While the Denver Broncos controlled the New England Patriots throughout their 26-16 AFC Championship win on Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks held on to edge out their bitter rival San Francisco 49ers in a 23-17 NFC title game victory that came down to the wire.
It sets the stage for an epic clash in the Super Bowl, as Denver's top-ranked offense will take on Seattle's league-best defense. During the regular season, no team scored more points than the Broncos (37.9 per game), but no team gave up fewer points than Seattle (14.4 per game).
With two weeks of media hype in the Big Apple coming up, Super Bowl XLVIII should have a good chance to top the record of 111 million American TV viewers, set in 2010 when the Saints and Colts played in the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile in Las Vegas, the oddsmakers have pegged the Broncos as early favorites to win the first cold-weather Super Bowl. Here's a look at the lines and some predictions for the big game.
|Super Bowl XLVIII Odds|
|Denver Broncos||Seattle Seahawks||-2.5||48|
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Date and Time: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:25 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Peyton Manning Will Overcome Seattle Secondary
Highlighting the matchup between the Denver offense and Seattle defense will be Peyton Manning's battle with Seattle's ultra-talented defensive backfield. Shutdown cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas were both named first-team All-Pros by the Associated Press for the 2013 season, while safety Kam Chancellor was also named to to the second team.
Sherman made a big play to wrap up the NFC Championship, swatting a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone, leading to a game-sealing interception for Malcolm Smith. The outspoken cornerback made waves after the game when he called Crabtree a "sorry receiver" in a heated interview with Erin Andrews of Fox Sports.
On Monday, MMQB published a column from Sherman about the game (he said the Niners targeted him just twice all night) and the upcoming Super Bowl matchup with Peyton Mannng and the Broncos. Here's what Sherman had to say on the subject.
The Broncos stand in our way, and it’s a large obstacle. They’ve 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.
Clearly, Sherman has respect for Manning and the task at hand.
While Sherman will likely be locked up against Demaryius Thomas for most of the Super Bowl, Manning could attack second cornerback Byron Maxwell, who has looked superb down the stretch, per Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus.
So there is plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but Manning seems like an unstoppable force this year. All of his weapons are healthy heading into the Super Bowl, with explosive tight end Julius Thomas joining the receivers that Sherman mentioned before.
Manning looked to be on point Sunday, going 32-of-43 for 400 yards and two scores, marking the fifth time he threw for at least 400 yards this season. He's a lock to win MVP for a reason, and it's because he's so good at exploiting what the defense gives him.
Even if Sherman is able to contain Demaryius Thomas, Manning has proved he can make it work with the other weapons in the passing game. I expect Wes Welker to have a big day roaming in the middle of the field against Seattle's defense, along with Julius Thomas.
Though Seattle gave up a paltry 172 yards per game in the regular season, Manning averaged an NFL-record 342.3 per game in 2013. He's having a season unlike any other, and I don't think there's any stopping him from winning his second career Super Bowl.
Marshawn Lynch Will Rush for 100 Yards
Beast Mode was in full effect again on Sunday night, as Marshawn Lynch romped his way to a 109 yards on 22 carries against 49ers, in a game that featured his impressive 40-yard touchdown run.
When the Seahawks have the ball, the teams' respective strengths and weaknesses will match up. While Russell Wilson has been inconsistent through the air throughout the season, Denver's secondary was among the league's worst in the regular season.
But the battle on the ground will be a completely different story.
In 2013, Denver gave up 101.6 rushing yards per game, tied for No. 7 in the league rankings with Seattle. The main reason for the stout Broncos rush defense has been the big fella in the middle of the defensive line, Terrance Knighton.
They call him Pot Roast for a reason. Listed at 6'3", 335 pounds, Knighton has made his presence felt all year long in the running game, but he also delivered a big sack of Tom Brady in the AFC Championship.
Still, there's no stopping Lynch right now, who has 50 carries, 249 yards and three touchdowns in the two playoff games so far. Ben Stockwell of Pro Football Focus analyzed Lynch's big performance in the NFC title game.
His 40-yard score taking advantage of some uncharacteristically poor angles and discipline from the San Francisco run defense sparked Seattle back into the game when the 49ers were making it difficult for the Seahawks to do that. His seven missed tackles as a runner take his season total as a runner to 95 and his all-around total past the century mark, a scarcely believable marker which he has one more opportunity to extend.
In the process, Lynch also became the first individual rusher to reach the 100-yard mark against the stingy 49ers all year. If he can do it against San Francisco, he can surely do it against Denver.
For now, the latest Super Bowl Sunday forecast from AccuWeather calls for a high of 37 degrees and a low of 25 with an 18 percent chance of snow. Even if the elements do come into play, I don't see anything stopping Manning from getting the job done and putting up some big numbers through the air. With two weeks to analyze Seattle's defense, he'll know that scheme inside and out.
In the end, I think quarterback play will determine the outcome of this game. Wilson hasn't been able to find a rhythm in the passing game so far in the playoffs, while the Broncos have been able to corral two potent passing attacks led by San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Brady. Lynch might have a big day, but he can't do it all by himself, and Wilson doesn't look like he has it going right now.
When considering Wilson's struggles with a short-handed receiving corps and Manning's record-breaking year, it all adds up to a Broncos victory in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Prediction: Broncos win 27-23