We're officially one week away from Super Bowl XLVIII, and the last game of the 2014 season is shaping up to be an epic one, as the two best teams in the regular season—the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks—will play for the Lombardi Trophy.
Denver steamrolled through the regular season behind its MVP quarterback, Peyton Manning, who threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes and led an offense that scored a league-record 606 points. In the postseason, the Broncos dispatched the Chargers and Patriots in relatively easy fashion to reach the big game.
Seattle used a punishing defense and run game to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC and then suffocated New Orleans and came back to beat San Francisco in the playoffs to earn a trip to the Super Bowl.
Oh yeah, the weather looms large as well. It's expected to be the coldest Super Bowl of all time, as it'll be played outdoors at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Which team will win the Super Bowl? Will Manning be able to throw the ball with aplomb on the Seahawks secondary? Who will claim MVP?
I answer all of those questions here as I offer my early predictions for the NFL title game, Super Bowl XLVIII.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin has played in only two games this season (including playoffs), hauling in four catches for 38 yards.
At first he dealt with a dislocated hip, and then he suffered a concussion in the team's divisional-round triumph over New Orleans. He hasn't yet made a significant impact for the Seahawks.
Come Super Bowl XLVIII, that will change. Harvin will make at least one game-changing play for Seattle as it wins its first Super Bowl title.
He is way too talented to not come through, whether it be on a reception, rush or return. His speed and dynamic playmaking ability are evident every time he touches the ball. It's just a matter of time before he breaks out.
Harvin has the right attitude, telling Tom Pelissero of USA Today, "I'm not trying to save any season. I'm trying to go out there and win a Super Bowl."
But if Harvin helps the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, he will most definitely save his season and justify the first-round pick they traded for him.
Come Super Bowl Sunday, expect Harvin to make a huge play that will help swing the momentum in the Seahawks' favor.
What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?
We'll find out at Super Bowl XLVIII when the league's No. 1 offense meets its No. 1 defense.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has directed the most prolific offense in the history of the National Football League. It has been nothing short of a juggernaut, and Manning has been its unflappable triggerman.
But on Super Bowl Sunday, Manning faces his stiffest test of the season when he goes up against the Seahawks and their "Legion of Boom" secondary. The Seattle pass defense has been historically great, holding opponents to an average of 5.8 yards per attempt in the regular season.
Despite the greatness of the Seahawks secondary, Manning is playing at too high of a level to be stopped completely.
While it will come in a losing effort, Manning will throw for over 300 yards and at least two touchdowns.
Seattle Seahawks second-year quarterback Russell Wilson has only gone over 200 yards passing in two of his last six games and has thrown just five touchdowns (against three interceptions) over that span. He hasn't been spectacular, but he has been solid.
Fortunately for him, the Seahawks won't need him to be spectacular to beat the Broncos on Super Bowl Sunday. They'll merely need him to take care of the football and make a few big plays in the passing game to help secure a victory.
That's exactly what will happen. Wilson won't turn the ball over and will play an efficient game, helping Seattle to win the Super Bowl.
The Broncos are well aware of Wilson's excellent decision-making, as defensive tackle Terrance Knighton told Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times:
Each week he is getting better and better and better. He has gotten better in the playoffs and I think he does a good job of not turning the ball over. He has a good touchdown-to-interception ratio and he does a good job of extending plays. I think that’s why he doesn’t turn the ball over because he has the ability to beat you with his feet if he doesn’t have the throw there that he wants.
Wilson will make a few big throws and won't turn the ball over, and that will help Seattle beat Denver.
The Denver Broncos have a fearsome foursome of pass-catchers, with tight end Julius Thomas joining receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. All four men caught at least 10 touchdowns during the regular season, the first time in NFL history that four teammates accomplished that particular feat.
Out of the four, there is one who will stand above the rest in Super Bowl XLVIII and haul in at least 10 passes from quarterback Peyton Manning, and it's Welker.
Why? The Seahawks secondary is ballyhooed for a reason: It's that good. Attacking it on the outside isn't a strategy likely to prove fruitful. The Broncos' best bet is to attack it over the middle of the field, and that's Welker's specialty.
Safety Earl Thomas knows it, telling Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:
That's how teams want to attack us now. They don't want our big corners to press or they don't want us to mess up the timing, so getting us in condensed formations… bunch formations, but we know that. We understand how teams want to attack us. That's the beauty of it.
As he often was during the regular season, Welker will be Manning's security blanket and catch no fewer than 10 passes.
The most well-known and popular member of the Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary is undoubtedly cornerback Richard Sherman, and that was true before his interview with Fox's Erin Andrews in the aftermath of their NFC Championship victory over the 49ers.
But on Super Bowl Sunday, another member of the secondary will step up and grab the spotlight: safety Earl Thomas.
Thomas had a tremendous season, intercepting five passes and earning first-team All-Pro honors. He's arguably the best safety in football and is just as valuable to the Seahawks as Sherman.
B/R featured columnist Gary Davenport agrees, writing that Thomas is the key to the Seahawks' success on defense against Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offensive juggernaut. With the Broncos likely to try to dink and dunk the Seahawks into submission, the play of Thomas over the middle of the field will be crucial to preventing Denver from moving the chains.
Thomas' ball skills are outstanding, and he'll show up in a big way when the lights are brightest. He'll intercept a Peyton Manning pass and help the Seahawks claim the Lombardi Trophy.
I'm a native New Yorker, and I don't need a weatherman to tell me that it's going to be freezing on the first Sunday of February.
But with the Super Bowl coming to town, the forecast has become more scrutinized than the Zapruder film, and as Will Brinson of CBSSports.com writes, the temperature is expected to be somewhere in between 25 and 35 degrees.
But there's only a 20 percent chance of precipitation, and the wind is expected to only be at about nine miles per hour.
Let's be honest here. It's not the snow that people should be wary of. It's not snow that can single-handedly shut down a team's passing attack; it's the wind. Peyton Manning's arm isn't what it once was, and some of his passes have a tendency to flutter like a wounded duck, even in perfect conditions. If the wind were at full strength, it could compromise the quality of the game.
But if the wind isn't going to be severe, that means the weather won't be a factor. The Seahawks have an all-weather offense, led by bell-cow running back Marshawn Lynch. Manning can throw the ball in the cold and in the snow. The wind is what would truly present problems for the passing game.
So stop stressing about the snow. Don't worry about the rain. It's the wind you should concern yourself with.
And if it's only going to be nine miles per hour, the weather won't be much of a factor at all.
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has fulfilled his "Beast Mode" nickname thus far in the postseason, carrying the ball 50 times for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He's the No. 1 reason why the Seahawks won the NFC and will play in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Against the Broncos, Lynch will carry the day (pun intended). He'll rush for over 100 yards and at least one touchdown, leading the Seahawks to victory and claiming the MVP award in the process.
The Denver run defense has been tremendous in the postseason, allowing only 129 yards in two games. Those two performances came against two of the better rushing teams in the league (San Diego and New England), speaking to how its defense stepped up in big spots.
But the Broncos haven't faced a running back like Lynch. With all due respect to the Chargers' Ryan Mathews and the Patriots' LeGarrette Blount, they aren't in Lynch's class.
The Seahawks will run Lynch into the heart of the Broncos defense, and when it's sufficiently worn down, he'll break a big one. That's his formula for success, and it's been proven.
For more on Lynch against the Broncos, check out this video with B/R's Reese Waters and CBS NFL analyst Boomer Esiason.
Lynch is an all-weather player. He thrives in inclement conditions. The Broncos won't be able to stop him.
He will be the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seattle Seahawks have never won a Super Bowl championship. They've only been to one, losing Super Bowl XL to the Steelers.
Next Sunday, it all changes. The Seahawks will defeat the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII and hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
When it comes down to it, defense trumps offense. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will get his, as he always does, but it won't be enough. Denver won't be able to run the ball with much success, and the Seahawks have an underrated set of pass-rushers.
Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett will put heat on Manning, and the heralded Legion of Boom secondary will make sure the Broncos don't roll up an avalanche of points.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is as cool as the other side of the pillow, and while he won't dazzle, he'll be solid and won't turn the ball over. I've already detailed the impact running back Marshawn Lynch will have, as he'll wear down the Broncos defense and break off a long touchdown run.
The game will be close, but Lynch's touchdown run will give the Seahawks a lead they won't relinquish, and they'll end up triumphing, 26-24, to win their first Super Bowl championship.