With the Denver Broncos generally opening up as slight favorites in the Super Bowl over the Seattle Seahawks in a dream showdown, every slight advantage or matchup strength will be studied by bettors over the next two weeks.
Will the weather play a huge role? Can Peyton Manning solve the Legion of Boom, as he's seemed to solve every secondary and defensive scheme thus far this season? Will young Russell Wilson be up to the task (especially since the Broncos are tough against the run, Seattle's preferred style of attack on offense)?
Let's take a closer look at this contest and offer a prediction based upon the current spread.
When: Sunday, February 2 at 6:30 p.m. ET (11:30 p.m. GMT)
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Mobile: NFL Mobile app
Spread: Denver (-2.5), according to Vegas Insider
Yes, Manning's struggles in the cold are real, as tired as you might be of the storyline. Jonathan Clegg of the Wall Street Journal breaks it down:
In playoff games when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, Manning has an 0-4 record, a 56.1% completion rate and a cumulative passer rating of 57.3, compared with an overall rating of 90.1 in playoff games.
As Clegg notes, in those games, he's thrown four touchdowns and nine interceptions and hasn't exceeded 300 passing yards once. And there's more:
But the Broncos quarterback seems to suffer more than most in cold conditions. Denver lost just three games this season, but two of those came in games when the temperature dipped below 40 degrees. Manning posted his two lowest quarterback ratings of the season in those losses—though in one of those frigid games, he threw four touchdown passes in a 51-28 win over the Tennessee Titans.
If the weather is cold and blustery, Manning could struggle as he has in the past. He doesn't have the arm strength to cut through a stiff wind, especially against the league's best secondary. And in general, bad weather plays in favor of teams that win with good defense and a strong running attack like the Seahawks do.
Now, the Broncos aren't a one-dimensional offense—they were 15th in rushing offense this season, and Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball give them solid options in the run game—and Manning won't suddenly forget how to play the position because it's cold. But it's safe to bet the offense won't be operating at 100 percent efficiency.
And the past season suggests you take the points with Seattle. Only twice this season in 18 games would they have failed to cover the current line. Of course, Denver would have only failed to cover this line three times, so that argument isn't much to go on by itself.
But despite Denver's injuries on the defensive side of the ball, don't expect the going to be easy for Seattle either. The Broncos held two very good running teams, the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, to a total of 129 rushing yards in two postseason games.
The team was generally solid against the run all season, holding opponents to 101.8 yards per game, eighth in the NFL. Don't be surprised if Wilson has to win this game for Seattle.
Generally speaking, in a game where both defenses seem suited to taking away—or at least slowing down—the strengths of the opposing offense, a shootout is unlikely. Add in the weather conditions, and this probably won't be a high-scoring Super Bowl.
Another thing to consider is that even with the conditions, both Matt Prater and Steven Hauschka are very good kickers and will likely be trusted by their respective coaches in a tight game. So it would hardly be shocking if this game was decided by three points or less.
It's the rare tight line where even if you think the Broncos will win, it's smarter to take the points with Seattle. As good as Manning has been—and as dangerous as he will be after two weeks of film study—this Seattle pass defense is legit.
Manning will lead his team to a late win, forever destroying any notions that he comes up small in the postseason, but the Broncos won't win by more than a field goal.
Denver wins, 23-21