After 65 preseason games, 256 regular season contests and 10 more postseason affairs, one more game remains in the 2013-14 NFL season.
On February 2, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos will meet at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII.
It's a game brimming with storylines. Peyton Manning's assault on the record books, Richard Sherman's assault on America's sensibilities and Mother Nature's assault on everything.
With that in mind here's a look at some of those "Super Stories", as well as predictions as to how those stories might play out.
It's been a hot topic ever since MetLife Stadium was announced as the venue for Super Bowl XLVIII.
Well, sort of.
As the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold-weather city, the weather has loomed over this game like—well—like storm clouds gathering.
It looks like fans are going to be chilly. As Will Brinson of CBS Sports reports, the weather.com forecast for February 2 presently calls for game time temperatures in the mid-20s.
That would shatter the record for the coldest outdoor Super Bowl ever. The record is 39 degrees, set all the way back in 1972 at Super Bowl VI in Louisiana.
However, Brinson also points out that the chance of precipitation is only 20 percent, meaning the league would probably dodge the sort of major snowfall that would give NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a panic attack.
With that said, New Jersey state climatologist David Robinson didn't sound nearly as confident while speaking with John O'Boyle of The Newark Star-Ledger:
Right now we’re getting to the kind of time when you can start looking at the level of activity. Does it look like a tranquil period or does it look like there are some flies in the ointment? And right now, there are some flies in the ointment.
Robinson also pointed out that weather patterns could shift around the 2nd, which puts nearly all the cards on the table where Mother Nature is concerned on game day:
This could really become a confounding forecast. These (patterns) don’t last forever. There’s some suggestion that the ridge (of high pressure) out west could begin to retrograde westward, which in turn would pull the trough in the east to the west as well. That could potentially set up a storm track up the east coast that could produce a major storm.
In other words, no one really knows what the weather will be like, other than it's expected to be below freezing at kickoff.
Inside the vast majority of football fans, there exists a devilish little imp who desperately wants it to snow on Super Bowl Sunday.
Make no mistake, that isn't what the NFL wants. The league has spent millions on contingency plans related to the weather. There are plans in place to move the game anywhere from Friday, January 31 to Monday, February 3 if need be.
As the Sports XChange points out (via The Chicago Tribune), the league spent thousands more treating the recent snowstorm that hit the area as a "dress rehearsal" for clearing snow from the Meadowlands if the weather turns white.
However, actually moving the game would cost untold more millions, so unless the Snowpacolypse hits the show will most likely go on.
In that case, let's have some snow!
This is a one-shot opportunity for fans. We're not going to see another cold-weather Super Bowl like this any time soon.
With wind not a huge factor, a few inches of snow during the game isn't going to ruin anything. A few players may slip and slide a bit, which could lead to a big play or two.
Fans like big plays. Fans like snow.
And fans will love Super Bowl XLVIII if it features both.
The only thing better would be if a polar bear and/or yeti would spare us all from the Bruno Mars halftime spectacular.
Prediction: 26 degrees at gametime. 10 MPH winds. Light snow falling throughout the game.
Just in case you've been visiting the family (in Greenland) over the past several days, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman has been the talk of the NFL.
After blowing up in a post-game interview following his huge play sealed the NFC Championship, Sherman was derided as "classless" and a "thug."
Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell chimed in on the subject.
It's an emotional game, and you see a young man who comes off the field and he's pumped up, and there's so much excitement in the stadium, but no, I'm not cheering for that.
He's a great young man, he's extremely well spoken, does great things off the field, obviously a great player on the field. I want him to present himself in the best possible way, and make sure that he's reflecting on himself and his family in a positive way. He took away a little bit from the team. That was what he said [this week]. I thought that was a very interesting comment and I think it's fair.
Sherman did indeed apologize for his actions, although he also criticized the way he was characterized, according to Nate Scott of USA Today:
The only reason it bothers me, is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays.
It’s like, everybody else said the N-word, and then they said ‘thug,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s fine.' And that’s where it kind of takes me aback, and it’s kind of disappointing, because they know.
What’s the definition of a thug, really? Can a guy on a football field just talking to people — maybe I’m talking loudly, and talking like I’m not supposed to — but there were hockey fights. There was a hockey game where they didn’t even play hockey, they just threw the puck aside and started fighting. I saw that and I said, ‘Oh man, I’m the thug? What’s going on here?
So I’m really disappointed in being called a thug.
The fact that a great play became an outburst that's turned into a debate on race and perception in sports and society is Richard Sherman in a nutshell.
Media day can't get here soon enough.
Of course, Richard Sherman is also an immensely talented young cornerback.
For the second straight year, Sherman intercepted eight passes in 2013 en route to being named a first-team All-Pro. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Sherman sixth at his position this season, and the 25-year-old allowed an NFL-low 47.3 passer rating against him.
Also, as I pointed out in an article earlier this week, Sherman has made it a habit throughout his career of clamping down when he's faced off against "elite" wide receivers.
None of that bodes well for Demaryius Thomas in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Neither does the fact that Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is no dummy.
Manning smells blood in the water better than any quarterback in the NFL. He will find the weak link in a secondary and exploit that weakness without mercy.
In other words, Manning won't be targeting Sherman much.
However, if Denver gets in a second-half hole all bets are off, and whether it's a result of Manning pressing the action or Sherman making another ridiculous play on the ball it's hard to see Sherman squandering an opportunity to shine in the spotlight.
Love him or hate him, Richard Sherman comes to play.
Prediction: 5 targets, two completions allowed, 33 yards allowed, four tackles, one interception, one pass defensed
Had Peyton Manning never played another snap after losing the entire 2011 season to a neck injury, he'd have been a mortal-lock first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Even the baseball voters couldn't screw that one up.
Well, it turns out Manning wasn't quite done.
In his 16th NFL season, Manning re-wrote the single-season record book at the quarterback position. His 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdown passes are both NFL records.
On February 1, Manning will win his fifth NFL MVP record. It's as certain as death and taxes.
Now Manning sits one win away from his second Super Bowl win, a victory that would place him among the top of the list of the best to ever play the game.
Manning is also quite literally the only player on either team who has tasted victory in the Super Bowl.
I think the biggest thing he's said is eliminate distractions, making sure you're taking care of the little details, doing extra, watching film, working out, getting your body right. And then I think the biggest thing is he says he's won one, he's lost one. And it's a complete high; it's a complete low. So, really understand to give everything you've got because this is the last game of the year.
With the game looking to be a chilly affair, the cold weather narrative that dogged Manning earlier in the year has also resurfaced.
However, with the weather in Denver on Friday even colder than New Jersey is expected to be, the Broncos took advantage of the frosty weather and practiced outdoors,
Manning told Newsday (via Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com) it's something they've been working on for some time:
We've practiced in this and had to play in these types of conditions at different points in the year. So any time you can have a similar situation you can simulate during practice which it might be during a game, it always is a good thing.
Manning's stat line in last week's AFC Championship Game win over the New England Patriots is a pretty good microcosm of his 2013.
Nearly 75 percent complete. 400 yards. A passer rating of almost 120. No turnovers.
Manning threw only two touchdown passes in the game but it's that last number that's really important.
Manning has thrown only 11 interceptions this season, counting the playoffs and it's immensely important he take care of the football against an opportunistic Seattle defense.
It won't be easy. The Seahawks possess the NFL's stingiest pass defense. During the regular season they gave up only 16 touchdown passes, while snaring 28 interceptions.
To this point in his career. It's been something of a mixed bag for Manning in the Super Bowl. He's completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and averaged 290 yards a game, but he's also been picked off twice and posted a so-so 85.4 passer rating.
To be frank, given the possibility of bad weather and a rock-solid Seattle defense, those averages sound about right.
As has been the case in many of the biggest games of his career, Manning will play well enough in Super Bowl XLVIII to be named MVP if the Broncos win.
And he'll make just enough mistakes to be the goat if they don't.
Prediction: 29 of 41, 303 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
Super Bowl XLVIII features a couple of relative rarities.
For the first time since 2009, the top seeds from both the AFC and NFC will meet in the Super Bowl. In fact, it's only the second time in the past two decades that's happened.
It also marks only the sixth time since the NFL merger that the NFL's top offense will face the league's top defense in football's biggest game.
It's a matchup that has historically favored the defense. The team with the top defense won four of the past five meetings, the last coming when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers demolished the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Of course, none of those teams had to go up against the 2013 Denver Broncos.
The Broncos racked up an eye-popping 606 points this year, an all-time high. Their 7,317 net yards marked only the third time in NFL history a team eclipsed the 7,000-yard mark.
In true Richard Sherman fashion, the outspoken cornerback told Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times the Seahawks' defense wouldn't have it any other way:
They’re an unbelievable, record-setting offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s as tough as it gets. That’s as tough a game as you can get in the Super Bowl. The number one defense against the number one offense. It doesn’t happen like this too often; both number one seeds make it. It’s a testament to the hard work of both teams, and I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic game.
It's not hard to see why Sherman is confident.
The Seattle defense, led by their "Legion of Boom" secondary, led the NFL in a laundry list of categories this season.
No team allowed fewer yards. Or passing yards. Or points.
It's strength against strength. Godzilla against King Kong.
Football fans couldn't ask for a better game.
It's happened more than once in the Super Bowl.
Player A and Player B enter the Super Bowl riding on a cloud of hype. Player C is all anyone can talk about.
Then the game ends and Player D heads to the podium for his MVP award and Disney World spot.
This year, that player will be Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
For all the talk of Sherman and Manning, of the titanic matchup looming between Denver's offensive juggernaut and Seattle's defensive behemoth, the biggest mismatch in Super Bowl XLVIII remains Wilson and the Seattle passing game against Denver's 27th-ranked pass defense.
Granted, Seattle didn't light it up through the air this year, ranking 26th at just over 202 yards a game. However, when Wilson did take to the air he was efficient, throwing 26 touchdown passes against nine interceptions while posting his second straight year with a passer rating over 100.
It doesn't hurt that Wilson will have his top receiver (in theory) back just in time for the biggest game of the year.
Wide receiver Percy Harvin, who has missed nearly the entire 2013 season, will not only play next Sunday but will "do everything we want him to do," according to what head coach Pete Carroll told KJR-AM's Curtis Crabtree.
As Dan Hanzus of NFL.com reports, the news was not as well received in Denver by cornerback Champ Bailey:
That's a dangerous man right there. He can change the game if you allow him to. I don't know how they're going to use him. We don't have a lot of tape on him -- if any. But they're going to use him. You don't have a weapon like that and not use him.
In Harvin, NFC Championship Game hero Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate, the Seahawks now have a trio of wide receivers capable of hurting a shaky Denver secondary over the top.
Add in Wilson's ability to extend plays with his legs, and the table is set for some big plays through the air in a Seattle win.
Prediction: Wilson is named Super Bowl MVP after throwing for two touchdowns and running for a third in a 31-27 Seahawks victory.