhelming in the two games he's played on the biggest stage. With a combined two touchdowns and two interceptions to go along with his average of 290 yards, the veteran hasn't exactly been a superstar on that level.
But with a complete offense around him that caters to his needs as a quarterback, expect Manning to break out against a Seahawks defense that has stopped nearly every signal-caller this year.
Seattle Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch (Running Back)
The only thing better than watching Marshawn Lynch crush his opposition in the regular season is seeing him do it against the best competition in the playoffs.
In the 2014 playoffs, Lynch has done just that. With an average of 124.5 rushing yards and three total touchdowns in two games this postseason, containing Beast Mode doesn't appear to be possible.
But what makes Lynch one of the best running backs in the postseason—he's only played in six playoff games after being part of several subpar Buffalo Bills and Seahawks teams—is his ability to shed tackles and break off big runs. As Numbers Never Lie points out, most of those runs wind up in the end zone:
Marshawn Lynch has 4 Rush TDs of at least 25 yds in the postseason, 2x as many as anyone else in NFL history.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) January 20, 2014
When Lynch takes on the Broncos, he'll be facing a defense that has shut down rushing attacks this postseason. After controlling the San Diego Chargers in the opening round, the Broncos were able to limit the potent Patriots running backs, as their official Twitter account notes:
Patriots: 64 rush yards vs Broncos. ties fewest in last 9 playoffs games— BroncosFansofNeb (@BroncosFansofNE) January 20, 2014
Lynch, on the other hand, has made a habit of putting up big numbers against good rushing defenses. Against the 49ers defense, Lynch once again finished with more than 100 yards. With that performance, he now has two-thirds of the 100-yard rushing games against Jim Harbaugh, as ESPN Stats and Info points out:
In 3 seasons under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have allowed a 100-yard rusher in only six games. Marshawn Lynch has 4 of those games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 20, 2014
While Wilson will still be answering questions about whether or not he's ready for this stage, Lynch could be the one to carry—literally and figuratively—his team to victory.
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