Super Bowl XLVIII features the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, both of which finished the regular season as the top seeds in its respective conferences. Both teams bring many more positives than negatives to the table, but there are certainly big concerns that must be overcome to secure the Lombardi Trophy.
Seattle brings the NFL's top-ranked scoring defense to the big game, having allowed just 14.4 points during the regular season and 16 points per game in the postseason. In particular, the Seahawks are dominant against the pass, having allowed just 172 passing yards per game and 16 total passing touchdowns.
On the other side, Peyton Manning leads the league's top-ranked offense in terms of yards and scoring. The Broncos averaged 457.3 yards and 37.9 points per game during the regular season, and Manning smashed league single-season records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55).
Weather could be somewhat of a factor at MetLife Stadium, with temperatures expected to dip into the 20s during the game and a 20 percent chance of rain or snow, according to Weather.com.
Here's a look at when and where to catch the game, after which you can continue reading to find out which challenges for both teams will determine the outcome of the game, one way or another.
Date: Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread (via Bovada): Denver (-3)
Biggest Challenges for Super Bowl XLVIII
There isn't a single player on Seattle's roster who has previously been to a Super Bowl, notes Jeff Darlington of NFL.com, who likes how new the experience will be:
There's nothing that can prepare young players for the emotional, physical and mental roller coaster that is Super Bowl week.
Distractions come in a myriad of different ways during the week leading up to the big game. Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN.com elaborated before Super Bowl XLVII:
It's human nature. And distractions don't come only in the form of a rabble-rousing football player. It can be a grandma who is locked out of her hotel room, a screaming toddler or a young player who says something regrettable in one of the hundreds of media interviews during Super Bowl week.
The media throng that surrounds the Super Bowl leaves no room for careless mistakes. It's a pressure-packed and extremely stressful time for every player and coach, but Seattle obviously hopes to avoid letting the pressure of the moment turn into a negative.
I’ve never seen experience play in a game. We don’t worry about that. We didn’t have experience in the NFC championship and we were fine there...Everyone is cognizant of it and everyone is aware of what could happen if they give a potential sound byte. But it’s all going to come down to who plays the best football. None of that is going to be relevant.
The Seahawks bullied the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers to reach Super Bowl XLVIII, relying on a heavy dose of home-field advantage, courtesy of the "12th Man." But this game is going to be played on a neutral field, which will take away some of that momentum.
On the other side, Denver features some big-time leaders in head coach John Fox, quarterback Manning and receiver Wes Welker who've been here before. B/R's Mike Freeman wonders if this will give Denver an edge in the game:
I don't know if this will make a difference, but I do think it matters that the Broncos have a coach who has coached in the Super Bowl (John Fox, with Carolina in 2003) and a QB who has participated in two of them.
Seattle must be able to handle the pressure and rigors of Super Bowl week if it hopes to come away with the Lombardi Trophy. Once the game begins, it must then play with maturity, focus and poise in order to avoid giving Denver yards and second chances with silly penalties.
If the Seahawks can accomplish this, then they will have an excellent chance to win.
Can the Broncos Win With Wes Welker and Eric Decker As the Primary Offensive Weapons?
One of the reasons Seattle's defense is so incredibly dominant against the pass is that Richard Sherman is almost always going to take the opposition's top receiver completely out of the game. Pro Football Focus illustrates this point to perfection with this jaw-dropping stat:
In addition to Sherman's ability to take away option No. 1, Seattle is incredible against opposing tight ends. Thanks to the talented safety duo of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham were held to a combined three catches for 24 yards in the playoffs.
Hall of Famer and former San Francisco 49ers safety Ronnie Lott recently lauded the two safeties, singling out Chancellor, in particular, as relayed by Todd Dybas of The News Tribune:
Kam Chancellor right now is as good as any safety that’s played in the game of football. It’s hard for me to say this, but there was only one guy that I know that’s better and that’s Kenny Easley. He was defensive player of the year and best player to play the safety position, ever. He is getting to close to being in that community of greatness. And that is hard for me to say that because I have the utmost respect for Kenny Easley. That group, those two (Chancellor and Thomas), they’re playing at that level.
What this means is that there's a good chance Julius and Demaryius Thomas will be rendered ineffective in the upcoming championship game. This, in turn, means Wes Welker and Eric Decker will need to be able to win their matchups in order for Denver's passing game to function.
Byron Maxwell has been an unsung hero for Seattle's defense. Sherman recently singled him in his column on SI.com's MMQB out as a big reason why the Seahawks will emerge victorious in the Super Bowl:
The best teams in the league are only as good as the guys on the bottom of the depth chart who you’ve never heard of, who get called on when injuries and suspensions transform rosters in midseason. ...
For the Seahawks, Byron Maxwell is that guy. And he’s one of the many reasons I believe we’ll not only survive, but also dominate on our way to the Super Bowl.
The veteran cornerback will likely handle Eric Decker on the perimeter, leaving Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead, along with Seattle's talented linebackers, to attempt to corral Wes Welker.
Welker and Decker combined to catch 160 passes for 2,066 yards and 21 touchdowns during the regular season—incredible numbers, to be sure. However, they've been secondary receivers during the postseason, combining on just 17 catches for 181 yards and one touchdown.
The two receivers must produce at a higher level against Seattle, because if they don't, then the Broncos will lose the game.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78