You'd be hard-pressed to dream up a more intriguing 2014 Super Bowl matchup than the Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos.
While the conference championships produced battles between teams that, in many ways, were mirror images of each other, Super Bowl XLVIII gives fans polar opposites.
On one side, a future Hall of Fame quarterback leading a record-breaking offense. On the other, a burgeoning superstar quarterback in his second year who makes just enough big plays to let his physical, elite defense do the rest.
Conversely, and far less publicized, this matchup also gives us a highly underrated defensive unit vs. an offense that, albeit mostly conservative, can be explosive at times.
Here's a look at everything you need to know, as well as final betting predictions before kickoff.
Date: Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Denver (-2.5), via Vegas Insider
Over/Under: 48, via Vegas Insider
The Picks: Seahawks and Under
It's one of the most overused cliches in sports, but on Sunday night, it will hold true: Defense wins championships.
And from a statistical perspective, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the Seahawks boast the best defense since the 1985 Chicago Bears, a squad that is highly regarded as one of the best teams of all time:
The @Seahawks are the first defense to lead the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways since the 1985 Bears.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 25, 2014
Of course, you don't really need numbers to tell you just how imposing Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn's defense is. As soon as you see Richard Sherman lock down a third of the field, Earl Thomas missile across the entire length of the field to take down a ball-carrier, or Kam Chancellor lay a devastating hit (sorry, Vernon Davis), you start to grasp the talent behind the defense.
Having a slew of capable pass-rushers and a run-stuffing middle linebacker like Bobby Wagner tends to help, too.
But it wouldn't be one of the most compelling Super Bowl matchups ever without a worthy adversary on the other side of the ball. And that's exactly what the Seahawks will get with Peyton Manning—the most intelligent QB in the league—and his quartet of dangerous pass-catchers.
What are your picks for Super Bowl XLVIII?
Not only do the Broncos bring the league's most prolific offense to the table, but they also know what to expect with Seattle's defense, and they will be prepared.
“I’m watching their entire secondary,” wide receiver Eric Decker said, via DenverBroncos.com's Mike Morris. “I think, all-around, they obviously have the best defense in the NFL. And they get after the opponents. Up front, very aggressive – in the back end, they make plays.”
When Denver has the ball, it will come down to tackling in space.
Demaryius Thomas was second in the NFL in yards after catch and is capable of taking it to the house every time he touches the ball with just the tiniest dollop of space, but Wes Welker and Julius Thomas are also adept at finding openings in the defense and taking advantage.
Shutting down this offense completely will be out of the question, but Seattle's physicality and speed to the ball—especially from the safety position—makes it the best team in the NFL at ending plays after the catch, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The Broncos led the NFL with 2,583 yards after the catch this season. The Seahawks allowed a league-low 1,275 yards after the catch.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 21, 2014
And as Tim Booth of the Associated Press pointed out, the 'Hawks turned in their best performance of the season in that category at the most integral time:
Giving Seattle points makes it an even more attractive bet, but the 'Hawks' defense will do just enough to stymie Denver's offense and squeeze out a tight, low-scoring win: 23-20.