The endless press conferences, overwrought storylines and endless thinkpieces about what this game means can now cease—it's actually time to play the sport we've been fawning over for the last two weeks.
The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are set to kick off Super Bowl XLVIII, a matchup both entirely unexpected and totally expected at the same time. Seattle and Denver were favorites in the preseason. We all know this. But this is also the first time since 2009 two No. 1 seeds have met. More astoundingly, it's just the second time that has happened in the past two decades.
There are no Baltimore Ravens or New York Giants around this year to spoil proceedings. The final four teams—Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and New England—were the ones most everyone would have expected at the beginning of the season.
And while the NFL loves touting their contrived widespread mediocrity (better known as parity), it's hard to argue that the championship games or Super Bowl were hurt a bit.
There is a reason so-called bandwagon fans gravitate toward good teams. Because they're good. And fun to watch. And far more entertaining than the weekly exercise of banging your head against the wall, better known as being a Washington Redskins fan. It's better to have the Denvers and Seattles in the Super Bowl, simply because these teams are better.
So, you can probably go ahead and assume this game is going to be terrible (kidding, I hope). With that in mind, here's a quick preview of what to expect in East Rutherford.
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Broncos -2.5, per Vegas Insider
|Road to the Super Bowl||Noon|
|Football America - Our Stories||1 p.m.|
|Super Bowl Pre-Game Show||2 p.m.|
|Super Bowl XLVIIII||6:30 p.m.|
|Super Bowl XLVIII Post-Game Show||10 p.m|
You've heard this story by now, framed in a million different ways, assembled each time using a different variation of verbs and adjectives. By the time Super Sunday rolls around, it feels almost like your great aunt could break down Pete Carroll's infamous 4-3 under base set. And she could probably tell you that, hey, Richard Sherman ain't all that bad—Michael and Kelly told me so!
Here is what we know: The Broncos offense, specifically their passing attack, is historically great. The Seahawks defense, specifically their pass coverage, is historically great. On the surface, this is those one-of-a-kind, great offense vs. great defense matchups that will either affirm or blow up every cliche in the book.
If Manning vs. Brady XV was the Narrative Bowl, Manning vs. Sherman is the Cliche Bowl. Does defense actually win championships? Have the NFL rules been slanted so heavily in the offense's favor that not even the game's greatest secondary can slow down the machine? Does Pete Carroll ever not look like the happiest dude on earth?
This is all stupid. Well, except the Carroll thing. Is he really the NFL's Chris Traeger? If there's some darker, more sinister side that shows up behind the scenes, I must know.
But the football stuff? Yeah, that's just nonsense. The result of this game will be no proof-positive of anything, except which was the better team on Sunday.
If Seattle goes out and shuts down Manning and Co., it helps the 2013 Seahawks' long-term legacy but is not an indictment of the pass-first culture. If Denver flips the script, we can probably cement the Broncos as the best offense in history—just not as some cornerstone of change.
The Broncos head into Super Sunday as the runaway best offense in the league. Manning set the NFL record for touchdown passes (55) and yardage (5,477), and the adjusted advanced metrics make it clear Denver wasn't just a product of its shaky schedule.
Denver's DVOA, per Football Outsiders, was more than 10 percent better than second-place Philadelphia during the regular season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has the Broncos as the only team with a positive offensive rating over 200 and one of just three teams in triple digits.
That's damn good.
No biggie, but Seattle is just as good defensively. Carroll's secondary is the best in football, led by Sherman and the arguably better Earl Thomas. The Seahawks allowed Drew Brees to throw for 309 yards in the divisional round, but that number is massively inflated by a garbage-time touchdown and other factors. Colin Kaepernick gets plaudits for his 130 yards rushing—just not for anything related to his passing ability.
Those are two of the best dozen or so quarterbacks in the league, stifled by this secondary. Sherman has been particularly excellent when he's not yelling at television cameras, as Kaepernick only targeted him twice in the entire contest. Sherman isn't brash to hide his insecure spot. He's brash because he's that awesome.
There are some other important factors here. Marshawn Lynch is the lynchpin (get it?) of the Seahawks' offense. How he performs against Denver's quietly surging defensive line will determine just how few points Seattle's defense can allow, and how long the secondary will have to hold fort. Wilson is a fantastic young quarterback, but he hasn't established himself as someone able to hang in the mid-30s should situations call for it.
This is a battle of Denver's passing versus Seattle's secondary, with a sprinkling of Lynch thrown in. Most everything else is over-analysis.
Predictions are inherently funky because there's no real penalty for being wrong. I don't feel comfortable enough with either result to throw any money into the gambling waters, and I really don't suggest it for anyone else—unless it's a necessary compulsion, in which case godspeed.
Objectively, the Seahawks are the better team. Sherman is good enough to take away Demaryius Thomas himself, and the rest of the secondary is big enough and strong enough to prevent Wes Welker yards after catch and Julius Thomas over the middle.
Michael Bennett and the Seahawks' defensive line doesn't get anywhere near the recognition it deserves, either, as its ability to get pressure without complex blitzes makes life easier for everyone.
And Seattle's offense is very, very good. Lynch has a sense of the moment. He is an absolute menace to take down on initial contain, and Denver's secondary isn't exactly filled with Thomases who could come in from safety and make the play. The Broncos are coalescing as a run-stopping unit at the perfect time, so seeing Lynch alone carrying things is difficult.
But if Seattle holds Denver in the mid-20s and Wilson has some level of success against the shaky Denver secondary, this is going to be close.
In the end, though, that's what's key. No matter if Seattle is the better overall team, it's a mental battle trying to figure out how it can keep up with the Broncos. A "bad" Denver game is going to be 24 or so points. Manning played one of the worst games of his life Week 12 against New England, and the Broncos still somehow put up 31 points.
Neither result would be a shock, but this Denver offense just has too many weapons.
Score: Broncos 27, Seahawks 24
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