The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos boast vastly different philosophies, both of which have proven successful up until this point. Super Bowl XLVIII will ultimately decide which of these powerhouses will be remembered as the best squad of the 2013-14 NFL season.
Even though Peyton Manning’s Broncos set offensive records and Richard Sherman’s Seahawks stoned opponents on a consistent basis this year, these two organizations will be judged almost exclusively on this season finale.
The winner will go into the history books as a legendary team that will be forever revered, while the runner-up will be just a footnote and ultimately forgotten. To say the least, there is a lot at stake.
Let’s take a look at some of the matchups that will help decide the outcome of this contest, with a focus on showdowns that aren’t getting a ton of play in the press already.
Date: Sunday, Feb. 2
Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Info: Fox
Live Stream: FoxSports.com
Mobile: Fox Sports Go Mobile App
Spread: Denver -2.5 (via Vegas Insider)
Matchups to Watch
Bobby Wagner, MLB, Seahawks vs. Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
The Seahawks secondary gets a ton of credit for the overall success of a defense that gave up just 14.4 points per game this past season, but the linebacking corps and pass-rushers also deserve plenty of recognition.
Wagner should be singled out for praise, as he’s a rangy, versatile interior linebacker capable of getting after the quarterback, stuffing the run and dropping into coverage with equal effectiveness.
The second-year playmaker racked up 15 tackles, a career high, when it counted most in the NFC Championship against the San Francisco 49ers. He was all over the field in that game, helping hold the NFC West rival Niners to just seven second-half points in Seattle’s 23-17 victory.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller gave a shoutout to Wagner for his ability to spy the quarterback and called him “overlooked” on this powerful defense:
Great job spying by Bobby Wagner. Very good young player. He's overlooked at MLB with so much talent on that defense.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 11, 2014
The Utah State product won’t be doing much spying against Manning, who ran for a whopping total of minus-31 yards (with his longest rush going for one yard) this season. Instead, Wagner will be free to drop back into coverage or try to break past the offensive line and cause disruption in the backfield.
He’ll be playing a chess match with the future Hall of Fame signal-caller, who will be doing his usual array of look-offs and ball fakes to put the 23-year-old on his heels.
If Wagner can remain patient and not bite on these, he’ll have a chance to secure a game-breaking interception or forced fumble. He’s recorded five picks and seven sacks during his short career, proving he can come up with big plays when needed.
Seattle’s going to need to keep Manning on his toes and harried if it is going to have a chance in this one, so expect Wagner to play a much bigger role than people are talking about. If he has a great outing, the Seahawks could win. If he plays like an inexperienced sophomore, Seattle doesn’t have much of a chance.
Max Unger, C, Seahawks vs. Terrance Knighton, DT, Broncos
The Seahawks are fortunate to have a mobile quarterback in Russell Wilson. His elusiveness allows the offensive line some leeway in pass protection, but the run game could collapse if the Broncos control the line of scrimmage in the Super Bowl.
Who will win this matchup?
Knighton is going to be looking to do exactly that for Denver, as the 6’3”, 335-pound behemoth is coming off a dominant performance in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
While much of his efforts didn’t show up on the stat sheet, the fifth-year pro was downright menacing and completely changed the outcome of the contest. He came through in a big way when he schooled Pats guard Logan Mankins on a critical 4th-and-short play in Denver territory, blowing past the veteran and smashing quarterback Tom Brady into the grass for a sack.
He explained his thought process after the play to Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today, who penned an intriguing piece on the 27-year-old defensive tackle:
Every player dreams of that moment, and I was ready for it. I had been thinking about what sack dance to do if I got one, what to do on TV, stuff like that. But when it came down to it, the adrenaline was pumping, and I didn't know what to do but scream.
The terrifying job of stopping this monster will more than likely come down to Unger in the Super Bowl. He has been an All-Pro-caliber center all season and recently played a big part in allowing the Seahawks to generate 115 yards on 29 carries against the vaunted San Francisco front seven.
The 27-year-old Hawaii native spoke about that performance with Mark Malone of Serious XM NFL Radio:
Unger will have to step up yet again in order to clear a path for Marshawn Lynch and Wilson in this one. He’s going to have his hands full against Knighton, and the winner of this individual matchup will undoubtedly have a major impact on the outcome of the game.