Finally, after two weeks of speculation, predictions, conversations about what Peyton Manning and Richard Sherman ate for a late-night snack, meaningless narratives and tired storylines, finally we can settle this thing on the gridiron.
It's time for Super Bowl XLVIII.
Following nearly five grueling months of players smashing each other, all that's left is the Super Bowl, which pits the league's top pass offense against the top pass defense. There are few better ways to decide this year's ultimate NFL champion.
Here's a look at all the information you need to know so you don't miss a second of the action.
Date: Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Denver (-2.5), via Vegas Insider
Matchups to Watch
Denver's Pass Protection vs. Seattle's Pass Rush
The Legion of Boom—Seattle's physical, explosive secondary led by Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas—is one of the most impressive defensive units we've seen in quite some time.
But as Sherman himself put it in his first-person article on The MMQB, secondary play begins up front:
There isn’t a great defensive backfield in the NFL that doesn’t have a great front seven. Everything begins with pressure up front, and that’s what we get from our pass rushers every Sunday.
No matter how good a group of defensive backs may be, a receiver will eventually get open if the play lasts long enough. And with Peyton Manning being so adept at working through his progressions, you can bet he'll find whoever gets open.
So, while Sherman vs. Demaryius Thomas, Byron Maxwell vs. Eric Decker and other potential one-on-one matchups are undeniably captivating, the "best offense vs. best defense" battle will be settled in the trenches.
That's where things get really interesting, as ESPN Stats & Info points out:
Peyton Manning: pressured on 14% of dropbacks this year, lowest in NFL (incl. playoffs). Seahawks pressured opposing QB on 32% (best in NFL)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 21, 2014
In two postseason games, Manning has thrown the ball 79 times, hasn't been sacked once and has been hit just one time. Denver's offensive line deserves credit, but that also has a lot to do with Manning essentially playing hot potato.
Pro Football Focus noted he gets the ball out of his hands, on average, in just over two seconds:
@jlkeeneyjr 2.51 in this game, a little longer than his 2.36 year long average— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 21, 2014
Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons make up one of the most feared pass-rushing units in the league, but they have a difficult job in front of them.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Broncos' Rush Defense
During the regular season, Marshawn Lynch carried the ball 301 times for 1,257 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns. Not bad, right?
Well, it was child's play compared to what he's done in the playoffs—50 carries, 249 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and three scores in two games, including a 109-yard effort against the San Francisco 49ers. ESPN Stats & Info gave a look at just how rare that last feat was:
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
Pro Football Focus added this impressive stat:
Marshawn Lynch forced another 7 missed tackles vs SF. Now has 106 in 2013 inc playoffs. #Beastmode— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 20, 2014
There is no linebacker corps in the NFL better than San Francisco's. If Lynch can break tackles and rack up yards against that unit, he can also do it against a Broncos defense that has been really stingy against the run as of late.
How many rushing yards will Lynch record against Denver?
And it will be crucial that he does so.
The San Diego Chargers provided the formula to beating Denver in Week 15 when Ryan Mathews carried the ball 29 times for 127 yards, holding the Broncos to just 21 minutes and 11 seconds of possession. As a result, Manning was held on the sideline for much of the game, and Denver scored just 20 points—its lowest total of the entire season.
If Lynch can continually eat up chunks of yardage, this one is headed for the "under."
And that's exactly what the Seahawks want.