The main story of Super Bowl XLVIII is the weather, whether the league intended for it to be or not when it chose MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. as the site.
In the background of the chaos that is a potential storm, and a media storm caused by a loudmouthed cornerback, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos will provide one of the best matchups fans have seen from the big game in years.
The game will undoubtedly be impacted by whatever Mother Nature throws its way. Weather.com's Jon Erdman provides the latest update on the forecast, and hints that some precipitation is very much a possibility:
To be clear, we are not anticipating a major storm with heavy precipitation to affect the Northeast on Super Bowl weekend. However, we are expecting a frontal system to slide into the Northeast Saturday, possibly lingering into Super Bowl Sunday. With colder air retreating, all precipitation types, from snow, to sleet, freezing rain, even rain, are on the table with this system. While most of our guidance suggests most of this precipitation may fall Saturday into the early part of Super Bowl Sunday, we still can't rule out any lingering precipitation during the game itself.
In other words, go ahead and prepare for the worst—the teams are surely doing just that. There are a few key players who must step up big if bad weather does hit the game.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning is undoubtedly important to Denver's success, regardless of the weather, but his effectiveness will take a serious hit in sloppy conditions unless wideout Demaryius Thomas can have a major day.
NFL.com's Dave Dameshek put it best:
Residents of Mt Pious: get to know Demaryius Thomas. He's your best chance for a (Super)hero defeating the villain named Richie Sherman.— Dave Dameshek (@Dameshek) January 20, 2014
While Richard Sherman is arguably the NFL's best corner, a slick surface with the potential for precipitation will put a hindrance on his effectiveness when asked to react to what Thomas is doing.
Not only that, Sherman spends most of his time on one side of the field, which means if the Broncos move Thomas around, he will find a more favorable matchup, anyway.
Thomas is more important than the likes of Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker because of his ability to generate yards after the catch, which encompassed almost half of his 1,430 yards and 14 scores this season.
Pro Football Focus illustrates this point best:
Top 3 WRs in YAC: Pierre Garcon 662, Demaryius Thomas 643, Josh Gordon 629— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 28, 2013
He will not be able to beat defenders deep in poor conditions, but Thomas can easily catch a ball behind the line of scrimmage and take it the distance.
Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
How poetic would it be if Percy Harvin's first major impact for his new team came in the Super Bowl?
But seriously, Harvin's game is built for scenarios such as this, where foul conditions would harm others. He has officially been cleared to play, per ESPN's Liz Mathews:
Carroll said #Seahawks WR Percy Harvin looked 100% this week. Will play in Super Bowl with no limitations.— Liz Mathews 710 ESPN (@Liz_Mathews) January 24, 2014
Denver cornerback Champ Bailey perfectly describes why Harvin is a critical figure in the bout, via Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post:
That's a dangerous man right there. He can change the game if you allow him to. I remember playing him when he was in Minnesota, and he's one of the most explosive guys coming off the ball. I don't know how they are going to use him. We don't have a lot of tape on him, if any, but they are going to use him. You don't have a weapon like that and not use it.
There are a few points to highlight here. For one, the Broncos have no idea how to prepare for Harvin, as he has done little with his new team to this point.
Two, Harvin's versatility is downright scary. He can create space for himself on short passes just like Thomas, and he would have presumably ranked near the top with Thomas in terms of yards after the catch this season if he had been healthy, considering he has more than 400 in each season since 2009, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Harvin has also taken handoffs as a running back in the past and also contributes as a kick returner—all viable skills in a contest where explosive plays will make the difference.
Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
Marshawn Lynch is obviously a key for the Seahawks on the ground in stormy weather, but it is rookie Montee Ball, not starter Knowshon Moreno, who will be most important for the Broncos.
Moreno's production has steadily dipped as the season has worn on, which can only be expected for a back who has carried the ball north of 240 times this season.
Which player is most important if weather takes a turn for the worse?
Ball has quietly made Denver take a committee approach to the position in recent weeks thanks to his stellar play. The Wisconsin product has 22 carries for 95 yards on a 4.3 per-carry average in two postseason wins so far.
With Manning potentially grounded, his running backs must step up to the plate with big performances in the face of Seattle's stout run defense, which ranked in the top 10 and allowed an average of 101.6 yards per game and has allowed no notable rushing totals this postseason outside of Colin Kaepernick's 130 yards, but one has to imagine Manning is not rushing for 11.8 yards per carry against Seattle.
Moreno is a workhorse, but Ball can crack big plays and slip his way through would-be tacklers, especially if the defense is already off balance thanks to the weather.