Super Bowl XLVIII gets underway at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 2, in East Rutherford, N.J., at 6:30 p.m. ET, and the weather figures to play a factor when the Seattle Seahawks' stout defense takes on the Denver Broncos' prolific offense.
This unique venue and setting is projected to facilitate the coldest contesting of the Lombardi Trophy in NFL history, with low winter temperatures and difficult outdoor conditions.
How much of an impact this has on the game remains to be seen, but it will certainly be a more notable storyline to follow than usual.
Below is a look at when and where to catch the finale to the pro football season, along with a preview and prediction as to who will go down in history as the ultimate champions.
Start Time: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: FoxSports.com
Spread: Denver by 3, according to Bovada.
Halftime Entertainment: Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers
Preview and Predicted Winner of Super Bowl XLVIII
Who will win the Super Bowl MVP award?
The big matchup will be how Broncos legend Peyton Manning fares in facing one of the best secondaries in recent memory.
Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in history and would certainly fortify his argument as the greatest ever by knocking off the Seahawks on the strength of an excellent performance. But distributing the ball to his talented supporting cast will be as difficult as ever.
Lockdown Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman essentially takes away half of the field wherever he's lined up, though his matchup with Demaryius Thomas will be a big deciding factor in this one.
Check out how often QBs have avoided even attempting to throw Sherman's way, per ESPN Stats & Info:
All-Pro safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are rangy and athletic, have great ball skills and can lower the boom against the run. Their dynamic, roaming style gives Sherman the latitude to be aggressive and utilize his length to frustrate receivers and knock them off their routes on a consistent basis.
Thomas and Chancellor give the Seahawks insurance that they won't be beaten deep, as do a deep array of pass-rushers. What will be important is for the front seven to confuse Manning and pressure him into quick throws.
From there, it's another battle of the league's best in terms of what happens in the passing game in the open field:
The Broncos led the NFL with 2,583 yards after the catch this season. The Seahawks allowed a league-low 1,275 yards after the catch.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 21, 2014
It's unclear who will have the advantage in this clash of superior strengths, but it will go a long way in determining the outcome of the Super Bowl.
Then there's the matter of the Seattle offense. Although Denver is underrated in its balance, there's no question the Seahawks' rushing attack is better. Marshawn Lynch is one of the most physical backs in the game and among the toughest to tackle, too.
In the NFC Championship Game victory over San Francisco's vaunted defense, Lynch made the fundamentally sound 49ers miss frequently, per Pro Football Focus:
Marshawn Lynch forced another 7 missed tackles vs SF. Now has 106 in 2013 inc playoffs. #Beastmode— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 20, 2014
Quarterback Russell Wilson is also capable of taking off either on read-option plays or when a play breaks down. That's an element the Broncos haven't had to deal with too much this season, particularly in the second half of their 13-3 campaign.
The big X-factor is Percy Harvin, whom head coach Pete Carroll said "should be fine" to play in the Super Bowl.
With Harvin in the fold, depending how much he can be integrated into the game plan, he could sway the entire fortunes for the Seahawks as a playmaking threat as a receiver, ball-carrier and return man.
It's dangerous to rely on him with his precarious condition. Instead, let's focus on what is rather certain.
The cold weather does not work in Manning's favor and gives Seattle a decided advantage due to its elite defense and relentless ground-and-pound game led by Lynch. Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman shared the strong testimony of one Seahawks player about the cold:
Text from Seahawks player: "No one on this team gives a sh-- about the cold. F--- the cold." Okay then.— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) January 22, 2014
This Carroll-coached team has an attitude and swagger about it that should see the players embrace the gigantic magnitude of this game—even against one of the best QBs and offenses in league history.
The fact that the Broncos are slight favorites also works in Seattle's favor because some of their biggest stars in Sherman, Wilson, Chancellor and others have big chips on their shoulders due to diminished draft statuses.
In a game that should be among the best in Super Bowl history and come down to the final possession, look for the Seahawks to stand tall on defense and emerge victorious with their first Lombardi Trophy.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Broncos 24