The top two teams in the NFL will battle in Super Bowl XLVIII, but which squad has the best players at each spot on the field?
The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have two very contrasting styles, which is part of what will make this matchup so much fun. Denver will utilize a quick, pass-heavy offense to light up the scoreboard, while Seattle prides itself on its physical play on both sides of the ball.
However, only one of the teams can come away with a victory on Sunday, Feb. 2. While the winner might not necessarily be the one with the best players, it certainly helps the cause.
Here is a look at which squad will have the advantage around the field on Super Bowl Sunday.
There are a lot of tough calls between these two teams, but quarterback is not one of them. Peyton Manning had statistically the best year in NFL history, breaking records for passing touchdowns and yards in a season.
Obviously, Peyton Manning is a Hall of Fame quarterback who I have a ton of respect for. I actually went to the Peyton Manning Passing Academy when I was young. I liked him so much back then and I still do.
Wilson has put together a strong season, but he is not the focal point of the offense and simply lets the game come to him. While he usually avoids mistakes and can make a lot of things happen with his legs, he still has quite a long way to go to be near Manning's level.
The Seahawks would beat a lot of teams in this category, but the Broncos would beat every other team in the league.
Knowshon Moreno has been a pleasant surprise this season for the Broncos, leading what started as a three-headed monster and finishing the year with 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. Add in his skill in the passing game and the contributions of Montee Ball, and Denver has a decent amount of balance to go with Peyton Manning.
However, Marshawn Lynch remains one of the best running backs in the NFL and the one defenders hate to tackle the most. This quote alone captures his intimidating power:
After rushing for 140 yds and 2 TD today, Marshawn Lynch told the media the simple method to his Beast-ness. pic.twitter.com/N0M79DcjTO— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 12, 2014
While Lynch is known for his strong runs up the middle to wear down defenses, he also has shown the ability to break out long plays. He especially excels in this area in the postseason:
Marshawn Lynch has 4 rushing touchdowns of more than 25 yards in the postseason, twice as much as anyone else in NFL HISTORY #BeastMode— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 23, 2014
Denver will focus its game plan toward slowing down Lynch, but that simply does not seem possible at this stage.
Thanks to Peyton Manning, the Broncos receiving corps has been historically productive this season. While Knowshon Moreno took care of business on the ground, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas were incredible in the air attack:
Denver is the 1st team in NFL HISTORY to have 5 players score 10+ TDs. No other team has ever had more than 3 players do that in a season.— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 31, 2013
What is most impressive is the players' ability to complement each other. Thomas has the size and speed to be a force after the catch, Welker runs perfect routes to get open and Decker can catch almost anything. Considering the size and athleticism of tight end Julius Thomas, it's no wonder these players are difficult to stop.
While the Seahawks receivers have some nice big-play ability between Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Percy Harvin (when healthy), none of them has been a consistent contributor throughout his career.
If Seattle has a key third down, it is hard to trust any of the receivers to make something happen, and tight end Zach Miller lacks the kind of game-changing explosiveness that makes someone like Julius Thomas such a threat.
The Broncos simply have too many weapons for most teams to stop in these situations.
This would have been a tough call early in the year. Seattle had a pair of dominant players in tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger, and their abilities would make any line a force to be reckoned with.
However, injuries and other factors caused the entire line to struggle at times, especially against the pass.
That did not happen for the Broncos, who had the No. 1 offensive line in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). This unit was anchored by Louis Vasquez, who was named the top right guard in the NFL by the same publication.
Altogether, Denver only allowed a league-low 20 sacks this season while also rushing for an impressive 16 touchdowns.
With Ryan Clady missing most of the year, this would have been hard to imagine. However, the entire line did a great job in all phases of the game and will be a big part of the Super Bowl. After all, no quarterback does more damage with time to scan the field than Peyton Manning.
This might be the toughest race to call, as both sides have shown some quality performances this season.
Most importantly, both teams won their conference championship games thanks in large part to their ability to stop the run. LeGarrette Blount was held to six yards on five carries against the Broncos, while Frank Gore could only rush for 14 yards on 11 carries.
The defensive lines deserve a lot of credit for their ability to force their opponents to abandon their original game plans.
Seattle utilizes a great pass rush with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, while Brandon Mebane does the dirty work inside. Denver has a similar setup, as Terrance Knighton handles the middle of the field, while Shaun Phillips and Malik Jackson create pressure on the outside.
However, the edge has to go to the Seahawks due to their ability to get even better with their backs against the wall. They gave up a league-low four rushing touchdowns this year and ranked second in the league in touchdown percentage once in the red zone, according to TeamRankings.com.
Meanwhile, the Broncos ranked 26th in this category and allowed 15 scores on the ground this year. This should be enough to get Marshawn Lynch excited near the goal line.
Seattle has a deep group of talented linebackers, but it all starts with Bobby Wagner.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was not shy about singing his praises, via Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times:
Bobby Wagner is instrumental in what we do. And in the run game, you really have a sense that there’s even another level to go to from understanding in terms of the technique and what we want to play.
He’s one of the players that we’ve recognized as a guy, can he take it up to even another spot and keep working and keep working? (He was one) that we tried to identify to say can you pick it up and get even sharper in that area, and he certainly has.
Add in Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith and now K.J. Wright, who returned to the field for the NFC Championship Game after missing time with a fractured foot, and this unit is quite formidable.
Danny Trevathan helps the Broncos' case a lot as someone who can play all over the field for the defense. He has been impressive in coverage this year and is always capable of making a big play. However, Denver simply does not have the depth at the position to make it capable of competing with Seattle.
It is not very difficult to pick a winner in this one. Not only do the Seahawks have the top defensive backfield in the league, but it is also possibly one of the best in history.
The unit has plenty of talent, which would have been well-represented at the Pro Bowl had Seattle not reached the Super Bowl:
How is #LegionofBoom doing in Pro Bowl fan balloting? CB Richard Sherman (over Talib), SS Kam Chancellor & FS Earl Thomas are all No. 1.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 4, 2013
Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen discusses what makes the squad so dominant:
This Seattle secondary has real talent. We all know that.
Thomas is the best safety in the game. And I have no problem saying that when looking at his range, ball skills, footwork, etc., Sherman is in the discussion as one of the top players at the cornerback position, while Chancellor has the ideal size/speed combination for this scheme in Seattle.
However, it is its ability to mesh talent with technique on game days that allows this unit to consistently play at a high level.
The experience of Champ Bailey and the athleticism of players like Duke Ihenacho helps the Broncos remain competitive on this side of the ball. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has also had a quality season.
But without Chris Harris, who tore his ACL in the divisional round, the Broncos are simply no match in the secondary for Seattle in a head-to-head contest.
If this matchup stays close for all four quarters as expected, field position will play a big role. Each team will hope that it can get an edge in the return game and field position either on punts or kickoffs.
While Golden Tate has had a strong season returning punts, he rarely makes huge plays. Also, the Seahawks have not done much on kickoffs outside of one Percy Havin return that went for 58 yards.
On the other hand, Trindon Holliday is a legitimate weapon returning kicks and is always capable of taking it to the house. Additionally, Eric Decker has been solid in punt returns during the postseason.
But the bigger factor on special teams will be in the kicking game. Both sides will need someone they can trust to make field goals in this cold weather.
Luckily, Matt Prater and Steven Hauschka rank first and second in the NFL, respectively, in field-goal accuracy. The difference comes with range, as the Broncos can trust Prater from well over 50 yards, though the task will be more difficult in the cold playing conditions. He even set a new NFL record with a 64-yard kick this season.
If Denver has a chance to tie or take the lead with a field goal, it can be confident putting Prater out there virtually anywhere on the offensive side of the field.
There should not be any surprise to see the Seahawks dominate the defensive categories and the Broncos take most of the offensive positions. After all, this is a battle of the No. 1 offense in the league against the No. 1 defense.
The question is, which side will get the edge when these two powerful units are on the field together?
Additionally, the Broncos defense will have to attempt to handle Marshawn Lynch and the rest of the Seahawks offense during the other side of the battle.
Although it is hard to find any separation, Denver will enter the game with an advantage due to its big wins and narrow losses in this positional breakdown. The defensive line and linebacking corps are not too far behind Seattle's, especially with the ability to stop the run this season.
Even Knowshon Moreno has proven to provide plenty of balance this year with his strong season at running back.
With their decisive edge at quarterback, receivers and offensive line, the Broncos have the overall positional advantage in the Super Bowl.