If Seattle is to win the Vince Lombardi trophy, it will have to be taken from Peyton Manning's clutches.
Before you get into reading this recipe on how the Seattle Seahawks can win the Super Bowl, we have to admit: The Denver Broncos are more likely to be crowned champions this Sunday.
Las Vegas agrees. Peyton Manning's club is installed as a 2.5-point favorite, according to the latest odds at Vegas Insider. Sports publicist Jimmy Shapiro told us via e-mail 66 percent of Las Vegas' early money has been placed on the Broncos, too.
But what is the fun in writing a recipe for something so bland like the favorite winning the Super Bowl...behind the quarterback who has put together the greatest season in quarterback history?
Instead, we are going to play devil's advocate and write out a Seahawks prescription for Super Bowl Sunday success. Now, that will require more than merely watching Manning do what he has done to so many teams this year...err...every year.
So, here it is: What the Seahawks must have go right in order to pull off the minor upset of Manning in perhaps his last chance at the Super Bowl glory. Manning's future Hall of Fame peer Tom Brady has already polished his resume—heck, so has his little brother Eli Manning in his two appearances.
This is a seven-part devil's advocate slideshow on how the Seattle Seahawks can keep the Vince Lombardi Trophy from Peyton Manning.
For the Seattle Seahawks to beat the Denver Broncos, Marshawn Lynch clearly has to have a big day. The Seahawks have to keep the ball away from that record-setting, Peyton Manning-led offense by controlling the ball and winning time of possession.
Lynch better have his Skittles handy.
The last time the No. 1-scoring offense faced off against the No. 1-scoring defense in the Super Bowl was Super Bowl XXV, when the New York Giants defeated the K-Gun Buffalo Bills after the 1990 season, according to the NFL media notes. That game came down to Scott Norwood's last-second miss. The defensive-minded Giants, under defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, forced the issue by pounding Super Bowl MVP O.J. Anderson at the Bills defense.
This Super Bowl matchup of immovable object (Seattle's defense) against irresistible force (Manning's offense) will require similar groundwork.
Max Unger sees Lynch as being up for the task, telling us in his Sunday interview session (from the NFL media):
Marshawn, he's a man. It's pretty cool to be able to block for a back that creates yards like that. When he does that and he's throwing piles, and he's carrying people before he goes down, it just makes you want to do your job that much better.
Seattle did have the No. 4-ranked rushing attack this season, thanks mostly to Lynch's 1,257 yards. Lynch missed off-week practice time with a knee issue, but he looked just fine in the two previous postseason games, leading all rushers with a combined 249 yards on 50 carries, a 5.0 average. He is the only player to rush for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons and has four 100-yard rushing performances in six career postseason games, including both games this month.
Lynch might need that total in the first half alone to keep Manning's multidimensional aerial attack at bay.
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos cannot score if they don't have the ball.
The Seattle Seahawks make defending Manning a lot easier by giving the ball back to Marshawn Lynch and the offense. Seattle led the NFL with 39 takeaways, 28 interceptions and turnover differential (plus-20), according to the NFL media notes.
The famed Legion of Boom secondary is anchored by Richard Sherman's NFL-leading eight interceptions this season. His 20 picks since coming into the league in 2011 is the most in the NFL in that span.
Safety Earl Thomas might be far more understated, but he is no less impactful on the field, as we wrote here Sunday. Thomas is the only safety in the past decade to record at least 100 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles in a single season. Riddle that company of one.
The Seahawks turned away the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship with a game-clinching interception off a Sherman tip. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the game, said in the aforementioned media notes:
That's the way we've played the whole season. These guys are relentless. All we do is practice turnovers on defense and we wanted to be in that situation where the game was on our backs.
Peyton Manning did have a career-worst 10 fumbles this season to go with his 10 interceptions, so even if the secondary doesn't force him into mistakes by throwing into coverage, perhaps Bennett and Co. can with pressure.
If you are going to scheme to stop a quarterback who set records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdown passes, you are going to need to have some serious talent and confidence on the back end.
If any team can slow Peyton Manning's receiving quartet, it is the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom.
"We wouldn’t have it any other way," Sherman said in the NFL media notes. "They're an unbelievable record-setting offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback. That's as tough as it gets. The No. 1 defense against the No. 1 offense."
The Denver Broncos can scheme to find mismatches against most teams, but finding them against shutdown corner Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, strong safety Kam Chancellor, right corner Byron Maxwell and nickel corner Walter Thurmond is a much taller order.
Sherman broke his secondary down in his media session upon arriving Sunday night, according to the transcript at NFL media (access required).
L-O-B, Legion of Boom, it's brought us together as a secondary and really brought us together as a family and a brotherhood. It gave us something to fall back on, something that we really could tip our hat on, that we could really say, 'We've made it. We made this. This is who we are. This is what we are. This is our personality. This is our group.'
I think it also shows the depth. Legion is a vast army. It shows the depth and incorporates everything into it. We boom. You've got Kam Chancellor out there who's probably the most physical safety in the league. He booms. He's the enforcer in the Legion of Boom. Earl Thomas is a speed demon. Byron Maxwell makes plays every game. I think all that comes together, all the guys are together a great group.
For the team, we try to be the spark plug. We've tried to be the energy. When a play needs to be made, we try to be the guys to make the play. I think our team accepts and appreciates our role.
In this matchup, Sherman can lock up on Demaryius Thomas; they both stand 6'3". Thomas can run with Wes Welker out of the slot. Maxwell has more than held his own in Brandon Browner's absence (suspension) and is expected to match up with Eric Decker.
Once Thomas, Welker and Decker are neutralized, Denver is used to holding a trump card with physical and fast tight end Julius Thomas. Well, Seattle has Chancellor's physicality and Thurmond's athleticism still to burn.
No one stops Manning or his four elite targets. The one team that held him under 265 passing yards and to two touchdowns—New England on Nov. 24—was ripped for 400 yards passing when it truly mattered in the AFC Championship Game. That went down as only the fifth time in postseason history a quarterback threw for 400 yards without an interception, according to those aforementioned media notes.
Seattle won't be out to stop Manning and his targets as much as contain them. That defense has more than talent enough to limit Denver's passing offense.
Knowshon Moreno isn't a headliner, but the Seattle Seahawks still focus on stopping the run.
It is easy to get overlooked when your quarterback is Peyton Manning. Denver running back Knowshon Moreno needs some respect, though, for the breakthrough season he was finally able to put together.
Facing the best secondary in football, Manning is going to need something to take off the pressure. Moreno has been that guy more often than not this season.
None of this is lost on Manning, who said in the NFL media notes:
We've spread the ball around so well all season, so it's hard for teams to know who to key on. On any given play, a number of guys could get the ball. That puts pressure on a defense.
Moreno, who racked up career highs 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns, will need to take the pressure off against a very good Seahawks run defense, which was tied with the Broncos for seventh best against the run.
Defensive end Cliff Avril told the NFL media in his Sunday session it all starts up front.
We feel like the big thing for us is stopping the run, obviously. We feel like we go out there and play smash mouth football for the first half and let our offense do what they do and what not. Then, get after them in the pass rush.
If the Seahawks can quietly take Moreno away, the secondary can make even a bigger name for itself, the Legion of Super Boom. Avril doesn't mind his front seven taking a backseat to those back-end guys.
It is what it is. I don't complain. We have a great secondary and we feel like, as a defense, we have a great defense. They get all the love, which is awesome. They're some 'heck-of-a-players.' I'm not mad at all.
Avril and Co. will gladly take a back seat on the hype by knocking out Moreno up front.
If there is one thing the Seattle Seahawks clearly lack for a trademark Super Bowl champion, it is a veteran quarterback. Russell Wilson is good, but he is only in his second year.
This is Peyton Manning's third Super Bowl. Wilson was nine when Manning was drafted into the NFL.
Experience is clearly not in Wilson's favor.
Wilson went to the Super Bowl as a rookie to get prepared for playing in one, he told the NFL media in his Sunday interview session:
Last year I went to the Super Bowl just to observe and watch and did some broadcasting stuff, but my main objective within all of that was to get prepared for the situation if that was the case. Just observing and noticing the time that it took in terms of pregame, in terms of halftime, you never know what may happen. You always have to be prepared for that.
I think the biggest thing for our football team is just noticing that circumstances are a little bit different, but at the same time, it still feels like 100 yards, still 53 and a third; it doesn't change, and we're looking forward to that moment when the ball is kicked off and we play one play at a time and just be in the moment and enjoy the moment.
The moments haven't been too big for Wilson yet through two seasons, and he is here in the Super Bowl. He continued to the NFL media:
I'm big into visualizing and this moment right here is exactly what I visualized. Being here in this moment is one of those things I truly believed going into the year, after we played the preseason game against the Denver Broncos that we may play them. Ironically, we’re playing against the Denver Broncos.
The fact he won't have to face his team's own Legion of Boom should help put Wilson at ease in the game. The Broncos had the sixth-worst pass defense in football. There should be opportunities for Wilson to make plays down the field, particularly of play action.
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin has complete faith in Wilson on the big stage opposite Manning, telling the NFL media Sunday:
The ability for him to stay level throughout anything is going to help him for this situation....it's so hyped about the Super Bowl, the surroundings, the distractions. He's so level on everything that he does that I don't think those distractions will have any implications on him, so that way, when we get to game time, he's going to be the same Russell Wilson that he's been the entire season.
The Seahawks don't know Wilson any other way, and Wilson doesn't know second-year quarterbacks are supposed to be so successful so early.
The Seattle Seahawks will attempt to succeed where others have failed. To beat a quarterback like Peyton Manning, you have to get pressure up the middle.
You cannot fool him with by blitzing either. That's just a path to a quick death against the greatest line-adjustment quarterback in history.
Manning was sacked just 18 times this season. That is about once per game. That won't get the job done this Sunday.
The good news is the Seahawks were a top-10 team in sacks this season. Cliff Avril knows how important pressure will be, telling the NFL media in his session Sunday:
We have to be consistent. I think he's going to pass the ball a lot, obviously, because it's Peyton Manning. It's all about getting pressure in his face, making him feel your presence, and making him think about the D-line more so than the coverage and all these different things.
It is conceivable Manning could get caught up worrying about the likes of Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas down the field, forgetting about the damage that can be done on him in the pocket. Avril said that would be dangerous.
I think he should think about all 11 guys that are on the field. I think he should be thinking about all 11 of us. We all play a role in trying to stop him. He can focus on one area if he'd like, but I think the whole defense is going to be gunning for him. ...
He does a real good job of getting the ball out and that's what makes him such a great player. He does a good job of getting the ball out quick and, for us, we can't get frustrated. I think for us, it's just not getting frustrated and continuing to rush even if he is getting the ball out, and when he does drop back for a longer pass, just be ready to get after him.
Avril is certainly covering all the bases there. He and his front-line mates will need to on game day, too.
Ultimately, the Seattle Seahawks might need some divine intervention. Beating Peyton Manning can require that.
That is where a potential wintry-weather assist might come in.
Accuweather.com lists the forecast temperature for East Rutherford, N.J., around freezing at game time, with a single-digit breeze and mainly clear skies. Those conditions are not quite sloppy enough.
This is the winter and the northeast, though. The forecast could easily change before kickoff.
As much as many people believe Manning and the Broncos want ideal passing conditions, Richard Sherman admitted in his NFL media session Sunday, Denver has more experience in freezing temperatures.
I'm not sure how much it'll help. They have a little more experience in it than we do. I think we'll just approach the situation as we always do. You go out there, you play hard, you play disciplined, you play sound, and you try not to worry about the difficulties of the weather or whatever else happens out there.
We can all admit the first cold-weather Super Bowl might be the perfect(ly poor) conditions for a No. 1 scoring defense to upset the No. 1 scoring offense (not only in this season but any season).
As you can see from this slideshow, there are a lot of ways things can go right for the Seattle Seahawks, even if the money is on Manning and the Broncos. Regardless of the side you are backing, expect a heck of a game.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.